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.