Tag Archives: adventures

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.

Summer Camp Revisited

lawcampWhen I was in middle school and high school, my mother encouraged me to apply to attend summer programs for kids like me, or, as I liked to call it, summer camp for nerds.  Generally held on college campuses, these were residential weeks on a college campus with other kids with similar interests.

These talented and gifted summer programs were organized by the State of Maryland Department of Education, and apparently they still happen.  One year I attend history camp in at St. Mary’s University in Southern, Maryland, where we participated in an archaeological dig.  The next year I attended a creative writing camp at Washington College on the Eastern Shore. And another year I attended a public service camp at the University of Maryland.

Flash forward 30 some years. I am back on a college campus this week with folks with similar interests, learning about interesting and important things.  Only this time, I’m here with a bunch of other elected leaders of religious congregations learning about aspects of civil and canon law which are particularly relevant to our ministry of leadership.

Officially, it’s the Institute of Law and Religious Life, but some of us have taken to calling it “Law Camp.”  And that makes my inner nerd very happy.

Shifting understandings of home

DChitwood_TheresNoPlaceLikeHomeI lived the first 18 years of my life in the same house on Seabury Lane in Bowie, Maryland.  First the house was painted green, later yellow. We were a family of five children and two parents, later adding grandparents to the residential mix even as sibling after sibling went off to college, sometimes returning for a stint after graduation. (I’m the youngest.)

When I went away to college on the left coast in Portland, the Seabury Lane house was still home. As a young adult, I began to create my own home in Portland where I lived for 16 years until I entered community.  But I still spent many holidays back in Bowie with the family.  During the years when my mom was sick, the visits home were more and more frequent as my siblings and I provided a tag team support system.  My Dad sold the family house about a year after my Mom died.  I remember the last day I was there.  I had a little ritual of thanksgiving, thanking God for everything the house had represented as home.

So where is home now?  I’m often perplexed when people ask me where I’m from, or where is home.  I no longer have family in Maryland.  I have moved quite a bit since I entered community.  My home CSJP Western region is Seattle, but I’m also at home in our Eastern region where I’m now living or in our UK region where I just had the pleasure of visiting.  I just spent a few days in Portland for a meeting and visiting with friends.  I have so much history there that it is also a place where I am at home. I just spent 2 1/2 years in Chicago for grad school and my sister and dad now live there, so that place also is special to me.

I have literally been all over the map the past month, travelling for community meetings and leadership/vocation related meetings and a conference and graduation and visiting family and friends and CSJP community.  I’ve been in Seattle, Leicestershire and London, Chicago, and Portland.  Each stop on the journey held elements of home — roots, connection, relationships, past, present, and future. This afternoon as I was on the last flight of this long trip, I found myself once again offering prayers of gratitude for the many places that are home to me, even as my understanding of home continues to shift and evolve.

And now I am sitting in my chair in my room in the place I currently call home.  And it is good to be here, to stop moving and breathe deeply and sink into the present and presence of the people and place that right now make this community house my home.

Goodbyes and New Beginnings

Me standing in front of the "Bean" sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park
Me standing in front of the “Bean” sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park

Two and a half years ago I packed up my room at Grace House (the CSJP community house in Seattle where I lived with two other Sisters) and moved to Chicago to study at Catholic Theological Union.  While it was hard to move to a city without any other CSJP Sisters, I was excited about the opportunity to study theology full time. I was also excited that my big sister Monica lived in Chicago with her family, and that I had a ready made group of “young nun” friends in town.

About a year later my Dad moved to Chicago as well, so I’ve had the unexpected opportunity to see him every week since then.  I will miss those regular father/daughter bonding moments, as well as the regular kid time with my 4 1/2 year old nephew and the opportunity to get to know my sister better as an adult (we’ve never really lived in the same city before).

I’ve also made some great friends at school, mostly younger than me, who have made this time special. I know we will stay in touch thanks to the wonders of social media, and I’ve offered guest rooms for any who find themselves in the New Jersey/New York City area, but it’s never the same after you say that initial goodbye.

Of course, new adventures await! I am in the final stages of sorting, purging, and packing. Tuesday morning my friend and housemate Sarah will drive me and my many bags to the airport. When I get to New Jersey, I will be met by one of the Sisters with whom I will have the pleasure of serving on community leadership for the next six years.  I’m actually moving back into a familiar space. Believe it or not, the house that was my novitiate house is now where I will be living with two other members of the leadership team. God has a funny sense of humor in my experience.

God is also faithful.  I find myself praying with these words from our CSJP Constitutions during this time of transition:

“Confident of God’s faithful love and collaborating with others who work for justice and peace, we face the future with gratitude and hope.”

Begin, tomorrow my vacation will

yodavacationWelcome to the blog!  Feel free to read the archives and stay tuned for future posts after the first of the year.

I am taking a much needed vacation before I begin my new adventures. Hence, I will be off grid and electronic media until later in January.

In the words of my community’s constitutions:

We recognize the value of leisure
as contributing to restoration and wholeness. (Constitution 54)

Or, as Master Yoda might put it:

Away you must go, relaxation you need. Hmmm…?

Neverending Story

rummageMy immediate future involves another move, this time back to east coast groovy sister hq as I embark upon my new adventure as a member of our congregation leadership team starting in January. Truth be told, I’m a wee bit nervous but very excited about what lies ahead.  Except for one small detail, that is, and that would be the actual process of moving.

Because, you see, as the title of this post implies, embarking on this new adventure means yet another chapter in the neverending story of my journey on the path to simplicity. Put quite simply … I STILL HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF.

Granted, I do have less than when I entered. For example, the picture is of a small sample of my many belongings which I sold at my parish rummage sale when I entered community after living alone in a two bedroom apartment for ten years. Since then I’ve moved across the country twice and to the middle of the country once (plus a short sojourn across the pond). I’ve also moved locally more than a few times. Each time, I embark upon what I like to call project “sort, purge, pack.”

If I am being generous and nice to myself, I can recognize and celebrate that I have decreased my belongings over time.  But I am still a long way from embodying the simplicity I aspire to in my life.  This always becomes clear to me, of course, when it’s time to pack!

And so, now that I’ve finished with my thesis and my comprehensive exams, and in between celebrating Christmas with my Dad, it’s time to sort through my belongings in my dorm room here at CTU and begin (again) the project of purging my pereptually expanding belongings and packing those which are essential (plus, I’m sure, some which are not). It’s a process and a journey after all!

Media Moments and Communication for Mission in the 21st Century

I’ve found myself thinking more than once of late what the founder of my religious community, Margaret Anna Cusack (known in religion as Mother Francis Clare) would have been able to do in the Internet age.

She was a prolific writer in her time and used the power of the written word astutely to spread the Gospel, challenge unjust structures, and advocate for people who were poor.  She wrote letters, letters to the editor, and many, many books. By 1870, more than 200,000 copies of her works (most published under the names M.F. Cusack or Mary Francis Cusack) had circulated throughout the world. Profits from the sale of her books were used for the Sisters’ work with the poor.

In one of her autobiographies, she tells the story of her audience with Pope Leo XIII, when she was seeking approval for our new congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

“My audience was entirely private … Mgr. Macchi brought in the whole set of my books to his holiness, who looked at them, I think somewhat surprised at the number. Some of them were duplicated, having been translated into German, French, and Italian. …  His holiness specially commended the plan of my new order, and encouraged me in every way to continue writing. He gave his blessing to all the sisters present and to come, and to all those who would contribute to my work.”

Our original 1884 Constitutions, written by Mother Francis Clare, described our mission as being “to promote the peace of the Church both by word and work. The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire the desire of peace and a love for it.” Word and work. I love that!

I can’t help but think that if she lived in today’s era of social networking, Mother Francis Clare would be tweeting for peace, spreading the good news of the Gospel and be on the forefront of the new evangelization. When our new community Twitter account (@SistersofPeace) went live earlier this year , I imagined her smiling in heaven at this new endeavor by her daughters in the 21st Century.

Because most of her books are in the public domain with the passage of time, she actually has quite an internet presence herself. You can read many of her works for free online, from histories of Ireland to lives of the saints to social reform. One of my personal favorite’s is her 1874 work, Women’s Work in Modern Society. Another one which is quite appropriate for this liturgical season is her 1866 book, Meditations for Advent and Easter. I use that one quite a bit for prayer this time of year!

As someone who has been growing into her own identity as both a Catholic Sister and a writer, I find great inspiration in Mother Francis Clare. This month marks ten years that I’ve been blogging my journey into religious life and experience as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, first at Musings of a Discerning Woman and now here.  It’s also why I jumped at the opportunity to be a regular columnist on the Global Sisters Report. I am very grateful for the gift of writing, and I feel called to share that gift in the hopes that my words can touch hearts and minds in service of the Gospel.

I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit can work through any medium, even the Internet! Actually, I first discovered my religious community online when I was discerning religious life. That’s also why I’ve decided to join a group of younger Catholic Sisters in live tweeting during episodes of Lifetime’s new “reality” show The Sisterhood: Becoming NunsIt’s actually been a fun experience, offering some of my own experience and “#realnun facts” as I watch the show. (You can join the conversation at #TheSisterhood.)

A younger Catholic Sister friend alerted me today that the folks over at the Huffington Post have noticed our live tweeting of the show.

“Social media savvy sisters have been doggedly following — and even live-tweeting — the show. They’ve been paying close attention to any potential misrepresentations, while remaining excited that the topic of religious vocation is getting national attention.”

I appreciated that description, because I think it aptly describes the spirit we’ve tried to embody as we’ve been live tweeting the show. Again, the Holy Spirit can work with anything! Even reality TV and Twitter!

It’s a far cry from Mother Francis Clare’s in person discussion of her writings with Pope Leo XIII, often considered the founder of Catholic Social Teaching. But nonetheless, I feel it is important to be part of the discussion where people are.

And, ok, I’ll admit it …. it’s kind of cool that the Huffington Post article includes a screen shot of one of my live tweets from last week’s show!

screenshot of my one of my live tweet's from last week's episode highlighted in HuffPo article
screenshot of my one of my live tweet’s from last week’s episode highlighted in HuffPo article

In the end, I have to think that Mother Francis Clare would use the media of the day to communicate for mission. Would she be on twitter, blogging, and on instagram? I have to think the answer would be yes!

By the way, be sure to check twitter when #callthemidwife returns to PBS …. a group of us have been live tweeting that as well!

Pope Francis on Year of Consecrated Life: Younger religious as both present and future

YearofConsecratedLifeLargeLogoTomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. It is also the first day of the “Year of Consecrated Life,” which Pope Francis has convened and which  finishes in February 2016.  Today, the Vatican released a message from Pope Francis to consecrated men and women on the occasion of the start of the year. It is a beautiful and challenging letter, made even more so perhaps because, as a Jesuit, he is intimately aware of the joys, challenges, and promise of vowed religious life.

In my first read of the letter, I was especially drawn to to one particular passage. Pope Francis outlines three main aims of the year: to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope. The passage that caught my attention is in his discussion of this third aim:

“This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible’ (Lk 1:37).  This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.  It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.

So do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency, and even less to trust in your own strength.  In scanning the horizons of your lives and the present moment, be watchful and alert.  Together with Benedict XVI, I urge you not to ‘join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armour of light – as Saint Paul urged (cf. Rom 13:11-14) – keeping awake and watchful.’  Let us constantly set out anew, with trust in the Lord.

I would especially like to say a word to those of you who are young.  You are the present, since you are already taking active part in the lives of your Institutes, offering all the freshness and generosity of your ‘yes’.  At the same time you are the future, for soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service and mission of your communities.  This Year should see you actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation.  In fraternal communion you will be enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by your own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism.  In this way the entire community can join in finding new ways of living the Gospel and responding more effectively to the need for witness and proclamation.

Ok, if I’m honest, it was this line that really drew my attention: “soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service, and mission of your communities.” Indeed. That “future” would be in a little over one month for me, as I begin my six year term as a member of our congregation leadership team in January. As you might imagine, I step onto this path with more than a little trepidation. But that is also balanced with a lot of love for my community and belief in the future of religious life. How wonderful to have this letter to reflect on and pray with during Advent, my own time of “waiting” for this new adventure to begin.

This is an unusual time in the history of consecrated life. Granted, the history of religious life is filled with “unusual times,” from the Ammas and Abbas who sought solitude in the desert and instead formed communities, to the call of Francis to rebuild God’s church which lead to a whole new form of religious life, to the suppression of religious during the French revolution which spread religious further into the new world, to the church’s own revolution in the form of the renewal of religious life after the Second Vatican Council which we are still experiencing in echoes and reverberations.

Today’s unusual time, from my perspective as a newer and younger religious, is a precious one. As Pope Francis so beautifully puts it, this is a time for younger religious, who are both part of the present and part of the future, to be “actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation,” to be “enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by [our] own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism.”

While there have always been multiple generations in religious life, our current demographic reality means that there are 30 to 40 decades between me and most of my mentors in religious life. That makes this time all the more precious, and makes me grateful to be actively sharing my own energy and enthusiasm at a time when I can mix and mingle that energy and enthusiasm with those who have been living religious life, in some cases, longer than I’ve been alive.  I am so very grateful for the presence, love, support, and friendship of my Sisters of all ages.

Today’s unusual time is also a critical one, for the needs of the world and for the sustainability of our way of life to be a witness to God’s love in that world.  Looking at the reality of demographics and resources and our own ability to cross the divides can make it all seem a little bit crazy. But as Pope Francis reminds us, our hope in the future is not based on statistics or accomplishments or our own abilities. It’s based on “the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible.'”

I’d like to end this post by repeating these words from Pope Francis:

“This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.”

The generations that are living religious life today all believe in that future. We are inspired by the stories that God started in our founders and that continue to be written today. We know that God is still writing that story, and lucky us, spurred on by the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity and obligation to co-create that future full of hope for all God’s people in need. Amen.

Breaks and Falls

Perspective from my window on the train
Perspective from my window on the train

My life these days is mostly consumed with what is right before me–writing my thesis and preparing for my oral comprehensive exams. So, while this week is technically “reading week” at Catholic Theological Union, every week has been reading (and writing) week for me since I came back from our congregation chapter almost a month ago.  I’m hoping to get to the halfway point of my thesis today or maybe tomorrow (God willing!), which helps me to realize that what is ahead of me is doable and I just need to focus.

But focus I’m realizing also requires breaks for perspective. And so I took the train to Wisconsin this weekend to visit a younger Catholic Sister friend. There was no substantive reading and no writing this weekend. Just visiting, laughing, exploring, and relaxing which I think I really needed. Breaks are important. They ground us in reality, help us touch back into the wider world and see beyond the tunnel vision we can develop when we’re focused solely on what is ahead. I guess you could say that breaks are a way of getting practice using our peripheral vision.

While I have plenty to be about in my immediate future, given that I am working to finish my degree requirements before Christmas, I also find myself skipping ahead to the adventures that start in January. But a funny thing happens when I do that, or at least a funny (and somewhat painful) thing has happened twice in the past month. I fall. No major bones broken, just some minor scrapes and bruises that I have acquired while thinking far ahead into the future instead of paying attention to where I am walking. My subconscious does this to me sometimes (or maybe it’s the universe or even an experience of God’s sense of humor).  In any case, I wonder if it’s not a way of keeping me real.

For example, I remember when I was preparing to profess vows I fell not once, not twice, but three times in the weeks before,  in a very similar fashion–walking while worrying about the far off future instead of paying attention to what lies directly ahead. What’s funny is that this last incident literally occurred just as I was arriving home and getting ready to cross the street with my suitcase to my building. Here I was, physically transitioning from my mini-relaxing-weekend-break to the work of research and writing, but my mind was even farther down the line. So my body protested, bringing my focus and attention back to the present moment.  I could do without scraped knees and bruised elbows, but I’m also happy to be present in this moment. I just hope that maybe I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn and can avoid a third fall?

Discoveries

I have lived in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood for over two years now. And yet, somehow, I never managed to discover the hidden gem of the Osaka Garden in Jackson Park until today!

Normally when I go for a walk, I walk to Lake Michigan. Today was a bit cooler, overcast, with a drizzle or two, so I decided to go walk among the trees in Jackson Park. That, my friends, is when I discovered this:

Osaka garden at Jackson Park

It’s not the biggest Japanese style garden in the world. It is certainly much smaller than the Portland or Seattle Japanese gardens, and not quite as technically classical in style (from my limited knowledge as a former member of the Portland gardens). Neverthless, it is a gem. Lovely, peaceful, and historic, given that the first Japanese garden was established in the park when it was the sight of the 1893 World’s Fair!

And it’s free to visit. So, after my discovery, I stayed for a while to meditate. After all, in my opinion that is the best thing to do in a Japanese garden. After a while, I got up to leave, and guess who I saw?

Look under the bridge
Look under the bridge

Do you see my feathered friend? Here is a closer shot:

The perfect spot! And photo!
The perfect spot! And photo!

Amazing, huh?  If I had asked my feathered friend to pose for a photo, it could not have been better. Wow.

All in all, it was a beautiful, prayerful morning walk. And guess what? It’s less than a mile from my house. Has been the whole time I’ve lived here, but now I know!

Museum of Science & Industry in the background, with my neighborhood behind that.
Museum of Science & Industry in the background, with my neighborhood behind that.

Who knows what you might discover in your neighborhood?