On Expansion
Photo by  David Clode  on  Unsplash

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

On a rare solitary walk recently, I came across a snakeskin in the middle of the road. Now I don’t have a particular fear of snakes—not like my late grandma Irene who used to faint at the sight of one. (Actually, family lore maintains that she would faint at the sight of even a plastic snake, though I was too sensitive a child to ever test the theory out.) In a dramatic departure from maternal precedent, I encourage my children to welcome summer's onslaught of backyard garter snakes. Look, I coax them near; see how we've made a safe home for all creation! I watch their boyish spines relax as unrest leaves, watch them stop shifting weight foot to foot and stand wordlessly in awe.

But even a would-be Franciscan has to admit there is something chilling about coming across a vacated snakeskin. There is an element of terror there, no matter how small the specimen. Snakes have too heavy a mythological significance for it to be otherwise.

Read the rest at Ruminate Magazine’s blog!

Shannon Evans
Notre Dame is Burning, and She Has Something to Tell Us

As a Protestant for three decades of my life, I wasn't exposed to much sacred imagery. There were exceptions—my parents did appreciate fine art—but for the most part, the churches and homes I frequented were devoid of any religious representation beyond decorative wall crosses and ceramic angels. I'm not sure why or how the absence of such imagery became a hallmark of Protestantism, I only know that, in my experience, seeing an icon on the living room wall of a Baptist home is rare indeed. This is neither a judgment of good or bad, but merely an observation of a notable difference in religious culture.

Since becoming Catholic five years ago, my experience of Christianity has become exponentially more sensory. No longer content to think my way through faith, I find my heart yearning to experience it also through touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing. I am made of earth, after all; the only way for me to wrestle with heaven is to physically encounter her clues. 

The Catholic imagination has historically expressed herself in the weirdest of ways, which delights me to no end because, if you ask me, spirituality should be weird. After all, we're talking about humanity touching Divine cosmic mystery here; if it feels palatable, comfortable, or sensible, we're probably getting it wrong. Throughout the ages Catholic art, thought, devotions, pilgrimages, and traditions have been weird, weird, weird—and I love it. Even the parts that aren't for me, I love, because they're doing something for somebody. Be free to pursue what sparks your imagination! It doesn't have to spark mine.

During Holy Week, Catholics traditionally cover our sacred images in purple cloth: our imaginations are left to face an alternate reality where there is Nothing. Not the intangible, unutterable Mystery that is indeed "No Thing" but a true Nothing—an existence with no truth, beauty, or goodness. An existence without mercy and love or a dynamic Energy that ties each of us together and works tirelessly on our behalf. We are forced to look into such an abyss when we look at that purple cloth shrouding everything we know to be True. We glimpse an existence in which there is no Gospel, no Good News; we look within the recesses of our own doubt and waning, if only for a split second before turning away.

Notre Dame burned on the first day of Holy Week this year. One of the most treasured symbols of spirituality on this earth—mother and keeper of the Catholic imagination—caught fire while a crowd of onlookers kept a holy vigil. Some of the most sacred relics and artwork known to humankind were shrouded by cloths of smoke. Imagine, she beckoned us. Imagine if the Nothingness was true. Imagine if Love were not coming for you—relentlessly, tenaciously, determined as a mother lion, every single day coming for you. Such terror in the very prospect; and chills ran through our bones, saints and sinners alike.

Sometimes it takes a demand of imagining the alternative to make us realize what we really do believe. Sometimes it is only a swan dive into our own doubt that has the power to make us sure. Cloak the world in purple, for she is all sacred art, prophesying to us wordlessly that the longings of our hearts can be trusted. It is Holy Week.

Shannon Evans
Radical Hospitality

I wanted to be Dorothy Day long before I’d ever heard of her.

As a teenager, I was volunteering in an assisted-living home while my peers were hanging out in shopping malls; as a college student I was doing internships in African orphanages and mentoring at-risk kids in my community. For as long as I can remember, my heartbeat has sounded like impact, impact, impact—whether from pure altruism or my own pride, I have often debated. But whatever the motivation, I’ve long bristled at the idea of wasting my time on earth.

Around the time I married my husband at a green 23 years old, he introduced me to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement—both of which I heartily approved, as though the world were anxiously awaiting my assessment. But I didn’t give her much further thought until we began researching Catholic social teaching before our Confirmation into the Church years later. As most who have done so can tell you, you can’t dig far into the social doctrine of the Catholic Church without clinking your spade against this stalwart woman. Our involvement with a local Catholic Worker only solidified my admiration, and Day’s lens of solidarity and hospitality began to deeply form my emerging worldview.

When Kate Hennessy’s book Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother came out last year, I snatched up the chance to explore the more intimate world of Day’s, certain that her granddaughter could provide me with the keys to unlocking the predicament of how to live the radical life I felt called to, even as a mother of young children. Alas, I found no magic formulas or mystical insights: Dorothy Day, it seems, struggled to balance her dual vocations of mother and justice advocate as much as anyone. Sometimes she got the balance right; often she got it wrong.


Read the rest in the April 2019 issue of St. Anthony Messenger magazine!

**If you are interested in hearing more about how the Catholic Worker has influenced my life, spirituality, and worldview, you might enjoy my forthcoming book, Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World. Find it on AmazonBarnes and Noble, or OSVcatholicbookstore.com**

Shannon Evans