FORT SMITH -- Catherine “Cackie” Upchurch retired as director of Little Rock Scripture Study in July 2019 and moved back to her childhood home to live with her mother.
She traded her second-floor office overlooking the St. John Center campus for a laptop perched on the dining room table, surrounded by books and papers.
Upchurch still has lots of invitations to share her wisdom in books, periodicals and retreats. This summer, she led a study on women of the Old Testament for 50 River Valley Catholics at Immaculate Conception Church. Her latest book, “What Does the Bible Say About Slavery and Freedom?” was released in September. In January, she will direct a weekend retreat at Subiaco Abbey.
“My mom is 89, and I don’t leave her alone very much,” Upchurch said. “I had been praying for years about how we could best care for her when the time came, and it’s been really good to be home with her. Transitioning from working 60-70 hours a week, writing at night and traveling for Little Rock Scripture Study on weekends has helped me come into my own in a different way. It took a few months to adjust to living with someone after 43 years on my own. I sold my home and most of my things, but now I have lots of time to reflect and write.”
She was staying busy writing homily hints for “Loose Leaf Lectionaries,” articles for “Give Us This Day” and an Advent booklet, “Waiting in Joyful Hope,” but she was intrigued when New City Press approached her to write a book about slavery and freedom.
“The topic of slavery in the Bible has always perplexed me,” Upchurch said. “I always wondered why the Bible writers, Jesus and St. Paul didn’t condemn slavery. I can’t answer that, but I can say that slavery is dismantled by every other part of the Bible.”
While she acknowledges that religion has been used to justify actions that are contrary to the heart of Scripture, she writes that the sacred texts “shape our individual and communal consciences, if we let them. Moreover, the Bible provides imagery and language that can help us shape a world that allows true freedom to flourish.”
“What Does the Bible Say About Slavery and Freedom?” shares Little Rock Scripture Study’s goals to combine solid biblical scholarship and relate it to real life. It gives a historical perspective of slavery in biblical times, acknowledging that it was an economic construct used to oppress people from different races, languages and cultures.
Reflection questions at the end of each chapter help readers find where God is at work and what he asks of them. Later chapters discuss America’s legacy of slavery and what readers can do to address greed, racism and injustice today. The paperback is available at most Catholic bookstores and online.
This summer, Upchurch led a 10-week study of “Women in the Old Testament,” using a text by Sister Irene Nowell, OSB, one of the editors of the Little Rock Scripture Study Bible. This topic showed how God’s plan was fulfilled through ordinary, imperfect women living through war, conquest, famine and slavery. Examples of courage and faith co-existed with deception and cruelty, all set against a backdrop of a male-dominated society where polygamy and concubinage were commonplace.
“It really was interesting,” Upchurch said. “I met so many people and got reacquainted with others. It was exciting to see that the Church is alive where I grew up.”
In retirement, Upchurch continues to grow through studying God’s Word.
“I’m constantly uncovering some new angle I didn’t see, or which, due to my new life experiences, I’m seeing differently. The people of God are the underpinning of my life as we make new connections and share our stories.
“I think it takes a lifetime to become an integrated human being. It’s my job now to know who I am in the body of Christ and be a good ambassador of that.”
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