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.

DISPLACEMENT LESSONS

Watching the news of massive flooding in Texas and South Asia, I cannot help but be touched by the humanness of the experience. After all, as the mass migration and refugee crisis show us every day, displacement is something millions of women, men and children experience each day as a result of poverty, violence, war, and environmental disasters.

I am touched deeply by the look on the face of a Bangladeshi mother as she carries her child through water waste deep … pure determination mixed with despair. I am heartened by a comment by two young men in Texas who were helping strangers evacuate, “We’re not heroes, we’re ordinary people doing what we can do.”

I also cannot help but reflect on my own time of displacement last fall. One October morning I woke up to a fire outside our motherhouse. Everyone was safe, but the main building is still not occupiable. I spent about four months living out of boxes away from home. I was safe, I had everything I needed, I was cared for … and yet I was discombobulated constantly. I kept losing things and was off kilter even as life settled into a new normal.

We have been back home since January, but I am still finding things and sorting them. Just today I found a favorite mug I thought had been lost and found some important papers that had been oddly mixed in with some trivial stuff in the packing and unpacking.

I hold in prayer all those who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their mementos. I pray for all those relying on the kindness of strangers, and those strangers who see a neighbor in need and respond even though they have never met them before.

I hope and pray that all will be safe, and just maybe hearts will be broken open enough to widen our circle of relationship. 

Maybe those sharing a shelter with an undocumented family will be able to see them as friend and neighbor rather than other to be feared or vilified. Perhaps stereotypes and bias towards racial or ethnic groups will be tested through a shared human experience. 

I pray that in our gratitude for safety and securury and prosperity we recognize the vulnerability we all share.

I pray that our common experience of compassion and care for those facing unimaginable suffering brings us closer, makes us stronger, and teaches us what really matters in life.

Connection not division.

Little acts of kindness and love that can break through even the worst suffering and despair.

Hope not fear.

AMEN

Being the presence of love

This past week at the LCWR was awe and wonder filled as close to 700 elected leaders of women’s congregations explored what it means to be the presence of love in our weary world. I am still processing and finding words for the experience.

We used the practice of contemplative dialogue throughout our days. I was invited into the privilege of being one of the designated listeners who paid attention to the movement of the spirit and the wisdom emerging among us.

On Friday, we began our last day with a converation on the stage amkng four of my age peers in leadership. After their sharing, some of the listeners were invited to reflect. This is what I shared as a reflection on what I was hearing and noticing.
We are called to conspire together to disrupt the narrative of diminishment and witness to the emerging narrative of communion.

We are called to widen and overlap our circles, to be BIG together just as we become smaller diverse parts of the holy whole:

… living God’s dream, singing God’s song of love in our hearts, in OUR heart, for the sake of the world

… to be good news in a world longing to hear even the faintest whisper of inclusive love, extravagant love, fierce and diverse love, transformative love.

We are called to be present and accountable to love and each other.

Communionings – a prayer upon waking

Communionings

Eyes open in a strange room
rested (but not)
ready for what comes next
filled with a wondering
bubbling up
encompassing me in possibility, promise, a wee bit of trepidation.

What if?

What if God is inviting us?

What if God is inviting us, through it all, to return home to one another?

What if, through the movement towards smallness, God is inviting us to reach out to those we did not need in our exceptional BIG moments?

What if, through the roller coaster of our geopolitical sphere, not to mention the soap opera of our national whatever is the opposite of civil and reasonable discourse, God is inviting us to love each other out of the fear and division?

What if, through the reckless disregard of our very planet–our common home–and our disposable attitude toward people and things, God is inviting us to bless what is near and dear while we make all of God’s creation our own concern?

What if our Triune God–Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier–is beckoning us, cheering us, drawing us near one another despite ourselves so that we can be one in all our wonderful crazy-making diversity?

Just as the Abba is always that, and the Son is always that, and the Ruah is always that …
Just as together they are also more …
Just as together they transform …
Just as together they bless and permeate and dance the story of all that is and was and will be.

This is my prayer upon waking, that I … that we … live into the questions, wonder at the wondering, and embrace the invitation to dance.

Amen.

communionlcwr
Leaders of all 3 conferences of religious men and women in the United States bless those gathered at the 2017 Leadership Conference of Women Religious in a powerful moment of communion at the closing liturgy.

Birthday Musings

This morning I woke up another year older,

Wiser hopefully, as time goes by and experience + lessons learned make an impact. 

There is what I thought I knew, what I have learned, and that giant category of what is still mystery beckoning.

I am richer in relationships and connection to be sure. Pure gift.

This year my birthday coincides with the number attributed to the man presently in the white house.

My birthday wish upon waking was that he might focus on building common ground, promoting the common good and peace.

A girl can dream, especially on her birthday.

Most of all I am just grateful. For community, friends, and family near and far. For gifts given and received. For life.

Morning Anticipation – Retreat Notes

It is an interesting fact of my life that most mornings it takes an alarm, or two, to get me out of bed in time for morning prayer with my local community.

Retreat time is a different time, and here I awake with the birds and the rising sun, anticipating the day. No other alarm needed.

On my last morning at Wisdom House, I awoke before the sun, with even greater anticipation. I get to watch the sunrise, I thought gleefully, as I pretty nearly leaped out of bed.

For countless generations God has put on this show for us. Day in and day out, over rolling hills or oceans or deserts or cities, peace or war, poverty or abundance, there is this show of color and light and shadow, no two ever quite the same.

Amazing.




Amen

All this miracle and light – Retreat Notes

One of the most life-giving parts of my year is the time I am lucky enough to spend on retreat.   Most years I get away for a week of sacred silence for a silent directed retreat.  I never cease to be amazed at the gifts God presents us each and every day, especially if we are able to pay attention.

Retreat is a luxury and a responsibility.  Luxury because there is nothing else to do but pay attention to the goodness that comes from God, all around you (except of course for the distractions and worries that hover in the shadows).  As I wake each day on retreat, I give thanks for this opportunity and promise to share the gifts I receive.

It’s also a responsibility because taking this time away from the many things I should be busy about is important.  I/we need to tend to the relationships that matter most, and what is more important than my/our relationship with God?  The regular time I spend each day in prayer with my sisters and on my own is key to this relationship, but so too is particular time away just to nurture that relationship and ourselves. 

 As we say in our CSJP Constitutions:

Personal prayer deepens our desire
to be united with God in faith,
enabling us to see God’s presence and action
in our lives and in the world.
We commit ourselves to daily prayer.

We nurture our life of prayer
by reflective reading, particularly Scripture,
by periods of solitude and silence,
and by an annual retreat. (CSJP Constitutions 29 & 30)

This year I returned to Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT, a retreat center sponsored by the Daughters of Wisdom. I was last here on retreat when I was a novice, and it was a joy to discover things that remain the same and things that have shifted and grown, both at the retreat center and within myself.  Natural beauty abounds here, and I spent some quality meditative time walking around the grounds and nearby sights with my camera.

The result is this video prayer, set to “Magic” by the duo/collective Gungor (the music is a new-to-me discovery and gift of the spirit to match the movement in my heart this week):

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Click the picture or this link to watch the video prayer on YouTube.

The words of the song say it all I think, and with a catchy tune:

All this miracle and light
All this magic
There is nothing left to hide
Bring your sadness
Bring your disbelief
Bring your tambourine
You can dance and sing
Here in the magic

Come breathe the air
Feel your skin
Come play your drum
Feel the beat within
Love everyone
Everything
La lala la la la

Come breathe it in the air
Feel it on your skin
Come play it on your drum
Feel the beat within
Love like a mystic drug
Filling everything
La lala la la la

Amen

 

My Reading Vacation


This year, I decided to do something I have always dreamed of … I took a reading vacation. Days of rest and renewal, moving around a bit (first the ocean, then the lake) but solitary for the most part. Except of course for those friends who jump off the page and into my imagination.

It has been a wonderful adventure, and has also helped me rediscover reading. Don’t get me wrong, I read some, but not like I used to. But after years of grad school when my brain could not absorb much beyond assigned reading, I turned to easy reads like mysteries on my kindle app. And of course, we are in the era of streaming television services! You know what they say about habits.

But I miss reading real books, and now remember why.

My vacation reading list? I am so out of practice in literary efforts that I am also out of the loop on newish fiction. So I did some research. I looked at recommendations online from Nancy Pearl and the bookstore, and picked up a great audio book at the thrift store for the car as I travelled around.

  • Siracusa by Delia Ephron
  • The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
  • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
  • Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
  • Turner House by Angela Flournoy
  • Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maude Montgomery

I will admit to liking some more than others, but they all held my attention and brought me into their worlds. I only managed half of The Turner House, because I think I left it at the Sylvia Beach Hotel. (By the way if you love books and the ocean google this marvellous place!). But will find another copy!

Island of the Sea was an audiobook read by by S. Epatha Merkerson. Her talent plus Isabel Allende’s words kept me captivated. It paints a picture of slavery in the colonial era in the North of Haiti, close to where our Sisters now minister. Plus it is just a human story, beautifully told.

I was surprised by The Last Days of Night, a historical novel about the fight around the light bulb patent. I know, sounds thrilling. It is by the same author as the Imitation Game and kept me up late at night and woke me up early in the morning, anxious to read.

As for Lucy Maude Montgomery, I am rereading the Anne Series this summer. It is in the public domain and you can download it for free. I am now part way through Anne of the Island, and it is a joy as an adult to rediscover the real Anne as described by Lucy Maude.

I have a few new books I have picked up at thrift stores along the way, but do not anticipate large chunks of time to read in the near future. But I may trade netflx for real books, at least some nights.

Books are such a gift. Saying a special prayer tonight for authors of all kinds!