Courage and Hope

IMG_2032I just got back from a weekend retreat with some of my Giving Voice sisters.  This retreat happens every year in sunny Arizona but this is only my second time attending.  I’m so glad I went because it was just the weekend with God and community that I needed.

The weekend retreat is peer facilitated.  As participants we were free to engage small group sharing, large group sharing, private reflection, ritual, and prayer.  The first evening opened with a check-in process where we all shared how we were as we began the weekend.  Some had positive things to share, many had difficult things going on in their lives, but all of us were grateful for the time to be and pray with our peers.  As we each placed an object from home in the center of the circle we shared how the item symbolized our hope.  I brought a bronze relief depicting Jesus breaking bread on the road to Emmaus.   This little bronze reminder has hung on the wall above my desk since it was given to me as a gift when I was received as a novice.  Being reminded of that ceremony and the wonderful year I had afterwards always fills me with hope for the future.  Also, this image was my symbol of courage and hope because the story of Emmaus talks about how people can walk through fear or loss, and find hope in God.

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Like the couple traveling to and fro on the road to Emmaus, I think of my vocation as a journey.  Sometimes I run away like the couple, and sometimes I turn back and return just as they did.  As a woman on a journey I began to think about traveling lightly during the second day of this retreat.  Sisters shared their reflections from Saturday morning and I began to hear what I needed to hear: “Authenticity” “What is it that I really need?”  “You Only Live Religious Life Once.”  As I prayed about my own journey I realized I was holding onto things that no longer served me.  I tend to hold onto supposed-tos,  should haves, and what-ifs.  These are the things that weigh me down on the road back from Emmaus.  These are the things I thought about letting go of during our prayer service Saturday night.  I wrote what I needed to let go of on a paper and stood with my sisters as we burned our slips of paper in a campfire.  I prayed for the grace I needed on my journey as a sister anointed my hands with oil, and we lit candles to symbolize our hope.

Two more words of wisdom came to me on this retreat: “Grief does not stop who we are” and “Hope is a way of life.”  As my journey takes it’s ups and downs I pray I have the grace to let go of what is no longer needed so I can make room for what God is giving me now.  For now, this weekend with my cohort has refreshed my hope and shown me courage.

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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.

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.

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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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

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