Wisdom Ways Serves Spiritual Seekers
Berggren, Kris, National Catholic Reporter
Pam Keul annually attends a half-dozen events offered by Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, a resource sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. One of Keul's favorites was the 1999 summer institute on Celtic spirituality. She described the extraordinary ritual at the chapel at the College of St. Catherine: "They used big puppets from Heart of the Beast Theatre [a Minneapolis arts organization and event partner]. They marched in with these puppets in the procession at the beginning of the service, including a bare-breasted Wisdom/Sophia and all these animals!"
If Keul, a lifelong Catholic and member of St. Olaf Parish in Minneapolis, found the experience a bit "startling," she also found it inspiring. "Feminine energy isn't banned in church? Natural animal energy isn't banned in church?" she said. "It was like, 'Wow!' Sometimes Catholicism has been wound so tightly and I think there is a little fear mixed in there. If we loosen the strap a bit, it can be more inclusive. There is more celebration and gratitude and joy and connections." Later that day, Keul, a publisher of Turtle River Press, listened raptly to John O'Donohue, author of Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. "I hung on every word," Keul said. "Every word."
Another Wisdom Ways regular, JoAnne Rohricht, agreed that many Wisdom Ways events are memorable and transformative. "Whenever they do an institute or major event they use the arts, including color, movement, light, as well as the spoken word," said Rohricht, who holds a master's degree in religious studies from United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minn., and is a member of First Christian Church in St. Paul. "I consider Wisdom Ways the finest source of theological and spiritual education in the area."
Since its inception in 1994, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality in St. Paul has served approximately 5,000 program participants each year. "Wisdom Ways was founded to explore the spiritual dimensions of contemporary life for women and for men," explained founding director Mary Kaye Medinger. "We are rooted in intellectual depth, opportunity for spiritual practice, action on behalf of justice, feminist methodology and inclusiveness of all spiritual seekers."
Now, as the center marks its 10th anniversary, a "re-founding" board has tweaked its purpose slightly; originally a collaboration between the College of St. Catherine and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, it is now solely sponsored by the sisters, for whom it has become an umbrella for their integrated spiritual ministries. "The purpose is expanding and this board helps us do that," Medinger said. "Our new mission statement includes the phrase 'to re-imagine and embody all that women can be as agents of transformation in church and society.'"
With three staff members and a modest budget of just over $213,000, funded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, program fees and an annual appeal, Wisdom Ways continues to offer rich one-time and ongoing events--seasonal prayer rituals, book discussions, an annual summer institute and a fall Soul Conference, and a yearly "Theological Insights" series and more--that local spiritual seekers have come to count on. A glance through the 2005 online program calendar reveals a wide-ranging spectrum of choices, including a midwinter labyrinth walk; discussion of the current film "What the (Bleep) Do We Know?"; evenings dedicated to sacred dance or silent meditation; a session on the spirituality of grandparenting; and a St. Brigid's Day celebration. Over the years many notable names in theology and spirituality have presented programs, including Parker Palmer, Jeannette Rodriguez, Diana Hayes, Sr. Joan Chittister, Edwina Gately and Sallie McFague.
While Wisdom Ways is not entirely unique as a spiritual resource center, it is "distinctive, especially in this part of the country," according to Mary Farrell Bednarowski, author of The Religious Imagination of American Women, professor emeritus at United Theological Seminary and a member of Wisdom Ways program advisory board. …