Theologian Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Sr. Simone Campbell, a Catholic nun in the order of the Sisters of Social Service, a lawyer, Executive Director of NETWORK and best known as the leader of the Nuns on the Bus, is fond of quoting Buechner and his ideas on the sacred, which he says comes from “touching the pain of the world as real.” After listening to Sr. Simone speak at a Sacred Threads lecture on Recognizing the Sacred in our Lives Through Justice on March 6,2014, it seems clear that God called her to find the sacred as an advocate for justice for those who “hunger,” and in that process she has found her “deep gladness.”
Campbell will be the first to tell you that she’s constantly wrestling with the challenge of seeing God in the face of injustice. But she says, she has found the sacred in “injustice that breaks our hearts” and she has committed her life to fighting injustice wherever she sees it, whether it be advocating for programs for the poor, immigration reform or touting the benefits of the ACA. How, then, does she suggest we face the daunting problem of feeding the spiritually and physically hungry? She says, “We must let our lives be broken open, let our hearts be touched by other’s sufferings, and share our own.” That is where the sacred lies.
Sr. Simone has an engaging way of capturing the audience’s attention with a mix of personal stories, poetry and no-nonsense instructions for what needs to happen to effect change. Some of the stories are painful, such as the young woman she met at the White House who was working full time at a chain retail store but was homeless because she couldn’t afford to pay rent on her salary. Some are devastating, like the woman who was laid off from her job of twenty years, became ill, had no health insurance and died because the Affordable Care Act was not yet in place. The writer Isak Dinesen said, “all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” Sr. Simone knows this; she bears the sorrow of these people by telling their stories and “carrying them with her” in her Bible as a constant reminder that we must never stop fighting for social justice and the disenfranchised. And, she uses her poetry at appropriate moments to heighten the power of what she is saying. Perhaps most moving were the final lines from her poem, “Loaves and Fishes” in which she says God tells us that, “Blessed and broken, you are enough. I savor the blessed, cower at the broken and pray to be enough.”
Perhaps the most compelling concept that Campbell discussed was that of “holy doubt.” We often question ourselves when we doubt, but she praises it. She says “holy doubt is what opens us up to each other. We’ve got to be strong enough to embrace our doubt, because God is present when we have questions, when we are not sure.” She says, “holy doubt leads to the shared virtue of deep need. I know, myself, when I’m in doubt, when I have those moments of anxiety and I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got to be nuts, you know, you’ve just got to be nuts’ – the fact is, it drives me to reach out to others.” She says, holy doubt is not comfortable, but in wrestling with our doubt and our limitations, we find God and the sacred and that’s how we get connected. As she puts it, “As I reflected on this idea, I began to think that the virtue of holy doubt is really the doorway to community. It’s the doorway that leads me to connect with others. It’s the doorway that impels me out of my pretty self-satisfied mountaintop to use our moments of holy doubt to connect with those around us.”
She ended by issuing a call to action to all of us in the audience. She said God is calling us to change things and to use our holy doubt to help us connect with each other and be “baptized in this unity of oneness.” It is this unity that helps us to know we are never alone and to touch the pain of the world, which allows us to journey with others whom we would never know otherwise. As she says, “To touch the pain of the world releases hope into the darkness.” It’s our response to injustice that will make things different. It’s community that’s going to make a difference.
So, she says, “Do it all, all of it. Hug the leper. Weep with the woman who bleeds. Stop them from stoning a few people. Do it all. It is doing this together, to be at the margins, is what you are called to be. It’s doing it together, knowing that holy doubt is the doorway to my connection to you. And your holy faith meets my holy doubt, and it becomes like this massive jigsaw puzzle, and this glorious vision of being together.” It is a glorious vision indeed and one we all left with in our hearts.