A conversation with...
What is “echo-theology”?
Echo-theology started as a play on words. My friend, Terry, once told me that I would make a good eco-theologian. (He meant “eco” as in ecology, but I thought he said “echo” as in reverberation.) While I occasionally dream about becoming an eco-theologian (focusing on the relationship between spirituality and the environment), I am fascinated at the prospect of doing “echo” theology.
Theology is the process by which we come to know that God is actively present in our lives. Echo-theology implies that we can know God by paying attention to the voices that resonate around us. We can better understand God through the events that touch us in deep and profound ways. The young adult years are filled with resounding moments, and they have the potential to teach us much about who God is and how God is at work in our lives.
Who comprises Generation Y, and how would you characterize this age group?
Generation Y (also known as Generation Why? or the Millenial Generation) is comprised of young adults born after 1982. They have grown up among a well-educated population, they live in a diverse and pluralistic society, and their world is immersed in technology (computers, Internet, iPods, text messaging, etc.). They are characterized as being racially and culturally tolerant with strong global awareness. Many of them are searching for meaning and want to spend their time in meaningful ways. They are confident, optimistic team players who grew up with a lot of positive reinforcement and continue to have strong relationships with their parents. Some have predicted that the Millenials will be the next “great generation” with an expectation that they will have strong societal influences and create significant social change.
In your book, you talk about the Samaritan woman at the well. What lesson can we learn from her?
There is so much more than meets the eye! We tend to read the story at surface level and make all sorts of assumptions about her life. This woman is the first person to whom Jesus identifies himself as the Messiah, and it is because of her testimony that the people of Samaria begin to believe in him. The point of the story is not her marital situation, nor should the story focus on any perceived wrongdoing on her part. Jesus is never presented as disapproving of the women he encounters. Jesus chooses the woman at the well to collaborate in his work and needs her to testify on his behalf! The Samaritan woman can serve as a model to remind women that Jesus calls us to be leaders and bearers of God’s message in unlikely places.
How does perfectionism interfere with prayer?
Perfectionism is a huge barrier to prayer. Thinking that I don’t have time to recite the perfect prayer or wondering if the words I choose will be the right ones. There is also the fear of rejection or punishment. I question whether I’ve been a good person lately, I worry about what God is going to think of me, or I wonder if I can really be honest about what is going on in my life. These are all valid concerns, but none of us is perfect. God meets us wherever we are, and God finds us amid the struggles of life. God wants to be with us—flaws and all.
In the busyness of daily life, how can we be attentive to God’s voice?
It’s important to make room for silence and quiet amid the busyness. Even finding five minutes a day for quiet reflection can make a big difference. I like to “pause” when I’m suddenly aware of God’s presence—after a good conversation with a friend or when I first notice the leaves bursting forth from the trees in spring. Raising our hearts and minds to God in the small moments prepares us to recognize God and reach out to God in the big moments.
Explain what it means to let God do things in his time.
It seems that people are always in a hurry, and in our fast-paced world we are determined to have things now. God’s timing is not the same as ours. This is especially important to remember when we are waiting for life to unfold—finding a soul mate, developing a career, understanding our purpose in life. The spiritual life is one in which we listen, watch and wait in conversation with God.
How do we know that the direction our life is taking corresponds with God’s plan for us?
A wise woman once told me that finding your true calling in life, while not always easy, should feel a bit like paddling a canoe downstream. There will be times when you find yourself floating through gentle water; other times you will navigate rapids or stick on a sand barge for a while. But ultimately, if you’re heading in the right direction, it should feel like you’re moving with the current and not working against it.
How can we actively and consciously participate in God’s plans for us and for the world?
Discover your gifts. God gives each of us a different set of skills, talents and abilities that are uniquely suited for our life. Sometimes God gives us gifts we think we don’t need for reasons we don’t completely understand. Part of participating in God’s plan for our life is growing to appreciate and understand the gifts we’ve been given. Some of those gifts are practical skills like cooking, teaching or athletics. There are other less tangible gifts like patience, understanding or compassion. All of our gifts help direct us toward our true calling in life. By naming and accepting our gifts, we come to realize how each of us can make a difference in the world.
What is the key to maintaining healthy friendships with other women?
Be grateful. Give thanks for your friends! Be grateful for their presence in your life. Show your appreciation for them. And praise them when things are going well in their lives.
Forgive. We’ve all had a friend who is slow to return our phone calls or not available when we really need her to be there. Try to understand what she is going through and be quick to forgive. Friendship requires give-and-take on both sides, and we all have bad days. Don’t hesitate to apologize if you’re unable to hold up your end of the friendship.
Be honest. Nothing is better than a friend who knows us really well. Some of my best girl friends are the ones with whom I can be completely honest and fully myself.
In what ways can women embrace their sexuality without giving in to the “hook-up culture?”
Sexuality is our inherent desire to connect with others and to be intimate with others. Sexuality and intimacy extend far beyond what happens in the bedroom. Sexuality encompasses the many ways we use our bodies, our lives and our whole selves to love others, create new life and bring joy to the world. Women can embrace their sexuality by focusing on healthy, loving, relationships that bring new life to others. New life expresses itself through friendship, teaching, mentoring, physical activity, creating works of art and time spent in prayer. Embracing our sexuality asks the question, “Who are you in love with? And how is new life coming forth from that love?”
What are some tangible ways that young women can promote peace in their daily lives?
Treat yourself with dignity and respect. You are worthy! As we come to accept our own inherent dignity and self-worth, we begin to recognize where dignity is lacking and can work towards changing this.
Cultivate an acceptance and love for others. Be aware of stereotypes that exist and the many “isms” that plague our world: racism, sexism, class-ism. Consider how your own actions or resistance contributes to discrimination.
Engage in direct service to the poor and vulnerable in your community. Service can help us find our voice, as well as the strength and courage to be the voice for others. There is a reciprocal relationship that exists in service. Spend time reflecting on what you have given, as well as what you have received.
What advice do you have for young adults trying to find or connect to a faith community?
My sister and her family recently moved, and during her search for a faith community she developed three simple criteria for evaluating a new parish: prayer, participation and presence.
When looking for a parish or trying to connect with a faith community, ask yourself these questions: Is this a place that I can pray well and feel connected to God on a regular basis? Do the parishioners welcome participation in the liturgy, especially from women, children, laypeople, families, single people, young adults, etc.? Do I experience the presence of Christ here, and how am I being called to be the presence of Christ for others? Are there opportunities for outreach to the community, the poor and the wider church?
Your criteria for finding a faith home should center around what you can receive—hospitality, music, preaching—as well as the many ways you can contribute to the community—prayer, service, etc.
How can faith communities best reach out to young adults?
Young adults will most likely check out your parish web site before they visit you in person. If you’re not on the Internet, then in their minds, you don’t exist. Any faith community that hopes to connect with young adults needs to have some kind of presence online, even if it is basic contact information like name, address, phone number, directions to the church, mass times, etc.
Second, hospitality is essential: Invite and include young adults, make them feel welcome, let them know how they can make a difference, and be ready to answer their questions.
Finally, hymns and homilies are really important to young adults. While styles vary, young adults favor music that enhances their prayer experience, and they want preaching that is relevant to their lives.
How can social networking activities like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc., enrich someone’s spiritual life?
I truly believe that God is lurking everywhere and will use any means possible to get our attention. Social networking helps us stay connected with our friends, although I don’t think it will ever replace the connection we have when we are with them in person. Technology can be helpful in that it creates an anonymous way for young adults to search for answers.
I also think tools like Facebook and YouTube provide a forum to share information, insights and encouragement with others. Our campus ministry office at Northwestern University often uses Facebook to invite students to retreats, speaker series, service events and prayer opportunities. Recently I watched a video of a young adult speaker series that I missed while I was traveling. Online communities allow us to feel connected even when we can’t be there in person.
Thursday, December, 4, 2008