I Was And I Am Dust

Penitente Practices as a Way of Knowing
David M. Mellott

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ISBN: 9780814662250, 6225
Details: 192 pgs, 6 x 9
Publication Date: 10/01/2009

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There are a variety of people, practices, and celebrations in the Catholic Church. At times some of these can be dismissed too easily as extreme, superstitious, or uninformed. Such is the case with the Penitentes of New Mexico. In I Was and I Am Dust, David M. Mellott shares his experiences of the Penitentes as an outsider. He explains their struggles with the institutional church, and some of the seemingly extreme rituals they facilitate during Holy Week. Through the voice of Larry Torres, one of the senior members of the Penitentes, Mellott poignantly provides readers with a more intimate picture of this community of practitioners.

Yet so much more than an analysis written by an outsider, this work attempts to understand the experience of those within a group whose practices are considered outside the mainstream. With Mellott and Torres, readers may be surprised to discover a depth of meaning in these practices and to realize the beauty of being dust.

David M. Mellott is assistant professor of practical theology and director of ministerial formation at Lancaster Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in philosophy, ethnography, and theology of ministry. He is committed to supporting and nurturing Christian communities that empower people to live more authentically as they seek to love God, neighbor, and self more deeply.

Mellott's book helps break apart the borders between ethnography and theology, between lay practices and the institutional church, and-especially-between knowing and being known. I commend it to all those courageous enough to face the vulnerability of their own ways of knowing.
Practical Matters

Prof. Mellott's book addresses two obvious yet frequently absent questions in theology-What can we, the `professionals,' learn from the people's faith and Christian lives? What can they teach us that books and degrees have missed? Focusing on the religious practices of New Mexico's Penitentes, Mellott discovers challenging and deeply spiritual ways of knowing that should affect the way all Christian theology is crafted today. Reading this excellent book confirms once again that theologians need to pay close methodological attention to the faith of the people.
Orlando Espín, Professor of Systematic Theology, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism, University of San Diego

In clear and compelling prose, David Mellott narrates his ethnographic encounter with the Penitente Hermanos of Arroyo Seco, New Mexico. Mellott's account conveys the breath-taking intensity of the group's public spiritual dramas as well as the poignancy of personal stories of struggle and renewal. What does it mean to be dust? To know one's self? Mellott draws readers in to these questions, even as he opens out the particular history and practices of the Hermandad. Students and scholars, liturgists and laity will appreciate this sparkling text, in which ethnography-`a form of prayerful beholding and attentiveness'-becomes theology.
Mary Clark Moschella, Wesley Theological Seminary, Author of Ethnography as a Pastoral Practice: An Introduction

An accomplished storyteller, David Mellott gives us two things at once: a vivid narrative and a pointed lesson. His narrative seeks out the rituals, memories, and visions of penitente life in northern New Mexico. His lesson is that there can be no liturgical theology-no theology at all-without listening to particular lives as if they really might have something to tell us.
Mark D. Jordan, Harvard Divinity School

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