Rev. Margaret is quoted in The Martha’s Vineyard Times in an article (3/27/24) about how faith communities on the Island are working together to address climate change. She will head to Martha’s Vineyard on April 5 for a weekend of climate-related events, including speaking at the Hebrew Center’s Shabbat service, preaching at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and leading a retreat on climate resilience for people of all faiths. The theme of the weekend is One Home One Future, the national multifaith campaign to educate, support, and mobilize congregations around climate action.

I am back from a trip to Assisi, Italy, to join an Anglican delegation of liturgists, theologians, and church leaders at an ecumenical gathering hosted by the Laudato Si’ Research Institute, and sponsored by the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Council of Churches, and other partners.

The garden behind San Damiano
   The garden behind San Damiano

The seminar had a mouthful of a title: The Feast of Creation and the Mystery of Creation: Ecumenism, Theology, Liturgy, and Signs of the Times in Dialogue. But its focus was clear: Has the time come to add a Feast of Creation to the liturgical calendars of Western Churches?

It was a delight to make new friends and a thrill to meet the Rev. Canon Dr. Rachel Mash at long last. Based in South Africa, she serves as secretary of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, and she is one of the leading lights in the movement to support a Season of Creation. In her remarks at the conference, “A new season for the calendar of the Church? I hope so!,” she gave a brief overview of Anglican engagement in a Season of Creation and explained why many of us now believe that the time is ripe for the Feast of Creation to be formally integrated into Western liturgical calendars. (I hasten to correct two points in her address: first, I am by no means solely responsible for the Season of Creation worship guides that were released in many Episcopal dioceses in 2022 and 2023 – my colleague, the Rev. John Lein, did most of the heavy lifting; and second, 28 dioceses, not 16, endorsed last year’s edition.)

The ecumenical seminar began and ended with prayer. Before plunging into questions of theology, liturgy, and practice, we spent an afternoon in the garden behind San Damiano, the church that St. Francis re-built and where he wrote most of his Canticle of the Creatures. In the company of birdsong and wind, sunshine and grasses, we sang and prayed our way through his poem. Then, after walking back into town, we gathered outside Cittadella Laudato Si for a prayerful, sunset contemplation of Brother Sun. Again, after the conference ended, many of us hiked in silence up Mount Subasio, the mountain where St. Francis and his followers lived and prayed in caves, and we shared in an ecumenical outdoor Eucharist at the altar of St. Francis.

                                     The Anglican delegation

Conversations at the ecumenical seminar were lively, intense, and sometimes deeply moving. None of us yet knows what will come of this effort. But I do know that it was a blessing to spend time with global Christians from diverse communities who share a passion both for the God who creates, redeems, and sustains all things and for the beautiful, threatened planet that God loves so much.

Here’s an excerpt from a prayer composed by one of the liturgical scholars who attended the Assisi conference, with my suggested addition in brackets.

O loving God, who spoke
and all things were created –
O eternal Word made flesh,
who became one with your creation –
O creator Spirit, who breathes in us,
who renews the face of the earth –
O holy and glorious Trinity,
we praise you and we pray to you
with all our heart!

Bless us with clarity and courage
for our mission to cherish and tend
earth and air, seas and rivers,
peoples and communities.
Guide your Church
to the patterns of prayer that will form us
to be [loving kin of our fellow creatures] and
good stewards
of all that you have entrusted to us.
O holy and glorious Trinity, Creator God,
we praise you and we pray to you
with all our heart. Amen.


Episcopal News Service published a good article (3/25/24) about the seminar: “Anglicans take part in ecumenical seminar in Assisi about God as creator

This is a slightly adapted text for a video I created at the request of the Episcopal Church in Colorado as part of its Lenten series, “Journey through Lament: Leaning into the Brokenness of Our Communities and World.” The YouTube video is available here.

At the end of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, the officiant sometimes concludes the service with this line from Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Our God of hope wants us to abound in hope! Hope is one of the great Christian virtues, but honestly, given the social and ecological breakdown going on all around us, where do we find hope? How do we maintain it? Take climate change, for instance. The relentless extraction and burning of coal, gas, and oil is pushing our planet wildly out of balance. Every living system is in decline and the web of life is unraveling before our eyes. We now live in a world where atmospheric rivers can fill the sky and a month of rain can fall in one day; where wildfires can be so intense that they create their own weather; where hurricanes can be so fierce that we need to create new categories for storms.

What shall we say about hope? Hope is forward-facing – it’s the capacity to look toward the future with confidence that something good is ahead – but then we learn that by 2050, over a billion people could be displaced due to natural disasters and climate change.1 Or we learn that current global climate policies set the world on a path to heat by about 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, which would threaten modern human civilization within the lifespan of children born today.2 Hear things like that and it’s easy to be overcome by helplessness and by what theologian Sallie McFague calls a “crushing state of futility.”3 Say the word “hope” too glibly and it reeks of escapism and wishful thinking.

But I’m here to tell you that it’s precisely in a time like this, when the stakes are so high, that we need to recover the power of Christian hope.

What happens in your body when you don’t feel hope? If you’re like me, you contract. When I go into a hopeless place about the climate crisis, I feel small, helpless, alone. There’s nothing I can do, nothing to be done, it’s all going to hell, and I might as well quit trying to change that – might as well curl up in a ball of anxiety and despair, or distract and numb myself – maybe with entertainment, a drink, shopping, something.

Hope feels different in the body. Hope expands us, it connects us, it moves us out of withdrawal into engagement, out of isolation into relationship. When we’re in a hopeful place, we find energy and courage to act. We know that what we do matters and that even if we can’t do everything, we won’t refuse to do the something that we can do.

How do we nourish hope? It helps to remember that hope does not exist on its own. St. Paul repeatedly links hope with other virtues, other powers of the soul, such as faith and love. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, he writes: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). I imagine hope standing in the middle, holding hands with her two sisters – faith and love.

So, when we find ourselves in a hopeless place, it’s good to remember faith. Take hold of faith! Faith is confidence in things not seen (Hebrews 11:1), in the hidden God who sent us into this world, who is with us now, and who will welcome us home at our journey’s end. Hope arises from faith, because with the Unseen One who loves me, I can step into the future, asking: What shall we do together? I love You and I want to live and act in alignment with You. Even if I see no outward hope, my hope is in You. And I know that whatever happens, whether I live or die, I am yours (c.f. Romans 14:8).

Again, when we find ourselves in a hopeless place, it’s good to remember love. There is so much to love in this beautiful world of ours, so much that we want to save. We can’t save it all, but we can commit ourselves to saving everything we can. Likewise, we can hold in mind the young people in our lives with whom we have a heartfelt connection to the future. Our love for those young people strengthens our resolve to live and act in hope. We don’t want to fail them. We want to protect, as best we can, the conditions that will make their lives safe and peaceful and possible in the decades ahead. What do you love so much that you would give everything, perhaps your very life, to protect it?

And maybe we haven’t even met the ones who most count on us to be living signs of hope. Terry Tempest Williams writes, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come.”4

Christian hope, fortified by faith and love, can keep us steady in a turbulent time. Jesus sets before us a great hope that the reign of God will come on Earth. As long as we live, we intend to pray and work for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven. That’s our big mission, our constant hope, the hope that will never fade away. In the near term, our hopes must be flexible and multiple, like strategic plans that we change as needed while we carry out the larger mission. In the near term, hope is a shapeshifter: depending on outer circumstances, our hopes change; we hope for this, we hope for that, and our hopes ebb and flow, rise and fall, depending on how things are going and how things turn out. Of course, that’s life, that’s normal, that’s how it works, but if that kind of hope – hope in the things of this world – is all we’ve got, we are vulnerable to despair: if my candidate wins, if that policy passes, if my biopsy comes back clean – hurray! my hope is fulfilled! And if I don’t get the outcome I want, then my hope drains away. Unless I have some other, deeper source of hope, I bounce around like a little boat on the surface of the ocean.

Christian hope gives us the deep grounding we need: it springs from deep within us and is replenished day by day from our ongoing relationship with a God who loves us and all creation and who will never let us go. Christian hope sets us free to release the false hopes to which we’ve probably been clinging – hopes like: “When it comes to climate change, everything will turn out fine. Progress will continue. Experts will figure this out. Someone else will fix this.” Such idle hopes are fantasies that give hope a bad name – no wonder “hope” in climate circles is sometimes denounced as a sop and a drug, as nothing more than “Hope-ium” to soothe us, to keep us passive, quiet, and feeling good.

But that’s not the same as Christian hope. Christian hope is not some vague “pie in the sky when you die” – no, it looks squarely at the truth and accepts with bracing clarity the reality and tragedy of sin and suffering. Let’s not kid ourselves. Modern society has overshot the planet’s limits. We’re living as if the Earth had no limits, as if we can extract, burn, consume, and waste to our heart’s content, without harmful consequence. No wonder the living world is being crucified and our complex society is reeling and might collapse. We do well to stand at the foot of the cross, to acknowledge our sorrow, guilt, and shame, and to pray for guidance and forgiveness. Our faith gives us space to lament and grieve – to love what God loves and to weep with a broken heart with Jesus.

Christian hope accepts reality, but acceptance is not the same as resignation. Christian hope rejects defeatism and spurs us into action. And it gives direction and purpose to our lives. God has planted in our hearts a deep desire, an unquenchable hope for justice, for kindness, for the Earth to be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. This is the world that I hope for, and when that hope is held before my eyes, I know what I should do.

The cross is sometimes held before a Christian’s eyes when they are on the point of death. Why? Because in the cross is our hope: amidst agony, violence, and death, amidst humiliation and shame, amidst the worst that human beings can do to each other and to the suffering Earth, God’s loving power and presence endure. Through the power of God revealed on the cross, life will rise again from the dead, though we don’t know how.

That’s the fierce and holy hope that sends us out to plant gardens and save forests, to install solar panels and build resilient communities, to listen to the voice of indigenous people and racial minorities, to push banks to quit funding fossil fuels, to lobby for smart regulations, to vote for climate champions, to change our lifestyle – what we buy, what we eat, how we build and heat our homes. It pushes us out, it drives us to connect with groups like Greenfaith, Third Act, and One Home One Future, and even to carry out acts of civil disobedience and spend time in jail.

The historian and activist Rebecca Solnit describes hope well when she says: “Hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky… Hope is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency…Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… Hope,” she says, “calls for action; action is impossible without hope…To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.”5

So, here we are, breathing in God’s Spirit with every breath, standing in hope with faith and love beside us, renewing our resolve to do everything we can to save life as it has evolved on Earth, even as we let go the outcome and entrust the results to God.

I’ll end with this. Years ago, I tried to name my ultimate hope and what I wanted to embody in my life. I came up with this statement: I am the possibility of the love of God being fully expressed in the world. That’s my North Star – in a sense that’s my identity, who I truly am, the purpose for which I was born. Until the day I die I want to be the possibility of the love of God being fully expressed, fully known, fully embodied in the world, no matter what happens. That’s my deepest hope. How would you name yours?

Here’s what I want to say: Decide what you hope for and then live inside that hope.


Questions for reflection and discussion:

1. What happens in your body when you don’t feel hope?
2. Have you ever thought of hope as having power?
3. The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says that hope is forward facing. What do you think she means by this?
4. Hope moves us out of withdrawal and into engagement. What is something you can do personally when it comes to the changing climate and ecological devastation? What is something we can do together?
5. What is the difference between hope and Christian hope?
6. The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says that Christian hope holds hands with faith and love. How do you nourish your hope with faith and love, so it doesn’t fade away?
7. What does it look like to take hold of faith when we’re in a hopeless place?
8. What do you love so much that you would give everything, perhaps your very life, to protect it?
9. How do we share our deep Christian hope with people outside our congregations?
10. The video mentions Rebecca Solnit’s quote that “Action is impossible without hope,” and “Hope should shove you out the door.” How can you commit to the future so that the present is inhabitable?
11. The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says that her ultimate hope is to be “the possibility of the presence and love of God being fully expressed in the world.” She invites us to name our ultimate hope and to live inside it. What is your ultimate hope?

The video can be viewed on YouTube here.



3. Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Minneapolis: Fortress Press: 2008), p. 157.

4. Terry Tempest Williams, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert

5. Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (Chicago, IL: 2004, 2006, 3rd ed.), p. 4


Rev. Margaret created a short video for the Episcopal Church in Colorado,“Climate Crisis & Reorienting Ourselves to Hope.” It’s the final video in a five-week Lenten series for the diocese, entitled Journey through Lament: Leaning into the Brokenness of Our Communities and World.

You can view the video here.

Questions for reflection and discussion:

1. What happens in your body when you don’t feel hope?
2. Have you ever thought of hope as having power?
3. The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says that hope is forward facing. What do you think she means by this?
4. Hope moves us out of withdrawal and into engagement. What is something you can do personally when it comes to the changing climate and ecological devastation? What is something we can do together?
5. What is the difference between hope and Christian hope?
6. The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says that Christian hope holds hands with faith and love. How do you nourish your hope with faith and love, so it doesn’t fade away?
7. What does it look like to take hold of faith when we’re in a hopeless place?
8. What do you love so much that you would give everything, perhaps your very life, to protect it?
9. How do we share our deep Christian hope with people outside our congregations?
10. The video mentions Rebecca Solnit’s quote that “Action is impossible without hope,” and “Hope should shove you out the door.” How can you commit to the future so that the present is inhabitable?
11. The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says that her ultimate hope is to be “the possibility of the presence and love of God being fully expressed in the world.” She invites us to name our ultimate hope and to live inside it. What is your ultimate hope?

Rev. Margaret is one of many contributors to a new devotional booklet for Lent and Easter now available from the Episcopal Dioceses of Massachusetts and Vermont. Presented with beautiful graphics, the devotional is entitled “Baptism and Collaboration in the Body of Christ.” The devotional features lay, ordained and monastic voices reflecting on the daily Scriptures of the season and the various “Will you…” questions of the baptismal covenant:

  • Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers? 
  • Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? 
  • Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Jesus Christ? 
  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? 
  • Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? 
  • Will you cherish the wondrous works of God, and protect and restore the beauty and integrity of all creation?

You can download the devotional here.

Put your hand out. Do you feel a thread? To what is it connected? Where does it lead?

I started playing with these questions after reading The Princess and the Goblin, a fantasy by George MacDonald, whose work influenced Lewis Carroll, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis. This classic children’s story is full of mythic, archetypal symbols that would resonate with Carl Jung. There’s a royal castle aboveground, a goblins’ castle underground, a princess, a peasant, a magic fire, a magic ring, and a secret tower where the princess’ beautiful great-great-grandmother lives.

Spinning Wheel, by David Ross. Licensed to Robert A. Jonas. Adobe Stock 25342628.

But the image that particularly drew my attention was the image of an invisible, sacred thread. The great-great-grandmother sits in the tower, spinning a delicate thread woven from spiderwebs and filled with moonlight. She ties the thread to a ring and gives the ring to the young princess. She tells Princess Irene that when she is frightened or in trouble, she should put the ring under her pillow and follow the thread.

Then you must lay your finger, the same that wore the ring, upon the thread, and follow the thread wherever it leads you.”

“Oh, how delightful! It will lead me to you, grandmother, I know!”

“Yes. But, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.”1

Sure enough – when Irene awakens one morning to a frightful disturbance, she puts the ring under her pillow and lays her finger on her grandmother’s thread. Although she can’t see the thread, she can feel it under her fingers. To her surprise, it leads her outdoors, away from her grandmother’s tower, up a steep mountainside and then down into caverns deep underground, where she reaches an impenetrable dead-end:

…[She] came to a huge heap of stones, piled in a slope against the wall of the cavern… [The thread] vanished through the heap of stones, and left her standing on it, with her face to the solid rock. For one terrible moment she felt as if her grandmother had forsaken her.2

Dismayed, Irene begins to weep. At length she decides to follow the thread backwards and go home.

But the instant she tried to feel it backwards, it vanished from her touch. Forward, it led her hand up to the heap of stones – backwards it seemed nowhere.3

Irene is alone in the dark with no way forward, no way out, and no way through. She weeps in despair.

I won’t explain what happens next – you’ll have to read this wonderful story for yourself. But here’s the point: by daring to follow the thread with a trusting heart and by doing whatever she must to stay connected with the thread – even if it demands all her courage, even if it requires the physical effort of laboring in the dark and enduring an aching back and bleeding hands and fingers – the princess not only finds her way to freedom but also saves the life of her friend, who in turn saves everyone from the goblins.

Entranced by the idea of following a thread, I began musing on the threads that appear in legends and folklore around the world, from Ariadne’s thread that guides Theseus out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the invisible red thread of Chinese mythology that connects two people who are destined to meet. I got curious about whether there might be threads to follow in the Bible. Sure enough, I quickly found references to red threads, blue threads, and even spiders’ threads, but nothing about following a thread. Finally, in Chapter 11 of the book of Hosea, I found what I was looking for.

The prophet Hosea portrays God’s compassion in terms as gentle as George MacDonald’s account of the great-great-grandmother tending Princess Irene: like a devoted mother, God loves his/her children, teaches them to walk, and takes them up in the divine arms (Hosea 11:1-3). God says, “I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” And God also says, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love” (Hosea 11:4).

Ah! There it was! God leads us by invisible cords of human kindness and bands of love. We are given an invisible thread to follow, and that thread connects us to a divine compassion as tender as a mother’s love.

Well, it seemed to me that following the thread was a tangible way to practice the presence of God. I began bringing the thread to mind as I went through the day. I imagined feeling it between my fingers. Was I following it as I made choices about what to do, what to say, how to say it?

A thread is a tiny thing, and an invisible thread seems like nothing at all. For all of us who are trying to accomplish the seemingly impossible – protect democracy from authoritarian rule, stabilize a climate hurtling toward chaos, build peace in a war-torn world, restore justice between races, stop gun violence (feel free to add whatever you like to the list) – in short, for all of us who feel called to a mission that we can’t do alone and that won’t be completed in our lifetime, it may be cold comfort to know that all we have is a thread to follow. Perhaps, like Princess Irene, we find ourselves alone in the dark with our face to solid rock.

Yet the thread of love is trustworthy. Following the thread will keep us on the right path, for when we hold the thread, we hold it with the One who holds it with us. We hear a lot these days about unraveling – the unraveling of society, the unraveling of the web of life – so, I wonder what would happen if we renewed our intention to follow the thread of love, wherever it leads. It’s a costly commitment, for it will demand all our courage and trust, all our dedication and resolve, but as we follow that thread, perhaps we will begin to reweave the fabric of our communities and re-knit our relationships with each other and the whole of Creation.

I will leave you with three offerings: several questions for reflection, a poem by William Stafford, and a meditation I cooked up on following the thread.

Questions for reflection

Are you aware of following an invisible thread as you go through your day? What is that thread? Is there a guide-rope you hold on to that connects you with the sacred, with the divine?

How do you follow it? Maybe you pay attention to your imagination and intuition, to hunches and synchronicities, to dreams. Maybe you take time to meditate and pray, so that your awareness can become more sensitive to what it feels like to touch the thread.

To what is your thread connected?  The thread in George MacDonald’s story doesn’t simply hang in space – it remains forever connected to the girl’s great-great-grandmother, a mysterious, sacred expression of the Divine Feminine. The thread in Hosea’s passage connects with a compassionate God. Who is holding the thread with you and leading you with bands of love? Is it Jesus? Is it Mary? Is it the Holy Spirit? Is there an image of God that speaks to you just now? Following the thread keeps you in close relationship with the One who is leading you and who loves you utterly.

As we head into a new year is this an opportune moment to renew your commitment to following the thread?

A poem by William Stafford: The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

A meditation on following the thread

Take your mythic imagination and go outside for an intuitive walk to follow the thread. Begin by walking slowly and in silence. Notice everything you can – sights, sounds, smells, temperature. Drop out of your thinking, planning mind. Welcome your sensory experience.

After a while, when you feel fully present, pause to imagine that you’re holding an invisible thread that connects you to the Source of love. You might imagine feeling it between your fingers. You might imagine it being connected to your heart. To what or to whom is your thread connected?  Let images come to you.

Walk slowly and follow where your thread is leading. Let your intuition guide you. Don’t work too hard or try to figure anything out – hold the thread lightly. Notice: What draws your attention? Why? Do you feel led to go somewhere or do you feel invited to stay still? How is love showing up? What is it like to follow the thread?


1. George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin (1872), illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith (1920), Chapter 15.

2. MacDonald, Chapter 20.

3. Ibid.

The Episcopal Church and a new Season of Creation liturgy

Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) is creating a series of success stories about environmental justice at the parish and diocesan levels, “Action for Change: Mobilizing the Church for Environmental Justice.” ACEN released a webinar in which Rev. Margaret tells the story of how she and Rev. John Eliott Lein created a Season of Creation liturgy in 2023 that was authorized by 27 dioceses in the Episcopal Church. The video was just released and is about 7.5 minutes long.

I particularly commend two other short videos in this series: a video by the Rev. Laurel Dykstra about Salal + Cedar, the extraordinary eco-justice ministry that she founded in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, centered in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a video by the Rev. Rachel Mash (Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa) on “Greening Your Canons,” a brilliant way, as she puts it, to “change the DNA of the Church.”

An Episcopal Path to Creation Justice launches pilot program!

In this brief video, Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and Rev. Rachel Field introduce An Episcopal Path to Creation Justice and explain how this exciting new program will support congregations to pray, learn, act, and advocate at deepening levels of commitment. The Path launched in October 2023 as a pilot program in eleven parishes in Province One, and we hope to make it available across the Episcopal Church in the summer of 2024. For more information about the Path, please visit the website now under development.

I want to tell a story about what it was like to be arrested for the first time. Why tell this story now? Because climate change is accelerating. Because we need to consider every possible tool at our disposal to preserve a habitable world. Because deep social change requires a movement of disciplined, peaceful warriors for life. Because we hear the call to serve something larger than ourselves. Because sometimes that call drags us out of our comfort zone.

Before I tell the story, here come three clusters of reflection questions.

  • Under what conditions would you consider being trained in the principles and practices of peaceful civil disobedience? Under what conditions would you consider supporting people who were risking arrest? Under what conditions would you risk arrest yourself?
  • Who are the people who inspire you to do more than you thought possible? With whom do you hold hands, literally or figuratively, when you step out to make a difference in the world?
  • Gandhi said, “My life is my message.” What is your message?

The background: After years of combining parish ministry and climate activism, in 2001 I decided to head to Washington, DC, to join a brand-new (now defunct) interfaith group, Religious Witness for the Earth, in protesting the Administration’s energy policy and its intention to expand oil production in the Arctic.

On the first day we learned about oil drilling and the Arctic, about climate change and fossil fuels. On the second we lobbied our members of Congress and studied the disciplines of non-violent civil disobedience. On the third, about a hundred of us marched down Independence Avenue in religious vestments, carrying banners and singing. When we reached the Department of Energy, an enormous stone structure surrounded by police, we held a brief worship service. So far, everything was legal. Then came the part that wasn’t.

What follows is an excerpt from an essay1 I wrote about the decision to carry out civil disobedience and the experience of being arrested and spending time in jail.


The worship service was coming to an end. We sang “Amazing Grace,” and then the twenty-two of us who had decided to risk arrest joined hands and walked slowly to the doors of the Department of Energy.

I felt us cross an invisible boundary. With the others, I stepped over a threshold I could not see. I walked out of my ordinary life.

I am neither a lawbreaker nor a thrill-seeker. More often than not, I follow the rules – even enforce them. I fasten my seat belt, don’t cheat on taxes, write thank you notes, and stand up when the band plays our national anthem. But here I was, intentionally and publicly breaking the law. As if some inner revolution had quietly taken place, the old “me” was no longer in charge. Whatever security I’d felt in operating within the rules was gone. That’s partly why I felt so frightened as I left the safety of the circle and moved toward the door: I hardly recognized myself.  I hardly knew who I was.

Among the protesters were (in back) Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb & Rev. Robert K. Massie, and (in front) Rev. Rich Fournier, Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, Rev. Kate Stevens, Rev. Fred Small, Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

We stand or kneel in prayer, our backs to the building.

The pavement under my knees is hard.  At home, I often sit on a meditation cushion to pray. Today there is no cushion, just the weight of my body against stone.  I lift up my hands. I’m dressed for Holy Communion. I might as well hold out my arms as I do at Communion.

Instead of pews filled with parishioners, I see ranks of police and a cluster of supporters. I am afraid.  I’ve never been arrested before. Years ago, as a VISTA volunteer in Mayor Rizzo’s Philadelphia I heard countless stories of police brutality. It’s not that I really expect the same thing to happen to me – the punch in the gut, the assault behind closed doors. Still, my body tenses as I place myself against the cops, the Feds, the law.

I close my eyes. One by one we pray aloud, words thrown into space, words hurled against stone.

Is this whole thing ridiculous? I briefly open my eyes and notice a well-dressed man watching us. He strokes his tie, leans over, and says something to a fellow nearby. The two of them chuckle. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but I wonder if they think we look absurd. I suppose we do. Here we are with our jerry-rigged signs, our predictably earnest songs and prayers of protest, a foolhardy band straight out of the ‘60’s.

Defensively, I imagine confronting that mocking man with the arsenal of our credentials. “We’re no rag-tag bunch,” I want to tell him. “We’re people with doctorates and master’s degrees – nurses and ministers, writers, and accountants. Thoughtful people, educated people, professionals.”

I am distracted from prayer by this indignant outburst. “Let it go,” wisdom tells me.  “None of that matters – your degrees, your skills, your status in the world. The privileges of race and class mean nothing now. You’re a woman on your knees, that’s who you are – one human being pleading with God.”

I turn my attention back to prayer and continue to stretch out my arms. Suddenly I realize that beneath the tension, beneath the fear and self-consciousness, something else is welling up. I am jubilant.

“Lift up your hearts,” I might as well be saying to the people before me, beaming as broadly as I do at Communion.

“We lift them to the Lord,” would come the response.

How did I miss it? After years of going to church, after years of celebrating Communion, only now, as I kneel on pavement and face a phalanx of cops, do I understand so clearly that praising God can be an act of political resistance. That worship is an act of human liberation. The twenty-two of us come from different faith traditions, but each of us is rooted in a reality that transcends the rules and structures of this world. Tap into that transcendent truth, let the divine longing for a community of justice and mercy become your own deepest longing, and who knows what energy for life will be released?

I feel as defiant as a maple seedling that pushes up through asphalt.  It is God I love, and God’s green earth.  I want to bear witness to that love even in the face of hatred or indifference, even if the cost is great.

So what if our numbers are small? So what if, in the eyes of the police, in the eyes of the world, we have no power?  I’m beginning to sense the power that is ours to wield, the power of self-offering. We may have nothing else, but we do have this, the power to say, “This is where I stand.  This is what I love.  Here is something for which I’m willing to put my body on the line.”

I never knew that stepping beyond the borders of what I find comfortable could make me so happy. That shifting from self-preservation to self-offering could awaken so much joy.


  1. Adapted from “When Heaven Happens” by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, in Heaven, ed. Roger Ferlo (NY: Seabury Books, 2007), 74-85.

This article was published on November 2, 2023, in “Going Deep,” one of two newsletters published by Third Act Faith. (You can find the article here.) The other newsletter, Third Acts of Faith, provides members and subscribers with all the latest “News & Views” for the month. To learn more and to join Third Act Faith, visit here.

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (October 15, 2023) by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and posted at Preaching for God’s World Matthew 22:1-14

Your invitation to love’s banquet

Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast has been interpreted in all sorts of ways, some of them helpful – some of them, not so much. Over the years, commentators have interpreted the parable as an angry rebuke of the religious authorities who rejected Jesus; as an allegory to justify the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman soldiers in the year 70 C.E.; and as an account of why early Christian communities opened their doors to Gentiles as well as Jews. At their worst, interpretations of the parable smack of conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism; at their best – well, let’s give it a shot.  What meaning can this parable have for us today?  In particular, can it give us any spiritual guidance in these turbulent times?

Let’s take it from the top.  Once upon a time there was a king – a wise, all-powerful king who decided to hold a wedding banquet for his son.  He got everything ready and prepared a feast of the finest foods.  He sent out invitations to his chosen guests, saying “Everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet” (Matthew 22:4). But the guests refused to come.  Twice they were asked, and twice they turned him down.  They “made light” of the invitation, the story tells us, and some “went away, one to his farm, another to his business” (Matthew 22:5), while the rest attacked and killed the messengers. If we read this through the lens of spiritual experience, what might this part of the story mean?  What comes to my mind are the many times that I refuse those invitations to the feast.  Too often I act like one of those guests who is handed a beautiful, hand-engraved wedding invitation: I cross my arms and say, “Nope; not interested.” Has this ever happened to you? Maybe you’re sitting indoors, and you’ve been inside all day, getting some work done, and you look up and notice that the sun is now low in the sky, casting a marvelous golden light across the purple underbelly of the clouds, and some part of you stares and says Oh! And you want to get up and gaze out the window for a while – or even step outside. But you don’t. Or maybe there’s a man with a loose gray coat and an unshaven face who is standing on the sidewalk where you just parked your car, and as you put a quarter in the meter, he mumbles a request: could you give him money to buy a cup of coffee?  You look across the street and sure enough, there’s a coffee shop right there; even if you don’t want to give the man cash, you could perfectly well walk across the street and get him a cup of coffee. But you don’t. Or maybe you feel stressed and distracted, or maybe sad and discouraged, and you sense a deep tug to prayer. You know that new life will blossom in you only if you get yourself to sit down and pay attention to what is going on inside, only if you let yourself rest for a while in God’s embrace. But do you let yourself pause to take in that nourishment?  You don’t.  You’ve got other things to do – good things, important things. That inner tug can wait.  If you ignore it long enough, maybe it will go away. Invitations to love’s banquet can take many forms, and they come not just once, but every day, and many times a day – maybe as an invitation to gaze at the beauty of the world, or as an invitation to be generous, or as an invitation to pause for a while to give the lover of our souls our full and undivided attention in prayer. Yet how easy it is to say No! I have a million excuses – I’m too busy, too focused on my own agenda, too distracted or overloaded to relinquish my worried, busy mind and to let my awareness open and to drop into my heart. That’s a loss, because deep at the center of our being is an unquenchable thirst for union with the divine. Deep in our guts, our bones, our very DNA, is an irrepressible yearning to move toward the Source of life, the All, the Ultimate, the Holy One.  Call it what you will – human beings the world over, whatever their religion, share a desire for what one writer calls “the union on this earth and in this body of the human with the divine. This is the true spiritual marriage, the consummation of love that in one way or another is the aim of every ritual and every practice in every religion.”1 It’s no wonder that the Bible so often uses wedding imagery to express the complete and intimate union of God and God’s people, or of God and the individual soul. Sometimes the Bible depicts the bridegroom as God; sometimes the bridegroom is Christ. Sometimes, as in this parable, we are invited to be guests at the wedding, and sometimes we ourselves are the bridegroom or we ourselves are the bride. Love poets and mystics know all about the ecstasy of spiritual marriage. Take, for instance, St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day we recently celebrated.  Francis gazed deeply into the natural world as if into a mirror, and he saw reflected back to him the outpouring love of God. For him, God was not an entity “out there” – God was within him and around him; God infused and sustained and shone out from all things.  Here is a little poem adapted from St. Francis2: Such love does the sky now pour, that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home. The human longing for union with God is universal, but how quickly we repress it, ignore it, or push it away! Who knows why? Maybe we don’t want to feel our need and vulnerability; maybe we’re afraid to relinquish control; maybe we’re convinced we’re not good enough and we can’t possibly be loved that much. But if we keep pushing God away, if we keep shutting ourselves off from the invitation to love and to be loved, then before long we will start to experience God as the enemy, and that’s the next part of the parable: some guests mock the messengers and blow them off, and other guests seize, mistreat, and kill them. The passage tells us that “the king was enraged” (Matthew 22:7). He sends in his troops, destroys the murderers, and burns their city down. As a spiritual story, this parable is quite accurate and exact: when we turn ourselves into the enemy of God, eventually we begin to experience God as an enemy. God has not changed, but we have – we have pushed God away and have deliberately alienated ourselves from the divine. Before any spiritual union can possibly take place, maybe that stubborn, resisting part of the self needs to be brought low and to fall away. All of us who, at some point, have made a mess of our lives, who have made terrible mistakes and headed too far down a willful, self-centered, and defiant path, know what that’s like. Sometimes the ego must be crucified before the soul can be born. Yet the invitation to love never ceases.  In fact, it keeps getting wider, deeper, more expansive, and more inclusive. There is no guest list now. The king’s love reaches out to everyone.  The wedding is ready, he says; the feast is about to be served and the food is hot. He sends messengers into the streets to invite everyone to come, both good and bad, and they stream into the wedding hall until it is filled at last. If you read this as a story of the interior life, it seems that only now – after our pride and defiance have been humbled and brought low – only now can we understand that every part of ourselves is being invited to the feast, that everything in us that we have cast away, abandoned, and rejected is being invited into the presence of God to be welcomed and healed and made whole.  Our whole selves are invited to the feast, and everybody else is invited with us.  There is no need now to shrug hopelessly and to say that we must settle for being alienated from each other, that we have keep living driven, restless, distracted lives, that we have to make peace with poverty, with racial injustice and economic injustice, that we have to condone destroying the earth and that we have to tolerate an endless succession of wars. Now we know the truth: we have been invited to feast at the table of divine life. We have been invited into the very heart of God, and in the strength of that divine presence we are sent out into the world to bear witness to God’s justice and mercy and love. The parable ends with the startling little story of the guest who comes to the feast with no wedding robe and is summarily bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness (Matthew 22:11-14). Maybe this is a reminder to stay humble: God loves us completely and invites everyone to the feast, but we have our own work to do: to clothe ourselves day by day with the intention to love.  As St. Paul puts it in Colossians, our job is to “[strip] off the old self with its practices and [to clothe ourselves] with the new self…” The passage continues: “As God’s chosen ones… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and…forgive each other… Above all, clothe yourselves with love” (Colossians 3:9-10, 12-14). In short, we wear the right clothes to the wedding feast of life when we clothe ourselves with love. We are living through a time of extraordinary stress, a time in which each of us must clarify who we are and what we value. So, here is what I want to tell you. When love’s holy invitation comes, I want to say yes. When love calls me to marvel at the sunset, to stop and gape at the beauty of the world, I want to say yes. When love calls me to walk across the street to bring someone a cup of hot coffee and to add some honey to it, and some milk, as well, because that’s the way he says he likes it, I want to say yes. When the divine call comes to sit down in prayer and to give the lover of my soul my full and undivided attention, I want to say yes.  As Mary Oliver writes in her poem, “When Death Comes,”3 When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. I want to say yes to life, yes to God, yes to the One in whose invisible, irresistible Presence we step fully into life, daring to connect deeply with ourselves and each other, refusing to be spectators, refusing to hold back, stepping out to create a world – and to fight for a world – in which everyone has a chance to experience how deeply God loves them. The banquet table is prepared, Jesus says to us. Will we come to the feast? I will give the last word to Rumi, a Sufi poet who ends one of his poems4 like this: On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open and the love starts.    Today is such a day. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Roger Housden, For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, (New York City: Hay House, Inc., 2009), xiii. 2. St. Francis of Assisi, “Wring Out My Clothes,” in Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky (New York, Penguin Compass, 2002), 48. 3. Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes,” New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 10. 4. Jalaludin Rumi, “On a Day When the Wind is Perfect,” in Love Poems from God, 80.