A New Chapter

You may have noticed the new title to my blog, “Stainless Steel Sister”.  You are still in the right spot!  The pirate chapter has closed, and I have taken the page formally entitled “I’m a Pirate After All” down.  I am very fond of the pirate metaphor so it is posted one final time below just in case you missed it.

I always thought I was going to get married.  That’s not how most people would think discerning religious life would start, but that’s how my journey began.  I was in high school when a teacher, who was discerning the diaconate, planted the first seed when he said, “If you’ve ever ruled something out, just keep it on the back burner.”  I have no idea why I took this to heart except that it must have been an act of God because once I’ve made up my mind I can be kind of stubborn.  Fortunately, God kept nudging me and throughout college I began to slowly move toward the Sisters of Mercy although I didn’t know it at the time.

I wish my decision to pursue religious life was a single moment that I could describe to you but I grew into it, or maybe it would be more accurate to say it grew into me.  Either way it was a gradual process that was helped significantly by a group of students I met with in college.  We gathered together often and simply shared what was on our minds; the things that scared us, and the things that made us so excited for whatever God had planned for us!  I never knew I could feel both of those things at the same time and it was so much easier to be with people who were figuring this out as they went along just like I was.

It was during this time that I went on Mercy Challenge with others who were thinking about joining Mercy.  We spent the week in service to the poor of Sacramento, but the memory that sticks with me the most had nothing to do with that.  My vocation minister happened to be on this trip and one day she was showing me around the mother house when we happened upon an elderly sister who was lost.  She couldn’t remember where her room was, and seeing the care that my minister had for this sister that she had never met before has always stuck with me as a true example of what it means to be a sister, and to be merciful.

As I spent more time with the Sisters of Mercy the feeling of coming home became undeniable for me. The love and support I have received as I transitioned into community life, ministered as a chef at the local soup kitchen, and navigated the last few years has made me realize how wonderful and strong this family of women is. Now, as I look forward to the novitiate I value that support more than ever.

I have decided to start this blog to share my story, however strange and grammatically incorrect it maybe, in the hope that someone will find my experiences, and mistakes helpful in their own journey.  Oh, and the pirate thing… well I’ve always liked the sense of adventure and the desire to be counter cultural which just happen to be two attributes I see in religious life.  Not to mention the great hats!

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Human-Becoming

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Awhile back I asked my ministry if I could have two weeks off and people politely inquired where I was going on my vacation.  I laughed and told them it was no vacation but rather a two-week meeting with my community in Buffalo!  I am here with my community volunteering on the hospitality committee, or as I like to call it the ‘fun and games commission’.  This is my first experience of Chapter since this meeting only takes place once every six years and last time I was a first-year candidate.  As Sisters have asked me how my time here has been and what I think of the whole process I reflected back on where I was in my discernment and incorporation six years ago during the previous Chapter.  Looking back to who I was as a candidate I realized how lost in translation I was then and must laugh at the image of me partaking in that Chapter.  Sometimes I still get lost but now I am not shy about asking for context or history, and people are always ready to fill in my blanks and share the ongoing story of my community. 

From my point of view this Chapter depends a lot on history since we are sitting with a document produced three Chapters ago.  As my unofficial table of support staff Sisters discussed the discernment questions we came upon the image of transparencies.  I may be the last generation who knows what those even are!  Nonetheless, I have found it to be a good metaphor for our discussion as we sat with our Critical Concerns.  We placed the transparency of our discernment question asking where our God of Mystery and Wisdom is calling us now along with the transparency of our impertive to deepen our integrety of word and deed.  In this light my table saw that the destructive dynamics of pervasive power were fundamental to all of our Critical Concerns.  The next piece with which to overlay these layers was not completely clear for us but we do feel called to, in someway, let our lives model a new way of being and becoming which counter this pervasive power. 

There is some sort of gray space between our ministerial lives of service to the materially poor and the ministry of our lives as Gospel women committed to prayer and community.  My unofficial table began to discuss this space which we have dubbed the space of becoming: as in I am not a “human-being” but rather a “human-becoming” on this faith journey.  The witness of our lives as one community within this human family models the lived understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings in creation.  This modeling may be one way to fight for equlaity, the environment, and peace.  We have been doing this all along yet I feel called now to go deeper and seek this level of connection with every moment, and fiber of my being.  Who knows where this next phase will take us, but I can confidently and comfortably say that whatever is next I believe we will continue to be faithful to our call and will depen and widen our understanding of who God is as Love.

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.

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