By Sara Phillips

Space for God

On December 27, a day before the Following Christ 2008 conference began, a group of women met in Chicago for the much anticipated Day Ahead: Finding Space for God, led by Sharon Gartland and sponsored by InterVarsity’s Women in the Academy and Professions. Participants came from all walks and stages of life: tenure-track professors mingled with those just starting out on their graduate careers, professionals chatted with practicing poets, pastors, and musicians.

We met to learn and share what it means to “make space for God” both in ourselves and as we negotiate our sometimes dissonant relationship to the world around us. How does God meet the needs of women, particularly those who have been called to a life of service in fields that have been traditionally open to men? How, given the baggage many of us carry as women and evangelicals, are we to act as leaders both outside and inside the church?

Much of the Day Ahead focused around a study of Mary, who “made space” for God in her own body. This idea shaped itself in our minds and hearts as we engaged in activities that reminded us of our own “embodied” nature, doing handcrafts, learning the practice of doxa soma (Christian meditation), and having our senses aroused by readings from Nigerian poet Jessie Fubara Manuel and an inspiring performance of “Ave Maria” by Ann Boyd. Art historian Linda Stratford presented our journey to the Christ Child as illustrated in The Portinari Altarpiece and author and professor Carmen Acevedo Butcher spoke about what it means to balance scholarship, faith, and family.

For myself, the most challenging and uplifting parts of the Day Ahead were three original monologues performed by Jerusha Matson Neal, a pastor and dramatist from Southern California. These monologues opened up a fresh and relevant understanding of what it means to “birth the Word,” following our callings in the world and as women of God.

Women in the Academy and Professions is still relatively new as a division of graduate and faculty ministries but as the Day Ahead demonstrated, it is concerned with addressing issues relevant to its core audience. As a vehicle of support and community, this ministry offered to those who participated in the Day Ahead a much needed and appreciated gift.

About the Author

Sara Phillips is a nonfiction editor at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press and holds a doctorate in English from the University of Wisconsin. Sara was an active member of the InterVarsity grad chapter at UW-Madison and now spends her days thinking about American poets, the intricacies of knitting patterns, and Wisconsin history. She is currently finishing a dissertation on the American long poem—and in her downtime, is glad to lend her copyediting skills to The Well.

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