‘The church needs women for its salvation’: One-woman play champions nun’s quest for social justice

joan chittister book cover teri bays
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By Linda Stamato

Some 28 years ago, Teri Bays sent a letter to Benedictine nun Joan Chittister.

“I wish your words were on my lips,” wrote Bays.

They are now…..with stunning and, at times, shocking, effect.

Joan Chittister: Her Story, My Story, Our Story, created by Bays, a singer, writer and actress from Sedona, AZ, was performed by Bays on Friday at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Harding. 

Teri Bays performs her one-woman play, "Joan Chittister: Her Story,' at St. Mark Lutheran Church, Sept. 15, 2017. Photo by Linda Stamato
Teri Bays performs her one-woman play, “Joan Chittister: Her Story,’ at St. Mark Lutheran Church, Sept. 15, 2017. Photo by Linda Stamato

The large and appreciative audience gave Ms. Bays a standing, sustained ovation at the conclusion of her performance.

Joan Chittister is a woman for all seasons. With 60 books, 12 honorary degrees, leadership positions too numerous to count, and a global following, this revered author and speaker has had a lot to say about peace, justice, women’s issues and the role of religious life in the modern world. 

She certainly has created a presence.  And Teri Bays, her disciple, “becomes” her to demonstrate through Chittister’s words–and her own–the profound connection between them. She intensifies Chittister’s impact and makes it at once personal and universal. The performance is deeply affecting.

As Bays moves from left to right on the stage, we hear each woman in various times and places, and witness the strands of experience that connect them. 

Bays’ mother was in elementary school with Chittister;  both women, as girls, sought refuge from terror in their households that were fueled by their fathers’ alcoholism and abuse. 

Seeking freedom from fear, they found solace in books, in their diaries and journals, and in companionship and support in the homes of friends, in Bays’ case, and in Chittister’s, in the Benedictine convent which she joined as a novice in 1952.

Their paths diverge and come together as certain themes emerge: Struggling for standing, engaging in protest, embracing non-denominational spirituality, seeking self-understanding in times of change, teaching to embrace social justice, and loving music. 

Benedictine nun Joan Chittister.
Benedictine nun Joan Chittister.

They both experience and resist intolerance, racism and sexism in the church, and, confidently, distance themselves from it.

Seeking to advance morality over religiosity, they take stands for life–more than birth, living free from poverty and duress–they attack the “enemies of our time: Power and profit,” and they assert their equality, resist silencing, and answer the call to leadership, in different ways to be sure.

As Chittister says, “The church needs women for its salvation,” I heard a strong echo from her disciple and supportive murmurs from the audience.

Bays’ performance is delivered with a heavy hand–Chittister’s compelling words–but also with a light touch–expressing the great good humor of both of these talented, courageous and resilient women. 

The Rev. Dennis Crowley of Assumption Church and Bernice Anglin await start of 'Joan Chittister: her Story,' Sept. 15, 2017. Photo by Linda Stamto
The Rev. Dennis Crowley of Assumption Church and Bernice Anglin await start of ‘Joan Chittister: her Story,’ Sept. 15, 2017. Photo by Linda Stamto

Prophets and poets both, they are leading the new way, using public settings, churches, lecture halls and stages to have their voices heard, urging people, as Chittister says, “to live faithfully and to love radically, ” to be public thinkers so as to inspire openness to possibility, resisting retreat to past ways.

Billed as “a one woman play for all women,” Joan Chittister: Her Story, is so much more. 

It is a play for men too, and especially for those who wear clerical collars; it is for all those who work for change in the church and more, for those who share faith in humanity, peace, spirituality and common purpose.

Bays’ appearance was supported in part by the Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community, whose roots are solidly in the tradition of Vatican II.  Its mission was given a burst of energy and spirit tonight and Sister Joan Chittister and Teri Bays found themselves in good company.

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Teri Bays writing, directing, and producing of this one-woman show in which she reveals the close connection she discovered she had with Sister Joan, as the daughter of one of Joan Chittister’s childhood best friends, is intimate, compelling, informative and inspirational. Teri successfully blends all of her apparent talents in offering us this play which presents us with sides of Joan Chittister that could only come from Teri’s willingness to reveal her own personal intellectual, spiritual and matters of the heart that are touching and wise. It is rare to have an artist so quickly draw the viewer into a sense of participation that calls for self-reflection and inspires commitment to action for the sake of justice and truth. Well done. Thanks also to Linda Stamato for this inviting review.

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