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Center for Action and Contemplation
Twentieth-Century Women Mystics
Twentieth-Century Women Mystics

I Bring Myself

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Sister Thea Bowman (1937–1990), a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, addressed the United States Catholic bishops in 1989. She sang several lines of the African-American spiritual “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child / A long way from home” and embracing her Black, Catholic, female identity, she said:

What does it mean to be Black and Catholic? It means that I come to my church fully functioning. . . . I bring myself, my Black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become; I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African-American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as a gift to the church.

I bring a spirituality that . . . is contemplative and biblical and holistic, bringing to religion a totality of minds and imagination, of memory, of feeling and passion and emotion and intensity, of faith that is embodied, incarnate praise, a spirituality . . . that  steps out in faith, that leans on the Lord, a spirituality that is communal, that tries to walk and talk and work and pray and play together. . . .

A spirituality that in the middle of your Mass or in the middle of your sermon just might have to shout out and say, “Amen, hallelujah, thank you Jesus.” A faith that attempts to be Spirit-filled. The old ladies say if you love the Lord your God with your whole heart, [with] your whole soul and your whole mind and all your strength, then you praise the Lord with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength and you don’t bring [God] any feeble service. . . .  

Today we’re called to walk together in a new way toward that land of promise and to celebrate who we are and whose we are. If we as church walk together, don’t let nobody separate you. That’s one thing Black folk can teach you. Don’t let folk divide you or put the lay folk over here and the clergy over here, [or] put the bishops in one room and the clergy in the other room, put the women over here and the men over here.

The church teaches us that the church is a family. It’s a family of families and the family got to stay together. We know that if we do stay together, if we walk and talk and work and play and stand together in Jesus’ name, we’ll be who we say we are, truly Catholic; and we shall overcome—overcome the poverty, overcome the loneliness, overcome the alienation, and build together a holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city set apart where they’ll know we are his because we love one another.


Adapted from Thea Bowman, “Address to U.S. Bishops” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2021), conference presentation, June 17, 1989, YouTube video, 35:03.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 11 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 4 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Florence Morning (detail), photograph, used with permission.  Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s image appears in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: She sees the leaves in the ice, gathers the small, unnoticed things, and cherishes her findings. We accept the mystic’s invitation to sit and ponder.

Story from Our Community:

Once I met her, I found it impossible not to fall in love with Teresa [of Avila]. This 16th century woman was light years ahead of her times. She was a powerful woman in a world of men—a reformer, founder of convents, author and contemplative. She embodied contradiction, a petite woman who was larger than life, who possessed a zest for life and laughter that made her invincible in the face of adversity. Yet, what most impressed me about Teresa was her love of Jesus and her intimate relationship with him. I was blown away by the picture of Bernini’s sculpture, “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” Bernini depicted Teresa’s vision of an angel who pierced her heart with a golden spear, setting her on fire with a great love of God. How I wished to get so close to God, to become one with him like Teresa! —Sonia F.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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