Holy Hunger

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas©2005 The Republican Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Margaret Bullitt-Jonas is an Episcopal priest, writer, retreat leader, and climate activist.  After 25 years of parish ministry, she now serves as Missioner for Creation Care in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts [diocese@diocesewma.org]. 

Born in 1951, Margaret grew up at Harvard University, where her father, a professor of eighteenth-century English literature, was master of Quincy House, and her mother served as ombudsperson to the president of Radcliffe College and raised four children.  Margaret began studying Russian language and literature in high school, and left for California to earn a B.A. with honors in Russian literature from Stanford University (1974). After working as a VISTA volunteer in downtown Philadelphia, she returned to Harvard in 1975 to enter a doctoral program in comparative literature.           

The following years were marked by outward accomplishment and inward turmoil. Margaret completed the doctoral requirements, assisted in teaching college courses, won a fellowship, and published scholarly articles, but was secretly in the grip of an eating disorder. Holy Hunger (Vintage, 2000) tells the story of how she found herself in a crisis of desire, unable to manage the cravings that came to dominate her life, and what finally led her to face her addiction. Through the help of the Twelve Step program and a growing faith in God, Margaret began the costly process of learning to set aside her compulsive cravings and discover the source of her hunger.

Clarifying her fundamental commitments led to a new vocation. In 1984, Margaret received her Ph.D., and entered seminary. Four years later she graduated from Episcopal Divinity School (M.Div.), and was ordained in the Episcopal Church. Drawn to help others make their own connection to the liberating love of God, Margaret served for 16 years as a parish priest in the Boston area and for 9 years as Priest Associate at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, Massachusetts. Since 1986 she has led retreats and conferences around the country for diocesan, clergy, and parish groups, as well as for religious communities, women’s groups, and young adults. From 1992-2005, she served as a Lecturer in Pastoral Theology at Episcopal Divinity School, where she taught courses on prayer, spiritual formation, addiction, and environmental ministry.  Margaret is a graduate of the Spiritual Guidance program of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation (1988) and a member of Spiritual Directors International.  For several years she served as a chaplain to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops.

Six months after September 11, 2001, Margaret preached on Good Friday at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Boston.  Her best-selling second book, Christ’s Passion, Our Passions (Cowley, 2002), sprang from these seven sermons and explores the power of forgiveness, hope, and compassion in light of Jesus’ last words from the cross.  Her third book, Joy of Heaven, to Earth Come Down (Forward Movement, 2012), is a collection of daily Advent/Christmas meditations that focus on the sacredness of the natural world. Margaret’s work has also appeared in Anglican Theological Review, The Boston Globe Magazine, Comparative Literature, Comparative Literature Studies, Cowley, Episcopal Times, Fellowship in Prayer, Human Development, Presence, Review for Religious, Russian Review, Self Magazine, The Sign, Spirituality & Health, and Stanford Magazine. Her work is included in anthologies of sermons, essays, and prayers.

Step It Up 2007Margaret addresses the crowd at Step It Up Northampton, November 3, 2007. Photo ©2007 Jason Threlfall.

Over the last twenty-five-plus years, Margaret has been increasingly drawn to eco-justice ministry and to exploring how spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer can purify and sustain our efforts to be agents of healing, hope, and justice in the world. Making peace with her body and recovering from food addiction led her to a wider concern for the “body” of the Earth and the destructive effect of our society's consumerism and addiction to fossil fuels.  In 2001 she was one of 22 members of the interfaith network Religious Witness for the Earth arrested at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., during a prayer vigil to urge conservation and renewable energy and to protest oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  In recent years many of her retreats, speaking engagements, and writing projects have focused on reclaiming the sacredness of God’s creation and placing care for the Earth at the center of our moral and spiritual concern. She is principal author of "To Serve Christ in All Creation: A Pastoral Letter from the Episcopal Bishops of New England" (2003) and a lead author of a pastoral letter on the environment released by Episcopal Bishops in the West Coast area of the U.S. (“A Call to Action from the House of Bishops of Province VIII,” 2009).  

As of January 2014, Margaret began serving as Missioner for Creation Care in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts [diocese@diocesewma.org], where her ministry focuses on educating and inspiring Episcopalians and on building partnerships with other faith traditions and with the broader climate movement.  In 2013 she joined the Working Board of Better Future Project (http://www.betterfutureproject.org), an organization dedicated to building a powerful grassroots movement to address the climate crisis.  She is also a member of the Leadership Council of Religious Witness for the Earth (rwearth.org), an interfaith network dedicated to creating a society in which human beings live in loving, just relationships with each other and the whole Creation. She has spoken at numerous climate rallies, public hearings, and prayer vigils, and has helped to organize many events, including the Interfaith Walk for Climate Rescue in 2007 from Northampton to Boston, at that point the largest single protest against global warming in U.S. history.  She was also a key organizer of the Climate Revival, an event in 2013 that drew hundreds of clergy and Christian leaders to downtown Boston, and which issued a climate statement that was signed by top-level religious leaders across New England and by the national leaders of three Churches (Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and American Baptist Churches).  She is active in supporting Bill McKibben’s 350.org campaign to get world leaders on course to stabilize the climate’s level of carbon dioxide at no more than 350 parts per million, and she was a lead contributor to the Interfaith Call for 350.  Margaret served on the steering committee of the Genesis Covenant, an interfaith initiative through which the national leadership of faith groups across the country can commit to cutting in half the carbon footprint of their facilities within ten years. 

Margaret lives with her husband Robert A. Jonas (www.emptybell.org) in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is working with him to help preserve open farmlands, fields, and woodlands in the Pioneer Valley.