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.

Feeding the Hungry

I wrote the article below for Giving Voice’s newsletter and I wanted to share it with all of you!

IIMG_2853 just began a new ministry here in Connecticut as the chef at the Thomas Merton Center (a day shelter) in Bridgeport which is one of the poorest cities in the state. I am so happy to be back in a kitchen doing what I love most after experiencing two years of not working during my novitiate. The Thomas Merton Center is housed in what used to be St. Joseph’s church in a rundown neighborhood characterized by unkempt and abandoned houses cordoned off by chain link fences. The center still looks like a church from the outside even though the stained glass windows are covered with bars, and inside the pews were removed to make way for almost two dozen tables. The altar and the vestibule are now the kitchen and store rooms. Having my new kitchen housed in a room that is still reminiscent of an altar, Gothic arches and all, has been a unique experience. It is a challenge for me in two ways, first because the program has not been kept up for quite some time and its rundown condition troubles me. It saddened me to see a kitchen and food, both of which are spiritual experiences for me, treated in such a thoughtless way. The second challenge comes with my desire to live up to these auspicious surroundings. I have often experienced food and the art of cooking as a spiritual exercise both in its connection to creation and the God of Creation, as well as in the art of cooking and eating mindfully, which is to say in such a way that enjoying the food becomes a meditation.

20151201_120350We are fed in many ways and just so my ministry to feed the hungry goes beyond filling empty bellies; it is filling starving souls. Many guests come to the Center, or any soup kitchen, just for a meal; however, just as often guests come because they are alone and isolated by their poverty, addiction, or illness. I think one of the reasons humans gather, whether it’s for a meal or to be around the table of the Eucharist, is to be reminded that we are not alone. My ministry as chef is to facilitate the gathering and as such I can think of no better place for a day shelter’s kitchen then an altar.

A New Ministry with Old Reminders

A busy day at the TMC

A busy day at the TMC

Today’s ministry miracle was making lunch for 128 guests in just 45 minutes with whatever I could find in the freezer.  I got into this tight spot today due to a scheduling error in which I was told the day’s group of volunteers would be bringing the lunch with them.  When it got down to the wire, and no group appeared, I grabbed frozen pepperoni, spinach, and kale out of the walk-in freezer and then coached a volunteer on how to make a bechamel sauce (butter, flour, and milk).  Forty five short minutes later I had six cheesy casseroles for the crowd and they loved it!  The volunteers laughed when I called it a Christmas Miracle but on a deeper level I really meant it.

I so appreciate these moments in ministry where I get into a sticky situation and think to myself that there is no way this is going to work.  When everything does in fact work out I know that God is in the work with me.  Sometimes these are the most valuable moments because I am reminded that this is not my work, and I am not in it for myself.  God and I are in this together and I trust that God equips the called rather than calling the equipped; although a culinary degree doesn’t hurt either.  I’ve only been the chef at the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport for three weeks so right now days like these are more common than I’d like to admit.  I hope and trust that these reminders of my co-creativity with God, and dependence on God, will continue to come but hopefully they will be gentler in the future.

What Is Your Story?

Network Rally at the start of Lobby Day.

I’m not familiar with politics or the processes that make our country function, nonetheless I arrived in D.C. the other day to join the Nuns on the Bus from Network for their first lobby day.  Joining other sisters from around the country to talk to our representatives about the next budget and future tax reform was a very new experience and a little bewildering.  As we gathered for prayer and training I found myself immersed in acronyms and jargon, like sequestration, and some of it sounded a bit foreign to me.  Fortunately for this mission work, as Sr. Simone called it, knowing the ins and outs of politics was not paramount, instead our focus was to share the stories from the front lines and give names and faces to the people directly affected by these policies.  From the soup kitchen I shared my relationship with one man who, once he was supported by a case worker, was able to get into permanent housing and gain access to the services he needed.  Through public human needs programs this man gained stability in his life and no longer used about a million dollars worth of emergency services annually.  Meeting people like this in my ministry experiences has helped me to see the value of investing in our neighbors through programs because everyone deserves a dignified life, and it is better for the community in the long run.

I was surprised yesterday at the positive reception we received as we bounced from office to office.  A few people we met with made a point of saying just how much it mattered when constituents came to visit, as well as the importance of writing or calling about issues.  I was surprised to know that calls and letters were tallied and thus added weight to the decisions being made.  I guess I have more of a voice in politics than I ever thought.

My experience this week reminded me of the story of Jesus placing a child in the midst of his disciples (MT 18:2-5).  A child in that context was a silent and invisible member of society.  Like Jesus we have the power to place the silenced and invisible persons we know into the spotlight hopefully highlighting the issues in our communities which should not be ignored.  After what I’ve learned and experienced this week I think I’ll feel much more comfortable and empowered to call my representative when I am next called upon to reach out to my representatives.  I’ve got plenty of stories to share.  How about you?

 

What are young nuns up to?

Right now I’m at the Giving Voice conference, a gathering of women religious under the age of fifty.  We are here gathering our dreams and hopes for our future as we give special consideration to the issues of border crossing and our growing multi-cultural reality.  A few of us, myself included, are blogging daily on the Giving Voice blog.  Follow us on this journey at giving-voice.weebly.com.  Stay tuned for all the new and exciting thins we are dreaming of!

Here are two that I wrote: “We are Grassroots“, and “Together Sharing One Dream

A Journey Just Begun

group photoWould you believe it’s been five years since I entered the Sisters of Mercy! I have grown deeper in my faith, in the community, and in my self-understanding since I began this journey; now, as I think of my first vows ceremony, which was less than a week ago, I see that my journey has just begun. In fact journey was the theme I was thinking of when I picked the readings for the ceremony. I started with a reading from Catherine McAuley where she reminds us that developing a relationship with God takes time, practice, and trust; the theme was echoed in the psalm I picked out. My second reading was Jeremiah’s call which reminds me that God has always known me, and that all I need to do is my best to be faithful and attentive to my relationship with God. The Gospel reading was “Peter do you love me” from the end of John. What attracted me in this reading was how Jesus met Peter where he was in this moment of reconciliation and, though Peter had messed up, their relationship did not end but rather had the opportunity to begin anew and deepen.

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An open heart- cover art for the program

In the weeks leading up to my ceremony I was thinking and praying about all of these readings; I drew a mandala reflecting their themes as the cover art for the program showing the idea of keeping your heart a little bit open so God will have a way into the world. When you let God through then your relationship has a chance to grow, you become more co-creative with our God, and also a little more open than before.
My ceremony ritualized this idea of journey for me because there was not one but three moments for me where I committed myself. I verbally said ‘yes’ when asked, I signed the official document, and just before the whole ceremony had started I went for a walk by myself and shared a private moment with God.
The morning after the ceremony I gathered with a group of Sisters to reflect on the day. What struck me then was the absolute gratitude I had felt during the ceremony while I was surrounded and affirmed by community. So many Sisters, family, and friends came to celebrate with me and God’s generosity in my life became apparent in that moment.

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A journey just begun

A few days ago I drew a second mandala reflecting on my memories of the day; it is filled with joy, life, and delight. In this mandala I see that my journey is unfinished and I couldn’t be more excited with that realization since sometimes I need to be reminded that life has no finish line. I am at the beginning of this journey and I do not know what more is to come, yet I know now more than ever that my potential for life is great in my community of Mercy.

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