Friday, January 11, 2019

Poem: The Promise of Darkening Dust

The Promise of Darkening Dust

The journey we walk is long
but we must keep on walking
One foot in front of the other
From one passing moment to the next
Until we feel the dust rise
and settle on our skin
Grime that gives us a signal of movement
A hint of grace
And has us ask
What settles on our soul
when we won’t settle for less,
when we pursue truth
and stir up the well worn paths,
What rises then is what we’re meant to carry
With each new step a discovery
a gift
a movement that connects what was
to what will be
and begs for us to feel our souls
on the road
and to just keep going
no matter the dust or deterrents
to a place and a moment
full of promised hope
and enlightened love.

— Colleen Gibson

Far From Fleeting

Each New Year's, I offer a guided retreat as part of a wonderful team at Genesis Spiritual Life Center in Westfield, MA. This year, we focused on the need for light in the darkness as we enter into this new year. I adapted a portion of my talk for Global Sisters Report. Here's my latest Horizons column, "Far from Fleeting: Finding in Darkness":

In early November, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I went to visit my grandmother. Driving up her street, I stopped a few houses down from hers, put my car in park, and turned off my headlights. I gazed out my window at the most unusual sight.

The houses lining the street were illuminated — not only from within but by thousands of tiny lights outside. The whole street was glowing. Trees and bushes; front doors and gutters. I basked in the glow on a dark autumn night; my eyes transfixed by the light.

"It's too early for Christmas lights," I thought to myself. Too early, yet most welcome. After months of darkness and an unusually rainy fall, any light, especially the inexplicable, would do.

Like shepherds stunned in the field or a young Mary stopped suddenly in the everyday, I basked in the glow. God has curious means of communication.

After months of waiting on officials to grant permits for a ministry project and accompanying months of frustrated wondering why — Why here? Why now? Why me? — a moment had come on that dark street … an invitation by an unexpected route … a moment without an actual answer and yet filled with reassurance that somewhere, somehow darkness could also hold light.

Arriving at my grandmother's house, I wondered aloud with more gratitude now than grievance at the displays, "Why all the Christmas lights?"

My grandmother smiled, as grandmothers do with love and deep knowing, and responded, "It's Diwali!"

Now if you're a little sketchy in your recollection of Hindu holidays, here's a quick synopsis: Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. Simply put, it symbolizes the spiritual "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance."

The story varies based on where one comes, from but it has come to signify new beginnings and a welcoming of wealth and prosperity, when families use lights to drive out the darkness and open their homes to let in good fortune and new beginnings.

On my way home that night, all I could see was the beautiful glow of the lights, myself in the darkness of the night in my car. My heart's interest was piqued by the description of this time as a celebration of light overcoming darkness, good triumphing over evil, and knowledge usurping ignorance.

And now as this new year begins, I can't help but again envision that darkness and light, forces tenderly and tenuously balanced at this time of year: a darkness never dark enough to overtake the light, but also a light that is beyond our knowing.

This is a light beyond our recollection at times, the One who dwells among us — not beyond us — to whom darkness is not dark, and through whom light shines in new and wondrous ways.

Sitting in the still, silent, darkness of my car, I could see the light. From outside, we can bask in its glow and appreciate its being, whereas from within those houses what is without is lost. And thinking of this moment in our world and the darkness that returns, I recall of the words of Rilke, whose poetry returns over and over to the life that can be found in the darkness.

In his Book of Hours, Rilke proclaims the gift of the darkness, recognizing that far more is covered by darkness than light. "The dark embraces everything: shapes and shadows, creatures and me … just as they are," he writes, "It lets me imagine a great presence stirring beside me."

Darkness is a welcome companion if we greet it as such. This nighttime is not too dark if we sit with it, letting our eyes adjust and discover the outlines of grace around us. In this stillness of time, the night embraces everything; its darkness holds tight to all that we are and asks us to notice all that is and was, and to try to perceive, if we can, what could be.

In the darkness, God works. Like the Spirit over the waters of creation or the Israelites crossing the sea to freedom, the Christ child comes in the night. What stands out to me this year more than others is all those who wait in the darkness.

These are the ancillary characters of the Christmas story; those who if you asked them would tell their story with themselves at the center but who, as we read it, are the ones who point us towards the great light.

It is because they are there waiting and attentive that they are able and available to follow the light. It is the shepherds who work through the night, who cower in fear at the sight of angels calling them forth.
It is the wise men, who in order to answer the call — to do their part — must journey by starlight, must be attentive to the darkness. They must choose to feel in their souls the call of unexpected routes. They must acquiesce to the Spirit and open themselves to the promise of the unknown … a promise that is full of hope but requires great faith and will entail whatever life brings.

It is these figures who give us guidance for welcoming Christ into our lives and moving our way into the new year.

Their journeys are not without questioning — What child is this? Or without fear and trembling or threat to life and liberty. Yet they follow faithfully, they trust and put one foot in front of the other, believing that the light they've seen in darkness is a promise of more. Their waiting is not for naught; their endurance is not an exercise in futility.

They must trust the moments of light, just as we are called to do.

Bishop Mariann Budde, diocesan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., reflected in her Christmas Eve sermon this year on how God's love and light are revealed in small things and fleeting moments, the things easily missed if we aren't paying attention.

"Our God works quietly, in and through human beings, in those amazing moments when an ordinary life shines with extraordinary brightness, when our hearts are warmed by gentle gifts of forgiveness and peace," she reflected in the sermon heard at the National Cathedral by, among many others, President Donald Trump.

"This gift from God, by design, is a fleeting experience. It gives us a moment, not a lifetime, of clarity; a moment, not a lifetime, of joy or the capacity to bring joy to another. … Christ comes to change us, slowly, over time, so that we might live according to the glimpses of love we have known. The gift is no less real for its fleeting beauty, although we do have the perfect of alibi of deniability if we don't want to acknowledge the gift for what it is."

The fleeting moments of light matter as they give light and direction to our lives. Yet these moments are easily lost. Squeezed out by the crunch of time or dismissed in the shadow of doubt or inconvenience, these moments beckon us to hold tight to the truth that underlies them.

For a split second, heaven touches earth. Clarity is amplified, and in the very next moment a question arises: Will we carry that momentarily timeless light into the expansive darkness that surrounds us? Will we live as if we've basked in the Christ-light, or not?

That it seems is the question we bear as take stock of the epiphany moments of our lives.

It's those moments that shine light into the darkness. And it is the people and situations in our lives that offer the such light — fleeting though it may be — who light the pathway before us.

We reflect the light of those who have shown us the way. And it is by their example and sheer grace that we walk in faith through the darkness, bearers of the light in unbearable times as poet Jan Richardson writes.

That is the moment we find ourselves in now. Now more than ever, we must cherish and lift up the moments that direct us for miles beyond their shining. We must fortify the space within where we hold their truth so that no amount of fear, doubt or complacency can dull their memory or potency... Continue reading here

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Poem: The Soul that Moves Our Feet

The melody lies in the space between the notes
the silent gap filled with waiting 
testing the senses
like a touch never forgotten
Held in the memory of flesh
We drag our humanity across one another
leaving prints only later uncovered
Distinctive marks of mercy
Intimate movements of grace
the divine that makes us quiver
the soul that moves our feet
With each movement I gasp
Is this what it's like to breath
or is this just the stuff of life?
Maybe they are one in the same
Life + Death
Song + Silence
the desire made real in each moment of suffering and joy
all joined in the radical reality of a God made real.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Humility: A response to troubled times

The last few weeks and months have been filled with news that is divisive and destructive to hope in our world. In response to the current state of affairs, I chose to use my latest column for the Global Sisters Report as an opportunity to meditate on the virtue of humility and the grace that it has to offer at this time in our lives and the life of our world. Enjoy!


A coworker calls to me from her computer, her head already shaking back and forth, "Did you hear?" Whether I've heard or not, I'm not sure I want to know. The news, it seems, isn't all that good recently. I find myself shaking my head before she's done delivering whatever news has broken. It's better to know than not to know, I tell myself, holding whatever the breaking news of the day is and praying for our broken world as I take it in.
The news these past few months has been troubling to say the least. Institutions that should instill trust have instead betrayed it. Each new headline brings with it a flurry of emotions. In the church, new revelations of wide-spread and institutionally covered-up sexual abuse against minors has shaken the faith of Catholics in the United States and beyond. News of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's abuses of power and those put under his charge brought with it a new round of questioning the power structures within the church. Meanwhile, in society, the #MeToo movement has revealed sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace and on a larger scale. Within government, a number of scandals have broken, the most vulnerable of society have been compromised, and powerful people have been called to answer for their misdeeds.
Troubling times call for drastic measures. What response could measure up to the needs of these times? What could conjure up hope or bolster a community, country and church in anguish? It might seem foolish, but in this muddled moment, a moment in need of greatness and fortitude, perhaps part of the key to moving forward is an apparent opposite: humility.
This virtue in its truest form might be exactly what these troubled times are calling for. The essence of humility is this: to know yourself as you truly are, your gifts and struggles; to acknowledge that you are small in the grand scheme of things, but even in your smallness you are created and beloved by God. It means having a realistic self-image and as a result, a grasp on the reality of the world around you.
Contrary to popular belief, the exercise of humility is not to cower in the face of compliments but to honestly assess one's own being. A humble heart holds the truth of both its giftedness and its neediness, as well as that of the world. The word humility derives from the Latin word humus meaning "earth." And so, to live humbly is to literally be "of the earth." Thus, true humility is to be in touch with the ground of our being, the very dust that we are made of and the dirt of life.
In this moment in history, the dirt is overwhelming. Simply engaging the brokenness of life will make us feel small. The choice we have is to embrace the humility conjured up at this moment and to boldly stand as people without the answers, people hurting and confused, imperfect people trying to make a way for faith and hope to prevail.
The temptation of our times is to embrace an illusion of ourselves and a false sense of control — to curate the self we share with the world and to choose to hear only the news, voices and perspectives we want to hear. Humility, in contrast, grants us the ability to see ourselves as we truly are. In true humility, we can acknowledge our gifts and also recognize our shortcomings. With humble hearts, we engage the world around us, choosing not to shy away from what is troubling but to claim our place in it all, even if only as witnesses to the realities of this day and age. To do otherwise would be to avoid reality, to sugarcoat the bitter pill and to claim to be "other than" rather than "one with" the reality of what is.
Famously, Lilla Watson, activist, academic, artist and indigenous Australian, said, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." If we can humble ourselves enough to recognize that we do not have all the answers and may in fact benefit and learn more from sharing and growing in relationship, then we open ourselves to the possibility of finding light in the darkness and emerging with a sense of solidarity and triumphant hope. That's not to say that the troubling times won't continue, but it is a call to foster hope even in the most troubling and disturbing of times.
Together, we don't have to go it alone; imperfect, we don't have to (and see we can't) solve the world's problems on our own but instead we commit to the steady, if slow, work of change through the work of awareness and action.
Humility is grounded in awareness and action. Aware that we are human, full of foibles, we are humbled. Our lives are based in such self-discovery as we continue to grow in knowledge of ourselves. As Christians, we are constantly reminded of our humble being and the humility our faith requires. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," Jesus preaches in the Sermon on the Mount. Meekness, the gentle and loving nature of those who truly know themselves in relationship to God and others, is the condition for taking on the troubled times of our world.
Aware of the many problems in our world — the pressing needs and tragedies of our society, government, and church — we can feel powerless and defeated. A heart can only hold so much. The primal instinct in this moment is to shut down and tune out the world around us. Complacency and apathy draw near awaiting the opportunity to settle into our souls. This is when action, no matter what size or to what extent, is so important.
Meekness is not the same as weakness. It requires a strong faith and stalwart character. To become and remain aware in this day and age can be exhausting. In the face of such a challenge, it is the humble of heart who live lives alert to reality.
By acting on what we are aware is in disarray, even if the action is simply to engage in dialogue with someone else in the midst of confusion, frustration, sadness or weariness, we continue to engage in a real way and remain humble in doing so. Choosing to remain active and engaged grounds us; we remain open to learning and growing and, in the process, allow our horizons to expand rather than being confined by — what can seem like — perpetually bad news.
Humility gives us an opportunity to hold the reality of what is without having to make excuses or provide solutions. In that space, we are on the ground floor of what is...Continue Reading Here

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

As We Celebrate, We Create Communion

Oh how the summer flies!  With retreat and the work of getting a new ministry up and running in Camden, NJ, I have been remiss in posting here. Since my last post, I found out that I (as part of a wonderful group of writers from the National Catholic Reporter) won a Catholic Press Award for the 'Young Voices' Blog. To learn more, see the announcement sent out by the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph

And now, without further ado, my latest column from the Global Sisters Report... Enjoy!

This time last year, I found myself standing in the empty living room of the tiny three-bedroom house I would soon call home. Devoid of any furnishings except a few discarded boxes of junk previous tenants left in the basement, the house was a blank slate, the first step in a new mission another sister and I had been tasked with undertaking. The larger task at hand was to open a neighborhood center in Camden, New Jersey, but in that moment, finding furniture to fill our local community seemed like as much as we could handle.

In the days and weeks ahead, we would scavenge closing convents and generous donors' homes for spare pieces of furniture to make our house a home. Within a few months, the living room I had stood in in the stifling summer heat thinking it might fit a small couch and possibly a chair was filled with the hustle and bustle of our first open house.

Everyone who came had a part to play in the community taking shape. One sister marveled at the way the rugs from a dear friend's old cabin miraculously matched everything else, while a former colleague smiled when he saw that the oak chest his father had built now acted as our coat closet. Our next-door neighbor, an older woman from Greece, marveled at the inside of the house, which in her 30 years in the neighborhood she said she'd never seen so clean.

From near and far, people gathered to celebrate this new beginning, not just for my local community or the neighborhood center, but for all of us: a community bound by much more than furnishings and well-wishes, a community bound by connection and rooted in communion.

As the sisters, friends and neighbors departed that night, the same sentiment was repeated time and again: "It was so good to be together, so very nice to celebrate like we used to!"

Celebration, it seemed, by and large had become a thing of the past. The implication was that we used to do this, but somewhere along the line, life butted in, and celebration, the joy of being together for the sole purpose of shared enjoyment, seemed to have slipped from our grasp. Sure, there were big community events like chapters and assemblies, milestones like jubilees, and generational gatherings and reunions, but these were exceptions rather than the norm.

As our living room emptied out that evening, there seemed to be a larger void that needed to be filled. The power of communion, after all, lies in the ability to gather people together in love. That requires intention and attention. We must be intentional in making a point of coming together, giving special attention to the purpose of our gathering and the aim of inclusion. This allows us to create space for relationship, space where we can come to know the other, celebrate one another and learn, with joy and humility, that there is always room for growth and development in our relationships, to discover newness in our midst.

Over the coming months, we began welcoming more people into our home and our new venture in communion. First, there were sisters living near us whom we wanted to get to know better. Then there was the community of neighbors in Camden with whom we began to develop relationships as we ministered with and among them. And then there were the neighbors we encountered each and every day in our local parish and beyond.

In each of these settings, communion looked different. Yet the call remained the same: to celebrate what drew us together and the gift relationship brings as we develop and/or renew relationships over time.

Together, we found cause for celebration. Sharing simple meals and finding space for prayer and fellowship across denominational, racial, socioeconomic and ethnic lines helped us celebrate the gift of being together and being one, despite our differences — or, perhaps, in the light of embracing our difference. We learned more about those we thought we knew, and in sharing new experiences, we garnered the power of communion and all the hope and joy it brings with it.

This idea of the power of communion is nothing new. Even as I write this, I've thought to myself that things like celebration and communion aren't serious enough to warrant putting pen to paper. It's easy to think that. With all that is wrong in the world, with sexual abuse and misconduct, with racism and gun violence, with natural disasters and civil discord, what difference do a few open houses and a little mission have to make in the world?

The temptation is to write off goodness and grace in the face of dysfunction and discord. That, though, is when the power of communion, the presence of love, and the critical work of celebration are most needed. Truth, no matter how simple it seems, shines brightest in the darkness. Holding space for communion and celebration then becomes essential because it is in the space of those two things that hope flourishes and love holds firm.

It is the persistent and faithful flourishing of hope that causes us to say, not out of manners or perfunctory habit, but out of genuine desire and intention, "We must do this again!" We know in those moments we are better because we have been together. We know we call out the best in one another and, as a result, we long to revive and stoke the fires of hope we spark within each other's being when we're together. These then become the moments that shine through in the lives we live even when we are apart.
Just as our little house had overflowed with love after that first open house, communion has continued to take shape through grace-filled crafting over the last year. When the work of bringing the Gospel call to life is tedious and trying, bearing few concrete products, it is the relational results of ministry that inspire hope...Read the rest of the article here

Monday, July 16, 2018

Freedom to Fail

One of the most memorable questions I've ever been asked in an interview came as a surprise. Having laid out the case for my application and credentials to the search committee, one of the interviewers turned to me and asked, "This is all well and good, but have you ever failed? Or has everything you've done been a success?"

I was taken aback by the question. My mind went blank and I paused to ponder how best to respond. Had I ever failed? I wondered to myself. No immediate examples came to mind. Yet, it didn't feel genuine to say I had never failed.

The search committee stared back at me as I bided my time to think of a response. Silence seemed to stretch out between us as I came to an answer internally. Finally, I was able to respond.

"I can't say I have failed." I said, speaking off the top of my head. "I wouldn't consider anything I've done a failure. Sure, there are situations and circumstances that didn't work out the way I thought they would, but I wouldn't call anything I've done a failure. Every situation has the potential to teach us something; looking at my life through that lens, I can't say that anything has been a failure — because no matter the outcome I've grown and benefited in the process."

The interviewer who had asked the question nodded, smiling as she wrote something down on the paper in front of her while another member of the committee asked a new question. I felt confident that the rest of the interview went well, but walking out of the interview, that solitary question begged to be revisited.

"Had I ever failed?" I continued to ask myself."If I had, why couldn't I name or claim it? And if I hadn't, what lessons might I have missed along the way?

Despite being rattled by the question and uncertain about the quality of my response, I was offered the position. Yet, even then, the question remained — one of those existential questions I return to from time to time.
After years of lying dormant, the question has returned recently with a vengeance. Now, though, it comes with a larger berth than before. What once was a question that only concerned me as an individual has now taken on a communal aspect. And what was narrowly defined in terms of the past (had I ever failed), now urges me onward as I look to the future of my own life, our church, and religious life.

How free are we to fail?

The question has become not will we fail, but how do we approach failure, what effect does it have on us, and how do we understand failure as an integral part of growth, transformation, and the journey of faith? Failure, after all, is intertwined with change and transformation. 

The way in which we read the signs of the times calls for an ability to adjust to change and to meet adversity with grace and creativity.

As I consider religious life today and into the future, the question of being free to fail rises up again and again. As I sit in circles that discuss the future we are trying to live today, the same questions arise over and over: Can we try something new without the guarantee of success? How free are we to live the mission and not just leave a legacy? What does daring newness rooted in bold Gospel living look like today? And what is our capacity for and our desire to live this way?

The call it would seem is two-fold: to be free enough to fail and to have the courage to live in ways heretofore thought impossible (whether by fear, history/tradition, or complacency). 

Answering that call and keeping the questions it bears at the forefront promises not to be pretty. Where we might desire clear answers, we will instead be plunged into the messiness of life. There, we face the reality of the Incarnation, a reality we've given (and continue to give) our lives to.

In the words of Sr. Teresa Maya, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, from an interview with U.S. Catholic earlier this year, "God is stirring things up. We need to trust that. It is a call to faith. … In many ways, it's not whether you do or don't like change, it's how you live change. We need to understand that the incarnation is the transformative conversation that God has with us and that the transforming conversation happens always in the present. It happens when we engage the present."

Engagement with the present looks different at each moment. It requires ongoing discernment and an ability to surrender what we think is best in exchange for or with a consideration of what God most desires. That shift lived out could easily look like failure, like plans uprooted and order disturbed; but perhaps instead of seeing such change as failure we might interpret it and treat it as what it truly is: faithfulness.

To be faithful to God's call is to risk all for the glory of God. Allowing for and witnessing to Incarnation has always been and will always be a gamble. Yet, God goes all in on us: trusting 2,000 years ago that a young woman would say yes to the annunciation spirit, and experiencing the graced grittiness of the world everyday with us.

Held in that presence we must dare to face the world with a spirit of hope and courage. We must take heart in the One whose death on the cross seemed, in that moment, to be a marked failure. That failure was one grounded in faithfulness, a moment of transformation pointing towards a new day and new life.

To be free enough to engage the present moment is a liberating — if not also anxiety-inducing — movement. It requires a letting go that chooses to trust in the grace of this moment, even when "what's next" is uncertain. Jesus joins us in that uncertainty and invites us to let go of the need to succeed and the notion of success as we once defined it. Projects may not be carried to completion; plans may need to be changed.

Our priority must become an attentiveness to promptings of the Spirit. When heeded above all else, this grace has grounds to blossom and we have the capability to do the work of God — work that doesn't always follow our designs or inspire instantaneous consolation. Yet this is the work we cautiously commit ourselves to, transforming ourselves and our world in the process... Continue Reading here

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Tending the Flame: Gathering a Religious Generation

"When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together…" (Acts 2:1)

For as long as I can remember, I've prayed with a candle in front me. Whether I hold a votive in my hand or watch the flicker of an electronic flame, there is something soothing to the way the light softly dances, be it on the floor in front of me or through my closed eyelids.

This past Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, I sat in a room with 35 other Sisters of St. Joseph, feeling the heat of the candle in my hands and the warmth of their spirits surrounding me. Prayer rose up around me, the presence in that place pure blessing.

We'd come from throughout North America, sisters from Canada, Mexico and the United States; all of us, the newest members of our communities, candidates and novices, sisters in first vows and those up to 10 years finally professed.
The aim of our time together was simple and yet deeply profound: to be together … in prayer … in process … in play … and in the process, to discover, dream and imagine where the Spirit might be leading us as individuals and as a group into the future.

For the first time in our history, the group had self-organized, taking what began years ago as a gathering planned and implemented by formation personnel and making it our own. To do that, we named our needs, called forth organizers from our ranks and set to work. The result was (and is now) a four-day biennial gathering entitled "Tending the Flame."

Sitting among my sisters on Pentecost, I couldn't help but marvel at the work of the Spirit in our midst. "We came as ones, as individuals," one sister marveled, "and we are leaving as one!"

And those around her nodded in agreement. Words like connection, joy, support and life rose up from the crowd. Our time together had fostered a sense of unity and commitment that each could have and hold into the future.

Together, we were tending the flame not only of our individual vocations but also of our collective heart. That is part of the gift of gatherings such as this. God is the fire starter, the divine spark that burns within us, but it is our duty to tend to that flame. We don't do that by ourselves — we can't. We need to lean into God and into others for support along the way. 

The companions with whom we share this journey help to fuel the fire within, and it is times spent together — times spent away — that remind us that for a fire to burn steadily you need to provide space for the fire to breathe.

Like a flame, to be sustained, this life needs tending. Space must be made for the fire to breathe and for the burn to encompass our being. We must consent to being consumed. For each person, authentic tending looks different, but there is no doubt that to burn bright we each need the nourishing presence of God as revealed in unity with others on the journey.

To that end, generational gatherings such as Tending the Flame or those facilitated by Giving Voice or other federated groups of congregations, create grounds for union among newer members. They remind us that each of us is working at this life and, though separated by distance or living situations, we are living this reality together.

One day, we all may be one. For now, though, we know ourselves as united in spirit if not yet congregationally.

In the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (as in other congregations), this is particularly poignant since newer members share in a federated novitiate experience, which brings novices from various CSSJ congregations together for one year of their two-year novitiate. This shared formative experience creates bonds that last a lifetime and that are nourished and renewed each time we come together.

It is in the times when we come together that we can physically sense being part of something larger; rather than listening to the stories of the distant past and of realities that are not our own, we are able to have new experiences and make memories to carry forward. We are forging relationships and doing so in the fire of experience as we join together.

We've been formed and are being formed within the federation, understanding ourselves not as sisters bound to any one particular place but as Sisters of St. Joseph of the world and ultimately, of the universe.
Reflecting on questions like, "How are you intentionally tending to the heart of religious life?" and, "How do you name your place in this life today and moving into the future?" we are drawn into thick conversations. To speak in this way is to bare a part of your soul to another.

Such conversation facilitates, through vulnerability and honest, compassionate sharing, a feeling of being known and understood. Being with sisters who share in the experience of being newer members creates grounds for companionship and builds relationships that preserve and conserve hope.

Together we can trust not that everything will be fine, but that we do not journey alone. "We are thrust forward into the unknown," one participant stated, "knowing only that we travel that unknown way together."

Throughout our weekend, the palpable feeling of joy in union pervaded. Voices that "back home" would be drowned out by larger cohorts could be heard. From the strong singing voices at liturgy to impassioned pleas in group discussions, whether it was joy or sorrow being shared, the sentiment was heard and held, a witness to the gift of community.

Like the disciples gathered in the upper room, we were reminded both that in the face of overwhelming fear, community remains, and that to be received, the language you speak needs ears to hear it.

To echo the words of Sr. Michelle Lesher reflecting a few years ago, "We must continue to consciously enter that upper room, that space of sacred patient waiting, and pray for the coming of the Spirit in our time. … Continued reflection on our life experiences will sharpen our capacity to see God in our midst, begging us to notice and respond in ever more creative ways. It is essential that we hear one another; for each member, when listening deeply from within, has much wisdom to offer."

As our time together at Tending the Flame came to a close, I watched and listened as that Spirit took action to draw forth such wisdom.
"What about those sisters who will age out of this gathering?" I thought to myself, thinking of the experience we'd shared and the joy I found in their company. After nearly 20 years in this cohort, they would surpass the 10-year perpetual profession cap placed on the gathering before our next time together.

Before anyone could broach the topic, they raised their hands to speak themselves. Reflecting on their experience, the sisters spoke of the deep value of these gatherings and their appreciation of all they'd been a part of and then they earnestly said "while all this is true, we know in order to make room for those who will come next, we have to go. Otherwise their voices won't be heard and they won't have the same safe space we've cherished for so long."

Their wisdom stemmed from a place of great freedom, love, and grace. To move forward, we must be both protectors and trailblazers; we must illuminate the path for others and be with the grief of what is lost and also the hope of what is to come.

Deep within all of this, the Spirit burns and beckons us to live the vibrant life to which we've been called. This means being free enough to be truly ourselves wherever we are and to bring the lessons we've learned to bear on all situations.

Fortified by the Spirit, we emerge from our upper rooms bearing the Christ light in what might seem like unbearable times. Generation after generation, we, women religious, have done so. Together we answer the call and move forward together, bearing the light within and trusting that in our living and tending, we never go it alone.

See more images of the event here.