Genevieve Chavez, Equalwrites Magazine

January 2, 2022

We as Roman Catholics belong to a Church where openness, justice, and inclusivity are sometimes hard to find. And when these qualities do appear, they are often subject to suspicion. The paradox is that Jesus, the center of our Church, taught and lived openly and justly, welcoming all He encountered. Kathy Coffey’s Dancing in the Margins: Meditations for People who Struggle with Their Churches, offers meditations, poetry, and stories of ordinary people coming to terms with this paradox. Though relegated to the margins of the church, they discover extraordinary ways of being with, listening to, and accepting the spirit of Jesus.

Coffey begins by describing those at the margins, those feeling “betrayed by people and a system that were important to them, a church that they once honored. Now it has either viciously turned on them or blithely ignored them.” (12) She then suggests that instead of shattering into despair, these betrayed or ignored ones pick themselves up, seek the Divine Partner, and dance.

Why dance? Because, Coffey tells us, God is good, and our faith does not come only inside the box called Church. Faith and our faithful God come in all the ordinary, everyday events of our lives, like drawing water from a well when we are thirsty.

By encouraging us to dance, Coffey also reminds us that we must pray and go deep within ourselves to find not just the rules of the institutional Church but God’s truth for each one of us. Again and again, this wisdom is linked to the experience of Jesus, who also lived on the margins, ignoring the religious conventions of his day, talking with a Samaritan woman, touching a dead body, healing the sick on the Sabbath. If we go deep into the Spirit of God within, we find that we can live a fully spiritual life because God is present in us, even when it appears God is nowhere to be found at the parish, in the diocese or at the Vatican.

In addition to descriptions of those hurt, dismissed, or ignored by the institution, Dancing at the Margins offers poetry and gentle meditations on healing. And at the end of each chapter Coffey provides questions for study and reflection. Especially for those recently hurt by the institutional Church, this material could be quite useful, helping them to join the many men and women in and out of the institutional Church who have found a space to seek the holy in their own way.

For those of us who have been living on the margins for a long time, however, this book really does not provide the hope and inspiration for which we yearn. The stories are inspiring, but they are all too familiar. There are just too many of us living ‘on the margins” because the institutional Church is abusive. As one woman quoted in Dancing at the Margins suggests, some of us are no longer satisfied with being marginalized.

“Something about being Catholic is etched on my soul,” she says( 142).

Where can I find a book of meditations that will give me courage, daring, boldness and resolution to believe in and work toward a Church that is open, just and inclusive? What I`m looking for is a strong statement about my right to speak and to do what is just even if the Church fathers do not agree, I may sometimes welcome a meditation that inspires me to dancing. At other times l need one that leads to speaking clearly or disagreeing or even jumping up and down and shouting out loud.

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