05/20/2014 09:45 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2014

Women as Change Agents in the Ongoing Life of the Church

A former Roman Catholic nun, a friend of mine, is now an Episcopal priest in Los Angeles. Anne Tumilty is rector of St. James' Church, South Pasadena. Years ago we interacted without quite realizing it. My book of prayers, "Are You Running With Me, Jesus?" had come out and created a global stir. Anne was reading it, along with virtually everybody else in her convent. It was new. It was challenging. It pointed the way to new directions in spirituality.

A number of Roman Catholic nuns made this book their own. Anne recalls one day when the book became highly controversial in her life. It wasn't exactly acceptable spiritual reading for nuns because of the new territory it opened up. Yet here was Anne, finding a copy of the book, and using it for an hour's required spiritual reading that day. Seeing Anne with the controversial book, a novice mistress took a kind of offense. In other words, she was highly critical. Couldn't Anne find something clearly more in line with her vocation and, yes, more appropriate? For example, why wasn't she reading St. Augustine or Thomas Merton? Quite a stir followed. The times they were a-changing, but really, why quite this fast?

Pope Francis will certainly have to deal with all this in due time. Yet for many Catholics and non-Catholics, time is running out. What about women priests? Or gay folk? Or abortion? What happened to Anne Tumilty is now happening globally to untold numbers of women. Time moved forward. Roman Catholic nuns increasingly seek their individual spiritual expression in the burgeoning role of women in the immense global Catholic structure. New prayers are emerging. New spiritual practices are at the threshold. The role of women in the church is fraught with controversy, ripe in promise. More and more women seek -- and will continue to seek -- ordination to the priesthood

On the day the nun in charge of meditations had to deal with "Are You Running With Me, Jesus?" as a viable and constructive and authentic new expression of prayer, history was changing. The nuns had already incorporated it into their regimen. Over the years I've had many meetings with Roman Catholic nuns. Often they represented a new style of spirituality that was immediate, demanding, anguished, full of promise. In fact, I edited another book, "The Underground Church." And "Are You Running With Me, Jesus?" sold a million copies. It was translated into most languages, including Chinese.

The nuns have taught me not to fear change. Change is authentic, demanding and, yes, it's right here.