The Value of Irreverence

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Kristen and I met Jean Kelly, new friend and colleague and fellow woman-of-a-certain-age, at the Convivium conference in Pittsburgh. We’re delighted to have her guest blog for us today on intemperate older women.

Monday’s daily reading, Titus 2:1-8, 11-14, put me in mind of a presentation Marybeth and Kristen gave last week at a conference sponsored by Convivium journal. In “Women-of-a-Certain-Age Discuss What it is to be Crones Who Read and Write” we discussed how the wisdom of older woman is seriously undervalued in contemporary American culture and our church.

But here was Paul, admonishing his followers in Crete “to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,” going on to specifically instruct older men and women to be role models for the next generation.

“Older men should be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and endurance,” Paul wrote in his epistle to Titus.  Check.

Then it was our turn: “Older women should be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to drink, teaching what is good.”

Okay, I do need to be reminded it is too easy to slander my soon-to-be-ex husband. And a second glass of wine often makes that first temptation even more difficult to resist.

But as I kept reading, Paul’s enlightened advice derailed. I ran smack up against the sexism so common in the Bible: it devalues women and restricts them to the role of suffering wife and mother, something I lived for more than twenty years. I squirm in my seat every time my Church chooses to read passages like this out loud at Mass:

“…teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers, and under the control of their husbands.”

Uh, no.  I was with you, Paul, until that last line.

In fact, I only fault Paul to a point for his traditionalist views circa 66 AD.  But what excuse does the Church have for choosing these verses, while excluding the two that follow right after? The reading specified verses 1-8 and 11-14, leaving out 9-10.

So of course I read Titus 2:9-10: “Slaves must be obedient to their masters in everything, and do what is wanted without argument; and there must be no pilfering — they must show complete honesty at all times, so that they are in every way a credit to the teaching of God our Saviour.”

So the commission that created the Roman Catholic Mass lectionary in 1970 decided a reference to slaves was out of date or irrelevant, but a passage dictating women be controlled like slaves and kept in the home was okey-dokey?

The church’s daily readings for Mass come from a lectionary created just after Vatican II and only slightly updated since. In a 3-year cycle, labeled A-C, it covers much of the Bible. Almost.

As David Philippart observed in U.S. Catholic, “An inherent problem in any lectionary is what’s left out. Scriptures about women—the Books of Ruth, Esther, and Judith for example—are infrequent.” No kidding.

In my daily lectio divina, I am annoyed to think a committee of men from a time when I thought I looked good in bell bottoms still decides what I read or hear at Mass.  And now that my vision has progressed ineffectively into my cronehood, I resent having to hold my Bible closer to the lamp just to see the tiny verse numbers to be skipped. That is why I always make a point of reading what is left out of the daily readings. What goes unsaid and untaught.

So perhaps Paul is right. I am not reverent enough.  Or maybe as a “woman-of-a-certain age” I have earned the right to be a little irreverent. So, younger women, please love your families and have self-control. But when necessary, be irreverent, too.

Jean P. Kelly is embracing her cronehood in Columbus, Ohio, where she is currently writing a book chronicling her literary-spiritual pilgrimages. In 2019 she will launch a podcast about lectio divina.

Signs of Hope: The Convivium Conference

Kristen and Mary


We’re sorry we’ve been a bit absent lately! Read on to discover why…

Kristen and I had the joy of presenting at the Convivium conference: Terra Incognita last weekend in Pittsburgh. We pushed down our nerves, faced our fears, and spoke publicly on what it is to read and write (and be dragons) as crones.

While I was happy-dancing over the chance to see Kristen again and to finally meet a number of our writer friends in person, I was not expecting the overwhelming light, love, and hope that the entire weekend offered. We heard poetry, and listened to some of our favorite authors speak. We indulged in long, slow conversations about art, music, and literature. We forged new connections, met new colleagues, and made new friends while taking a deep breath of air outside of our usual whirlwind lives.

Then we returned to the real world. But we returned changed, ready to create and spread beauty in the face of hatred and nihilism. We cannot say thank you often or loudly enough to Convivium. If you have the chance, check out their literary journal, classes, and conferences.

The gorgeous Cathedral of Learning at University of Pittsburgh. Photo credit: Joanna Penn Cooper

Sitting with Our Dead in November


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Last month Kristen invited me to look at the “thin places” in our spirituality, and we did—but we both feel like we’re not done here yet. We’ve had our share of creepy, but it feels like we need to spend some more time with our dead.

By the calendar, November is the month we do this anyway. All Saints’ Day is November 1, and All Souls’ Day is November 2. This is of course similar in sentiment to Dia de los Muertos, which had its origins in Aztec culture before being merged with Catholic Christianity. Not being of Mexican heritage myself, I don’t feel qualified to speak to the specifics of Dia de los Muertos, though I’d love to learn more.

I’m not suggesting we dwell morbidly on skeletons or go frolic in graveyards (but feel free, if that’s your thing–I’ve been known to do both). For my part I plan to lean into my grief over my dead, to share more stories with my kids, to spend time actively remembering and praying for them. I may finally get to that “Catholic Box” of my mom’s that I inherited, and perhaps set up a remembrance altar with pictures of those we miss.

It may be a good time to trace more of your ancestry, if you’re up for it. (This is a charged topic for me, and I’ll probably take a pass on that part.)

Care to share any ways you keep your dead alive, in a non-Frankensteiny way?


It’s All Hallow’s Eve. How’d We Do?

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From Mary:

When I accepted Kristen’s challenge this month to look into the spookier side of our lives in general (and our spirituality in particular), I said that things like horror movies don’t really scare me.

I realized over the last few weeks that this isn’t entirely true.

The ‘80s slasher/man-in-mask horror movies don’t scare me at all. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Sleepaway Camp—I’m fine with all of those. (The best of these was much more recent. If you haven’t seen Hush yet, I highly recommend it.) Likewise, monster and alien movies are more fun than frightening. Once I got over my childhood fear of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, vampires, zombies, and werewolves didn’t seem so tough.

But there is one category that still scares the ever-loving daylights out of me: possession. I have never seen The Exorcist, and I didn’t work up the nerve to watch it this year either. I did, however, watch The Babadook  one night while I was home alone. (No, this wasn’t a good idea. Yes, I know that now.) My husband and I also watched The Conjuring which was truly terrifying. I can’t say I recommend it, but I can say that it made me want to sprinkle the house with holy water and sleep with a rosary under my pillow—so yeah, I guess I faced a fear there.

In a slightly less terrifying vein, I also did some reading on tarot cards. I was delighted to discover that they were originally a deck for playing various trick-based games, and the art is infused with Catholic culture and symbolism. Yes, they can and have been used in various occult practices, but that was not their original intent. As an avid board and card gamer and a Catholic, this was a pleasant surprise. A series of insightful articles on the history of tarot can be found here .

I also attempted to dive into the tradition of Catholic mystics by reading some Thomas Merton. Our dear friend, Cassidy Hall, is creating a documentary on Merton called Day of a Stranger. Some time ago she sent me a copy of The Seven Storey Mountain, but for lots of odd superstitiousy reasons I’ve been reluctant to read it. I finally began this month—and promptly lost my reading glasses. I know that sounds wonky, but this book is in 10-point type at best and these old eyes cannot do that. As soon as I find my readers I’ll get back on it and give an update—in the meantime check out the Facebook page for the documentary! Her previous project, In Pursuit of Silence was so beautiful; I cannot wait to see this one.

From Kristen:

So, I did it. I explored some in the dark—places I’ve been too afraid to visit—and lived to tell the tale.

I read up on Halloween traditions, and Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos. I learned a bit more about Jewish traditions, particularly around death and mourning. I find that I am fascinated by the ways that different cultures handle death. I will continue to learn more. (Currently, just amongst my 20 students are represented 13 different cultures and languages!)

I watched Coco and The Nightmare Before Halloween. I found both films charming. Both films made me think about this season from a different perspective. No, really. I get that they are kid films, but they addressed adult concerns. I see those issues–okay, dead people, all right?!–from a different lens angle now.

I went to Salem and walked amongst the witches (present and historical).  I interviewed a spiritualist, then let her give me a tarot reading. I have decades of teaching that has scared me away from even looking at such practices. So, I am interested in learning more about tarot, as it did not seem to be at all like conjuring evil spirits, but more like prayer and meditation to me.

I talked to friends who enjoy horror movies and books. Matt LaFleur gave me a new lens angle when he noted that he enjoys horror films, because he knows that when it is over, he can laugh about it. That coming through the dark, scary bits to the other side IS the point.

Upon recommendation, I tried—in the light of day—to watch Babadook. I got to the halfway point in the film before switching over to a comedy. Being frightened for entertainment is still not my cup of tea. Now I know that about myself. <resigned shrug>

I planned to go to the cemeteries where my grandparents are buried. I had never been before (with the exception of the graveside service for one of my Nanas).  It is on my To Do list for this coming weekend, because, well, it is time to face the scary bits of  cemetaries, and figure out what kind of comfort folks find there. I promise to report out if anything amazing happens, okay?

So, yeah. October was creepy and fascinating and enlightening for us both.

Happy Halloween!

Sign of Hope for Today: This Young Priest


Photo America Magazine

This young priest is giving me hope. She sits there in the middle of a sea of men, unable to vote, but speaking up anyway. I was incredibly frustrated not only with the lack of voting rights for women present (male non-priests were able to vote, but not female), but also with the general lack of interest in or knowledge of the synod in general among my Catholic peers–particularly those who actively urge others to “stay and fight” but then proceed with business as usual. I realize this woman is not a Roman Catholic priest, but her presence, voice, and persistence give me hope.

Today’s Sign of Hope: Kids Who Aim High

While you are reading this, a dear friend, that I first made at summer camp eleventy-million years ago, is hugging her son for the first time in months. Today, he graduates from basic training in the US Air Force.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been following social media posts from half a dozen mothers in my life who have entrusted their children to the US Armed Forces in these uncertain times.

I am no war hawk. I hate that we still have a need for armed forces, but I am in awe of the bravery, strength, and dedication of the young people who commit to serving their country this way. I am completely undone by the joy of my mama friends when they share news of letters and video chats from their soldiers-in-training.

If these kids that I watched grow up (some more closely than others, admittedly) are any indication, our military is strong, smart, and compassionate. If these mama friends of mine are any indication (brilliant, beautiful souls, every one of them), the homefront is well taken care of.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on

Another Take on this Halloween Business

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For our first ever guest post, our friend Matt LaFleur reflects on his love of Halloween and all things spooky. 

Maybe it’s a fault of mine for loving Halloween so much. I can feel the wholesomeness of those who say their favorite holiday is Easter; I feel I should genuflect whenever I’m around them. They are the kind of people who send group texts on Easter morning: “Alleluia! He is risen!”

I am not one of those people.

Nor am I the type of person whose family has a birthday cake on Christmas and sings the happy birthday song to our Lord and Savior.

Maybe I have a problem: I don’t normally say “Alleluia!” and I think having a birthday party for God Incarnate is silly.

Even though I am a stick-in-the-mud when it come to fluffy and pious holidays, I am not always a nihilist. A perfect storm comes in October. The faux spider-webs and rubber smell of costume masks coming from the seasonal aisle in grocery stores fill me with anticipation.

Something wicked awesome this way comes.

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My Halloween-attraction may have reasonable roots. As someone born in mid-November, my childhood birthday parties were often celebrated early as Halloween parties. So wearing costumes, cooler weather, and orange and black spookiness fill me with a childhood glee. Maybe I never quite escaped that association.

Speaking of association, another reason I give for my love of Halloween is a psychological one. The symptoms of my gradually debilitating disorder, Friedreich’s ataxia, first showed up around age 10, the time I most cherished Halloween. The amazing candy. The air of fear for fun’s sake. The dressing up as a character, something other than you are normally. The escapism.

Wrapped up in my fondness for this holiday is the strange religious treatment of it. Halloween is popularly celebrated around here, in the densely Catholic land South Louisiana; but the most pious Catholics and many of my friends in Protestantism begrudgingly dole out candy and allow kids to dress in costume. They sometimes futilely name their celebration “Holy-ween,” and encourage kids to dress as Saints or Bible characters. Only the most unfortunate kids are forced to comply.

I won’t go into the fact that the root of Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve is the evening of All Saints’ Day. Because I don’t care. People will always find a reason to avoid the dark, the unsettling. Avoiding fear, and any reminder of death, is only natural; whether you use a nightlight or a Bible to do so.

Maybe both my childhood memories and coping with an unusual disorder made me this way: I love Halloween. I love losing myself in the dark, confronting chills and thrills.

One of my favorite things in the world is being in a movie theater as the lights dim and a scary movie begins, because I know that I will make it to the end of the movie, and laugh about it later.

Sometimes a reminder that I can overcome even my greatest fears invigorates me.

Just because I cannot see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it!”

Jack Skellington is arriving at his eureka moment as he sings this. His ridiculously long and lanky limbs, draped in a black pinstripe suit, hold up his awkwardly spherical skull head. Solitary in his tower, he questions his newfound love of Christmas, though he is a creature of Halloween, in the 1994 film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

“Oh,” my mom sighed as she walked into the living room. “You’re watching that. Again.”

She was frustrated, since I watched that movie over and over again as a child. She never forbade me from watching it, but the overall creepiness of the film repelled her.

My mom served as a reminder of the way most people view spookiness.

In a way, maybe I am the reverse Jack Skellington- born into piety, in a religious family, in a religious part of the country. My temperament and fear of sinning solidified me as an upright child of Christmas; but I was drawn to Halloween. Like Jack, I wanted to claim that holiday for my own. And maybe like Jack, as the movie shows, I will eventually crash and burn, but I can’t stop enjoying the creepy. I won’t stop.

Now in my thirties, I still smile when the air turns crisp. I never got over the sweet-tooth I had as a child, so I like to buy Halloween candy mix.To be honest, no kids come trick-or-treating at my house. I live off a busy highway, not in a cozy, kid-friendly neighborhood. No, I buy the Halloween candy just for me.

Maybe there is starting to be a legend among the kids in my small town, that the creepy old man who lives in that house next to the bayou who loves Halloween is up to something…I can only hope.

I am a child of holiness, of Christmas, drawn to the realm of shadow and spookiness. Allow me this. Don’t pelt me with your religiosity, your downward looks, and your pitying sighs. We all deal with the dark in different ways; some avoid it at all costs. Some make a game out of it and learn to see in it.

The idea of Halloween and Christmas mash-ups still are powerful to me. Last year, I found what has become my favorite horror podcast, Creepy.

My favorite episode is one in that combination of Christmas and spooky. (Warning: this episode terrifies me. Not for the faint of heart [Kristen].)

May your holiday be candy-filled, fun, and more than a little spooky. Happy Halloween.

Matt Lafleur is trying to get by as best he can. He battles his genetic disorder, Friedreich’s Ataxia, everyday. He wants to be known for more than just that though. He loves Marybeth, Kristen, and Halloween. You can read more from him over at Friedrich’s Ataxia News.

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An Open Letter to Our Children

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Dear Loves of Our Lives, Our Favorite People on the Planet, Our Precious Children:

Daughters, we are so sorry.

We are so sorry that when we saw a boy at a concert, or a ball game, or at a church service goose you or snap your bra strap or grope you or touch you anywhere at all we didn’t do more than yell, “Hey!” at him. We are sorry we didn’t chase him down. We are sorry we didn’t call security. We are sorry that nobody else stopped him or chased him down or called security. We are sorry that our generation hasn’t fixed this yet. We are sorry that there are any young men your age who are still allowed to believe that women are responsible for their inability to control themselves, that they have a right to your body or anyone’s body they want. And we are sorry that we ever suggested you should watch what you wear or only drink a little, without suggesting the same to your brothers and male friends.

Sons, we are so sorry.

We are sorry that you heard the message “boys will be boys” in relation to teasing and bullying, if not from us than from teachers, coaches, friends’ parents. We are sorry for the times you were the recipient of that bullying.

We are sorry that when you made a mistake, some kid called you a “faggot” in derision. We are sorry that you didn’t hear us tell that kid to shut up. We are sorry that we didn’t come to your defense, instead giving you the toxic idea that boys are supposed to “grow a pair”, “man up”, “not be a pussy.” We are sorry you ever got that message, along with the message that being gay was somehow so terrifying as to be acceptable as a curse to use against someone else. We are so sorry that whatever we taught you, you still hear the message from peers, from coaches, from television, from the internet, from EVERYWHERE that you are not capable of controlling yourselves, so that you are not responsible for your own actions.

Our beloved children, we are so sorry that when you were groped, or molested, or assaulted, or raped, that we didn’t believe you. We are sorry that on the occasions where we did believe you, we just let it go, when what we should have done was let you rest and heal while we fought the monsters who did this to you.

Children, we are so sorry that we understood, all too well, your urgent desire to pretend it would go away, when we knew, WE KNEW that it was going to forever change you. We are sorry that our own experiences of being groped, and molested, and assaulted, and raped made us heartbroken that you had to join this horrible club and bear this brutal secret, like us and so many others, instead of enraging us into action. We are sorry that we weren’t enraged into action BEFORE you joined the club.

We are so sorry.

We are so sorry that we had to teach you, Daughters, to walk in groups, and carry your keys in your fingers, and to be wary of men. We are so sorry that no matter how smart, how strong, how amazing you are, that you are still a woman in this world, and that means that like us, like women everywhere, to far too many people you do not matter.

We are so sorry, Sons, that though we tried to give you an example to follow of how to treat everyone with respect, we missed the mark. We tried to teach you that you don’t have a right to anyone else’s body, but failed, because we didn’t do enough to overcome far too many conflicting messages from elsewhere. We are sorry that we didn’t stand up and shout down those messages consistently, from the beginning. We are sorry that we did not teach you that you are smart, strong, and amazing without having to take anything away from your sisters, or anyone else.

We are so sorry.

You are smart and strong and amazing. You matter.

We love you.

Your Mothers