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.