It’s been a while since I’ve written in this virtual space. My life the past few months has been very full with unbloggable happenings and twists and turns which have kept me otherwise occupied, many of them good, some of them a bit more complicated.
October in particular was a doozy. Lots of travel for nun meetings and conferences, and sprinkled in between more dramatic close to home happenings, such as accompanying a loved one with a serious illness and, oh yeah, my house caught fire, meaning that in between my scheduled travel I’ve been living here and there since we can’t get back home just yet. Most recently, I ended up with a nasty cold that got a bit more serious given my asthmatic tendencies, but thanks to modern medicine all will be well.
Nonetheless, to be quite honest my prayer of late has been simply one word …. “Really?”
And that is without watching much cable news or following the sad collapse of our democracy and civic sensibilities. Or watching from afar the destruction of the makeshift refugee camp in Calais, France, and the heart breaking situation of the 1,300 children left behind. Or my exacerbation that our apparently increasing obsession with hate and division and polarization keeps us from attending to the broken threads in the fabric of our society or focusing our creative energy on maybe, I don’t know, mending them rather than setting them on fire in the name of being right.
So essentially for the past three weeks, I’ve been an itinerant person without my own bed. I’ve returned to the days when I need to figure out where to do my laundry, and had the fun experience of trying to get the smoke smell out of my clothes, and the new experience of having to move my belongings around with me. There is a lot of uncertainty ahead, and lots of hard work, and challenges, and difficult situations.
But there has also been much to give me perspective, and even, dare I say, to inspire me and give me hope.
For one thing, I am inspired by the amazing response of my displaced elderly and infirm Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace who showed such resilience in being uprooted at 7:15 am in the morning of October 12th by a serious house fire. I am filled with gratitude and awe at the incredible response of our caregivers and staff who got every sister and staff person to safety, managed to get their medication and medical charts, and find temporary homes for them the same day. Not to mention the emergency responders who not only contained the fire but acted with compassion and were present to our sisters. Then there is the wonderful outpouring of support, from our neighbors and sponsored ministries, from our sisters and associates across the congregation, from other religious congregations, the community at large. People are good. If you focus on the negative spin of our never ending electoral cycle, you might be forgiven for forgetting that simple truth, but people are good.
Even more than that, I have the marvelous gift of community which continues to surprise me and teach me in ways I would never imagine what it means to follow Jesus. I am safe, we are safe. We have the resources and support we need. We have access to medical care and ways to find temporary roofs under which to lay our heads. We can get the help we need to restore our home and come together as community in one place. But even in our current scattered reality, we are one. We are together. We are a community for mission.
So when my prayer starts out with that one simple word … “Really?” … the next set of breaths is a realization that life may be chaotic and hard to predict, but I have so much to be grateful for and such incredible support and love to nourish me as I navigate it all, as we navigate our shifting reality, together.
Not everyone is as lucky, not everyone who is homeless has the resources they need to see them through. Not everyone who is sick is able to just go to a doctor and get medication to make them feel better. Not everyone who is concerned for the common good has the right to vote.
I have all these things, and that gives me a responsibility to face the next day, to take the next step, and to keep hoping that, for one thing, November will be better than October has been! It leads me to believe that things can and will get better, that our responsibility is to show up, to care for one another, and to face whatever comes together.
Which perhaps is why I loved this Facebook post by Kid President:
Let’s give it a go … and see what we learn from November, hopefully a little less chaotically!
Martha was indeed real, living in a world where some things just needed to get done, even if her sister Mary was too busy to help. She also lived in a world where the people she loved were suffering. I suspect there may have been times when she too wanted to hide under the covers.
Martha certainly had her own doubts about what was possible in such a world. When Jesus asked her to roll away the stone from her brother’s tomb, she warned him that the smell would be overpowering given that her brother had been dead for four days.
Yet Martha — worried, anxious and doubting as any real woman would be in the face of such stark realities — also listened to the hope and promise of Jesus. She made a home for hope in her heart. She helped to roll away the stone, and her brother Lazarus came out, ready to be unbound and free. We have a lot to learn from Martha, who in the end engaged in hopeful action in the midst of her own anxiety, worry and grief.
One word has been popping up persistently in my prayer of late …
I am not sure where it came from, but it was a quieting word amidst the storm of worry and anxiety and worse case scenarios that I am prone to from time to time.
The goodness of God. The goodness of people far and near. The goodness of life itself and creation and the universe and creativity and community and love and laughter and … (fill in the blank).
What I have discovered these weeks of praying with goodness is that it is everywhere, even within and among you and me.
What I have also discovered is that swirling thoughts or worries or wonderings are no match for focused attention on goodness.
Next time you find yourself spinning to a not so good space, try this. Close your eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Think of goodness. Just the word. Or some representation or experience of goodness in your own life. Keep breathing in, breathing out, focusing on goodness. Maybe, like me, you will feel yourself settle, slow down, at peace.
Goodness … it’s what’s happening if we but pay attention!
I realized this morning that I have not posted anything here on the blog in the new year! I’ve had many things kicking around my head and heart, but I guess they have not been in publicly consumable form for the most part.
I did manage to break through my writer’s block for a bit earlier this week. The result is my latest column on the Global Sisters Report, in which I ponder indifference and disconnection, justice and injustice, privilege and moral action.
Facing an overwhelming sea of social injustice, I am coming to realize that my privilege moderates which realities I choose to see and which I take to heart. My privilege distances me from the experiences of people living in poverty or those who daily struggle against racialized structures of injustice which limit access to education, housing, and employment. My privilege obscures my own complicity and connection to the root causes. My privilege makes indifference and disconnection possible. (Read entire column here)
Have you ever noticed that you really start to appreciate some things in their absence? Friends, family, and in this case, writing. Writing is a gift that helps me process and relate to the world and the movements of the spirit in my life. Writing helps me connect with my deepest and truest self. Writing is gift … even as these words come forth from my mind and heart through my fingers to the screen.
Maybe I’ll be writing more soon … maybe not. But whatever comes is surely gift!
My latest column has been posted on Global Sisters Report. This one is more of a reflection where I mull over the communion of saints and what their witness and presence means to us today:
There is great wisdom in our Catholic tradition of setting aside time in the liturgical year to remember all the saints and souls, just as we take time to remember and celebrate the impact of our loved ones upon their passing. As theologian Flora Keshgegian writes in Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation, remembering is meant to be oriented to ‘affect present action'(p. 25). We do not remember to stay in the past. Rather, we remember for the present, and dare I say, for the future.”
Catholic life in the United States, judging by my social media feed, is alive with energy and excitement about the Pope’s visit, and rightly so. Sister Sheila, our Congregation Leader, will be representing us at the Papal mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception today. Meanwhile, I will have to follow the excitement from afar since I am visiting our CSJP community in the United Kingdom for a couple of weeks.
Today I had the sheer privilege of joining some of our CSJP Sisters and Associates on an outing to visit the mission to seafarers at the Immingham Docks, the largest port in this country. I had no idea what to expect, and ended up being very moved by my experiences today. At the end of the day it felt more like a pilgrimage than an outing.
Immingham is located near Grimsby, England on the North Sea, the town where our first Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace began our mission of peace in 1884. The mission to Seafarers there is part of the Apostleship of the Sea – a global Catholic Charity which ministers to all seafarers, regardless of nationality or belief. Some of our CSJP Associates in the area volunteer with the mission.
At Immingham, we met Fr. Colum Kelly who is Chaplain to the mostly men, or “lads” as he calls them, who come from around the globe bringing imports such as coal, grain, biomass, wood, and automobiles to England. If you think about it, most of what we use comes to us wherever we are from places far, far away. And as I learned today, 90% of world trade is transported by ship. And, if you stop and think about it, those ships require human beings to navigate the seas.
That’s where the seafarers come in. A quick look at the visitors book shows that the seafarers come from all corners of the globe – Philippines, Vietnam, Poland, Greece, and Turkey to name a few. Fr. Colum told us stories of some of the cases he has been called in on to intervene, situations where the seafarers arrive in port hungry because there is not enough food on board, or in some cases they have not received their promised wages in months. Sadly, wage theft is a common problem in many industries, and is related to the reality of forced labor and human trafficking across the globe.
The stories Fr. Colum shared were powerful, and renewed my commitment to work against what Pope Francis has called the “globalization of indifference.” We live in a globalized economy, which means that we are intimately linked to the men, women, and sometimes children who harvest, mine, transport, and transform the raw materials which become the many consumer items we take for granted in our daily lives. Fr. Colum spoke of the invisible life of the seafarer. He also spoke with great passion and love for his ministry, which he described as the Church bringing its mission of hope and love to the margins, even in this invisible world to which we are all, in fact, connected.
Not all of the situations are so dire. Many of the seafarers work for honest companies, travel in safe vessels, and receive adequate food and regular wages. But they still spend as much as 9 months at sea, separated from family and isolated. The Seafarers Center welcomes them when they are in port with a shop, chapel, internet cafe, games room, money exchange, phone cards, etc… The mission was damaged in a flood after a tidal surge a couple of years ago, so the space we visited was bright and inviting. Fr. Colum and the lay chaplains also go on board the ships, offering a listening ear, providing religious services, and inviting them to the center. They also hold Christmas parties where they share gift boxes with toiletries and other sundry items donated from local parishes, often the only bit of cheer during the seafarers’ holiday.
In addition to learning about the mission and the life of the seafarers, we also were led in a couple of powerful meditations by Fr. Colum. One invited us to look at our own lives in terms of the cargo we carry–the “bad” cargo such as excessive busy-ness, past hurts, concern about what others might think, etc… — and our “good” cargo — our gifts and love and passion. How do we balance our cargo during our life’s journey, as we go about the work to which the God who loves us unconditionally has called us? Simple, really, but something which I found myself thinking about quite a bit on the two hour coach ride home.
Fr Colum also shared with us a devotion to Mary which was new to me … Mary Undoer of Knots. Apparently this is a favorite devotion of Pope Francis, which he first discovered when studying in Germany depicted in a painting he saw in a Church. This depiction of Mary draws on imagery from one of the early theologians of the Church, St. Ireneaus. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis introduced and encouraged this devotion in Latin America.
Fr. Colum shared a prayer of his own to Our Lady Undoer of Knots — a fitting devotion of course for someone who works with seafarers! He also led us in a time of reflection on the knots in our own lives before we ended the day with liturgy in the chapel there at the mission.
Each of us, of course, often finds our thoughts, minds, and even prayers tied up in knots. We worry about this or that, we are unsure how we will do x or how we will navigate that sticky situation with you know who.
How beautiful to call on Mary the undoer of knots in these moments of our lives. I’ll copy Fr. Colum’s prayer below, because perhaps you too might like to call on Mary in this way:
Holy Mary, mother of God and our most blessed mother too. You know my problems, both small and large, that like knots are tight and difficult to undo. I feel restricted by them and do not know how to overcome them. The knots of my heart, the knots of difficult family relationships, the knots of loneliness, knots of things yet to be forgiven …. Mother of mercy, untie the knots I am burdened with, journey with me from the darkness of confusion, into a new path of light.
For a little more than a year now I have had the honor and privilege of sharing a virtual space over at Global Sisters Report with other younger Catholic Sisters. The weekly Horizons columns are published every Friday and feature some great writing and important perspectives on religious life, justice and the world.
My own latest column was just published – “Be the Present.” It is my attempt to put my experience spending four days with 70 Catholic Sisters in their 20s, 30s, and 40s at Giving Voice into conversation with spending the next five days with 800 elected leaders at LCWR. There was an incredible movement of the Spirit at both gatherings–real synchronicity.
My generation is known for its ability to multi-task, and perhaps that is a good thing. So much is happening in this present moment in religious life. We are tending to what is passing. We are discerning and nurturing what is emerging. We are building a bridge between the two. And all the while, as faithful women of the Gospel we are reading the signs of the times and seeking to meet the thirsts of the world. This is a moment which needs all hands on deck, all perspectives, all capacities, all wisdom. This moment needs us fully present.
The Spirit is certainly moving among us. That was clear both at Giving Voice and at LCWR. “Your task,” Janet Mock told the LCWR Assembly, “is discerning where and how to be in communion with the activity of God in our world now, at this present moment.” I believe this is the task of all who are living religious life today. It is the only way we will navigate this tremendous time of change and build the magic suspension bridge to the future of religious life.
When I professed my perpetual vows as a Sister of St Joseph of Peace four years ago this November, I felt great joy planning the liturgy and carefully chose the readings and songs. For the meditation song after communion, I chose a somewhat unusual song: “We Are” by Sweet Honey in the Rock.
This morning as I prayed with the readings for today’s Feast of the Transfiguration, I remembered that moment, sitting in the chapel at St. Mary-on-the-lake, surrounded by community and family and friends, after proclaiming my forever yes, after remembering together Jesus as bread broken for us, in the silence, the song played.
“For each child that’s born, a morning star rises and sings to the universe who we are.”
It was a powerful moment of the love of God for me, and I wanted that song to help the moment sink in for all those present, to reflect a bit on the light they bring to the world, that we are called to bring together.
In today’s second reading from Peter we hear about Jesus and the “unique declaration:” This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
That is powerful enough, especially when we imagine that declaration being proclaimed from the heavens, to the universe, that each of us is indeed a beloved son or daughter pleasing to God by our very existence!
This morning I spent more time with what follows in the reading. “Moreover we posses the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
God is love, and we are invited into that love by our very existence, pleasing to God. We are called to share in that love, to share that love ever more deeply and widely, that it may rise in our hearts like the morning star.
God’s love is altogether reliable, and we are part of that love.