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!

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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.

What These 397 Incredible Days Have Meant

Wingspan Prophetic witness seems like such a huge part of this whole life as a Mercy to me, and it scares me a bit. I so resist the idea that as a sister I need to be presentable at all times, I need to be patient, and people will not always accept anger as a reasonable emotion from me. I do not like the idea that as a sister I will be expected to be wise, learned, and a theologian. I do not feel prepared for this burden, I do not feel equipped for this call. I do however; feel called to be something different, to step out of life as we know it, out of the rat race, and by so doing to say to the world, “Hey, there is another way!” Or in the immortal words of Olaf the magical snow man when his friends were faced with an impossible mountain climb, “Not sure if this is going to solve your problem but I found a staircase that leads exactly where you wanted to go.” Like Olaf I may not have the gifts the world is looking for, but I might have the gifts that are needed, enough to cause ripples if I dare to rock the boat. I do not always see in me the gifts I see in other sisters of Mercy, and I do not know for certain that courage-a trait I see in many others-is one of my gifts. I am however, beginning to see some of my own gifts emerge and they do enable me to be something different than what the world has already chosen.

As I’ve worked through this integration time I am reminded of a movie I watched in my Religion and Art class in college. We watched “On the Waterfront” in which Marlon Brando is an ex-prize fighter turned dock worker struggling to stand up to his corrupt union bosses. The new and just union leader is murdered and at the funeral Marlon receives his coat and experiences a conversion leading him to take up the man’s cause. The coat is like a prophet’s mantle, the sign of a prophet in the Old Testament, and just as Elisha inherited Elijah’s place so Marlon inherits the role of the union leader. I find myself faced with this same choice as I move through formation so I can fully join the ranks of those who have come before me, and live a life that will preach the Gospel louder than any words could. So as a symbol of my year I have knit my ‘mantle’: a spiral ever deepening, ever wider, made up of all of these parts of my year- all knotted and looped together to form a whole story woven together in me.

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

This hasbcc6103b68691588b121fcc5b33ddb20 been an interesting time for me.  I have just six short week left before my canonical year of novitiate ends and I move out.  Some days this seems less real than others, but today it feels very real and very near as I helped to welcome the new group of novices to the novitiate.  I am surprised at how nostalgic I feel as I experience these welcomings from a new perspective.  In addition to the new arrivals we also welcomed a new candidate to the community yesterday.  Witnessing and participating in the entrance ceremony was an amazing experience for me.  In the Mercy community we have a tradition of blessing individuals with a sung triple Amen of affirmation; I have been the recipient of this blessing many times.  Now, being able to offer it to another woman stepping out on her journey in Mercy made me feel as if I had come full circle from my own entrance four years ago to this next big step in my life as I finish my novitiate year.

www.pinterest.comAnother special moment for me as I witnessed this ceremony was the second reading (Song of Songs 2:10-13) which just happens to be one of my favorites.   I was so struck by this reading because this passage describes spring when it is safe and easy to travel and when figs are easy to pick along the way so there is always enough to eat.  This is a beautiful reading for an entrance ceremony and it fits my own experience as I prepare to leave and continue on my own journey deeper into mercy.  I was so grateful to be reminded that now is the acceptable time for me, and that there will always be enough for the journey no matter where my life in Mercy takes me.

The Crew’s Reviews: Two movies you need to watch.

We watched “The Human Experience” as part of our segment on Christian Anthropology.  What is Christian Anthropology you ask?  Well it’s what the Christian faith has to say about being human.  This movie however, isn’t really presented from a Christian perspective but rather from the perspective of human curiosity which works out well since Christians believe that being a good Christian begins with our first vocation: being a good human.  I found this movie to be a great window into the quest for a deep experience of humanity.  It’s really a powerful story of searching and healing as the main characters share their past experiences and gain greater understanding of themselves throughout the journey documented in this film.

The second movie in today’s double feature is titled “The Peaceful Warrior” and is based on the true story of a young Olympic hopeful who must face his inner demons when he is crippled in a motorcycle accident.  This movie is a parable for the inner journey we are all invited to.  As children we develop an outer armor which protects our sense of self, but as adults the armor only gets in the way since it is psychologically meant to be like training wheels for our development.  If we don’t let go of our training wheels we can easily convince ourselves that we are happy, but in our true self we will know this to be false and hollow.  In his book The Naked Now Richard Rohr, one of my favorite authors, uses the verse, “Unless a grain of wheat should fall to the ground and die, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24) to describe the imperative need to let go of our training wheels and really change our selves and not just our behaviors.

Living in Community: “a daring and not quite rational undertaking”

They say that “young people” today are seeking community, but no one really talks about what that means.  There are two ways to look at community according to Sandra Schneider: common life (monastic or structured) and congregational living (loose structure but intentional).  When people talk about “young people” seeking community it sounds like they suppose this means common life; I can tell you that I am young people, and common life doesn’t appeal to me.  What does appeal to me is sharing my adult life with like-minded, and like hearted people.

Catherine McAuley

We’ve been studying community at the Novitiate for the past couple of weeks and I really loved Tony Gittin’s article “Community, Communitas and Downward Mobility.”  According to Gittins communitas, a vibrant kind community life, is just a brief moment  like a match being struck.  As I read his article I couldn’t help think of Catherine McAuley’s own communal beginnings.  Her dream was impossible, her companions were insufficient, and the audacity of her imagination and faith were unstoppable (Gittins 19).  It’s hard to imagine choosing the circumstances which would facilitate communitas today: incredible odds, and little hope of success.  The payoff however, is an incredible burst of imagination fueled by “a burning commitment both to the idea and to the community” (Gittins 20).  This choice, to live on our liminal edge, to live vulnerably and therefore authentically, is a daunting and simultaneously alluring challenge.  We are no longer a new community, new foundations are not being sent out as in Catherine’s day.  So how do we rekindle communitas?  We can’t re-strike a match, but we can bring a new match to the embers of the original fire.  For me these coals are found in the members of my community, the history of the order, Catherine’s charism, and my inter-community peer groups both here this year as well as within Giving Voice.  The challenge to me personally will be to seek out areas and experiences which will present me with incredible odds that can only be faced with a strong commitment to community and to the call God has given me.

“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”

Novitiate Sweet NovititateIts been more than a month since my last post and what can I say…  This has been a heck of a summer!  I’ve been here there and everywhere and now I’m in Missouri, the new home of the US Novitiate.  Well, this will be a year of reflection and deepening discernment for me so I will be posting with less frequency.

Moving into the Novitiate has kept me busy, but there has been plenty of fun things too!  We went to the Arch, the World Festival, and a Cardinals’ baseball game!  But its not all goofing off we have had classes and meetings too.  This week will be focused on discerning a ministry site, and a spiritual director.  It’s too early to say how the rhythm of life this year will feel, though I expect it will be a very helpful as I seek to deepen the retreat-like atmosphere.  Frankly, right now I’m just glad to be unpacked somewhere and as strange as it may sound to some I look forward to silent Fridays!

Last Friday was a welcome break after packing, flying, and unpacking!  I needed very much to take a day to be still.  We are allowed to spend our retreat day as we see fit so the experience is very individualized and stress free.  I took advantage of my surrounding and spent a good part of the day outside which for me is always a peaceful place to be.  I began to feel like myself again by the end of the day; it amazes me how moving can shake up your whole life, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.

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