Live from the Thomas Merton Center

Here is the video of my live interview in cased you missed it.  Feel free to ask questions by commenting on this post!

Meet a Sister!

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Common Ground: Sacred Ground

Whenever I have gathered in a Giving Voice group I have often found that the common ground we all share as young sisters today is sacred ground.  We come together and savor the opportunity to speak our story and our common truth: the challenges and the joys we encounter, our great hope and our energy for the future of our lives, and our hope for the future of the wider community of women religious in the world today. gv-group-bookEarly in January was one such gathering when I had the great opportunity to go to Houston for a week on a writing retreat with others from Giving Voice.  I gathered there with the other sisters working on the book project, all of us under the age of 50, to collaborate on what we have since titled “In Our Own Words: Women Religious in a Changing World.”  We were so excited to be together and to put forth this book because we have felt that a book about women religious living in community today will be a much-needed resource for us as well as the next generation in religious life. Based on what I have read from the others I can see that this book will reflect our common joy and the fervor we all experience in religious life, and our time together that week was a celebration of all of this.  The common room in our retreat center dorm was full of life and joy: the table was scattered with coloring pages, markers, chocolates, and cards. Each night we would all gather to laugh, color, share our stories, and simply to be present to one another. Many of our stories are the same – our community life has so much in common despite the fact that we are from thirteen different orders.  This became more apparent to me as the week progressed and our sharing deepened.  We would gather for prayer and sharing peacockevery morning, and close our days with a ‘fishbowl’ style small group review. As we shared what we had written and where we were in our lives I began to see the threads of our common experience and the unity of our hope for the future. It was so fulfilling to spend those days with people who feed my heart and feed my soul. The week has left me energized for more – more life, more depth, and more openness to my God. God waits for us to act, to ask, to respond to the invitations God extends to us.  This week and this book has been just such an invitation to me and has opened me to an experience of my own gifts which I did not know I had, as well as the gift of gratitude for my vocation to religious life which has given me space to grow into who I truly am as well as a life that truly fulfills me.  I am also so grateful for the communal life I share with so many wonderful women, and I hope to share this life with those around me now and those yet to come.

Breathe and Be Yourself

 

img_0788bMy ministry’s environment can be rather hectic most days; full of activity and lots of people.  The day is on the short side, just seven hours, but between breakfast and lunch we serve an average of 300 meals a day and I depend on a lot of volunteers to get this done.  I’m also an introvert so socializing with volunteers and guests all day requires a lot of energy for me.  With all that goes on at work I began to notice I was holding my breath while cooking and would have to consciously think about breathing for a moment, attentively releasing all of the breath from my lungs so I could take in fresh breath.  I’m grateful for all those yoga classes I took where I learned this and other breathing practices which helped in the moment but had not really changed my general experience of work-place stress.  Cooking has often been a special meditative activity for me which I treasure so I wanted to do something to address the root causes of this stress in my work place and return to what has always been a rejuvenating process for me.

secretsI happen to be taking a class on prayer which uses the book, “Secrets of Prayer” (Nancy Corcoran, CSJ), and around the same time when I began to notice my troubles at work I was into the section about praying with our five senses.  In this chapter Sr. Nancy discusses Thich Nhat Hanh’s bell meditation which is the practice of stopping what you are doing when you hear a bell and becoming mindfully present.  I thought that I would give this a try at work to see if it helped so I began to consider what sound I would use as my “bell”.  The doorbell is wired into the kitchen though you can hear it almost everywhere in the building, it’s just that loud and obnoxious like an old fashioned fire alarm, so I chose this sound for my practice.  I liked the idea of taking an annoyance and transforming it into something peaceful.  For this meditation I cannot stop during my day as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, but when the obnoxious door bell rings I bring myself mindfully to the moment and fully attentive to whatever action I am preforming, or I at least take three mindful breaths.

This could not have worked better for me.  I no longer find myself holding my breath while I cook and just the other day I was running around wishing someone would ring the obnoxious doorbell.  The gift I did not expect with this practice is that I am more myself during the day, the more at ease I am the more authentic and patient I am able to be while I relate to my volunteers and guests. My days are just as hectic as ever, and just as full of extroversion, but I am learning to be still in the rushing pace of life.

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Savoring Without Undue Haste

The first time I went on retreat I was beside myself with nerves.  Eight days- eight days of silence, no phone, no internet, nothing.  What would I do with myself for eight long days!  I really didn’t know how to handle the idea having never been on a silent retreat before.  As with most religious communities retreat is an important goal in our constitution so as a candidate I was required to go.  As it turned out my fears were mostly unfounded.  Since I had only experienced youth retreats which were full of activities, late nights, and junk food I was unsure of how to settle into the rhythm I noticed in my fellow retreatants.  I especially struggled with the silent dinners; while others lingered and savored the experience I was over and done eating in ten minutes!  

I use art journaling frequently, especially on retreat.

I use art journaling frequently, especially on retreat.

Over the years I grew to love retreat especially as I diversified my prayer style and deepened my yoga practice.  Now, six years later, I crave retreat.  I long for the time away from the world to be quiet and still, and just to listen to God.  

The first few days of my latest retreat were spent simply in gratitude- grateful to have the time off from work, to be in a lovely place, and to be given the gift of slowing down.  As my retreat progressed I realized the extent of the state of hurry I had been living in over the past year or two.  Hurrying from one thing to the next, checking off tasks and listing accomplishments.  Sometimes I even approached prayer that way, as if praying was like going to the gym and all I have to do is work at it.

 I remember Teilhard’s famous quote:”And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste.  Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.”  Why should I always be in such a hurry, why not savor each little moment with God?  There is a logic to this thought which 
flies in the face of our western culture.  I gain more by slowing down than I could ever hope to gain by rushing ahead.  Now I only hope I can remember that back in the fast pace of real life.

Go Deeper

IMG_0901Recently I went to my community’s third gathering of younger sisters which was open to sisters under the age of 60.  I was so happy to go and had looked forward to this for such long time.  It was an exciting experience for me to participate at a community meeting where I am not the only new member present.  The title of this meeting, Mercy-ing: One World, One Dream, played on Pope Francis’ words and evokes an image of our global Mercy community moving forward together into whatever God is calling us to in this age.

The most challenging thing I heard over the weekend was cohort 10, the second oldest cohort present, expressing their frustration at not having their gifts called upon by the community.  As a member of cohort 1, the youngest cohort present, I have heard and expressed this same sentiment before.  I heard some similar thoughts from our sisters of color who are under estimated by our sisters of white.  I had hoped or assumed these issues would just get better as I aged in the community and as the community continued to grow in its consciousness; however, it is naive of me to think that I will not have to work at expressing my own voice.  As a result of the processes, prayer, and discussion I resolved during our closing ritual to take ownership of my own involvement in communal life and to be an active voice for engagement as I, and the community, live out our gospel call.FullSizeRender

I heard our call to live out a gospel life running through the whole conference; over and over again we stated, drew, sang, and danced this communal call.  We began to flesh out a vision of living a life of integrity based on the Gospel and named community as fundamental to this call.  We know that there will be sacrifices to make in order to maintain this commitment to community life, especially as our numbers shrink and our global reality expands stretching us across great distances.  Nonetheless, we believe that it is our lived experience now, as we lean into deepening community, which will define our future life as Sisters.  Another theme often repeated was the desire to go deeper which will mean doing our own inner work and then courageously sharing that vulnerable space within ourselves with our sisters.  This sounds challenging to me but it also has the potential to be the start of something beautiful.  I think if we can engage each other in this way we will see clearly how we are now being called to live an authentic gospel life together today and in the future

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I’m so glad that I went to this meeting.  Despite the challenges I can’t see anywhere else I’d rather be with my one wild and crazy life (Mary Oliver).  I’m glad to be in a life that stretches me even if I sometimes wish I could let others do this challenging work.  Many sisters said over this long weekend, ‘Be the sister you desire other sisters to be for you’.  I cannot leave the deep work to others and allow myself to sleep through life.  It is for me to “do the work before me.”  It’s just as well that I feel recommitted to this sentiment since it is why I began this blog six years ago; I hoped then as I do now that what I write might be of use to someone just starting out just as the stories my sisters share with me guide me in my own life.

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The Best Time to Plant a Tree

botanicalprintI’ve been through transitions a few times since I have entered my community and I’ve noticed that while it really takes a whole year to feel settled once again that there is a midpoint when life starts to get easier.  I seem to get over this hump in transition within six to eight months. I recently hit this point and it felt like a stopper had been pulled out of a rain barrel letting the water flow. It’s a great feeling even though I know I’m not totally settled yet. This isn’t just about knowing where things are in the grocery store, or no longer needing GPS to get to work.  So much of my energy is taken up with the day-to-day living as I work towards becoming settled that it seems like there is little energy or time left for anything else.

Now that I’ve gotten to this half way point I feel more creative, energetic, and at ease as I continue to put down some roots. I wish I could say practice makes perfect but there is unfortunately no trick or technique to mastering moving, except perhaps the awareness of the emotional investment that transition requires.  One of the things that has become more challenging with each move is deciding to undertake new projects. For example I began a garden at my new place and wrestled with what I thought I could plant. Eventually decided on an asparagus plant, this was a hard decision for me because you can’t harvest the asparagus until the third year.  I have no plans to move in the near future but you just never know when the spirit will call you to something new.

I am an ambitious gardener so I’m now sitting with the same question.  I would like to plant a fruit tree and I must wonder if I really do want to undertake such a the_best_time_to_plant_a_tree_is_20_years_ago_1024x1024big project and commitment even if I may never get to harvest the fruit.  In my fruit tree research I came across a proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.  The second best time is now.”  This is not only good gardening advice it is also good advice for ministry and relationships.  I can only do my best and give what I can give today, there is no guarantee that I will be here or at ministry tomorrow.  There is no guarantee that my presence will have a lasting impact at my ministry, but I can try my best with all that I am given.

Just in case you were wondering: I have decided to plant a peach tree and perhaps I’ll see fruit in five years.  If I don’t get the chance to enjoy the fruit then I am sure someone else will.

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Creation Creating

In culinary school my bread instructor encouraged us to mix the dough with our hands and not to “worry about the mess” when we are baking bread.  I like the feel of bringing the dough together with my hand as water and flour are transformed.  This moment of transformation caught my attention during Holy Week as I prepared the bread we would eat for Eucharist during the Triduum.  I love baking and find that there is something so wonderfully prayerful about baking bread from scratch; I think it is because you are physically immersed in the creative process and From the womb of the Earth to the mill- and beyond- the seed that makes bread is a living creature.therefore somehow personally connected to our Creator, or at least that is how I experience it.  This batch of bread I was making for Holy Thursday was special though, not only was it a contemplative activity as bread baking so commonly is for me, it was also a poignant moment as I considered where this bread was heading and how it would feed others.  On Thursday I was asked to carry the basket of bread into the chapel, which felt slightly awkward since I do not like to be in the spotlight, but I am glad that I did it because in that moment I not only presented the bread I also brought the gift of who I am as a creation of God to the table.  As I saw my bread blessed, and for the second time flour and water were transformed, I wondered how something I put out into the world could come back to me in such a special and intimate way.  We are all gifted and that can be so hard to admit for some people; sometimes it seems as if we have been trained to downplay our gifts.  On Holy Thursday I realized that if I am not willing to accept and celebrate my giftedness as a child of God than I cannot hope to see others, and in fact all of creation, in this light.  Even the flour and water, twice transformed, are God’s own creation and now that creation is transformed once again in all who shared that Eucharistic bread.

Becoming Positive

IMG_2644Today I finally worked up the courage to sign up for the Closer to Free ride.  In September I’ll be riding my bike 100 miles to raise money for cancer research and care.  I’ve never done anything like this before and I’m surprised at how nervous I was just to take the first step into this large endeavor.

Part of the reason I hesitated is because it’s still hard for me to talk about how cancer has touched my life.  I’ve lost three grandparents to cancer, two other relatives are survivors, and one friend is currently fighting a battle with cancer.  All in all I’ve felt powerless to help my loved ones and their caretakers, so when I saw this opportunity to participate in Closer to Free it felt like I finally found something I could do to help others who have been through this.

IMG_0405A bike ride is also somewhat symbolic for me because riding my bike is one of the places I feel most quiet, mindful, and free.  I often imagine God riding along with me in the silence, and the longer the ride the easier this becomes so 100 miles should be beautiful.  This is also an opportunity for me to take my personal loss and turn it into something positive and life giving.  I’m looking forward to riding with a team, aptly named “Live Positive”, and I’m excited to be able to share this experience with other riders.

Please cheer me on, and support me with your prayers.  If you are interested you can donate to Closer to Free through this link: http://www.rideclosertofree.org/participant/srmandy

New Decade, New Life

 I just recently turned thirty, and as I begin this fourth decade of my life, as well as a new ministry, my family is also blessed with a new spark of life.  That’s right, future aunt right here!  To celebrate my birthday, and this tiny new member of our family, my sister and I went to the Magic Kingdom!  I had been so freaked about turning 30, my mind was full of thoughts of saying goodbye to young adulthood, so we thought it would be best to go all out and really celebrate this big milestone as I transition into full-blown adulthood, and what better place to celebrate than Disney.

Celebrating is what I love most about birthdays, marking the end of a year completed and seeing how far I’ve come, especially on this occasion because thirty is the last big milestone birthday for awhile.  In retrospect I suppose I didn’t need to be so worried, after all a milestone is something we’ve invented as a society.  I will continue to grow and be myself whether  I’m 20 something or 50 something; it’s not like I woke up on my birthday a new and different person from the day before. Everyday I continue to evolve, as a sister-friend of mine noted just the other day as she recalled some of my first incorporation interviews into the Sisters of Mercy. I am a much different person than I was five years ago when I began this journey, but of course not all of that growth happened overnight.  Every year has been filled with a deepening of my self understanding as I am shaped by the course of my life.   In just this past year I have gone through a lot of changes: I lived in three different states with three different groups of sisters, and participated in three different ministries.  These events, just as with all events big and small, have shaped me and helped me to grow and mature.  I’ve faced challenges and overcame them, gone out of my comfort zone, been touched by the depth of relationships in both community and ministry.  These are all milestones in and of themselves and each moment deserves to be celebrated because I am grateful for who I am becoming on the journey.

I look forward now to the continuing journey, and though it’s impossible to tell what will happen or how events and encounters will change me, I trust that God has a desire for my growth.  I am still confirmed by the quote I chose to begin this blog five years ago: “I know the plans I have for you, plans for good…to give you a future with hope.” (Jer 29:11).  No matter how old I get I’ll never really know where this life of mine is going, but I will continue to trust that I have a future full of hope.

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