Nuns & Nones: an unfolding expression of spirituality

Here’s a piece I wrote for the CSJ-Boston publication, The More. Read the original here. 

In Diarmuid Ó Murchú’s book Reclaiming Spirituality, prophetically written 20 years ago, the social psychologist and member of the Sacred Heart Missionary Congregation explores the spiritual hunger of our time happening outside of religious institutions. For Ó Murchú, it is increasingly urgent to provide “alternative sacred spaces for the spiritual seekers of our time,” spaces of “accompaniment and discernment” that do not support answers to questions but rather support the nurturing and deepening of those questions. As I read his incisive wisdom about the current moment we find ourselves in, here at the intersection of traditional religion and emerging spirituality, I think of the growing movement I have been a part of for the last year and a half: Nuns & Nones.*

Through our conversations between Catholic Sisters and millennial “Nones”, we see an alternative sacred space where our questions come together to gain the insight and scope earned within intergenerational dialogue. Since we started hosting gatherings in December 2016 – in cities across the country – the particular wisdom about the future unfolding before us, at this coming together of religious and spiritual life, is the greatest gift of such dialogue. As Sister of St. Joseph Pat Bergen said at one of the earlier Nuns & Nones gatherings, we all stand at the “prophetic edge” from which we are collectively able to see the newness emerging.


What is this newness emerging? And what does the future that is unfolding before us hold? While we do not know the answers yet, I believe it is in these alternative sacred spaces, through intergenerational accompaniment and discernment and holding big questions together in community, that answers might one day emerge.


As I have spent time with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Boston, especially through our own recent Nuns & Nones gatherings, I have increasingly seen women religious embracing and exploring what the challenges and opportunities of religious life today are. With each new conversation, I hear resonance to the same challenges and opportunities of the needs of contemporary spiritual seekers. It causes me to think that we might not just enjoy one another’s company, but more aptly I think we actually deeply need one another as we embark on this future together.


In Reclaiming Spirituality, Ó Murchú suggests that our evolutionary unfolding “is about transcending what existed previously in order to grow into the future that beckons us forth.” While we might not know exactly what this future looks like, efforts like Nuns & Nones can model the open dialogue and deep collaboration beyond affiliation and across generation that can allow our future to unfold in such a way that imagines us all having a place. In the midst of the decreasing number of vocations entering religious life, and increasing disaffiliation of young people, I can imagine no better adventure to embark on together: to find where at the edges of religious tradition and spiritual practice we can join together and create the ground on which future life can be rooted and grow.


*More on Nuns & Nones

Nuns & Nones is an unlikely alliance across communities of spirit. Bringing together Catholic Sisters and Millennial “Nones” (a term meant to include all those who check “none of the above” in terms of religious affiliation), this intergenerational dialogue and collaboration explores the common ground from which our communities can more deeply communicate and collaborate. As a growing national movement, there have been Nuns & Nones gatherings since December 2016 and hosted across the country, including Cambridge, MA; Bay Area, CA; Kalamazoo, MI; Philadelphia, PA; and St. Louis, MO. Additionally, there are local, on-going gatherings occurring in Grand Rapids, MI; Bay Area, CA; and Boston, MA. In Boston, we have hosted two gatherings with the Sisters of St. Joseph at the Brighton Motherhouse, including in June 2018 where we shared our stories and in July 2018 where we shared in the spiritual practice of contemplative silence. Nuns & Nones as a national movement is facilitated by a team of organizers from across the country, and locally convened with the help of Sr. Maryann Enright, Katie Gordon, Sr. Kathy McCluskey, Sr. Rosemary Mulvihill, and Rachel Plattus.

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Ó Murchú, Diarmuid. Reclaiming Spirituality. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998.