Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Poem: The Ocean of a Soul

This past weekend, we took a group of students to St. Mary's-by-the-Sea for a Silent Retreat. As I reflected on their prayer and this sacred silence by the sea, the following poem came to light:

Cast out
into the ocean of your soul
they said

Cast out
into the deep
Beyond your bounds
Beyond your knowing

To catch
you know not what

And waves shoot out in the sand
like the ocean of a soul

And you realize
You cast out
not to catch
but to be

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Another Joseph

Every year, no matter where I find myself, St. Joseph seems to find his way to the pages of this blog in time for his feast on March 19th. Over the years, I've shared images, reflections, poems, and much more.  This year though as I reflect on the eve of St. Joseph's Day, I find myself remembering another Joseph.

I met Joe my first year in Philly. He called the community center and parish where I worked one day looking for the person in charge of social services.  He wanted to donate food.  Joe lived about a mile from the church I was working at, meaning he was in another parish's jurisdiction, but, he explained, they had come to visit once and told him there wasn't any need for his donation.  Appalled at this comment, he was looking for somewhere that would accept his donation. 

Knowing the deep need in our neighborhood, I told him I would come out on a house visit and see how we might be able to work together. The next day, I found myself on his doorstep. Medically home-bound, Joe was confined to his first floor.  He received meals from a local organization but wasn't ever able to eat all the bread and juice they sent him. These things, along with some other food, were what he wanted to give.  "I know there's a need," he said to me in that first meeting, "I just want to help meet it."

Little did I know that my visit would soon become routine.  Each week by Wednesday I got a call. It was Joe letting me know he had a donation. Sometimes I had a family in mind that could use the food; other times, I would take what was offered knowing that someone in need would come to our door soon enough. Nothing would go to waste and I didn't dare miss my weekly "appointment" with Joe.

Our visits were often brief- a quick catch up and some sharing- he'd slip a $20 bill into my hand for the center and send me on my way. I came to know the sound of his voice that I would hear each week on my phone. It's your good friend. He would say. His voice carried with it joy and happiness that had felt the weight of illness and the passage of time. No matter when he called, I could hear that phrase and know who it was.

Over the course of two years, I came to know him better. A former Oblate priest, he'd share about his experiences of Philadelphia and wisdom from life.  He never kept me long (and to be honest, I think he didn't know why I insisted on coming in each week) but I cherished being able to see his smile and check in on him week in and week out. It was never guaranteed he'd be there- "Jefferson (hospital) is my second home" he would joke, a sentiment too close to the truth to ring fully of humor. The fact was I never really knew if he'd be there the next week.

When I finally broke the news to him that I wouldn't be able to come visit any more because I was entering the Sisters of Saint Joseph, he listened attentively.  A few days later, I got call. "Colleen, it's your good friend.." I knew exactly who it was. "I need you to come over," he said, "I have some things I want to give you."

A few days later, I found myself in his living room once again. He handed me a brown paper grocery bag and told me to open it. Inside were books he thought I should read. Taking them out, I discovered at the very bottom, two things wrapped up in more brown paper.  The first was a cross.

"To remember me by," he smiled.   

The second package was heftier. Pulling back the paper I found four different colored books. "I don't know if you'll need these, but I want you to have them." He said.  They were his Office books, the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours. I could hardly believe it; I had never prayed the Office but I told him I'd learn and thanked him for the heartfelt gift.

Before I left, he gave me one last piece of advice: Do it because you love it. If your vocation loses it's life then you shouldn't be there. You're meant to be happy... be happy, whatever you do.

Leaving the house, I wasn't sure if I'd ever see Joe again.  I knew his address by heart and promised to write from novitiate. "Pray for me," he said as I got in my car to leave. 
 For the next two years, I found myself all over the place. But I always knew I had a home in Kensington and any time I would go to visit, I'd make sure to drive by Joe's house.  I wrote and on breaks, I would try to visit. No matter where I went, Joe stayed in my heart and in my prayers. Even in my vow liturgy this past summer (though not physically), Joe was there.

I've remembered his words often- Be happy.  That can be a struggle in the everyday, when struggles and stresses bombard you, when things seem not to be turning out alright, when graces are disguised as burdens, and change comes more suddenly than you would like.  Be happy and know where your heart is echoes.

I have to imagine that that other Joseph (you know the saint) must have said those words to himself at some point.  Know where your heart is...where your love dwells.. and in that will be happiness and glory and grace. In the face of the unknown he kept at it; not knowing what might come next, he stuck to what faith called forth. Vocation does that. Call goes deep to the place God calls us most deeply.

This past August, while I was in the process of moving things into my newest community/convent the house phone rang.  I kept going about my business (since I didn't even technically live there yet) until a sister called my name. The call was for me.  "That's weird," I told her wondering who was on the line.  I picked up the receiver.

"Sister Colleen! It's your good friend, J---" before he could even finish his sentence, I knew who it was- Joe. 

Through mutual connections, he'd found me. He wanted to welcome me to my new house and check in after my vows.  "Remember," he said, "be happy, that's what this life is all about." 

Those were the last words I would hear from his mouth. Last Wednesday, after long suffering, Joe went home to God. I imagine now that he's with Saint Joseph celebrating and doing just what he said you should- being happy in a life that will last forever... just two regular Joes, two holy men, guiding the way and reminding me about what really matters.

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.