Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Q&A

Monday night, I had the great pleasure and honor of being able to speak at Georgetown University. The talk I delivered was entitled "Being Your Vocation: A Young Nun/Sister's Perspective on Life, Love, and the Call to Leadership in the Church Today." And over the span of forty-five minutes, I spoke to just that- the call in our world today not just to be people of faith, but people engaged with God, true to ourselves and seeking evermore to deepen our relationships with the world around us. This means being true to who God has made us to be. It also means being honest enough to ask big questions and courageous enough to listen for the answers in whatever form they take.

Being at Georgetown was a blessed opportunity to look at those big questions. Yet as I reflect on my time there, I am struck by something far beyond the talk I gave or the questions it posed.  It is the time for questions and answers that sticks out to me as I reminisce about this time of deep engagement and sharing. I don't think I ever imagined that the Q&A portion of talks would be my favorite, but there is something daring about these moments that sticks with me long after a talk is given.  I am always surprised by the way in which these moments go. There is a sense of mystery mixed with tension and slight anxiety whenever the floor is opened up to questions. What will people ask?  Sure, I know what I have said in my talk, but really there is no telling what individuals have heard or what this hearing may have stirred within them. 

There is something exhilarating about the moment a question is placed on the floor. I don't think I ever expected this feeling but sure enough it was there Monday night. Once a question is asked it is the speaker's chance to volley.  As the one doing that volleying, I am constantly surprised by the way in which answers emerge. For someone who's craft lies in carefully spun phrases and sentiments, the opportunity to compose extemporaneously is a gift. Clips and phrases surface in ways I never could imagine. Stories from days gone by suddenly rise to the top, as if they had been waiting in queue for the opportunity to make a match.  

Listening to myself, I wish I could hold on to the words that flow forth from my mouth and in that desire to hold, to savor, to continue to learn and grasp the grace of the moment of response, I recognize the gift being given. God is responding. And so, I simply listen. 

I found myself on Monday night doing just that. There was something playful to the Q&A; students displayed genuine interest and so the scene was set for meaningful conversation.  At one point, in response to a question about the role of communities in our personal formation and human development, I found myself echoing that exact sentiment.  "The gift of community," I heard myself say "is the ability to hear one another. The communities that have helped me to grow the most are those that have given me the space to ask questions and then to listen not only to my own response but to the responses of others."

I couldn't have crafted something better (though I fully realize my retelling is, in and of itself, a crafting.)  That is the gift. To hear one's self in the moment and to learn from how you respond.  Sure there are difficult questions at times, it is then that you find you way in navigating the minefield.  There is no shortage of that when you are talking about women's roles in the Church. Still, I find a pleasure in speaking my truth, and ultimately I hope the Truth, to these questions. There, there is dialogue and what a sweet gift that is.

A few weeks ago, I moderated a panel at Saint Joseph's University here in Philadelphia about the connection between long term service and women's religious vocations. As moderator, you don't really get a chance to share your own two cents about topics, rather you guide the conversation. In preparation for the evening, I met with the three sisters who would be sharing their stories that night. As we talked, a concern arose about the prospect of the Q&A at the end of the panel. How do you field difficult/tumultuous questions? that seemed to be the anxiety-inducing question.  My response to them was one learned from enough Q&A's on the topics at hand- give an answer you are comfortable with, you have the control to offer whatever you want... answer from your heart, if that answer actually responds to the question at hand great. If not, you've still responded and whatever the other chooses to hear, a conversation deeper than what was before will have been begun within both of you.

I think that's what I love about Q&A's. You gain insight into yourself and others all at the same time. You see what is stirring within and are graced by what emerges in the process. The blessings of such an encounter can be boundless... if only you take the time to listen... not only to the question but to the response too. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Age of Instability

The beginning of the semester has been a whirlwind. I know sometimes that can be an exaduration or a excuse but in my case, it seems to pretty much be a fact.  As a new campus minister (on a team that is completely new), I find myself flitting about trying to get things done, run activities, lead reflections, guide retreats, and somewhere in the midst of it all, find a balance of time so I can have quiet.  Often times that last one loses out. (see: no posts since the end of September)

Add to that chaos, a new local community that I am living in, a transition in formation, and various engagements besides ministry and my head is spinning. Hopefully the next few weeks though will give a glimpse into that world as I try to get more up on the blog about my exploits and try to offer some meaningful reflection on my life as I find it now.

In the meantime, as I get my act together, I offer my latest column from the Global Sisters Report, a piece entitled "Age of Instability". It looks not only at the instability of my own life currently, but also the general sense (and actuality) of instability in religious life and our world today. How does one function in the midst of such a reality?  Read the whole thing and find out....

An excerpt:

 "What is new is often scary. Setting out into the unknown requires paths never before traversed and means never before considered. Our instinct can be to return to what’s familiar, but in a time when everything is shifting, it is new ways based in keen discernment of the Spirit and the essence of truth in tradition that will lead us into the future.

There is no guarantee of stability in that. As a newer member, that can be a hard truth to grapple with. We are in an age of instability. Perhaps as a newer member I feel that instability more than others or, at least, I feel the need to actively name it as such."

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Giftedness: Grace in Turmoil

Last year, I got one of the best birthday presents I've ever received. I was finishing up my year in Chicago, the second year of my novitiate, and found myself celebrating my birthday far from home.  Thousands of miles from Philly and the East Coast, my fellow novices and I celebrated a new year of life as we also marked what would soon be the end of our time together.  The end of our semester was full and so as our departure from Chicago was immanent, I didn't expect much for my birthday. What I got instead was a wonderful surprise.

Traditionally on your birthday you get to pick what you want to eat and the person "put in charge of your birthday" creates a prayer service to celebrate you. Beyond that, gifts are minimal or non-existent.

The days leading up to my birthday were long. I was bracing myself to leave Chicago and so I was not in the greatest of moods as I began to make disconnects from what I had grounded myself in for the previous nine months.  Heading to our prayer space for prayer before dinner, I sighed, thinking I just needed to get through this celebration and soon I would be home.

Walking into the prayer space, I got the sense something wasn't right. Out of my peripheral vision there seemed to be too many people in the room.  I looked first to see our neighbor Julie. There was no surprise in that since Julie shared all special occasions with us. I continued to turn and two my astonishment there sat two men- Max and Robert- without even processing their presence, I blurted out "What are you two doing here?!?"  They smiled.  They were my gift.

You see, Max and Robert were part of the weekly classes we shared with nearly seventy other novices from different religious communities in and around Chicago. For the semesters we spent in Chicago, we met weekly with this group, listening to lectures on various topics and engaging in discussions about who we were, what this life means, and where a call to religious life leads you as you journey along the way.  Seated at round tables each week, we shared. For the most part, people moved around the room, switching tables from week to week. That is except for Max, Robert, and me.  Week in and week out we sat together. A Sister of Saint Joseph and two Augustinians. Over time we built a relationship, we came to know and cherish one another (as so many in the group did).  In a way, the sour mood I found myself in at the end of the semester came from the fact that I would be leaving these dear brothers behind as I left Chicago.  So, you can imagine my surprise as they rose to greet me on my birthday.

We shared in prayer. I cried tears of joy at their presence and as we shared in pizza and ice cream cake, I couldn't help but beam at the present I had received. The gift of relationship, the grace of friendship.

This week I was reminded of that gift as a manila packing envelope arrived in the mail.  Tearing it open, I found a copy of St. Augustine's Confessions and a note that read: Happy Reading & Happy Buy a Nun a Book Day!

I was astonished. I knew exactly who the gift was from- Max.

Sitting and looking at the book now, I can't help but give thanks for what it signifies- a relationship begun and far from finished.

To be honest, some of the greatest gifts I have received in my life aren't things at all, they're people.

As I make the transition from novice to professed sister, there is a wonderful reminder in that gift.  Knowing that there is still room to grow, and knowing that even as life goes on, growth flourishes, changes, and develops, just a love and friendship does, I sigh and smile.  This is about more than books or birthdays, this life is about love and the giftedness and grace of relationship.

These days, I find myself caught up in transition.  I live in a new house with new people; I am a little over a month into a new ministry; I am learning what it means to live my vows day in and day out; and I am now, somewhat suddenly, making the transition from one mentor to another in my formation.  All of this gives me pause.  It makes me consider the changes at hand and what is really important.

In what can feel like constant turmoil, I am finding a grace and groundedness in the gift of people.  As I minister, it is the students I work with on a college level who are gift. As I learn the ins and outs of a new house and local community, it is the sisters I live with who lighten my load. And as I feel the hurt of losing a director, I try to find the blessing in the gift of time and space that was so blessed and which will certainly continue to be blessed in new and wondrous ways.

Many moments of my days at present could lead to upheaval. Lots of things don't make sense and almost everything bears the uneasy feel of the unfamiliar. That is a feeling that sucks, plain and simple. Yet, in the midst of it all, God continues to offer gifts.  On long days, it is the gift of relationship that grounds me again, steadying my footing.  I am gifted- by a God who won't let go, by relationships that are rooted in love and rooting, and by the gift of being able to return always to the ultimate reason why I am here- a love that won't let go and call me forth.

In the end that is perhaps the greatest gift I could ask for.  It gives me perspective, even as I feel the growing pains invited and uninvited, expected and unexpected.  God's grace is a gift freely given and all I can do in it all- as I feel it all- is simply to acknowledge those I love, the gift they are in my life, and the One who in it offers a giftedness of connection beyond anything I could ever imagine.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Saying Words

Words matter.

As a writer, I believe that to be true. Otherwise, why would I write? The words I commit to paper matter. They are a part of me- my heart, mind, and spirit- cascaded out into the world.  This has always been the case. I choose my words carefully; I wait for them to come.

The story goes that as a child I didn't speak right away. It's not that I didn't know how; I simply waited. I waited until I had the words I needed, the words I wanted. And then, when I was sure of myself, I spoke.

In a way, I find solace in words. Not so much the security or the certainty they can bring but the way they help us to grapple with our experiences and give us the tools to try to convey a shared sense of being. Even in moments that can't be summed up in quick phrases, there is poetry. The slow onslaught of words trying to reconcile the indescribable.

And then, when words fail, there is meaning too. The stillness and silence of touch... expression... compassion. That is a humbling experience. One that places us before the Mystery of life, the magnanimity of being, and the grace of God. In that place, we are vulnerable beyond words.

And then, only then, can we choose to surrender to what matters and discover all that the words seek to convey.

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Speaking of the matter of words, here are two recent pieces I've done:
  1.  "Saying Words"- My most recent column for the Global Sisters Report's Horizons feature about the reality of being a young woman religious today. This piece focuses on my public profession of vows and the role of words in that commitment to this life.
  2. "Can the Church Recruit the Young?"- A radio interview (::literally "saying words"...get it??::) I did for Marketplace Weekend, National Public Radio's digest of everyday living and economics. Part of the show's Labor Day weekend episode, this casual conversation deals with why religious life is a viable option, what role simplicity and authenticity play in attracting new members, and what it means to be a face of the Church in an era of scandal and student loans.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Three Weeks' Time

That's right... it's been three weeks since I made my initial profession of vows as a Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia. The day was truly blessed, full of beauty and grace; I felt the support of so many near and far who have companioned me along the way.  Without a doubt I was able to say the words of my vows, trusting in God, the One I love and to whom I am committing my life.

There is so much I could write (and believe me much is brewing) but in the absence of words right now and at the height of transition in ministry, home, and stage of formation, I offer a video from the day that captures the beauty and joy of the day.  May you enjoy it and may it offer some insight into the many graces of this momentous occasion.


Blessings of Peace & Joy,
Colleen

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

This Moment.

It's crunch time.

I make my first profession of vows in less than a week (August 10th, say what?) and after days and weeks of frantically checking things off my list- making retreat, preparing the liturgy, managing invitations, celebrating other novices' professions, and connecting with family and friends around the country- I find myself on the precipice of my own commitment.  Last week as I managed plans, worked on graphics, and tried to manage hospitality for those coming to town for the occasion, a line in an e-mail from a dear friend struck me deeply as I buzzed from one thing to the next.

We had been making plans to connect before my vows and in the midst of scheduling, she simply wrote "Keep flowing from one piece to the other--all you have is THIS present moment."  As I looked ahead to all that lie ahead for the day and the to-do lists by my side, I paused.  I only have this moment. Right here, right now.

It may not seem like a ground breaking statement. It surely isn't the first time I've heard it, but in that moment, it was what I needed to hear.  I can't guarantee anything leading up to Sunday (or beyond.)  I can't make things happen and as hard as I plan, things will go as they will. All I really have is this moment... a moment unlike any other.

In five days, I will no longer be a novice- a role I have enjoyed for the last two years. I will be a professed Sister of Saint Joseph. Instead of just "living in the spirit of the vows," I will be vowed. I will be readying myself for a new ministry and moving into a new local community.

Those are all moments that await me. For now, though, I can only be where I am. I can only cherish this moment- a time and space of deep communion with God, a moment that leads toward saying I will give myself to this way of life, a moment filled with clarity and trust. 

Knowing the busy schedule that has been and the frenetic days that lie ahead, I find myself with a few day of mandated and most welcomed reflection. As I prepare myself for this next step, I hold fast to this moment and pray that I might be able to flow from one piece to the next with grace, keeping my eyes fixed on the One who has led me here and calls me forth.

Peace & Prayers to you all. May you be present to this current moment and flow always forward in gratitude, grace, and wonder. 
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Also, my latest column, entitled "Grounded in Love and Truth", is up at the Global Sisters Report... but more on that later.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Loving the Invisible

{A poem before I leave for my vow retreat tomorrow... peace & prayers to all.}

How do you love
a lover invisible?
The One who stirs
your heart into a frenzy
without a sight or sound.

Simply a glance of grace
a split second of connection
and there it is.

Then the light shines brighter
Reflection gives off beauty 
never before seen.
Your heart aligns with your soul
and you are bound up in love.

And in a moment quite like panic
you realize that you can't put
your feet on solid ground.

This one invisible, in-perceivable
 has bound you and will hold you
so that there is no way to steady yourself.
You must lean in and trust,
In that you will be held

And suddenly as darkness turns to light
The invisible will take shape
And what you can't even imagine,
a lover invisible 
will become clear.

How do you love the Invisible?- Love visibly.