Scholar Fridays is a series on Bearings Online where we feature 2018-19 Resident Scholars. Michele (Mickie) Micklewright is a healthcare chaplain in Minneapolis, MN and a recipient of a 2019 MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. She spent March-April 2019 at the Collegeville Institute working on a writing project titled In the Dawn of Shadows: The Voice of a Minister, a Woman, from the Catholic Tradition. To view previous Scholar Friday interviews, click here.
Tell us about and your project and what inspired you to work on it.
The project is a hybrid narrative of an inner-city minister and her husband, both rooted in a faith-based justice community (1982-1991), who, inspired by Medellin and Puebla, and drawn by a desire to respond more fully to the struggles of the world, commit to accompanying a barrio community in Venezuela, 1991-1995.
The hybrid narrative, in dialogue with present time and backstory for context, builds upon and utilizes this found-memory of archival material: documents, letters, journal entries, minutes from meetings, newspaper clippings, marginalia.
I was inspired to work on this project when my husband and I were invited to attend a 25-year reunion of a cohort of people who had served in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. I was hesitant to attend the gathering as our time in Venezuela had been an arduous one (1991-1995). In seeking out memories of that time I uncovered a treasure trove of archival material buried, on a shelf, in the basement, in two boxes. The hybrid narrative, in dialogue with present time and backstory for context, builds upon and utilizes this found-memory of archival material: documents, letters, journal entries, minutes from meetings, newspaper clippings, marginalia. The narrative uncovers the voice of a minister, a woman, seeped in the Catholic tradition, claiming her life, hidden in the shadows.
On a deeper level, the unfolding of the story ponders the question of spiritual distress, moral injury, the high cost of unclaimed clericalism and fear when it lashes out, unexpectedly, scattering and disempowering colleagues. It ponders how each, in the system, caught in its grip, are injured and it questions the historical roots of institutionalized clericalism and if there is an antidote.
Have you ever read a book that changed your life? If so, what book and how?
I read several books of great influence in 1980, which was a year of significant change in my life. Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Harry Caudill was influential during a summer I spent working in Kentucky and Appalachia, where I discovered institutional violence, corporate greed, and the impact on marginalized communities. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown revealed the shadow history of my country shared from the perspective of those voices who are not often heard. I read that book while traveling West cross-country on a bus to attend an ecumenical program called The Oregon Extension. I also read Julian of Norwich: Showings,Classics of Western Spirituality, which was a meditative companion to center and nourish me while studying in the mountains of Oregon.
These books reset my understanding of the world, God’s movement in history, and deepened my vocational discernment.
These books were a triple powerhouse that, in dialogue with the historical reality unfolding in my own country and beyond (government complicity in Latin American terror, assassination of Oscar Romero, the four church women, the death of Dorothy Day, and the election of Reagan) reset my understanding of the world, God’s movement in history, and deepened my vocational discernment. I changed career paths from studying biology with a focus on pre-med to expanding studies to include philosophy, political science, and environmental biology.
What book are you reading right now for pleasure?
Three books I am currently reading for pleasure, meditation and prayer, and which are fostering a cross-fertilization and deepening, include: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself by Frederick Douglass, Spirituality: A Brief History by Philip Sheldrake, and She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth A. Johnson.
What is your greatest “ecumenical moment”?
We ministered to people from a myriad of faith traditions who explored questions of meaning and purpose, end-of-life, loss, fear, or the unknown.
I served for seven years with the St. Croix Chaplaincy Association (1996-2003), an ecumenical cohort of six ministers (women and men) in healthcare facilities in Stillwater, MN, which included a hospital, skilled care nursing facilities, AIDS home, and hospice. We collaborated, ministered to people from a myriad of faith traditions, or without faith traditions, who, seeped in spirituality or searching, explored questions of meaning and purpose, end-of-life, loss, fear, or the unknown. Bi-weekly our cohort gathered to support one another, engage in theological reflection, discuss our pastoral ministries and coordinate responsibilities. Initially, we represented Methodist, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Quaker, Episcopalian and Catholic traditions. Ordained, welcoming, and inclusive, they were both colleagues and, in a deep sense, ministerial mentors.
Do you ever listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind of music?
I usually google “meditative, music, water, youtube” and select from the choices that emerge. The latest version of meditative music I listen to while writing is quiet background music.
Where do you see the church in ten years? Twenty or thirty years?
The deep question for the church is how to embrace a spirituality of exile.
The people of God, as sacrament of history, will continue in ecumenical and interfaith and inter-cultural communities as people who are willing to cross borders, break status quo, take risks, join with others collaboratively, living their particularities-in-depth in exile, together, and thus, be at home. Indeed, the people of God, today, have been called to be a people of exile, a seeking people, a deep listening people. These are the “signs of the times” that we are called to embrace. The church, as institution, unless it humbly and intentionally begins to dialogue with those placed in the shadows, will be more fragmented, scattered, confused and scared – indeed it already has begun to hemorrhage within. These too are the “signs of the times.” The deep question for the church is how to embrace a spirituality of exile.