Saturday, February 28, 2015

For Now is Enough

For the last week, I have been with a group of students in Appalachia doing service work for their spring break.  The week was full of blessings, providing a chance to serve during this Lenten season and the opportunity to reflect on the space for God that is created when we are in relationship with others.  While I was away, my latest column was posted on the Global Sisters Report. Entitled "For Now", this is my 10th column for the site. Writing for GSR has been a blessing, giving a space to share my reflections more widely and the grace of having regular deadlines to meet.  My latest column looks at the call to be present to the current moment. We say yes for now in the hope of forever. Sometimes that is as far as we are able to commit; being able to engage the present moment deepens our relationship with God and reveals the eternal life we are striving for. Lent gives us a special opportunity to be intentional about strengthening our faith. Living for now strengthens our trust in God and challenges us to grow in the present moment. I hope the the words I share help to deepen your Lenten journey and that we all may be able to say yes for now... 

Every morning you have to wake up and say yes!

That’s one of the single most quoted pieces of advice I got in the lead up to my first profession of vows. No one promised me the road ahead would be smooth, nor did they say that my first year of profession would be easy. To be honest, among all the other pieces of advice I received, the admonition that I’d need to say yes everyday seemed like a euphemistic response to the question of what it means to live a vowed life. Yet, just six months later I found myself sitting across the table from an acquaintance saying just that: “Every day I have to choose to say yes.”

I was visiting my alma mater as part of an annual gathering of religious studies alumnae. Over drinks, we caught up about the last year of our lives: friends, new and old, creating connections. We began talking about the struggles of our everyday lives as young women in the church and the situations of life we find ourselves in. Engaging a woman I didn't know particularly well, I named my struggle as well as you can to a relative stranger.

“Every day I have to choose to say yes,” I heard myself say as I explained my struggle with certain structures. Earlier in the afternoon, I had stood in the campus chapel and spoke the words of my vows aloud. I needed to say those words there. There, in a place that had been so formative to my journey, they made sense. In that moment and in that place, I could say yes . . . in that moment . . . for now.

A week later, on Valentine’s Day, I found myself gathered together once again with a group of young women. This time, though, those gathered were all younger women religious. Over dinner, we shared honestly the struggles, the gifts, the graces, and the foibles of religious life as younger members. After an extended period of time, one of my friends who had been markedly quiet during our discussion of the hope of years to come spoke up: “I don’t know,” she said genuinely. “I hear what you are all saying, but I don’t know if I can agree. When I think about renewing my vows for another year, I don’t know if I can – it seems like too much time; I have to break it down – I have to think to myself, ‘I can say yes to this for now.’”

Her comment was honest. For now, I can say yes. Here in this moment, I can keep on going. It’s not the most hope-filled or inspiring of sentiments, but it is one that comes from lived experience. In a world that can be rough and a landscape that is constantly shifting and changing, sometimes the deepest commitment you can make is for now.

The only moment we truly have is right now. Breaking down time in a way that focuses on living for now offers us the rare opportunity to cast aside what is unnecessary for this moment, while at the same time allowing us to embrace the glimpse of forever – the promise and hope of eternal life – present in each and every experience. 

Living “for now” offers us a brief glimpse of the long view, a microcosm of the promises of our faith. It breaks down the complexity of the journey, causing us to ask, “How does each moment echo eternity?” We act for now in the hope of forever, living salvation on the small scale of each moment, so that a lifetime of faithfulness might emerge...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Poem: For Now

As I move my way through Lent, poetry seems to be emerging all the more and so here I am to share it. This poem surfaced in the course of writing my forthcoming column for the Global Sisters Report, a piece entitled "For Now"... more on that later this week...

remember what it means to go out into the desert
remember what can happen when you invite the Spirit in
 like a fire in the night
 everything will burn
 stripped bare
 the only light remaining is the one to guide you home.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Take Nothing for the Journey

Reflecting this morning on the beginning of Lent, I found myself savoring the beginning of what is a season that I love.  There is something to the wandering of these forty days, the purification, the intentionality that wraps me in its unique warmth, like a warm woolen mitten in the winter cold.

To mark the beginning of this Lenten journey, I wrote a poem for the Sister of St. Joseph's blog Sharing the Joy of Vocation. May it help you to enter into this season and may we all journey together in faithfulness and grace. Peace+ 

Take nothing for the journey
he said
and I realized
all I was carrying.

And slowly I began to wander
a journey that had already begun
And like a bird I flew free
no arms to hold what could hold me back

Go slow
Be open
See the sights
and see to the fact
that you only pick up what you need

And so I went
the journey deep
the darkness dark
the steepness steep

Seeing what
was there to see
in time
with grace
deep inside of me.

Like the crop circles of my soul
conveying a message
I am still figuring out
how to read.

You pinned me down
by the heart
so I could see the beautiful
markings on my wings
stopped still from the frantic beat

Take nothing for the journey
they said
Take nothing but who you are.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Seeing Trees

As many of you know, I am columnist for the Global Sisters Report's Horizons column. It is a joy for me to be able to write and reflect on the current reality of my own life and the state of religious life as I experience it. My latest column is entitled "To Be Visionary" and looks at the call for all people of faith to see in a different light. Sometimes that mean facing uncertainty, other times it means looking long and hard to discover the beauty in your midst. Either way it is a blessing to be able to look and to discern what might be to come. We all have to be visionary, we have to see trees, see hope, and embrace the grace we're being offered here and now to see.

Here's the beginning of the column:

“Look for the tree.” I would tell friends and family when they first came to visit me in Philadelphia. “It’s the only one for blocks.”

In 2010, I moved to Philadelphia to serve as a full-time volunteer, leaving a full-time job behind to serve as a parish outreach minister in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. The tree in front of our volunteer house was a point of reference. It was a marker, rising above the row homes and trash-strewn streets of the neighborhood. As it came into focus, it guided others to us, while also serving as a sign of what had been and a signal of what could be.

A few weeks ago, I sat in the campus ministry office where I now work looking at a picture of that tree projected on the wall. I was preparing a presentation for a group of students who would return early from break for an urban service immersion trip to the neighborhood. A 30-minute drive from our campus, it might as well have been a different world.

Projecting images of local sights, empty factories, vacant lots and street art on my office wall, I looked at a neighborhood in which I, like the tree in in front of my house, had set my roots. It is a place I love. A neighborhood full of stories and cast in contrast. The place where I found myself called to actively pursue a call to religious life.

Scrolling through pictures, I looked up to find one of the college’s housekeepers in my office. I greeted her and we made small talk as she emptied the trash cans in the office. “Wait a second,” she paused as she saw the pictures on the wall, “Is that Kensington?” I nodded.

“That’s my neighborhood!” she exclaimed with pride. We talked about our mutual love of the neighborhood and what it means to us. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she added.

“Kensington is just one of those places,” I agreed, knowing from experience it had the power to capture hearts. “Is there anything you want me to tell the students about the neighborhood?”

She nodded slowly as she stopped to think. And then she offered a statement that has sat with me for weeks. “Yeah, tell them it’s beautiful. You just have to be a visionary to see it.”

You have to be a visionary. I made sure to tell the students. You have to be a visionary – to see the beauty, to hold the truth, to see in a way others don’t.  And they did.

Yet, even after the trip was over, I couldn’t seem to shake that phrase.
You have to be a visionary.

That’s a statement bigger than one neighborhood. It’s a lesson for life; it’s a phrase that applies to our life as a church and our call as believers. We have to be visionary.  We believe in what we cannot see and, through faith, we learn to see in ways unknown and unclear.  In time, vision progresses. We cannot know what tomorrow holds, but we can learn to see the signs of the times and anticipate what may be to come... [Read the rest of the article here]

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

With Arms Outstretched

To celebrate the New YearI spent some time away at the Genesis Spiritual Center in Westfield, MA to take a prayerful pause on a guided retreat led by a dear friend. The theme of our time together was Love and what a wonderful theme to meditate on as we head into the year ahead. As I reflected, images came and by retreat's end this poem had emerged. May it be a window into my time and a blessing as we wander into this year together.
Like a clock
each second finds its spot
beginnings and ends
made manifest by the swift swing of
a second hand

In one breath
it's all contained
"My God.." sits steady on my lips
a shimmering sign
of the One come to life in Love

In solemn stillness lays
a heart with arms outstretched
a moment that echoes through
the ages

love made manifest
with no beginning or end
only gratitude and grace
souls made to feel their worth
embraced, sustained
hearts with arms outstretched.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Behold is one of those words; it flips everything on its head.  Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son... He (Joseph) decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

Behold. All you thought was not possible is- what you perceived as the only way was not... and so God enters our lives.

I found myself shopping at a local market the other night. After a long day of work, I wandered the aisles take in the scene as I picked up the necessary goods on my list. Walking along, I passed a gentleman giving out free samples.  "It's a spreadable goat cheese" he said as he handed me a tiny cracker to taste. I gladly accepted his offer and then he looked at me an inquired, "What is your necklace?"

I looked down at the silver cross and globe around my neck. For a moment I thought of the length of the day so far and the mixed reaction my response could provoke. I pushed that all aside and responded. "Oh this? It's an insignia. I'm a Sister of St. Joseph, we all wear one."

The man paused, taking in what I had just said. "Oh. I had the Mercy nuns growing up in school" he said "but it was the Saint Joe nuns who I really loved."

He went on to tell me about how as a young cheese monger just getting his start he found himself connected with our Sisters and the joy it had been to grow in relationship with them as they valued his trade and came to know him over time.  Our conversation continued, as they often do, with discussion of faith and life and the intertwining nature of them both.  Then just as I was about to leave his table to continue my shopping, John asked me if I was going to be in the store much longer. I hadn't planned on it, but seeing the urgency in his eyes I said I thought I'd be perusing a little while longer. "Good" he replied "I'll be right back."

And with that he disappeared into the back and I continued through the aisles of the little store.  A few minutes later he came to get me and led me back to his station. And there, next to the spreadable goat cheese, he began to reading a poem to me.  Behold. A cheese monger reciting poetry, a gentle presence within such a big man seeping out like the mystery-soaked words of John of the Cross he spoke. His powerful hands gripped the paper, a poem meant to connect us on that dark night in December. Expectant waiting personified; Emmanuel between us. Behold he seemed to say.

Making my way home, I drove past an illuminated storefront. Inside a group of people gathered, seated in bright light on folding metal chairs in a circle; the light within the building made them stand out in the cold winter night. We could see in, but their seeing out was far less likely. I took in their smiles and the spirit of their gathering. Looking closer, I realized they were speaking sign language with one another.  Spirits signing in the darkness to one another, broadcasting the light out for all to see. And so, behold I did.

Behold and be held. God seemed to say, this is the time to be turned on your see everything turned right side up.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

New Beginnings in Old Bones

#38 is the first hymn in the song book.

As soon as the opening chords played tonight at Mass something sung down deep inside me. Welcome to a new year it seemed to say. And I took a deep breath and began to sing... to sing a song that is deep within my bones... a song that in its singing seemed like it might be inviting me to something new this year. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. 

Each word reverberated deep in my chest, flowing out over my lips like honey, the sweet feeling of harmony captivating my ears. This is where I am, I thought to myself, and this is exactly where you should be, my heart murmured as I gazed around at the church, the people, the moment I was in and sharing with the Divine. There we were together, the start of a season, full of invitation and exploration. I can only hope I take to it as it offers moments to me.

I remember the moment as a freshman in college when the word sacramentality was introduced into my vocabulary. Reading it on the page of a textbook, I swirled it around on my tongue like a fine wine, picking up hints of flavors, memories of things gone past, my own salvation history laid out before me.  Without even knowing it, I had been taught this word; this sacramentality was a part of me. I cherished knowing I had a name for it, that it was a reality beyond my being. Something instilled and shared.  Some of my greatest, dearest friends would have this same sacramental sense, be they Catholic or not.  They knew and longed for something bigger yet something so tangible and inherent that every ounce of your being contained it.

As the words poured out of my mouth tonight I knew that. I remembered. This is what I long for...what I love. A beauty deep within, requiring beauty all throughout. In the darkness is light. Keep watch and wait for all that is to come, all that has been promised, all that is already here.

"Be sure to tell the people in your life you love them" the pastor said before the Mass came to a close. Each person seemed to pause recalling those dear to them with love in warm glow of the light.

This is a season of joy I remind myself... of hope... or expectant waiting and heart-felt grasping, allowing God to come among us, to be in all places. What are the places God long to be in me? I wonder. Where do I need to let God in? Where do I need to see God in the world and how can I help to bring God-with-us to places yet unknown?

As the congregation shuffles out I feel a little less lonely. The darkness is that of a dawn not a dusk.  Joy is in this place, this space, this time. I simply need to let it roll in...let it rise up...feel it in my bones.

And that is where I leave it. No more, no less. It simply is and among everything else I could expound upon, the still silence of those opening lines settle deep.  O Come, O Come Emmanuel.