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]

1 comment:

  1. Colleen,

    I had a group of high school students living serving with us this weekend in inner city Rochester. Some went to Bethany House a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality sheltering homeless women and their children and Mary’s Place, an outreach to refugees and their families.

    Most of these students come from affluent suburbs except one; Victoria is a graduate from the Nativity School on our campus. When I asked the group, “Why did you say yes to coming here this weekend?” she said, “because this is my community and I love it!” Victoria gave a reality no talking on my part could ever offer, she made it real and she saw with the sight of a visionary, much like your friend from Kensington. Oh to see how God sees…

    Thank you for your reflection!
    ~Donna Del Santo SSJ

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