On a rainy May afternoon I ducked out of the drizzle through the double glass doors of the Mistlin Art Gallery in the city’s historic downtown to join an intimate gathering of local opera lovers. Patrons gathered around mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz, artist, performer, and remarkable stage presence for a solo recital titled, “Women & Matters of the HeART.” The theme allowed Printz the opportunity to select and perform those songs closest to her own heart.
What are Women’s Matters of the Heart?
Printz began with, “Neruda Songs,” a series of sonnets written by Pablo Neruda and set to music by Peter Lieberson.
Romantic love, its devotion and emptying out in self-gift comprised the sonnets’ core matter. Their haunting quality affirmed immediately the otherworldliness of love, taking us beyond time and space. Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “love promises infinity, eternity—a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence.” (Deus Caritas Est, 3)
A brief introduction to the person and personality of one of the greatest ladies of the Catholic Church.
We can know God.
Born in 1098, Hildegard of Bingen, a sickly child born of nobility was given at the age of eight to Jutta of Sponheim for care in a hermitage as an oblate of St. Benedict. At Jutta’s death, Hildegard was elected abbess. Attracted to her greatness and sanctity, the convent overflowed with vocations and she went to establish two new monasteries.
Her early education was poor, but she was instructed in Latin enough to chant the Psalms. Here and in the Church she met the Lord. He granted her visions from an early age. After revealing them to her spiritual director, she was instructed to write them all down. These visions were approved as being from God by Church authorities. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux encouraged her. Pope Eugene III authorized her to write and speak in public.
She wrote books on theology and mysticism, medicine and natural sciences. We have 400 of her letters, addressed to simple people, to religious communities, popes, bishops and the civil authorities of her time. She composed sacred music.
Hildegard died at the age of 81. It took 800 years for her to be formally elevated by the Church.
In the great canon of her work, she spoke of the reciprocal relationship between men and women, the complementarity, and contrasted with other traditions, did not blame women for the fall. Her writings acknowledged the hylomorphic reality: that we are created body and soul, and body and soul will be involved in our search for God.
Summarizing her teaching, Pope Benedict continued: Hildegard asks herself and us the fundamental question, whether it is possible to know God: This is theology’s principal task. Her answer is completely positive: through faith, as through a door, the human person is able to approach this knowledge. God, however, always retains his veil of mystery and incomprehensibility. He makes himself understandable in creation but, creation itself is not fully understood when detached from God. Indeed, nature considered in itself provides only pieces of information which often become an occasion for error and abuse. Faith, therefore, is also necessary in the natural cognitive process, for otherwise knowledge would remain limited, unsatisfactory and misleading.
Creation is an act of love by which the world can emerge from nothingness. Hence, through the whole range of creatures, divine love flows as a river. Of all creatures God loves man in a special way and confers upon him an extraordinary dignity, giving him that glory which the rebellious angels lost.
… man, of course, is the creature who can answer the voice of the Creator with his own voice. And this can happen in two ways: in voce oris, that is, in the celebration of the liturgy, and in voce cordis, that is, through a virtuous and holy life.
…In this regard, the most precise description of the human creature is that of someone on a journey, homo viator. On this pilgrimage towards the homeland, the human person is called to a struggle in order constantly to choose what is good and avoid evil.
A brief introduction to the person and personality of one of the greatest ladies of the Catholic Church.
During her beatification, John Paul II described Edith Stein as“A personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was a synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting…and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God.”
Biographical accounts will tell you, Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Poland to a Jewish family on 12 October 1891, the youngest of 11 children.
The major events of his life were: the death of her father when she was two years old; the loss of faith at age 14; regaining her faith in adulthood; the completion of her doctorate, summa cum laude, in 1917, after writing a thesis on “The Problem of Empathy”; entry into the Catholic Church on January 1, 1922; joining the Carmelite Convent of Cologne on October 14; making her final vows April 21, 1938; her arrest by the Gestapo on August 2, 1942 and deportation to Auschwitz with 987 Jews; and her death seven days later in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. She was beatified in 1987 and canonized on October 11, 1998.
But what can we learn by meeting Edith Stein?
God does not ask us to leave behind who we are at our core when he calls us to him. Rather he deepens and enhances the skills and gifts with which he created us.
On the exterior, Edith was an avid student, a brilliant philosopher, a feminist, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, a Carmelite nun.
Interiorly, the question of the suffering ran throughout the fabric of her life. In her early life, prayer seemed irrelevant to life’s challenges. It was a meeting with a young woman that radically altered Edith’s understanding of life. She described this moment, “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it … it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”
Despite obstacles in her scholarship (she was first denied a professorship because she was a woman, then later, because she was a Jew) she learned that it was possible to pursue scholarship as a service to God. God would draw her deeper into the world rather than ask her to retreat from it.
Edith presented in herself a desire to carry the cross for those who had not met the all-encompassing love of Christ. Like Queen Ester, taken from her people in order to represent them before the King. After many years absent from prayer, she wrote she “did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God” through the Catholic Church.
Let us reflect on her words:
“God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. Then the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace. And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him — really rest — and start the next day as a new life.”
How one woman uses her way of caring for her soul to speak life to others
Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
“How can I speak life to the people that follow me?” Holly Stavness, owner of Holly Anna Calligraphy reflected in her Facebook feed.
I no longer remember how I first heard of Holly Anna Calligraphy. In July of 2017, with some bonus income, I signed up for a beginner calligraphy class, wearied from the grief of losing our daughter in March. I felt anxious and frazzled that day, not quite accustomed to going out without my kids, of doing something with them at home, indulgent and just for myself.
Marie from Tailor Made Events first encouraged Holly to rent a space for her workshops. “I wanted it to be safe and beautiful. I was blown away at how beautiful it was,” Holly said of the first time she saw the studio that would be hers through a friend at her church.
Stepping down the brick path, with draping bougainvillea blooms, I stepped into another world. Opening the white antique door, one walks not only into an attractive studio, but a space that Holly created, filled with peace.
She shared the story of how calligraphy became her calling. With each workshop, Holly wants to give to her guests a taste of what she refers to internally as “that dining room experience” when she fell in love with it.
Holly was never the artist during childhood in Hughson, California. One of four siblings, given the choice for one activity, she chose soccer. After an injury and surgeries prior to college, plans changed. After she attended college at CSU Stanislaus, Holly transferred down south and met her husband, supporting him through a Masters degree in physical therapy by working as an administrative assistant. “It was hard coming out of college and thinking I’m going to get this great job,” she recalled, “As a college student wanting to conquer the world that wasn’t my first choice—to pour myself out.”
To pour oneself out is the theme that runs through Holly’s life. Raised in a family that taught her the value of helping others, Holly’s value of the other she encounters fills her workshops and projects with something that becomes life-giving to others.
That gift of self led her and her husband to foster care. She described it “a season of heartbreak. The Lord was calling us to break our hearts. That changed some theology in my mind that you’re never going to go through trials, that God will never ask you to broken-heartedness. It’s a different concept that he wants us to pour ourselves out for others.”
In the midst of seeking to serve her family, care for her daughters, provide a secure environment for her foster son, as she encountered the consequences of generational neglect, drugs and alcohol for the first time, Holly found herself drying out. She needed a way to fill her cup.
“I found myself really dry, especially with children, not really loving my life. I wanted to love my life, I wanted children and wanted a husband and a husband who loved his job. With foster care, we wanted to do this. I just wanted to be present in the moment, to just love it, to find the joy in the moment, even in the mundane.”
Calligraphy was new on the social media scene. Holly purchased lettering samples by Molly Jakes on Skillshare and materials online. “As I was struggling with this in my heart, calligraphy was my outlet for emotions I don’t know that I’d ever experienced before… calligraphy was there for me to write things out. I’d put the kids down, my husband goes to bed early, and I would just write, and those were the most beautiful moments when God met me at my kitchen table with calligraphy… It was slow and therapeutic and just enough to keep my mind there and in the emotion— to not put the emotion aside but work through it.”
At the request of friends, Holly hosted her first workshop teaching others. With each workshop, she adds hospitable touches to her studio though name cards and refreshments. “All of a sudden, halfway through, it will start to get really quiet and I know that is where the magic has happened. They are actually breathing life into their souls.”
Holly acknowledges, “you know, I have no idea what they’re coming in, what burdens…” but she knows that each person walks in with his or her own story.
That was my experience. Holly’s workshops became a part of my story of healing through grief.
“This is just, like, my happy place where I can help people. They are the ones doing it. I just give them the tools.”
Discloser of Material Connection: I am a freelance writer for the Hughson Chronicle. As such, this is a “sponsored post,” reprinted with permission. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
In response to recent articles proclaiming the problems with the gig economy, today you read my latest piece at Mind&Spirit on the benefits of the gig economy, especially as it relates to women and their strengths.
In some places, he says “women.” In some places, he says “female stand-ups.” In some places, he says “comedy as an enterprise”. Which is it?
We should define terms and distinguish between masculinity and traits commonly assigned to men. John Paul II defined femininity as a woman’s way of being in the world. By extension, masculinity is a man’s way being the world. With this definition, a trait, such as courage, is not masculine or feminine, even though society typically assigns it to men. Women are quite courageous. It just, in general, takes on a different style or look or context.
To say men have some qualities and women have other qualities is a form of fractional complementarity. The problem with fractional complementarity is it means the individual is incomplete without the other sex. That God made each person incomplete.
Men and women are complementary but in an integral way. My experience and worldview complement the man’s experience and worldview because I have experienced the world differently than he has. The sum is considerably greater than the individual parts. The individual parts are still whole and complete.
You cannot call a woman masculine because masculinity is a man’s way of being in the world and a woman cannot know it experientially. To call a woman mannish is an insult to her dignity as a woman, as it is to call a man girly. A woman can demonstrate traits more commonly associated with men but that does not make her less feminine because it does not alter the fact that she has and can only experience this world as a woman.
If masculinity and femininity refer to a man or woman’s way being in the world, respectively, then characteristics can not be masculine or feminine per se, but they are likely to be experienced in different ways by men and woman. Thus, if “female stand-ups” in “comedy as an enterprise” demonstrate traits more commonly attributed to men (“mannish”) then that is a reflection not of humor or women but of the business of stand-up comedy.
If we take humor as a characteristic and assume this method of “different ways of being in the world” then we could expect to see a different style of humor from men and women. If the feminine genius, according to Saint John Paul II, is a woman’s particular gift of regarding the human person and attending to others, then we could expect a more feminine humor to be deeply nested in context, attuned to her audience.
Perhaps this is why fewer women are in stand-up because that style of humor is anonymous. The comedienne speaks to a crowd, not an individual, must please many, must tell jokes, stories without the interpersonal interaction one might associate better with the feminine genius. A feminine style of comedy would be better demonstrated in a conversation, a back-and-forth, where she can build from and react to the other person in a humorous way.
Thus Coffin’s comment should have read, “stand-up comedy as a style of humor is more masculine.” One could add, “It is not well-suited to the common style of humor possessed by women.” He did not write that. Instead, he wrote, “Women, as a rule, aren’t funny.”
Women are not shocked and offended by this Catholic man’s words because they are politically correct. It is because we are human beings. It is because we expect a man of God to have a view of women that presents women in the image of God. God endowed women with humor because we are made in his image and I dare say, considering what women go through biologically, no one is funnier than God.
Content of Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference
The outline begins with a wonderful articulation of the male-female difference and what it means to be feminine.
“The expression “women’s cultures does not imply any division from men’s cultures, but shows our awareness that there is a women’s “perspective” on the world and all that surrounds us, on life and on experience.”
John Paul II wrote that femininity is woman’s way of being in the world. It is how she experiences it, and masculinity is man’s way of being in the world. Masculinity and femininity do not refer to set traits, but general experiences that shape the life of the person in question, making him masculine or her feminine. Both are complete as they are, not in need of the other to be complete, as the opening quote by Edith Stein to this outline so beautifully states.
“I am convinced that the human species develops as a twofold species, ‘male’
and ‘female’; that the essence of the human being, of which no trait should be
missing, is present in both, manifesting itself in two ways: and that the entire structure of being highlights this specific mould.”
The outline begins with an articulation of the presence of a women’s culture, which is experientially different then a man’s culture, because woman experiences the world differently, as a woman. The document takes a realistic view that at one time these different cultures created different spheres of influence for the man (public) and the woman (private), but in time that gap has lessened. Despite the narrowing of the gap, a woman’s reality continues to be quite different than that of a man, and she identifies herself with different terms. The writers propose some important questions regarding the co-existence of equality and difference.
The next section focuses on the concept of generativity and the nature of woman to be linked to and defined by her body. “Putting it in an excessively simplified way, we can affirm that the generative path is divided into four moments: desiring, bringing into the world, looking after, and finally, letting go.” Woman’s genius is not limited to her bio-physiological orientation towards child-rearing, but also in every day practice, the way she goes about the world. “Women executives and managers, for example, who develop managerial processes based on respect, welcoming, making the most of differences and skills, generate and protect life expressing fecundity.”
Recognizing the value of the feminine body, the document goes on to examine the abuses that happen specifically towards women and how these abuses are linked to her body through poverty as “both a cause and consequence of violence on women”, slavery, feminicide (“selective abortion, infanticide, genital mutilation, crimes of honour, forced marriages, trafficking of women, sexual molestation, rape”), domestic violence, non-medical plastic surgery, reducing woman from generator to producer of children, and using woman’s body for marketing, commercialization.
The last section explores the role of women in the Church, which John Paul II called for, as coming to fruition. Continuing the hard, realistic look at the state of things, the authors ask, “What is not working, today, so that the image of womanhood that the Church has kept, does not correspond to reality?” Woman’s engagement with the Church seems to be diminishing. Rather than calling for the replacement of men in positions of liturgical power with women, the authors continue to plea of John Paul II:
“A realistic objective could be that of opening the doors of the Church to women so that they can offer their contribution in terms of skills and also sensitivity, intuition, passion, dedication, in full collaboration and integration with the male component.”
In Catholic circles, we’d like to think that the good we see makes up the majority of the reality, but unfortunately it is not so. Faithful and informed Catholics are quick to point out the Catholic Church has a singular historical role in valuing woman and her contribution (through motherhood, the saints, the Virgin Mary, mystics), educating women (through convents/monasteries, Catholic schools) and creating positions of power (abbess) and importance (teaching, Catholic hospitals). Woman is valued, perhaps now, more than ever and her role discussed with great honor and respect via the writings of John Paul II.
With only a like button possible to quickly post our views, we’re tempted to post only positive things because if we talk about the negative, communication online quickly breaks down. Nevertheless, the conversation is important and must be pursued. I hope you will take a look at this document, and further the discussion of what we can do to help women in society to discovered, with unbridled freedom, her glory and dignity.
Now regarding Chapter 2: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. Due to the length, the reflection has been published in two parts. This is the second.
Now for the second aspect, the presence of hope and joy. Pope Benedict wrote that the permanence promised to the Davidic kingdom, a kingdom not of this world, “is the great force of hope in the midst of a world that so often seems abandoned by God” (p.32). It’s true. What more can I say? The only time I have experienced despair or hopelessness, the steadiness of God’s kingdom preserved my hope. God would not abandon us. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13). It is who God is. God is love (1 Jn 4:8). This became the lens through which I interpreted the events of my life.
Pope Benedict writes later: One could say that the figures of the virgin and the divine child belong in some sense to the archetypal images of human hope, which emerge at times of crisis and expectation, even without there being any concrete figures in view (p.57). Though he states the Virgin birth is a historical reality, the concept of archetypes stands out to me. Jungian archetypes, taken as he put it, could be quite controversial, but as a general concept, are fascinating. Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote, “Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves. What seems to be ‘love at first sight’ is actually the fulfillment of desire, the realization of a dream.” Contained within the concepts of the theology of the body, the man-woman relationship is a type pointing us to the supernatural reality of Trinitarian unity. Because we are made in the image of God, we have, as it were, spiritual DNA pointing us to our potential. We sense when we are on the right or wrong path, fulfilling or denigrating our potential. That is because of the archetype within us. God wrote these into us. Therefore, if, as he says, the virgin and divine son have been archetypes for hope, I believe God put this in us because the Virgin birth would be the fulfillment of that archetype. We would know it when we see it.
Not that that is always the case. We also need the gift of faith, and I grant that, but it would not be a universal church if this story did not resonate with us, and it resonates because it is written in our hearts.
Lastly, the portrait of our Lady: interior, asking in faith how it shall be, seeking to discern it (two qualities Pope Benedict identifies as shared with St. Joseph). She is called fearless. She is full of grace, in tune with the word, the law, bold enough to trust the Lord with her life. The drama described here quiets the reflection, “Mary, did you know?” because heaven would not have held its breath waiting for her response if she were some naive waif. No, she is a woman! She is strong, I repeat, fearless, capable of saying and willing yes to what the Lord has commanded. In possession of herself enough to give God the permission he seeks, “be it done to me according to Thy word.”
Here is a model for womanhood! Here is the blueprint. The archetype. The guideposts for what makes a woman great. Great women do not trample on the men in their life, pushing ahead to achieve, silencing those parts of them that make them women. No, she has the power to choose. She chooses to trust. This is the greatest gift a wife can give her husband, to choose to trust him, put herself in his hands and allow him to protect her, even though she may be fully capable of protecting herself.