What  if …

What if we all lived as if are already part of the beloved community?

I have been asking myself that question  lately.  When I am frustrated  or disappointed, angry or just plaim grumpy,  can I nevertheless respond with love?

I have been experimenting with this through my daily tweets to the president. It has not been easy, but it has helped me stay sane amd engaged over the past year. 

What if I could apply this desire to my daily interactions? Annoyed  by a neverending customer service loop? What if I attend to the business  and seek  resolution of the problem, but could do so as if the person on the other end of the phone were also part of the beloved  community?

What if I approached the challenging daily intersections of life this way? Friend, family, stranger, community … all beloved by God and doing their best. Can I be gentle with them,  and gentle with myself? Can I try again and again when I find it too  hard to respond with agape love, so that in the end I am helping to create the beloved community?

What if my response were first and foremost love?

We are almost a week into the New Year,  but I think I have stumbled upon my resolution.

Incarnating Love

On the 25th of December, Christians around the world celebrate the feast of the incarnation of God’s infinite love in our midst  … the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us … a mystery for the ages to be sure.

It is an awesome thought, to paraphrase a popsong from the 90s, not what if, but that God DID become one of us. That reality brings both comfort and challenge if one manages to screen out the commercialization of the holiday to the real fundamental message, which is love.

All powerful love … and the love of a vulnerable poor child born in a stable far from his parents’ home.

Universal love … and the particular love of a family, unconventional as it may be.

Love that is meant to transform and expand exponentially to break the binds of oppression, free captives, and build beloved community.

Love incarnate, now and then and always and forever.

It’s incredible on a theological level amd mind boggling on a practical human level.

It is stretching on a heart level, and that my friends is where my Christmas reflections take me this evening. How are we, how am I, called to incarnate love? 

We incarnate love through our touch, a kind word, our presence. We can incarnate love through our dedication and faithfulness. Sometimes we are called to incarnate love through our questions and struggles, in the messiness of our lives and in the systems of oppression we resist.

Through it all, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, is our model, our wonder counselor, our friend.

Jesus, be with me as I seek to be an incarnator of love in my own life.

Amen.

Best Intentions & God’s Patience

I had the best of intentions at the start of this Advent season, hands down my favorite liturgical season.  And then …. life happened and I responded with my little human ways.  You know the drill, anxiety and busyness leads to stress and grumpiness and less patience and less compassionate responses to the folks in your own life because of course you are busy and stressed.  Maybe you don’t know, but it’s a familiar pattern for me unfortunately, and one I fell right back into the past couple of weeks.

Thankfully, this past summer when I was on my annual directed retreat I made a commitment to schedule some mini-retreat time this December.  I tend to take the most beautiful photos when I am on retreat, and so when I saw a listing for a Contemplative Photography retreat in Advent, I signed up right away.  For the months since, I have guarded this weekend on my calendar, knowing I suppose deep down that by now, I’d need it.   And I certainly did!

While the retreat itself was excellent, especially the experiences of guided visio divina and the opportunity to pray with the photos taken by the other retreatants, really it was an opportunity to reset my own best intentions.  Adapting today’s second reading from the 2nd Letter of Peter, I pray:

I can no longer ignore this one fact,
I am beloved, and so are those around me and all of creation,

and with God one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day.
God’s promise is not delayed, as some think of ‘delay,’
but God is patient with me,
not wishing me or you harm 
but that I would return & center myself on love.

Since everything is grounded in love,
what sort of person might I be
living with a spirit of gratitude and compassion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of love in our midst.

That is of course the kind of person I want to be, to see with God’s eyes the beauty and love and light and hope in the midst of the busyness and anxiety and sorrow and uncertainty.  My best intentions may not seem like enough, but they are because God is patient and there is always today to return to the center and prepare the way for the incarnation of love, reflecting God’s love for us to the world.

 

Advent Reflection

lady-in-waitingAdvent begins on Sunday, and with it the season of waiting.  This year, it feels like we are waiting at the edge. I reflected on this theme in my latest column on Global Sisters Report: Advent Waiting at the Edge.

Advent is not a time to despair or become overwhelmed by all the turmoil and woe, but rather, watchful and alert, to prepare God’s way joyfully. In the midst of it all, the surprising call we hear on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is to rejoice: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks … Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” We are invited to rejoice, even as we stand on the edge, recognizing that life itself is gift in all circumstances and that our actions, no matter how small, can make a difference.

On the one hand, this message is so simple, and yet life can seem so very complicated even on the best of days. We know the promise of the good news, yet like Mary, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we find ourselves pondering, “How can this be?”

Mary’s question to the surprising news of the angel Gabriel always comforts me. I find myself with lots of questions; the biggest one these days is how to be the presence of love in such a mixed-up world.

Advent gives us the much-needed opportunity to pause, step back from the chaos, and wait on the edge during these in-between times.

Head over to Global Sisters Report to read the rest.

Blessings of Peace!

Unexpected Moments

I made my way to an anticiated appointment today, only to find that the other person got her days mixed up and was otherwise occupied.  This was after a day of suprprises, and not the kind you look forward to or enjoy.

But it was also a beautiful day. I had free time in my schedule, and I had already driven out to a beautiful rural area of central New Jersey for my appointment.

So I asked google where I might go for a nice walk in the woods and did just that.

Exactly what the doctor ordered this autumn day!

Sometimes the unexpected moments are the ones we really need.

Memories & Gratitude

SrSusan_program1
Six years ago on this day… final vows!

Today is November 11th. A day to pause and remember during this month of memory and thanksgiving.

Since the first World War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, today has been known as Remembrance Day in many parts of the world. In the United States we mark this day as Veteran’s Day.  At breakfast this morning we sang Anchors Aweigh to Sister Mary Robert, a navy veteran of WW II.

In my family, today is the day we celebrate the birthday of my eldest brother Joe.

In my CSJP community life, November 11th has two very special meanings.  On this day last year, we said goodbye to Sister Kristin, a vibrant community member who I was privileged to get to know and love deeply during our two years together on the Leadership Team.

And six years ago, on November 11, 2011, I professed my final vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.

Our lives together in communities, as families, nations, and part of our global community are filled with so many moments, big and small, that make us who we are and bring the best out of ourselves for the sake of the whole.  Sometimes we dwell on the problems, the challenges, the things that worry us or aren’t quite going right, not to mention the very real existence of evil and the darkness that exists along with the light.  We need to pay attention to those messy bits, but even more we are called I think to stop and smell the flowers, to celebrate the gift of life and the joy and laughter and hope and very breath we breathe.

Blessings upon blessings if you think about it, really.

And so I pause this November 11th to remember …
I pause this November 11th to give thanks …
I pause this November 11th to pray for peace, for love, and for joy for all of God’s creation.

Amen

A Fiesty Faithful Friend

KieranI am remembering my dear friend Sister Kieran this morning who went home to God over the weekend.

Kieran was herself fond of the early morning hours.  She lived for many years at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, our main west coast community on the shores of Lake Washington.  When she was more able, she’d be the one to fetch the morning papers from up the hill, to make the proper Irish oatmeal, and keep you company in the dining room.  I remember when she was in the hospital a few years ago, there was a long list of all the tasks she normally took care of that needed to be done by a whole host of others while she recovered.

Sister Kieran brought life just by her presence.  She was one of the first sisters to welcome me to community.  I mean that in more than one way. She was a constant presence at St. Mary’s whenever I visited. She had a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face.  She also made you feel accepted just as you were.  She made me feel at home and wanted and part of the CSJP family from the very beginning.

Sister Kieran was also, as the title says, a fiesty and faithful friend.  She’d be the first to tell you if your homily reflection was a bit on the long side.  She loved to tell stories, and my favorite was when she’d preference a story about me by saying, “Remember when you were a young sister and you …”.  As I was remembering Kieran this morning, I thought of this picture, which was taken at a recent assembly.  This is Kieran, alive and engaged and in action.  No doubt she is alive and engaged and in action in heaven, catching up with loved ones and keeping a keen eye on all the goings on in this world as we prepare to celebrate her life.

Thank you Kieran for being my friend, for your faithful witness and your fiesty spirit.  I will miss you but am better for having known and loved you, even if just for a time.

One Year Ago

One year ago today I woke up to a fire alarm indicating a real, actual, and very scary fire here at St. Michael Villa. No one was hurt, thank God, but life was and continues to be disrupted here on the campus.

Tomorrow we will be having a small mass of thanksgiving, with some of the first responders as our guests. I will never forget that in our shock that morning, huddled in the gym of the building next door, it was the Chief of Police who asked if we’d like to pray and led us in the Hail Mary.

I am also painfully aware of all those in California who are facing flames and the aftermath. Praying for their safety and for peace of mind and heart in the days and months ahead.

Travelling Grace

FairhavenFrom our founding years, my religious congregation has been geographically spread across wide distances.  In January 1884 we were founded in the Diocese of Nottingham, England.  By November 1884 our sisters had expanded to serve immigrant Irish women and the visually impaired in the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey across the pond.  And by 1890 our pioneer sisters were invited to the Pacific Northwest to open a hospital which would serve the mining and timber communities in Bellingham, Washington.

 

On one of my last whirlwind trips from New Jersey to Seattle, one of those squeezed between commitments on opposite coasts with barely a moment to breathe, I found myself lamenting the fact that our three centers are 3,000 miles apart from each other.  As an elected leader who wants (and needs) to spend time with our sisters and associates in all three regions of our Congregation, I was tired in that moment.

But as I sat there complaining, I reaching an aha moment of wonder.  I don’t have to take a train or a boat or send telegrams or letters that must also travel by train and boat.  I can make a phone call or send an email or even better meet with one of my UK sisters via video conferencing and take a six or eight hour flight and physically be present with my CSJP sisters and associates.  We are so connected as a CSJP family, even across the miles, … pure grace!

There is of course the physical and mental wear and tear of travel, made more complicated by our security responses to a wounded and weary world. I have become a wee bit obsessed with effective packing and the benefits of quality luggage … packing cubes being my latest discovery!  I’m now trying to be more intentional about bringing what I need, and no more, while still looking presentable.  Then there’s the effort to make sure you have your electronics and the files you need for x and y meeting.  It’s an effort, even with the benefit of modern airline travel.

But it is also sheer grace that, after I head on a plane this evening in the Newark airport, I will wake up tomorrow in Birmingham, England, just a short drive from our sisters in Leicestershire.  I will breathe in the air that our founders breathed.  I will rub shoulders and share tea with our UK sisters and associates.  I will experience their gracious hospitality, enjoy their warmth, and share my own presence.

Travelling grace indeed!

And as I prepare to travel to reconnect with my CSJP family, I think of and pray for families separated by miles. Those who are do not have the proper documentation to visit an ailing family member across the border.  Those forced to flee their homes in the dead of night after a drone attack or bombing.  Those who leave family and seek to find a job in a foreign land to be able to send money home.  So many families, separated by the miles.  So much to be grateful for, so much to pray for, in our human family.

Speaking truth to the Speaker

My latest Global Sisters Report column has been posted. This time it is an open letter to House Speaker, Representative Paul Ryan, sharing my concerns about the proposed federal budget.

Here’s a snippet:

In your conversation with Sister Erica on CNN, you shared your appreciation for the model of Catholic organizations that help the poor. You expressed that they do a “fantastic job in spite of government doing wraparound benefits for the poor to make sure that they get to where they are — from where they are to where they need to be.”

My religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, sponsors and supports nonprofit services for low-income women in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Seattle with a similar model. Both the York Street Project and Jubilee Women’s Center provide such wraparound services, treat the whole person, and assist the women they serve on their journey to self-sufficiency.

I found it interesting that you referenced the year 1985 in your response to Sister Erica, because that is around the time my sisters started both these innovative programs.

I agree with you that we need to encourage and support such programs, but as partners with government, not replacements for our civic duty to promote the general welfare. Such programs do not do a fantastic job in spite of government, but in tandem with life-giving government programs like the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which are in jeopardy in the budget proposals under consideration. At the York Street Project, for example, CDBG funds support the job readiness program at Kenmare High School, helping women who previously dropped out of the public school system to find jobs that will support their families.

Visit Global Sisters Report to read the entire letter.