To Have Loved And Lost

 

When I first thought about religious life I had a vague idea of what it might be like as sisters in a community, and I had no notion of what the age gap would be like.  Yet, cross-generational living has brought me so many gifts. My sister-friends have showed me their wisdom, patience, good humor, and perspective.  As sisters our shared charism- our passion for the work of Mercy, the history of the community, and our foundress Catherine- give us a common language, culture, and identity.  This common ground has provided the basis for fruitful relationship with sisters who have walked in Mercy decades longer than I have.  Those who are able to enter into this walk of mutual vocation and friendship are special people indeed.

Last June I lost one such person.  I first met my dear friend Sr. Elaine when I was discerning religious life.  She walked with me as a vocation minister through the first few years of discernment and entrance into the Sisters of Mercy.  Her friendship, courage, and character impressed me from the start and we became close friends.  One of her great gifts was the total acceptance of everyone who crossed her path.  It didn’t matter if you were in prison, a coworker, young, or old.  She met each person as they were, and loved everyone in her life- myself included.  It has been such a privilege for me to have such a great relationship with my mentor because she embraced me in a mutual friendship despite the four decades separating us.

At Elaine’s funeral I looked at the array of photos from across the years of her life. I heard her friends reminisce about her early years and I found myself wishing I had been there too. I could only recognize my friend in those old photos by the tilt of her head and the strength of her presence. I knew her for the last nine years of her life, and there have been other friends with whom I have had even less time. When I began to answer this call to religious life I did not think about the losses along the way.  I took these relationships as part and parcel of community life without contemplating the losses ahead of me.  It has been a shock to loose so many friends at my age, but these relationships with my sisters have been precious and worth the pain of saying goodbye.

These sisters who, like Elaine, have welcomed me as both friend and sister are the ones who have taught me the most about life, and helped me grow.  I am so grateful to these women who have welcomed me into their lives.  I look back on my nine years of friendship with Elaine and know it to be such a short time.  I will continue to carry Elaine’s love and friendship in me, in the woman she helped me become, and in the Mercy community she loved so dearly.

 

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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.