Friday, March 9, 2018

Lent: Missing Pieces, Finding Fullness

The Lenten journey is one that offers us opportunities to deepen our relationship with God and to examine the way we live our lives. In my latest piece from Global Sisters Report, I look at the invitation in this season to discover what might be missing and to invite God into the emptiness.  Below is an excerpt; I pray it might give fuel to your reflection and speak to your experiences- Lenten Blessings!

"Not only we ourselves desire life in abundance; God desires it for us as well. Not only must our eyes and ears be attentive; God's "eyes" and "ears" are always attentive to us. … God does not wait for us to puzzle out the way of life; God rushes in before the soul finished its prayer to show us the way. And the way is to rejoice in this constant, loving Presence." —Norveen Vest, Desiring Life

A few weeks ago, I found myself in front of nearly 150 students in grades five through eight at a local school where one of my congregation's associates-in-mission is principal. I had been invited to come speak on vocations and my own story.

After speaking to a similar number of students from the lower grades, I dove into the lesson prepared by our vocation directors for middle school students. We began by looking at our own unique being and how the God who has uniquely made us calls us to be who we truly are by living out our call to love and to embody God's love in the world.

Of course, no matter your age, exploring such topics isn't simple. And so, after reading a poem and a prayer, I pulled out a bag full of 24-piece puzzles featuring cute animals and cartoon characters. Unbeknownst to students, each puzzle intentionally had missing pieces.

Grouping the students by grade level, I spread them out in 15 groups around the gym we were in and put the stack of puzzles in the center of the room. "Your task," I told them over the flurry of chatter in the space, "is to create a whole picture. The first group to complete this task wins!"

With that challenge, the energy and noise levels in the room went up a notch. On the count of three, each group would send a member running to get their puzzle and to race back so that they could hopefully win.

"One ... two ... three!" I shouted into the microphone as students rose to their feet in pursuit of the prize.

Soon the groups began to realize something wasn't quite right. First, the oldest students flagged me down. "Do you know where our pieces are?"

I shook my head and shrugged. Almost instantly they began to theorize about what this all meant. Before I could listen too intently to their discussion, a younger student ran up to me out of breath and with a look of panic on his face. "We don't have all our pieces. … Where are they?"

Again, I shrugged. He quickly left my side and began searching under chairs and in the corners of the gym for the missing pieces. Meanwhile, his fifth-grade classmates began to ask me what the true meaning of this exercise was.

"What do you think?" I asked them.

Their responses surprised me: No one is perfect. God is the missing piece. We can't always put the whole picture together. You need other people to give pieces and help complete the puzzle.

All of those lessons are true.

As I called the group back together and the disappointment of not winning subsided, lessons began to sink in, and the students began to recognize that the puzzles had more to teach us about how God calls and how we put that call together, even when we don't have all the pieces.

Then I ended by sharing pieces of my story and inviting the students to strive to work with God to assemble the puzzle of their own call, now and in the future.

That's the call for each of us. Leaving the school, I thought of the eagerness with which the students responded and the conclusions they drew. I patted myself on the back and then promptly got back into the grind of everyday life, all but forgetting about the experience. That is, until I began preparing for Lent.

Reflecting on what I might give up (fasting), give back (almsgiving), and give to prayer (prayer) in order to draw closer to God this Lenten season, the image of the empty space in the puzzle returned to me.

We all have those spaces in our lives that are in need of greater clarity, the pieces of our lives that require time, patience and prayer to discover, recover and uncover. The empty spaces remind us of the lessons many of us spend our lives learning — no one is perfect; you don't need to be perfect to be loved; there's grace in empty spaces; God fills us when nothing else can or will.

Dwelling on the gaps in my own self-awareness and spiritual life, I remembered the fifth grader who ran up to me panicked, out of breath, and desperately looking for the pieces. How many times in life have we or do we busy ourselves in frantically searching for the missing pieces? Running to the point of exhaustion, only to realize that it might benefit us more to sit with the empty space?

When we take a loving look at our lives, what might benefit us more: filling the hole in our life or being in the hole with God?

The latter is a simple and yet profound gesture. In the empty space, we surrender; we don't know or need to know; we can be and be perfectly well in and with Christ.

In her new book (and accompanying podcast), Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I've Loved), Kate Bowler underscores "what it feels like to live a non-shiny life in a world that prefers glittery people." That word — "shiny" — resonates within me as I consider the life I live and the life each of us is called to. Life can be messy, and we often find that pieces are missing or that they don't fit the puzzle the way we think they will. God's invitation is to get dirty, to rend our hearts as the Prophet Joel declares in the Ash Wednesday Scripture.

Lent is not a shiny season; it is a season of grit and dependence. It requires us to lean into God while examining (and hopefully letting go of) what prevents us from growing in relationship with God and one another. This requires determination. Not determination to get it "right," but determination to hang in there, to persevere, to occupy the empty spaces, and to embrace the missing pieces and perhaps, in the process, regain our missing peace.

As we enter into these forty days of reflection, there is the invitation to be in it all with God... Continue reading the piece

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Time to Bless TIme

A new year bring with it the invitation to bless time and to be in touch with what has been, what is, and to hope towards what will be.  With that in mind and with blessings to you all as we enter this new year, I offer my latest piece from the Global Sisters Report, "A Time to Bless Time":
For the last few years, I've spent the days leading up to the new year in the cozy confines of a retreat center in western Massachusetts. While friends send text messages about New Year's Eve, I share silence with a group taking a prayerful pause at year's end. In silent, guided reflection there is the invitation to reflect on all that has been, to pray for all that will be, and to bless the time we have.
Without fanfare, one year flows into another. Peacefully, like fresh, unblemished snow, a new year begins.
There are few times in our normal lives that we as a society pause to reflect on what is, what has been, and what lies ahead. Yet, as the frenetic pace of preparing for Christmas comes to an end, the opportunity to make an account of our year becomes an invitation, whether you're on retreat or not. Here in the still and quiet winter days following Dec. 25, a hush falls over us. Christmas, we know, lasts more than just one day, and as we settle into the season we find that to reflect on the nativity of Jesus also draws us into reflecting on the realities of God's love incarnate in our lives this year.
Making the time and space for such reflection deepens our sense of the season while also inviting us to make an account of all that we (and God) have been up to. There is a grace and a gift to such reflection if we can intentionally take the time to sit with God and see where the year has taken us individually and collectively.
How have you grown? Where has God been evident? What were the blessings of this year? What has given you energy and life? Where in your life are you being invited to be more attentive? What can you hand over to God to share the load? What are the gifts or what are the graces you need most at this time in your life?
Like any relationship, our own relationship with God benefits from renewal and reflection from time to time. Year's end and the beginning of a new year lend themselves to such practices, as, collectively, we as a culture set goals and make resolutions to begin again.
Reflecting back on the year and how we've come to where we stand today, though, are only one part of the equation. At New Year's Eve, we stand on the brink of something new and unknown. One foot is planted in what has been, while the other moves forward into what will be. We know from experience that there is no knowing what the future will hold. Standing on the threshold of the new year, we ask for gifts and graces to handle what we don't yet know.
In this "in-between time," we catch a glimpse of the mystery captured in the Incarnation. God has become human, and in that act what has been is joined irreversibly in hope and prayer with what will be. Our lives and faith testify to that union. Our hope placed in the One who sanctifies time by entering into it. The God who is beyond all time, conditions and bounds came to live among us so that our human bounds might not bind us.
Embracing that mystery and celebrating it invites a leap of faith. We trust that God will be with us wherever we go, just as God has been with us everywhere that we've been. In the space in between, we pause to be with God before rushing on to what will be.
At the retreat house, as retreatants awake on New Year's Day there is a special tradition of blessing time. With calendars and watches in tow, everyone gathers in the chapel to offer a blessing on the items we use to keep time. What began 30 years ago as an assembly of paper calendars and analog watches is now joined by cell phones and smart watches, step counters and datebooks. Though the pile may look different the blessing has the same intention — to consecrate the minutes and months of the coming year to God.
As we begin again this year, it is a blessing I offer to you, a means to bless time and an invitation to prayerfully pause and ask God's blessing on all that lies ahead:
A New Year's Blessing of Time & Time Keepers
Life-Giver, in the beginning you set the days in motion;
as we begin this new year, we ask your blessing on the days ahead.
to be attentive to the time we've been given —
time keepers, not only marking time but marked by time,
open to your indwelling spirit and to the moments beyond measure.

Help us to remember those things that come without notifications or reminders... Continue the blessing here

Friday, December 29, 2017

Poem for the New Year: The Ever Dawn

The Ever Dawn
They said if you awake
in the night
at a time not your norm
arise and say “speak!”
Then listen deeply
for the One who speaks to hearts
might be calling

Perhaps it will happen that way
Or perhaps we must realize
that the caller is crying out all day
in ordinary voices
“I am here!”

and amazingly we miss it
trading the wonderment of day
for the darkness of the night
where blearily we open ourselves to hear
the Voice that does not grow hoarse
and see the light of a dawn
that never fades away.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

One Day

One day you awake
and realize
that everything had changed

All by the small actions
of living life
you've formed a foundation
for yourself

From those depths
you'll need to draw
what comes next

The lifegiving water
only God can give
You must be willing
to receive
to trust
to know in your heart of hearts
that life is greater
and deeper
and truer
than you ever could have imagined

And yet, in the stillness, the sameness, the everyday
God imagined it for you

Open your hands, to receive
your eyes, to see
that grace is in the gifting
and God's taken everything you knew
and made it new
and you'll never be the same again.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Charism for Our Times

After a little hiatus from the blog (see: switching ministries, moving, and some medical issues), I'm back!  Thanks for your patience. Below is a piece I wrote for the Global Sisters Report reflecting on the nature of charism and why the world is so very in need of the gifts charisms offer right now. Enjoy!

Over the last year, I've noticed a phrase pop up more and more in conversation with the sisters in my congregation.

"Now, more than ever, our charism is needed in the world," sisters will say as we discuss current events.
"The world needs our charism," others will say as we reflect on a corporate action the congregation is undertaking.
In congregational mailings and in presentations on the mission to everyone from associates and employees to students, the same sentiment prevails: This charism, our charism, has something to offer the world right now.
"We live and work so that all people may be united with God and one another": I believe in this mission; I know this charism in my bones.
At first, I nodded my head in agreement.
Yet as I see pictures of flooding in Texas and read stories about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the threats to peace and unity in our world, I can't help but think the conversation needs to be larger. Perhaps it's not just one charism, but myriad charisms — and ultimately the faith and practice they point to — that are needed right now.
Out of one Love, many ways of loving
Mercy. Peace. Cordial charity. Care for the sick. Healing presence. Prayer. Hospitality. Unity. The list could go on and on. These are the gifts of religious life, a sampling of the charisms of religious congregations being lived out in the world today. No one is better. Each is a gift given to the world, the expressive way in which congregations live out their mission and call in the world.
Each charism has its place. Each charism fulfills a need. And just as each charism is lived out by members of specific religious congregations, each charism embodies the spirit of a religious foundation and utilizes the gifts of that foundation's members toward the same end: the glory of God and living of the Gospel.
In a world that seems in many ways to be in disarray, it's hard to deny the need for such Gospel living. St. Joseph Sr. Mary Pellegrino, past-president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, alluded to as much in her presidential address at this year's LCWR annual assembly as she tapped into Pope Francis' call to communion: "Each of us by virtue of our vocation are to be 'experts in communion,' witnesses of communion in and for a broken world."
As we grow in communion with God, with ourselves, and with one another, we are drawn out into the world to foster and nourish communion. Such communion is founded in each of the charisms vowed religious live out.
The call to religious life, after all, is refracted in these different lived charisms. Charism as a lived expression of call is an embodiment of the gifts we have to share and the grace we desire to discover in the world. It is by our lived action that these gifts take on life. Our living of a specific charism puts flesh on the call of Christ and the vision of our founders.
As long as we continue to live the call in these specific ways, we offer the gift that is charism to the world. And because of the dynamic nature of life, charism, no matter how old historically, is continually made new by the needs it responds to, the current events of a society, and the lived experience of those called to live it out. It is only if or when one of those aspects changes — the need, the society, or the presence of those who respond to the call of a specific charism — that a charism runs its course.
Now more than ever?
As religious life evolves, so does the nature of charism. A charism is only as sustainable as the needs it serves and the response of individuals to the call to live it out. Today, that response and the needs served by a charism are in constant need of reconsideration. While a charism is associated with a specific religious institute, the call to live out that charism, which once might have been considered limited to vowed religious, has expanded to lay associates and beyond.
Such expansion gives new life and expression to a charism; yet such expansion mustn't forego the need for vowed religious commitment in our world. Each new moment requires a new expression and living of our charism. With openness and freedom, we must surrender to the Spirit's creative work in us and our way of life, allowing the development of means to envision (and re-envision) charism for our times.
Perhaps what is needed now more than ever is an open response to the call of the Spirit. That call and response isn't one and done. It is the "yes" of a lifetime: a life well-lived in pursuit of Truth and Love through the expression of our gifted and grace-filled being.
As a male religious friend suggested to me when I remarked about the assertion that our charism was needed now more than ever: "Maybe our charisms have always been needed now more than ever. Perhaps that's part of religious life — there's an inherent need for it."
Religious life bears witness not just to the charism of each order, but to complete and utter dependence on God. Living such a life can be a challenge, but to do so at this time in our history is a gift unto itself... Read the rest of the piece here

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sustaining Communities

This summer I've been reminded of the many communities that have nurtured me over time. Community, after all, is essential to our life journeys. Building sustaining communities bolsters our being and gives us a glimpse into the Kin-dom of God. Below is a piece I wrote for the Global Sisters Report reflecting on communities near and far that have given me life & called me to more. Enjoy!  

Five years ago, on the brink of my entrance into novitiate, I was hit by a car. I had been riding my bike through South Philadelphia when a motorist, forgetting to check her side mirrors, made a right turn directly into me. Bumped and bruised, I emerged from the wreckage with minor injuries and a mangled bicycle. After the police finished gathering information, they asked me where I lived with the intention of driving me home.
When they discovered I lived miles away in a rougher part of town, they apologized that they couldn't take me that far and offered instead to drop me off at the closest subway station. I had been living with our sisters for almost a year and worried how anxious they would be if I called to tell them what happened. So, rather foolishly, I took my broken bike and bruised body and got on the train.
Pumped full of adrenaline, I navigated the way home and walked my bike from the station to the convent. About a block from the house, I met one of my sisters who was out for a walk. It took her a second to realize it was me before she scooped me up and brought me inside. There, surrounded by those I lived with, I knew I was safe, and soon tears came to my eyes as the many emotions I had been keeping at bay surged within me.
The sisters I lived with cared for me and made me feel safe. They brought peace to an otherwise chaotic situation and were kind enough to restrain themselves from returning to the fact that I hadn't called for help. Looking back, I can only shake my head at my younger self and wonder what my sisters felt and thought in those moments.
Now I realize they were teaching me a lesson in community living and what it means to call a people and a place home.
Later that night, as I sat in prayer, a voicemail buzzed on my phone. Somehow, word had traveled up the East Coast from Pennsylvania to Connecticut, reaching a former spiritual director who is now a dear friend. She expressed her care and concern about what had happened to me and lovingly asked me to call her back.
"I just need to hear your voice," she pleaded, "to know you're OK."
When I called her back to assure her I was safe, we shared a loving conversation. I never did erase her message, though, and to this day, I have it saved to my phone for the moments I need the encouragement and love it has to offer. Its presence reminds me that the communities we become a part of never leave us, even if we physically leave them.
That's the miracle and the mystery of community: that across time and space, we belong, and in our belonging, we find a place, a people, a space to call home.
That space lies deep within our being, an elusive sense that must be felt and can't be forced.
For as trite as it sounds, the old adage "Home is where the heart is" holds true. We carry home with us wherever our heart goes, and it is the communities we belong to that allow us to express and discover that sense of home in new, wonderful and sustaining ways.
When I consider my religious life, I can't help but think of the many sustaining communities I belong to. There are, of course, my religious congregation and the larger community of the universal church. In days gone by, that might have been where the list ended, but as I look to the future and consider the present reality of religious life, I know the need for a more expansive and varied sense of community and, with it, a more open and willing approach to finding home.
Today, community must expand beyond parochial boundaries. This isn't new. It's the universal reality of religious life today. Just as we expand our vision to welcome and minister to those around the world, so too is it necessary to understand that what was once served by a model of community that drew boundaries between congregations (and drew sharp restrictions from the world, family and friends) must change.
For newer members of religious life, this reality is particularly poignant. To sustain our communities (and the charisms we embody) into the future, it's essential to foster relationships — intracongregationally, intercongregationally and beyond.
When I stood side-by-side with 70 other religious sisters all under the age of 50 on July 6-9 at the Giving Voice National Gathering in New Rochelle, New York, this point was vividly illustrated. As a chorus of voices, strong and vibrant, joined together during liturgy, shivers ran up and down my spine. These were my sisters, even if we didn't share the same initials after our names. We shared something more, something beyond boundaries: experience of religious life today, faith in the future, and commitment to living the Gospel mandate of our vocations.
Our hearts united, and despite our short time together, I felt at home. Together, we were one, united in love. Setting out from the gathering, I knew a new community was helping to sustain me on the journey. Like the sisters who bandaged me up years ago or the sisters I live with in community day in and day out, these sisters, my peers, whom I sang with and shared with were now a part of my heart.
Together, we move forward into the future. We are part of communities larger than ourselves; communities that fill our hearts and feed our souls.
Sustaining communities is the work of the Spirit, work that employs each and every one of us. Our responsibility is to be true to our hearts, to sustain the communities that sustain us so that, in so doing, we might be available and energized to build communities that can sustain others...Continue Reading Here

Monday, June 12, 2017

Learning how to leave: The grace of goodbye

Here is my latest from the Global Sisters Report: a reflection on leaving my current ministry and the lessons learned in the process. Hope you enjoy!

Goodbyes are rarely easy. As a child, I had difficulty in leaving places and people I liked. As an adult, I know the familiar feeling of gratitude swelling in my heart and tears welling up behind my eyes when it comes time to part ways with those I love or to end an experience that has been enriching.

For the last two months, I've been saying goodbye to the community to whom I've ministered for the last three years. This was my first ministry experience after initial profession, and as I prepared to go, I found myself sad to leave the people and place I had grown to love. They played a significant role in my initial formation as a Sister of St. Joseph. That being said, I also felt a readiness for the next step on my journey, even though that meant having to say goodbye.
I used to hate goodbyes, but I've come to appreciate the deep value they hold. Taking leave is a process that goes far beyond the act of simply saying goodbye; it's bound up with the relationships we've built and lessons we've learned.
An ending, no matter how ready (or not) we are for it, provides a moment of pause. The end, just as the beginning, facilitates a time out of the ordinary; it is a time that offers perspective and grants an occasion for clarification of our own story and the place of a new experience in it. Like any good story, it has its ups and downs. Yet a closer reading offers insight into the nature of saying farewell.
As school lets out for summer and the academic and fiscal years come to a close, it's helpful to pause and consider the lessons to be found in leaving. I offer some of the insights I've learned about how to make the transition a little smoother.
Take your time and honor your feelings, whatever they may be.
Saying goodbye takes time and energy. Often it isn't until you are finished in a place that the full effects of your time there — and your departure — become apparent. Endings can move quickly, but it is important to build in time to reflect on the process of saying goodbye. Many months later, the feelings around leaving may continue to catch up with you. There's a grace in being open to these emotions. Whether you feel gratitude, loss or something else entirely, learning to honor your feelings and not just brush them aside in pursuit of the next thing is worthwhile as you leave and make a new beginning.
Even if you're excited about what comes next, leaving "what is" can be taxing and trying. In the midst of goodbyes, simple tasks — like packing or cleaning — can seem daunting. Be patient with yourself; transition isn't easy on anyone. Cut yourself some slack. Choose healthy ways to cope: some need to process with friends or mentors, while others need to step back and quietly reflect on what's happening. Do things that will help you relax — enjoy life's simple pleasures, socialize and share with others, and celebrate small successes.
Realize this is about more than just you.
Goodbyes can be difficult. Others will be affected by the change too. Everyone reacts differently. You should honor where people are, and mark the departure in a way that gives the opportunity for closure.
As much as you might want to fade into the background, doing so would be a disservice to others. Honoring your feelings and valuing relationships means allowing others to do the same; give others the time and space they need. Cherish the myriad ways that people will find to say goodbye, and be respectful if they choose not to. Leave-taking is about relationship building, too.
When you invest yourself somewhere, it's important to take the same time and care that you've given in day-to-day interactions and apply it to your leaving. Navigating the loss of a community or a ministry, after all, is about navigating and tending to relationships. It requires the recognition that things change but also the recognition of the gift that has been and will continue to be.
Let people know the impact they've had.
In the busyness of your daily life, you don't often take time to stop and name the specific gifts others offer and to reflect back to them the impact they've had. This should be a part of saying goodbye. Such naming not only affirms others, it also allows you to take stock of the gifts you've received and the grace of time well spent in a particular place or ministry.
There is a great grace in reverencing shared relationships. For good or for ill, you are formed by your experiences and by the people with whom you spend your life. Recalling the goodness and the challenges of an experience gives perspective and a more nuanced understanding of how you've been affected by it. Taking the time to process this helps you see the ways you've been called to grow and the ways you've responded. You will carry this greater self-knowledge with you into new experiences, integrating these lessons and using them to expand your capability to be flexible and respond affirmatively to future invitations to growth.
Identify your roots and see how you've grown.
As you say goodbye, it is helpful to identify what grounds you. Times of transition can be challenging and confusing. Remembering the integral experiences, lessons and people who root your being reminds you of who you are and prepares you for future times of change, uncertainty and instability.
Moving on also offers you an opportunity to assess the impact you've had and the legacy you leave. Your presence and manner of being can last far beyond your actual time in a place. You live on in those you work with and they live on in you. That is one of the blessings of being and serving together: we all become one, learning and growing together.
Give thanks.
It can be tempting to critique what has been as a way of trying to move on peaceably. But honest reflection is a healthy way of processing your experience and is often filled with graces. The ultimate hope of such reflection, though, is that it will lead to a place of gratitude... Read the rest here