Why Do We Fear Mystics?


by Reed Fowler

Proclaim member and
MDiv student at LSTC

In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the month of March.

Why do we fear mystics?
Why do we delegate those who feel deeply and without restraint to psychiatric wards, allow those who experience visions and speak of them to roam without shelter or care, create a culture that is so scientific and reason-based that any moment of Divine unity is best experienced and then filed away – only to be shared in hushed tones? Why is it that the wildness of nature is one of the few spaces where we are allowed to express holy and mystic awe, and yet those spaces are constantly threatened and encroached on?

The industrial structures that are the fabric of United States are based on the lie that we have to seek outside of ourselves and community to fill spiritual needs. Marketing is designed to trick us into believing that we aren’t enough. That we don’t have the capacity to encounter the Divine in our very cells, but that we need to be supplemented by things that we buy and consume.

“You can’t exist in your body as it is, you need to change it…”

“You can’t reach the Divine unless you subscribe…buy…”

What could our world be if more people lived into the reality that we already have what we need spiritually in ourselves and in community? To lean into our dirt-creaturehood and realize that we are Good and made for the delight of the Divine?

There is a power in being receptive to mystic happenings, because it requires vulnerability and openness, and a counter-culture belief in experience. It’s also a muscle that can be trained. Artistic practice helps to develop those muscles in my embodiment and daily life. It’s hard for me to be still and quiet in traditional meditative forms, but while weaving or throwing clay, I can center.

Dorothee Söelle is a mid-century German mystic, who proposes that mystic experience can be an act of resistance, a balance point. “But if I need both, the inner light of being at one with every living thing and the resistance against the machine of death, how do I get them together?”* The artistic impulse is to react from your gut with a ‘yes’. Yes, things are messy and rough right now. Yes, God is still near. Yes, we are holy and can experience the Divine.


*Söelle, Dorothee. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2001. pg. 5


Reed Fowler (they/them/theirs) is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They are invested in interfaith collaboration, holding space for witness and tenderness, and centering alternative and artistic expressions of the sacred. They spend downtime knitting, queering faith + domesticity, gardening, and snuggling with their ever-increasing menagerie.




Photo at top & Bio Photo: Provided by author

Mystic Sexuality as Resistance

by Elle Dowd

Proclaim member and
MDiv student at LSTC

In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the month of March.


Each time I read the works of one of my favorite historical mystics,  a part of me is transported back to a 13 year old version of myself – lounging on my comforter, kicking up my legs behind me, pouring over the words breathlessly, devouring it as if it were a Judy Blume book.  Reading the mystics, I feel that same eager, hungry response bubbling up in my body and in my spirit.

In all honesty, a lot of these mystical writings would be just as likely to get banned today as my beloved teenage fiction stories, should people actually be paying attention. Moralists might call these writings blasphemous, improper, even pornagraphic.  And in the time these pieces were written, their authors were threatened by the authorities with sanctions or silencing bans. Many of the historical mystics in our Christian tradition were too honest, too scandalous, too sexy for the powers that be.

One of my favorite mystics is Mechthild of Madgeburg, who wrote The Flowing Light of Divinity as a German tween in the 1200s. Her visions read like romance novels, describing the relationship between the Trinity and the Soul as that of two lovers, and their prayers like sweet pillowtalk.

Prayer is naught else but a yearning of soul … it draws down the great God into the little heart; it drives the hungry soul up to the plenitude of God; it brings together these two lovers, God and the Soul, in a wondrous place where they speak much of love.”

Church dignitaries of her time called for her writings to be burned.

Yes, there is something dangerous about mystics.
Something inherently political.
Something outside the status quo, something queer.

The ways that mystics refuse to let soul be separated from body, the way that mystics receive so intimately the love of God, the way that they release that love so ecstatically…it is all a little too threatening to people whose power is intrinsically tied to the repression of bodies and the silencing of expression.

Queer theologians today, many of us mystics, face these same sanctions when we dare to talk about the ways that we encounter God.  We are too outside the lines of acceptable respectability. In the hubris of going the places where God has led us, we are already outside of our “place,” but we’re too intoxicated with the taste of divine kisses to care. We are caught up in the whirlwind of a romance with a wild and untamed God, a force of love so strong that in its wake, it turns over tables, dethrones kings, and topples empires.

Thanks be to God. 

Elle Dowd (she/her/hers) is a bi-furious #pastorschool student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Elle has pieces of her heart in Sierra Leone, where her two children were born, and in St. Louis where she learned from the radical, queer, Black leadership during the Ferguson Uprising. She currently works as a community organizer with #DecolonizeLutheranism and on weekends tours the city of Chicago in search of the best Bloody Mary.





Photo at top: WorkingArts

Bio Photo: Provided by author

Updates from March Meeting of ELM Board

Notes from March ELM Board of Directors Meeting

by Dr. Margaret Moreland, ELM Board Secretary, and the Rev. Amanda Nelson, ELM Executive Director


The ELM Board of Directors had their spring, in-person meeting this past weekend, March 8-11, 2018, at Seafarers International House in New York City. The ELM Board meets twice a year in person, in March and October, and then meets via

ELM Board Members and Staff at Amanda’s Installation [Photo by Emily Ann Garcia]
teleconference in the in between months.

This month’s meeting had a full agenda which included reports from ELM’s staff and Treasurer, reflections and discernment regarding the situation at ULS, investing in the future of ELM, anti-oppression training, and the Installation of ELM’s Executive Director, the Rev. Amanda Nelson.

Here is a brief update and synopsis.

Board Members who were present included Matt James (Co-Chair), Emily Ann Garcia (Co-Chair), Margaret Moreland (Secretary), Emily Ewing, Jeff Johnson, and Brad Froslee.  ELM’s Treasurer, Charlie Horn, was present as well as Mike Wilker who is coming off the Board after serving two consecutive terms, most recently as Secretary of the Board.  ELM staff who were present included Amanda Nelson and Asher O’Callaghan.  Board members absent from the meeting included Barbara Lundblad and Elise Brown.

The Board spent significant time in conversation around the situation at United Lutheran Seminary – reflecting on the pain this event has caused the ULS community and the reverberations felt within our church. The Board was also able to spend time in conversation and prayer with our Board Member, Elise Brown. The Board’s response, which summarizes the sentiment and spirit of our conversations, was published on Wednesday, March 14th.

The Board heard healthy reports from ELM’s Treasurer and Executive Director which highlighted, in particular, the significant increase in the amount of the Joel Workin Memorial Scholarship – from $2,500 to $6,000 – thanks to the regular gifts and generosity of ELM’s supporters! The Joel Workin Committee is now accepting applications from eligible Proclaim members for the 2018 scholarship.

The Board authorized Executive Director, Amanda Nelson, to begin the search process for a part time (18 hour) Program and Administrative Assistant position to replace Christephor Gilbert who left ELM at the end of January to complete his seminary studies; as well as a new, three-quarter time (27 hour) Associate Director of Development and Communications position. The Program and Administrative Assistant is a Chicago-based position whereas the Associated Director of Development and Communications can be done remotely. The job listings are posted on ELM’s website.

The ELM Board devotes 4-8 hours of our spring, in-person meeting to anti-oppression training. This year, River Needham, student at LSTC and candidate for ministry in the MCC, led our Board in eight hours of training on the subjects of gender, ace-spectrum orientations, and polyamory.

Former Board Secretary, Mike Wilker, and current secretary, Margaret Moreland, introduced much needed revisions to ELM’s Bylaws which were unanimously accepted by our Board. The Board would also like to thank former Board Member, Jeremy Posadas, and ELM friend and supporter, Sara Stegemoeller, for their help and guidance in updating our bylaws.

The Board spent time dreaming and brainstorming around three specific areas: ELM’s presence at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, ELM’s work and presence in Canada supporting our Proclaimers in the ELCIC, and grants that give ELM permission to dream about the future of our programs. No specific actions were taken, but the Spirit is swirling in our midst.

A highlight of our gathering was the service of installation for Executive Director, the Rev. Amanda Nelson. Hosted at Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish, this service featured joy-filled music, a stirring sermon preached by the Rev. Jeff Johnson, the reminder of God’s presence and blessing experienced in the sacraments, and a festive reception hosted by the Board and local Proclaim members. Thanks to all who made it such a wonderful celebration!

The Board’s next meeting will be by conference call on May 17th.  The next in-person Board meeting will be held October 4-6 in Chicago.

Questions or concerns you may have for the Board may be directed to Executive Director, Amanda Nelson (amanda@elm.org) who will pass them along to the Board’s Executive Committee.


ELM Hiring – Associate Director and Administrative Assistant Positions

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking candidates to serve as ELM’s Associate Director of Development and Communications as well as Program and Administrative Assistant.

Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to ELM’s Executive Director, Amanda Nelson at search@elm.org

About the positions:

The Associate Director of Development and Communications organizes and supports the fundraising efforts of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and coordinates internal and external communications in partnership with the ELM staff. Applications will be accepted until April 20th, 2018. Position will be filled by June 1, 2018.

Full job description and guiding qualifications: Associate Director of Development & Communications Job Description


The Program & Administrative Assistant provides general administrative support to the ELM staff and programs. Applications will be accepted until April 13th, 2018. Position will be filled by, if not before, June 1, 2018.

Full job description and guiding qualifications: Program & Administrative Assistant Position Description

Questions may be sent to search@elm.org

ELM is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, veteran status, parental status, or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.

Response to United Lutheran Seminary from ELM’s Board of Directors

Response to United Lutheran Seminary from ELM’s Board of Directors

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil.
A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
– Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518

Since its inception, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) has been a community rooted in the Gospel’s call to justice. This call birthed a movement of resistance in principled non-compliance with the systems of oppression, marginalization, and injustice which plague our church and society. Although much has changed since our genesis in 1990, oppressive systems continue to be embedded within our institutions and communities and our call to prophetic witness remains vital to the well-being of the body of Christ and the world.

Through God’s abounding grace, our commitment to discipleship in Christ demands that we reject the corrupt practices of a death-dealing empire to be transformed by faith to live according to the Way of Jesus. At the center of this commitment is the mystery of the cross by which we are called to proclaim the Word in Law and Gospel, to call for confession and repentance, and to make way for redemptive and restorative justice within our church.

ELM acknowledges that the situation at United Lutheran Seminary (ULS) is the product of a larger, systematic, institutional culture that utilizes secrecy and devalues transparency for the purpose of self-preservation and fragile stability. These systems create a pattern of sin that protects the powerful and privileged and harms the vulnerable and marginalized. Although we claim to be evangelical, our church has not been immune to this sin. In fact, the current state of affairs at ULS has clearly exposed how deeply our beloved church is entangled in and complicit with these systems.

In order to protect and prioritize its public perception for the sake of respectability and approval, institutional leadership discourages individual leaders from telling their story, be it by confessing the ways in which they enacted and perpetuated oppression, or the ways by which they were, through the gospel, transformed and restored to right relationship with God in community. The Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini and others have been taught and encouraged to not bring their whole selves and whole journeys into the greater narrative of the church by elders in our community who, in their deceit, mean well but perpetuate shame. When stories are hushed and veils pulled over our eyes, we do not get to see the cross but are expected to believe in the false glory of a manufactured and superficial resurrection.

Our ability to respond to brokenness is also tainted with sin: when lack of transparency and deep corruption (systemic sin) is exposed, individuals are either sacrificed through punitive measures, not as a corrective to abuse of power, but for the purpose of institutional continuity; or, they are defended and protected by the institution – praised for their leadership in handling a hard situation. In these broken systems, individuals are either scapegoated or protected, excommunicated or permitted to remain. This false binary assumes there are only two options: one which works to preserve the systems of oppression deeply at work in our institutions at the cost of the marginalized; the other which further isolates people from one another, their deeper humanity, and reintegration in community

As the ELM Board, we see these systems at play and know that we are no less susceptible to their influence. We acknowledge that this sinful system would have us either wholeheartedly support the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown as a member of our Board and ignore her role in this situation or banish her completely from our community and ignore our kinship.

As a queer organization we reject this false binary.

We understand the Gospel as calling us to name the truth of the situation and events, listen deeply to the pain, confess the harm, and repent—turning to a new way of being that includes, to the extent that it is possible, making amends, creating correctives for the power imbalance, and restoring just relationships.

Having met together this past weekend with times for deep listening and conversation, the ELM Board has received and accepted the resignation of the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown. While Elise’s role on the ELM Board has ended, our relationship with her has not and will not end. Elise will continue to be a member of our community through relationships with our Executive Director, the Rev. Amanda Nelson; Board members who are companions with her on this journey of reconciliation; and, individual Proclaim members with whom Elise has a close relationship. ELM is providing opportunities to Elise for continued engagement and anti-oppression training in the recognition that she will continue to be an ally to gender and sexual minorities and that all allies need to be equipped and encouraged.

The ELM Board also acknowledges that we must continue to educate and train our Board Members to more fully embody ELM’s explicit practices of listening deeply, publicly claiming our identities, working collaboratively, acting transparently, asking “who is not here?”, speaking truthfully even when it is hard, and remembering to laugh together. As a Board, we commit ourselves and our time to continuing to explore ways to live into our practices and receive the training needed to deepen our own understanding of the systems of oppression to which we are susceptible.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries will continue our work of lifting up and spotlighting LGBTQIA+ leaders whose experiences, voices, and ministries matter in times like these. We are deeply encouraged by and stand in solidarity with the organizing that has occured on the ULS campuses by LGBTQIA+ students and their colleagues. Systemic change happens when folks within communities erupt with purpose and calling – and that is happening in Philadelphia and Gettysburg as well as at other seminaries as they respond to this situation and their colleagues’ pain.

As the Board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, we would like to affirm that the messy is valuable. We know that there is pain and grief and sorrow in our communities right now; and, we believe that by listening to the cries of those on the margins the church has the opportunity to repent – to turn to a new way of being that includes, to the extent that it is possible, making amends, creating correctives for the power imbalance, and restoring just relationships. We are committed to walking the way of the cross.

In solidarity and hope,

The Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Board of Directors

Emily Ann Garcia, Co-Chair          Matthew James, Co-Chair
Margaret Moreland, Secretary         Charles Horn, Treasurer
Emily E. Ewing                                     Brad Froslee                                                                                                                                                 Jeff R. Johnson                              Barbara Lundblad 


Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.

A Lutheran Mystic

by Carolyn Lawrence

Proclaim member and
MDiv student at LSTC

In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the month of March.


The first time I told someone I was a mystic, it didn’t go over too well.

I mentioned to a coworker, with whom I frequently discussed theology, that I had been reading a fair bit of Meister Eckhart and that I would identify myself as a Christian mystic.

“Oh wow,” he scoffed with incredulity, “that’s a bit of a big claim, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” I responded.

His reaction surprised me. I wondered why I was receiving pushback by identifying myself within a long and venerable tradition of Christian mystics. I am a mystic through and through. Searching for union with God is my singular desire in my faith, and I didn’t find my identify to be scandalous.

Perhaps it’s because I have an encompassing view of Christian mysticism. I would argue that we are all mystics when we go to the altar to receive Christ’s presence in bread and wine. For me, that’s the pinnacle mystical moment in our worship. If one defines a mystic as a person seeking union with God, then the taste of Jesus’ body and blood surely qualifies as a mystical encounter!

And, as a Lutheran, I believe there is another space where union with God is possible: Martin Luther’s ethics were dominated by the call to love and serve our neighbor. Both he and I take the second great commandment—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—to be paramount to Christian engagement in this world. And, it is in loving our neighbor that we encounter the Divine.

Against this Lutheran backdrop and with my deepening mystical identity, I recenlty came to a stunning realization reflecting on Matthew 25:31-46. In this well-known passage, Jesus speaks of himself as a king welcoming in those who served him when he was hungry, thirsty, estranged, and imprisoned. Jesus identifies completely with those on the margins; “I was hungry…I was thirsty…I was naked…” The righteous are confused — when did they see him this way? Jesus replies in verse 40: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Taking these words at the mystic level, the result is profound: to see the face of God, one must look to the outcast of this world. To have union with God one must welcome and embrace those on the margins of society. I am a mystic because I search for God’s union and love. I am a Lutheran mystic because I believe that God’s presence is found among those who the world casts down.

As we continue this Lenten mystical journey, I invite you to seek, serve, and love the Christs in your communities to find a glimpse of the Divine.


 Carolyn Lawrence (she/her/hers) serves as Operations Coordinator of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She attends the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In her free time, Carolyn enjoys baking bread, debating theology, and cuddling her cat Percy.




Photo at top: Cary Bass-Deschenes

Bio Photo: Provided by author.

Blessing for the Mystics

by the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan
Proclaim member and
Program Director of ELM

In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the coming month.

There’s something inherently queer about the mystics. Take some of the first Christian mystics, for example, called the Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers. They had a distinctive “lifestyle”. They defiantly rejected their society’s standards of respectability – trouncing gender norms, refusing to get married, and sometimes redefining family as they lived together in communities of solitude. Their unconventional sense of style included garments made of goat’s hair, and in the case of some of the Desert Mothers, shaved heads and men’s clothing.

According to Merriam-Webster, mysticism can be defined as, “the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience…” While our embodiement of mysticism usually doesn’t exaclty match that of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, we as queer people have become mystics in the way we value subjective experience.

We have had to learn to embrace our own experiences of how God is moving in our lives. We have listened to our lives and learned from the desires of our hearts, trusting that God dwells there. In order to survive, much more to thrive, we have had to learn to measure any interpretation, any doctrine, any teaching against our own experiences and the experiences of people who are on the margins. When church tradition has attempted to separate out our soul from our bodies and God’s will from our experiences, our response has been a mystical one. We have boldly embraced the mystical union of God’s will for us and the deepest desire of our hearts – fullness of life embodied in the flesh and blood of our love.

And as we’ve wandered through this spiritual wilderness, we have never been alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, preparing the way. Whether in the saints of our movement in the Lutheran church, or in the witnesses salted throughout our Scripture who dared to express a mystical intimate relationship with God. From Joel R. Workin, to Blanche Grube. From Elijah to John the Baptist. From Hannah to the prophet Anna.

During my own times in the wilderness, I’ve found great comfort in the Psalms. In particular Psalm 139 has always been a favorite. In a mystical reflection one afternoon as I was in the process of coming to embrace my transgender identity, I wrote the following adaptation of Psalm 139. I wrote it as a prayer and blessing for the journey of life ahead of me. I offer it here as blessing for your own journey—you beautiful mystic you!—whatever season of life you may find yourself in:

Learn to live and love
accordingly attuned to
the compass with which
your Maker has endowed you—
Imago Dei irreplacably displayed
within your own heart.
May you courageously trust
that sacred thread
by which you are tenderly
knit together with infinite
wisdom, intention, and affection
carefully hemmed in each and every stitch—
back inside your mother’s womb
and every single moment


The Rev. Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) serves as Program Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. He works from his apartment in Denver, Colorado. These are a few of his favorite things: his cat Jack, his neices and nephews, poetry slams, brewery tours, and writing bios in the third person.





Photo at top: Public commons
Bio Photo: Emily Ann Garcia