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Faith journeys lead to teaching

Ecumenism calls forth listening, respect

Anastasia Wendlinder, GU Religious Studies professor
Anastasia Wendlinder

Anastasia Wendlinder grew up in a pre-Vatican II Catholic family in Burlington, a mostly Protestant farm and ranch community in eastern Colorado.  Her father didn’t want her to play with Protestant children, but she did. 

She was born in 1965 as the Second Vatican Council ended.  Her church, St. Catherine’s, accepted Vatican II and integrated the new theology, but her father did not.  Her family prayed at church every day, but at home, she learned the Baltimore catechism. 

Interested in what it means to be human, Anastasia studied psychology and sociology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, graduating in 1987.  She worked through faith questions with Paulist Fathers at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and at Newman Center. After graduating, she worked for the law school and the Boulder Law Review.

“My questions were theological:  What is God?  How is God relevant in my life?  How do we find God?” said Anastasia.

Those questions drew her to study Meister Eckhart, a medieval mystic and scholar; Anthony DiMello, a Jesuit spiritual guru from India who wrote on interreligious traditions, and Thomas Merton, a mystic, monk and political activist in the 1960s who was interested in Christian dialogue with Buddhism.

Her questions about God’s relationship with humanity grew:  “How do we put words to God who goes beyond our words?”

Anastasia did much meditation, silence and centering prayer.

Thinking she might be a campus minister, she went to the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) and Franciscan School of Theology at Berkeley, earning a master’s in theology in 1993.

Studying under C.S. Song at Pacific School of Religion, part of the GTU, she gained insights to articulate abstract questions on Christianity, Buddhism, mysticism and engagement in politics of the oppressed with liberation theology, social justice and ecumenical relations.  He urged her to do doctoral studies.

Although she realized her upbringing was insulated, she became homesick and returned to Colorado.  One day at Mass, she decided to do something practical.  So she spent a year with the Christian Appalachian Project, an ecumenical program started by a Catholic priest in predominantly Free Baptist Eastern Kentucky.

She visited elderly people, sat with them, talked with them and prayed with them.  She changed bed pans and transported people.

After the “heady” world of studies, she said being present with people helped her see God in those people and others.

Anastasia read to an elderly woman who would lie around all day, depressed.  Her children did not visit.  She wanted to die.

“She asked me to pray.  I was unable to say anything to lift her spirits,” Anastasia said.  “One day as I left, she looked up and asked, ‘When will you come again?’  She did not need words of wisdom, but just needed me to be present.

“Theological, systematic, metaphysical, philosophical and abstract questions are about being present to a person,” she realized.

The next year at Notre Dame, she felt a disconnect being in academics after having been present with suffering people.  There, Anastasia  studied medieval and classical theology and church history in two years of courses and a year of independent study.  Then she wrote her dissertation and taught for five years. 

With a strong interest in ecumenism, she involved different local pastors in discussions on sacramental theology and other topics for her classes, as she does now at Gonzaga.

Anastasia finished her doctoral studies in 2004 and taught as a visiting professor until she came to Gonzaga in 2007.

“I thought a Jesuit school would give opportunity to explore theology, ecumenism, social justice and inter-cultural competence—respect of people of different cultures—in a Catholic context,” said Anastasia, who teaches graduate and undergraduate classes.

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Copyright © April 2015 - The Fig Tree