Friday, December 19, 2014

Behold

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 head...to 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. 

\

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow...

Last week, my latest column on the Global Sisters Report was published. The piece entitled "Tomorrow's Leadership Today" looks at the leadership that is being called forth in our church and the idea that leadership is part of each and every person's vocation. "Who we are" is leaders, each of us in our own way.  Coming to that realization takes time but it is a call each of us must answer.

As we come to that realization, we also come to see that the people we interact with... each and every person offers us the gift and lessons of their own leadership and being. It's only when we come into dialogue with one another that we can truly appreciate this and reap the fuller benefits of relationship.  Together we grow and learn and lead together.

The article comes from my time at Georgetown on which I continue to reflect.  Leadership was a key component of that talk and in it the call to everyday leadership as each of us encounter and must rise to the call of it. May we be blessed in each moment to lead, whether we realize it or not. May we recognize the leadership offered to us by others. And may we always pause to reflect on the moments, relationships, and experiences that reveal to us who we truly are and who we are called to be.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Age of Instability

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

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

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

An excerpt:

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

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Giftedness: Grace in Turmoil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Saying Words

Words matter.

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Three Weeks' Time

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

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


Blessings of Peace & Joy,
Colleen

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

This Moment.

It's crunch time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace & Prayers to you all. May you be present to this current moment and flow always forward in gratitude, grace, and wonder. 
+

Also, my latest column, entitled "Grounded in Love and Truth", is up at the Global Sisters Report... but more on that later.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Loving the Invisible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you love the Invisible?- Love visibly.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Looking to the Future...

Dear Ladies & Gents,

If you hadn't gathered from my relative silence here on the blog-June was a very busy month!

I am back from my time in Chicago, settling into a new local community, just completed our Congregational Chapter to determine leadership and direction for the next five years, and have been discerning ministry options for after my first profession of vows... and speaking of first profession, I have been approved to make my initial profession of vows as a Sister of St. Joseph on AUGUST 10th- yahoo!

So with all of that in the mix, I hope you'll forgive me for my quiet here online. Have no fear, though, I have poetry, entries, links, and even photographs in the works so you can keep an eye peeled for all of that in the weeks ahead. (In the midst of my annual retreat and planning for vows.) For now, I'll direct you over to the Global Sisters Report where my latest column, entitled "Considering Commitment," has been published. Check it out and let me know what you think!

All the best to you all out there and thanks as always for sharing in this wandering journey of wonder we find ourselves on together.

Peace,
Colleen


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Interrupting Life

Here is the beginning of my latest Horizons column for the Global Sisters Report:
(click the link above/below to read the whole of " Interrupting Life")
______________________

There is a hole in my resume.

In fact, as of July, there is a two-year gap.  You see, in the summer of 2012, I left my job as the assistant director of a community center run by an intercity parish in Philadelphia, and I haven’t been employed since. 

Well actually, that’s a bit of a lie. It’s true that in the last two years, I haven’t held a paying job, but I would argue that in that time, I have most certainly been employed. My work? You might ask . . . Novitiate.

The work of novitiate is that of soul searching.  It requires digging deep, meeting yourself and God head on, facing your true self, learning about what religious life is, nurturing a deeper prayer life, learning to live intentionally and with constant discernment, and prayerfully considering if the call to live in this way with a specific congregation in their manner of being is right for you. Suffice it to say, you don’t get weekends off...
______________________

You're only at the beginning!!...Read the entire post here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An Unexpected Call

On occasion friends and acquaintances have told me I have a natural voice for radio. I took this as a nod to my love of NPR and the way that the dial in my car always seems to end up on WNYC or WHYY as I travel, to and from New York City and Philadelphia respectively.

In my book, it's a compliment. And even if you don't think it is, it's far better than being told you have a good face for radio.  But, I digress.

Yesterday, I got the opportunity to put my voice to the test as a guest on the show On Point produced by WBUR, Boston's NPR affiliate.  The hour-long interview entitled "American Women, American Nuns" featured three young women at various stages of formation (myself included) and looked at the why and how of entering religious life today.  It was a good conversation running the gambit of topics from how the people in your life reacted to your choosing religious life to what it means to be entering an institution that is shrinking at an ever-increasing pace.



These types of conversations aren't always the easiest, but they are important.  They speak to the truth that I find in this life, the reasons why I feel called to live a religious life through the distinct commitment to a religious congregation and vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and they allow the conversation about call and the future of religious life to expand beyond the convent walls, where it can find new energy, new understanding, and we can seek out new and creative answers to how we- as a church and as religious women- are being called into the future.

To be honest, it was privilege for me to be a part of this conversation (see my love of NPR & religious life).  As I approach the end of my two year novitiate and hope to make first vows with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia this summer, this conversation also gave me a chance to put words on the call that I feel to religious life and the journey that has gotten me to this point.  

Regular readers of Wandering in Wonder know parts of this story and have joined me in reflecting on this journey as I've recorded my own wonderings and wanderings on these pages for the last four year of my life.  From my very beginnings as a long term volunteer with the sisters and the idea of what it means to consecrate time as a novice to the process of love and loss as you experience them in a new way as a sister and poetry about being set on fire and a deep call that becomes you, I have strived to provide a glimpse into what this life means for me and how wonder is all around us, calling us to be and become who we truly are.

As I sat in the sound studio yesterday in downtown Philadelphia, I was reminded of the unexpected ways God can speak to us. If you skip to the 38:30 mark of the interview above you’ll see what I’m talking about.  There are lots of preparations you can make for an interview. You can sit with your story and you can imagine what questions might come your way, but there is something you can’t ever fully prepare for about live calls.  In my case, this meant a connection to my past that I never could have imagined… an unexpected call that reminded me of those earliest days of discerning my call: high school youth group. 

It was during high school that my relationship with God became something more than what I had always been taught.  The God who I'd read stories about my whole life became real; a being that cared deeply for me, offered me love without condition, and called me to share that love with other.  In the midst of high school relationships, overnight retreats, and service projects, my faith became my own. I fell in love with God and a call to religious life was planted firmly (although discreetly) in my heart.

Hearing Jeff from Brighton’s voice brought me right back to that first unexpected call. I couldn't help but let that call- the call that resonates from deep within me- ring out for a little bit.

I didn't always know I wanted to be a sister.  In all actuality, even once I felt called, I tried to dismiss the idea as naive and misguided.  It was an unexpected call, inconvenient and yet utterly intrinsic; no matter how much I tried to deny it, that call returned over and over. Each time I felt it, I came up with some excuse as to why I couldn't answer quite yet. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. A spiritual mentor gave it to me straight- you have to take a step toward exploring this life before you can dismiss it. 

If this call was as crazy as I thought it was, I could take a step toward it and it would dissipate. So, I took a step. Now, six years (and many steps) later I find myself on the verge of making a preliminary vowed commitment, answering the call to love God and neighbor without distinction that I feel deep within me.    

The journey since that first step hasn't always been smooth. Lots of days I still think that parts of this call are a little crazy. So, why not give it up? Because I've come to realize that Love makes you do crazy things and that each one of us has a little something crazy in us; it's part of what makes us stand in awe of Mystery, what draws us into relationship with others, and what blesses us with grace when we open ourselves to the wonder, small and large, of the world around us. 

That is the call God places in each one of our hearts. The way we respond is in how we live our lives- with intention, with compassion, and with authenticity.  The results of such a response can be just as unexpected as the call. They can lead us to places we never imagined, to a life alive with possibility, and to a love of God that sustains and serves.


As John Donvan reflected at the end of our time together, "There may not be many of you [sisters], or not as many as there used to be, but there certainly are many ways to be you." That certainly is the truth. Each one of us is a sister in the way she is meant to be. We all are in the business of living the truth of our call, coming to understand that sometimes it is the unexpected calls that give us the opportunity to discover the One on the other end of the line. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Held Lightly

There is one word that pervades my vocabulary in recent days and weeks; it has become a catch-all for many things. It gives me comfort when everything else seems to make no sense and at the same time, it lies at the root of the discomfort I feel as it seems that everything is going wrong. It is the number one reply I give to people when they ask how I am doing and it is the thing that I most often forget when my head is spinning or I can't seem to figure out why my emotions or my being feel so out of place.  (I also guarantee, that it is the reason why I haven't updated the blog in recent weeks.)  What word could cause such a wide range of emotions? Such consternation? Such comfort and such confusion?

The answer is simple: Transition.

That is the state of life I find myself in these days. Two weeks ago, I plunged back into life in Philadelphia after nine months in Chicago and, to be honest, my head is spinning.  Not only do I find myself making the transition back into the life I have been away from- slowly making an effort to reconnect with friends near and far, taking the time to be with my family, and gently easing into connections with my sisters who want to hear about the experiences I have had- I also find myself trying to process the end of an experience that took me out of my comfort zone and put me in relationship with three other Sister of Saint Joseph novices in a communal novitiate program for the last year.

And as if that transition wasn't enough, I return to a landscape that is more different than I left it. First off, upon moving back East, I moved in with a new community (a convent new-to-me and sisters I did not necessarily know before two weeks ago).  I knew this was going to happen, but it doesn't make the transition any easier.  At Christmas, I packed up my things from the novitiate house I spent my first year of novitiate in into boxes, unsure of where those boxes were headed. Now, five months later those boxes and myself have landed in northeast Philly and are trying to find our place in the world.

In addition to a new living situation, I also return to a Congregation deeply immersed in the process of Chapter (see: the process by which we set our course as Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia for the next five years.) That alone is enough to make a new member's head spin, but on top of it, as the congregation sets its course, I am also in the process of setting my own course within the congregation.  In the last two weeks that has meant writing a letter requesting to make vows in this congregation and beginning the process of searching out and discerning full-time ministry options for after I (hopefully, God-willing) make my first vows.  In the weeks ahead this course setting will mean continuing that ministry search, meeting with our congregational president prior to being presented for vows, and the process of seeing if I will be approved to make first vows.

With all of that, I think it's honest enough to say I am in the full swing of transition.  The impact of such change ebbs and flows. Some days, I am absolutely sure I am and will be fine. Other days, I have my doubts.  And sometimes, those two types of days are one-in-the-same. Really, it depends on when you catch me and what exactly I'm pondering at that moment.

All in all, though, I have to say I am doing alright. My big accomplishment in the first week home was being able to locate where I had placed all my clothes in the drawers of my new dresser. Beyond that, many things seemed too monumental to be tackled.  The future looms large.  Yet despite the pressure (real or imagined) that transition can manifest within me, I am reminded of something I shared with my community in Chicago before we parted ways.

As the prospect of heading home loomed large, we all reflected on the lessons we had learned during our time together and the movements we felt called to as we moved forward.  The question at the heart of our discussion one night: What has the last nine months brought to birth in you? 

Sitting with that question, I knew there were many valid answers I could give. Many lessons had been learned; I had been stretched and grown and felt the call to continue that growth as I prepared to leave.  But as I opened my mouth and my heart to share, what came was the simple lesson of being held lightly.

Looking back on all that had taken place in my time in Chicago, I could clearly see that my time growing in community and growing in relationship with God had called me to hold things lightly...including myself.

I brought a lot of things with me to Chicago- ideas, presumptions, expectations, and the like.  The invitation that I received wasn't to  forget these things and/or let them go, but to hold them in such a way that they didn't get in the way of my growth.  I needed to know what I believed or wanted or desires or felt short changed by, but more importantly, I needed to be able to hold those things lightly enough that I could understand why I felt that way about them...why I believed or desired something... what lay behind those desires or disappointments... ultimately, who I am and how I am. To do that you can't just let go of things, you need to hold them. You need to look closely at them and at yourself. And you need to do all of that in the loving comfort and care of God.

As I shared this with the group, I recognized all the year had called me to hold lightly. I came to see how in time, after holding something, I would be invited to change it for the better and to grow in that process of change. It wasn't easy. But transition (the root of transformation, really) rarely is.

And as I shared this with the group, I realized that the invitation to move toward the future was right before me- as much as I must hold the lessons, experiences, ideas, and emotions I have had/ am having lightly, I must also allow my God to hold me lightly.

This isn't easy. It means not taking yourself too seriously and living in a manner that is vulnerable and humble enough to surrender to what you are being called to.

In transition, when all you really want is control, being held lightly removes the safety net of control and replaces it with one that is far less tangible and comforting. It is one that I am reminded of when I feel like I am falling. Then I remember that I need to be gentle with myself... I need to embrace the little accomplishments in my days... that I am held by the one who won't let me fall too far. The One who has led me thus far and who has held me lightly even as I have fought the Divine grip. This is the God who holds me lightly in love and gives me a firm foundation. And in doing so, creates the space and lets me live so that I might grow in the space I am transitioning into.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

On the Horizon...

The last few months have been thick with the work of novitiate. Now, I find myself nearing the end of my time in Chicago and headed back to Philadelphia in less than a month.  The time has flown.  It feels like just yesterday, I was returning from winter break and the day before yesterday, I was arriving in the Windy City for eight months of intensive study with three novices from congregations of Sisters of Saint Joseph from around the country.  This time has been blessed. It has given me perspective I didn't have before, has added to this two year process of discernment I am quickly coming to the end of, and has taught me object lessons that have affirmed the path I am on.

The last few months have also been marked by the dawning of new opportunities on the horizon. As I approach the possibility of making first vows in August, I am currently looking for and discerning ministry options. (If you want to know more about this... or have any leads, e-mail me.)  And still, my deep love of and passion for writing continues to make its way to the surface.  Back when I started this blog, I was a young woman who was leaving her job in New York City to pursue a year of service with a group of sisters in Philadelphia.  When I did that, I told myself and those around me that 1) for me, relationship was key, 2) story was/is the gateway into relationship, and 3) that being a writer meant that if I had a pen I could write anywhere and still pursue the deep call I felt to serve.

In the last four years, those points have rung true over and over again.  Staying true to myself and who I am called to be has led me to where I am today.  And, I believe, it is what will leads me forward as I pursue this call and discover where my gifts and passions meet the world's deep needs.  To this end, I have two pieces of news (and publication) I'd like to share with you all:

1) I'll have a piece in the May 2, 2014 issue of Commonweal entitled "Living Witness."  The article, a Last Word feature that I wrote during the first few months of my novitiate, tells the story of when I first came to visit Philadelphia as an inquirer, my fears and hesitations, and what the future of religious life is calling forth from me and us as women religious. 

2)  I'll be taking part in an exciting new project from the National Catholic Reporter.  Earlier this year, I was asked to become a columnist for the Global Sisters Report (GSR). The GSR is a project funded by a grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation that will work over the next three years to disseminate news and information about Catholic sisters and seek to foster the voices of women religious through "commentary from their perspective."  To this end, I will be writing on a monthly basis as a part of the Horizons column, offering my voice in union with other younger sisters.  The GSR website launched this week and my debut column, entitled "Party of One", will be the inaugural voice of Horizons.

Happy reading as you enjoy these wanderings in Commonweal and the Global Sisters Report! It is a blessing and a privilege for me to be able to share this journey with you all. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy having the opportunity to write and offer my thoughts.  

Easter blessings as we emerge from the darkness of Holy Week. May we face the light of new life with eyes and hearts open and overflowing, with hope and joy abundant, in all that we do and we are. Amen. Alleluia.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week: Receiving in the Darkness

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Those words rang out like a discordant chime from the pew behind me tonight at Mass. They made me pause as I heard them. Their familiarity is ingrained in me and for a moment, as I continued to say the words of the new Missal that I have been taught over the last two years, they made me consider that perhaps I was saying the wrong thing.  Of course, I wasn't, but hearing words spoken so confidently, from a sort of spiritual muscle memory, made my ears and heart perk up.

For the clash of liturgical norms that they stirred up within me, these words seem to fit at the beginning of this Holy Week.  Maybe, as this week begins, that's exactly what I need to be saying. Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I will be healed.  

I stand at the threshold of this the holiest of weeks on the Christian calendar and I know that Jesus is coming. I watch as he mounts a donkey and parades into Jerusalem. Entering triumphantly on the back of an utterly ordinary creature, Christ comes into this final week of life inviting us into the extraordinary mystery of his life, death, and resurrection. His disciples may not have known it then, but we do now: this march triumphant and jubilant is also the beginning of the end. It is a procession toward the cross.

And so, as this week begins, I am struck by the way, even though the light of Easter is right around the corner, darkness rushes in.

As I watch Jesus ride past me into this week, I can only utter to myself... Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.   

I went to a late Mass tonight in celebration of Palm Sunday.  There is something intimate about the 8PM Mass I have found here in Chicago at Old St. Patrick's Church. The intricate Celtic designs of the church are somehow subdued by the night lighting; the crowds that fill the pews Sunday morning are slightly thinned, allowing for the feeling of being a part of a community of faith while also granting you a little space to yourself in the pew; and the beautiful stained glass windows normally illuminated in the daylight give way by nightfall to a lighting design that is cozy and calming, welcoming worshipers and inviting deep reflection.  And then, there is the music.  Let's just say it fits all that I've mentioned above- soft, reflective, enchanting, and serene- and so much more.

As Mass ended tonight, I could feel the darkness closing in. With a simple piano and violin accompaniment, we sang "Were You There." I had used John Angotti's version of the song for community prayer this afternoon, drawing off of Pope Francis' impromptu words today about entering into Holy Week and, in so doing, entering into the story of faith, the story of the Passion that we encounter these holy days.

We must ask "Who am I?" says Francis. Who am I in this story? What part do I play? and, most importantly, "Where is my heart?"

That is a question for all of us to ask.  As the words of the song rang out in the Church, something deeper came.  The song gave me goosebumps. I could feel the trembling within me, the "Oh" resonating from a depth created by pain, wisdom, experience, and grace, rooted in faith and self and yet beyond my very self all the same.

I closed my eyes as I sang and each time I opened my eyes, it was a little darker in the church... as if with each word the light was being drained from the sanctuary of Old St. Pat's.  By the end of the song, the light in the church was a dim glow. I felt depth within and the brief applause for the music ministry that broke the silence felt dreadfully out of place.

The darkness had come... the darkness of this holiest of weeks.

This is a time of reflection.  A time, the presiding priest reminded us, to listen for responses from God; to hear what God is trying to say to us at this very special, very sacred time.  Pope Francis' words echo is my ears, "Where is my heart?"  That question is a call. The call to be with Jesus this week, to be in the Passion- living, loved, forgiven, given, beloved.

There is much to be attentive to and so let us pray that we can be... attentive to God, to the deep call within, to the words that echo in our ears, and to the presence that is crying out to us.  May we be open to receiving Christ these days, no matter how difficult that may be. To hear God's words, to know God's love, to feel and encounter our God, and to allow ourselves, in the midst of darkness, to move toward all that is offered to us by the Light.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Days Away

There are some days that are more difficult to be in Chicago than others. At first, I think I thought that those days would be major holidays like Thanksgiving or Easter. And while those days are hard, they're also the days that draw our novitiate group together as a community. You hear about what each person's family does for the holidays, what foods they cook, what traditions they hold dear, how they celebrate, and then you get the chance to do those things together.

Sometimes each person bring an aspect of their life back home to the table, other times we get the chance to make the holiday our own, in the way only a group of people who will be living together for a year can.  At Thanksgiving, it meant swapping recipes. At Easter, it'll mean joining in the Paschal Mystery in a way that draws us together free of "the way things always are" and free to create lasting memories by simply being together.  Yes, I miss my family and my congregation on these major holidays, but those days aren't the hardest.  Feast days are.

Yesterday as I celebrated St. Joseph's Day with the community here in Chicago, I gave thanks for where I am and the many blessings I have in my life. I spent time with Joseph in prayer, had dinner with our sisters in LaGrange, and enjoyed a lovely prayer service. But it wasn't the same as being home.  As we pulled up to the LaGrange Center of the Congregation of St. Joseph, I knew my sisters in Philadelphia were together celebrating Mass for this holy day. No doubt, there was music by our sisters, a reflection from one of our own, and time to meet and greet sisters from near and far.  For the last three years this is how I have spent my October 15th (Founders' Day) and March 19th.  Really, that is the only way I've ever celebrated those days.

Lot of days can be difficult but it's the days that I've only ever shared in community that are some of the hardest. They are the days you can't compromise; each one of us can't do what we do "back home" because of the simple fact that we're not at home. It's the people who help make the day; the Spirit that courses through the congregation; the being together as we are, doing what we do, that make these celebrations so great.

As I sat in the chapel at LaGrange yesterday, in the midst of beautiful music and a lovely prayer service, I knew something wasn't quite right.  My heart was in two places at once- present to my sisters here in Chicago, who I share my life with day in and day out, and in the hearts of the sisters I miss back home in Philadelphia.  Unfortunately, you can't be in two places at once. Yet, I know I'm where I'm supposed to be and in that, Joseph is with me.

This man, who left what he knew and what society said was right to do, found himself on a journey of love that led him to (and with) God. Joseph trusted God. He listened and followed.  As I reflected, I thought of the way Joseph is often pictured: holding Jesus.  This is what God led Joseph to...to God's very self.

Trust the One who has led you to here. Those words echoed in my ears as I prayed yesterday.

No matter the stress on the journey, we must trust. I trust that I am being led on this path by the One who holds me close in love. This is the God I am growing closer to and who is revealing more and more to me each day. Like Joseph, I am where I am meant to be and even though I may face days away I know that my heart is in the right place. A place where I can be at home even when I am away; a place that journeys with me in my heart, where I am held in the loving heart of God, asked only to trust and follow, forever at home no matter the distance.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Obedience

Sometimes prayers come out as poems.  As I make my way through my Federation Novitiate experience, I am finding that more and more poetry speaks to the deep movement within me. As a wise woman once told me, "Poetry's power is in capturing feelings. It is a mode of telling our self how we feel." And so, in this way, prayer and poetry fit perfectly together.  Poems become a mode of expressing emotion to God and discovering it anew for ourselves.  The following poems come from a two day class on the vow of obedience. May they speak to your heart & open you to the prayer already deep inside of you...
___________________

Stop.
Listen.
In the stillness
in the war torn shallows
of your heart
and hear.

Hear the whisper
that cries out
from the very cracks within
your bones,
“Be True.”
and the Truth will set you free.

Free to be bound up together
in our brokenness
to speak to the One who knows
all too well
and to learn, as if for the first time
that nothing
-not even ourselves-
can separate us from the Love of God.

___________________

Loving God, pause within me.
Long enough that I might see you there
and recognize your presence.

Pause if only for eternity and hold me still.
That I might be given to you,

All my desires,
            fears,
            faults,
            and blindness,
all that I am. Let me pause with you.

That I might be given to you
and as you move on,
I might follow you

to the ends of the Earth.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Story of God

"Tell me the story of God" she said, looking me square in the eyes. 

This wasn't a challenge or a test, it was a simple request.  She wanted to hear the story of God and I was the one she was asking.

Looking at the hand-carved nativity set before me, I figured I had better oblige.  This set is a constant presence in Room 105. Unlike the nativity set of my youth that appeared at the beginning of Advent and then disappear in a flurry of tissue paper right around the time that the glass balls from our Christmas tree went into hibernation, the nativity set in the Montessori classroom I minister in one day a week as a novice is a mainstay.  Its tiny figures are just the right size for little hands to play with and they occupy their own space in the classroom, complete with a place mat "stage," where they must stay put. Looking down upon the play space is a smiling picture of Pope Francis that hangs overhead.

I had knelt down to see what Laurel was doing with the set, hoping that I might be able to just observe. Laurel is about five years old; she has an active imagination and loves to play.  This coupled with the fact that she was a latecomer to the class meaning that while she is social, she isn't bound to any particular group of peers.  In the few weeks I've worked with Laurel I've been challenged to use my imagination more and more, to let down my guard and pretend a little bit. 

Often times when I ask Laurel what work she'd like to do, she proposes a game- be it "fish match tag", "name tag motor boat", or some other whimsically crafted pass time.  Sometimes we do play and other times we don't. I love watching Laurel's eyes when she realizes that this adult sitting next to her will actually play; the sparkle in that moment is a mix of delight, mischief, and sheer pleasure.  At first, I think she thought I was suspect, but over time I've received many a bowl of imaginary food and felt myself moved to see what truly letting go can bring about in an educational setting.

Today was one of those days.  When Laurel asked me to tell her the story of God, I knew what she was getting at but still the phrasing caught me off guard.  My novice mind fluttered- the story of God? Oh, if only I could and if only you knew what you were asking!

Quickly, we gathered all the players: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, a shepherd, and a handful of barnyard animals.  The story began with the Annunciation and Joseph's dream. A silhouette cruciform (a la Rio's Christ the Savior) stood in as the angel. Laurel stopped me there. "You know that's a cross" she stated plainly. Yes, I knew that but I needed an angel and so the somewhat amorphous form would have to do.  Laurel acquiesced, getting my reasoning and so we carried on.

 From the foreshadowing of Jesus' birth, we moved to the actual story of searching for a room in Bethlehem during the census. A little boy in the crowd that had now gathered around the play space kept on trying to jump to the Jesus part, inserting the manger and baby into the center of the place mat over and over again.  Once Mary and Joseph had finally settled in, we got to that part and then the shepherds, followed by the three kings and the star.  The kids hung onto every word, even the stuff they didn't quite understand.  "What is gold?" I asked and to which I was met with blank stares.  

Finally a little girl piped up, "Like the gold star you get for good work." 

"Exactly." I replied.

Then the Holy Family headed off to Egypt because Joseph had promised to keep the family safe.  They were a very good family I explained to the group.  They listened to God and helped one another. And, into all of that Jesus was born and he was human just like us and he was also God, sent to be among us.  They knew this. The story was a story about love we concluded- a family's love and God's love. Everyone seemed satisfied with this story of God.

"What was your favorite part of the story?" I asked Laurel when we were finished. 

"I liked the part where they couldn't find a room" she gleefully responded.

As I asked why this was her favorite part, we talked about what Joseph must have felt in that situation and what it means to make room for God. Of course, this had been her favorite part though- this was the part of the story where I let the kids be the people on the other side of the door.  

The little couple would walk up to them, knock on the door, and ask if they had any room. Each child would open an imaginary door and emphatically respond "No!” swinging the imaginary door they'd just opened shut.  When we got to Laurel it was difficult to convince her she had to say yes to letting them use her stable or the story wouldn't continue.  With this understanding, she allowed it.  If you want the story of God after all, you have to let God in.


Rearranging the pieces of the set, Laurel turned to me with another pressing question: "Can we play hotel with them now?"  I smiled. "Not right now" I said, there was other work to be done. I literally had beans to count with children and other understandings about the concept of numbers to explore on a 1,000 bead chain.  Our religion lesson had taken place in the midst of the story, complete with voices, actions, wooden figures, and handmade stars. I can hope the kids took something from it all, and even if not the whole nativity story- at least a piece of the story of God. A story filled with delight, joy, mystery, and the littlest amount of imagination... that is, of letting go...a story full of what we might call faith.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Principled Beauty

The following entry appeared originally on Live Questions.  Never heard of it?  It's a project started by some friends of mine that looks at questions of vocation, community, solidarity, and beauty. It is an outstanding project that I couldn't be happier to be able to contribute to from time to time.


“Kansas is an attitude” our instructor remarked with a wry smile on her face.  These were the first words out of her mouth… and they were true.

Kansas is an attitude. There’s no way around it. Kansas in the middle of January, however, is an extreme expression of that attitude. I and four other novices had come to Kansas to explore our congregational roots. Our instructor was a sister in her seventies; a woman born of the prairie, stubbornly independent, stunningly simple, and simply brilliant. Suffice it to say we met that attitude head on.

The lessons we had come to learn were on vocation, but surprisingly lessons on beauty came hand-in-hand with those about our call as religious sisters today, tomorrow, and yesterday. 

Kansas in January is desolate. The fields of wheat, milo, and corn that tantalize the American imagination with shades of gold are cut down to the ground. In their place are vast expanses of barrenness, the common vision of heartland mowed down.  It is a land recuperating, silently fostering the signs of life for spring. 




I and four other sisters were there to explore 100 maxims from seventeenth century France.  Written by the Jesuit who helped found our religious congregation, these maxims are guides for life; whether you are a religious or not, they are principles to live by.

Some make common sense: “Strive to be kind always to everyone and unkind to no one.” (Maxim 64) “Never think about tomorrow unless it has some necessary link with today, but entrust it to Providence.” (Maxim 69) or “Live out your life with one desire only: to be always what God wants you to be, in nature, grace, and glory.” (Maxim 73)

Others challenge our modern sensibilities and defy human nature: “Give all the happiness you can to those who give you a great deal of unhappiness, and give it willingly.” (Maxim 51) “Interpret all things from the best possible point of view” (Maxim 52) or “Advance all good works until they are almost finished; and then, whenever possible, let them be completed by someone else who will receive the honor.” (Maxim 85)

But the maxim we started with, Maxim 1, is the maxim that the ninety-nine proceeding maxims seek to elaborate on:

“Keep always in mind the aim of your vocation which is sublime; and never do anything which contradicts the commitment to a life full of modesty, gentleness, and holiness.” 
-Maxim 1-

 You can take this to mean anything you want, but for me, the aim of my vocation is union with God and neighbor without distinction.

This is the vocation I feel called to and it is the aim of the Christian life in general. Yet, as we moved our way deeper into this maxim, something struck me about the manner of achieving that aim.  It was hidden in the translation.

Modestie and douceur are most commonly translated from French literally as modesty and gentleness. But really, in practical terms, our call as Christians isn’t to a hackneyed expression of modesty and gentleness- you know, covering up and remaining docile. In all actuality, though, those words are much deeper. Respectively they mean a call to an awareness that is prudent, i.e. constantly discerning, (modestie) and a manner of being in touch with and seeking beauty (douceur). In older translations, the word douceur was taken to mean gentleness, but its true meaning (literally “sweetness”) is more akin to beauty.

And so, with this in mind, the second half of this key maxim essentially says:

Always keep in mind the aim of you life and…do nothing that contradicts the commitment you make to living a life that is constantly discerning, seeking beauty, and bound by holiness.

There, wedged in between the call to be constantly discerning and ever in pursuit of wholeness/holiness, was Beauty- douceur.

This beauty though isn’t just happiness and loveliness. No, it is something much more principled.

Such beauty, the Beauty in pursuit of union with God and with neighbor without distinction, has four characteristics:  order, symmetry, harmony, and right relationship.

Looking up at the same sister who’d told us that Kansas was an attitude, I stared quizzically, my aesthetic mind reeling.  These were principles of beauty I had not encountered before. As I played various “beautiful” scenarios through my head, my mind and heart whirled. I had never considered beauty this way.  In essence, as I seriously considered this definition, the drive of my vocation hung in the balance.

Could the beauty I cherish in the world, in fact, be a function of my vocation? I wondered.

Is what we find beautiful defined by the presence of these characteristics at the very core of its being?

Harmony, order, symmetry, and right relationship flooded my mind. Not only do these lie at the heart of the Gospel, they also speak to the sometimes indescribable and yet principled beauty of our world. 

Surely even grace operates within this basic framework; liberated not tamed by these broad categories. The harmony, symmetry, and order of life (and beauty) are God’s not ours. The right relationships we are called to flow out of our right relationship with our Creator.

And as I considered all of this- my life, my call, this world- I also drew into mind the principled beauty I encountered on the wind-swept plains of northern Kansas. There, even in desolation, poverty, and expansiveness, there was Beauty. It was a beauty bound up in harmony, symmetry, order, and right relationship.

It is what I considered as I tried to capture the principled beauty of the area on film and it is what I delved into as I plunged the depths of my being in a place stripped of all else. And what did I find?

I found a beauty given and graced. It is an attitude. And it is something that goes far beyond the Plains into the depths of our very being- the aims of our vocations- the principles of our lives.


And in that, there is something beautiful just waiting to be discovered.