Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The God of Brokenness

Oh to be tangled up in God
who like a sling
holds us in our brokenness
that we might mend
through time and tenderness
the sweet remedy of mercy
And our soul
in silent stillness waits
not to be freed
but to be more deeply
enmeshed
So that no amount of force
or fear
might separate us
from the God of brokenness
who in the flesh
-in our flesh-
finds rest and reigns over
a kingdom coming
quite unexpectedly.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Be Here.

Be Here.

Perhaps that is the best prayer to begin this first week of Advent. It is a prayer for myself, for God, for all of us.

This is a season of waiting. We wait for something we've already experienced: a moment of revelation... of Incarnation. And because we, in some sense, know for what we are waiting... the One we are waiting for...we wait in hope.

Not hope that it will be the same, but that things will change. Hope that Love will come down and dwell among us.  This is the beginning and the end all wrapped up into one.

And all I can do in its midst is pray that I may be here. Open. Attentive. Receptive.  Ready.

Ready for the one who is already here, but to whom I still pray to "be here." To be here so I might recognize. To be here, so that I might perceive the presence. To be here as I AM always is.  It is a prayer of and for constancy. A prayer that God might not leave in the midst of all else.

Be here, my love. Be here with faith and hope that brings forth joy and love. Be here and recognize that nothing else really matters. Be here now. In the darkness be light. In the silence be whispered.In the stillness stir deeply. Be still and know. Be here and pray. Just be and find all that awaits.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The World Wide Web

In a world that seems to be divided on every issue imaginable, it's tough to believe that connection is still possible. How do I relate to someone I've never met or care for a situation I can't even conceive of??  It's not easy, that's for sure.

This week I found myself reflecting on just that topic tough & for your reading pleasure I offer my latest piece from the Global Sisters Report from the National Catholic Reporter: "Creating a true worldwide web of solidarity and action"
__________________
Monday night half of my friends showed up in the same place.

As I scrolled down my newsfeed on Facebook, I paused as one friend after another "checked-in" from Cannon Ball, North Dakota. That is, they declared their presence at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which is currently embroiled in protests around the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Of course, they weren't there, but with rumors circulating that geo-locating yourself there — even virtually — would help those protesting, people of good will tried to make an effort. "I'm there." One friend wrote, while another chimed in, "Standing in solidarity with the Sioux people of Standing Rock, North Dakota as they resist the oil pipeline."

It's hard to tell if these messages of support made a real difference or helped to protect those on the ground, but, at least on one level, the effort of this mass assembly at Standing Rock brought the struggle on the ground into the consciousness of the larger community of friends and families around the world.

For that moment, thousands joined those in the fields of North Dakota in love and support and the World Wide Web was much bigger than a site. It was the recognition that, in fact, we are all one — interwoven in a web of relationship around the world.

Each one of my friends was there . . . but they also weren't.

That's part of the dichotomy of social media. A click of a button puts up a post without contributing any money towards the cause or soliciting political action. And just as easy as that click of the button, I could scroll down the page to find another post that would be more pleasing to my conscience, something to meet my momentary sensibilities and soothe my soul.

So, what does it mean to be truly connected in this day and age?

For one, it means being a part of a much more realistic worldwide web than the one on my phone or computer screen. It means connecting with real people and recognizing that those connections have implications and expectations.

We were made to be in relationship with one another. From the very beginning, each one of us was born into a web of relationships. Over time, we grow in these relationships and with each new person we meet, our webs become intertwined. There's no helping it. The true task of our living, though, is to recognize the nature of this entanglement.

For every action I undertake, every word I speak, every person or situation I engage, I pull on the strings of my web. Thus, when I am lifted up those I am bound to by relationship are lifted up too. Or when I try to sever a relationship, the change in tension in the web impacts all the other bonds I sustain.

It can be easy to forget these connections in the everyday, to try to fend for ourselves. Such thinking, however, is a false perception. The way I act or choose to live my life will impact others whether I realize it or not. The attitude I project into the world will rub off on others. The clothes or the food I buy are bound up in other people's lives and livelihoods. The choices I make for balanced or healthy living have implications near and far.

We are all members of a worldwide web, and our membership in this global system makes us responsible to and for the entirety of the system. We are not alone; we are all one.

Framing our connection in such a way draws us not only into the hearts of one another, but ultimately it leads us into the heart of God. This is the One who stands with us. Bound by humanity, Christ knows the perils and pitfalls of the web of relationships we belong to.These are not easy connections; they cost something, and yet, they form us in our being present to them. They call us to a consciousness of others so that in the web of such relationships we might find God.

All of this doesn't mean foreswearing the internet though. It means embracing the World Wide Web as a piece of the larger web of human relationships. If we let it, the internet and particularly social media have the power to expand our world.

With intentionality, we can become citizens of the world, connected to news breaking around the globe and engaged in the lives and times of people beyond our normal web of connection. Taking such a step requires purposeful engagement. It means stepping beyond the atmosphere of distraction so prevalent in the digital age to engage a world of relationship present both in-person and online.

As Christians we need to be in both of these places. One is not better than the other; they are simply different ways of connecting and communicating. Interactions, both online and in person, require compassion, presence, and active involvement. You can't forget the person on the other end and, in turn, the call to action spurred on by human relationship in a world that is constantly connected.

If you can see the world this way, it levels the playing field. A world that seems vast and divided is actually strung together quite tightly. It is a world in which all that I do and all that I am influences the world around me. I am connected in ways I can't even imagine, to people I may not even know. Yet we are sisters and brothers.


As we stand on the precipice of a presidential election, it's helpful to remember that…Continue Reading Here

Friday, October 7, 2016

Faithful Citizenship

With the election cycle in full gear, it seems fitting that I would share my latest reflection from the Global Sisters Report, an article entitled "Fitbits & Family Ties: the baptismal call to faithful citizenship."  May it meet you where you are and invite you more deeply into the call to live a life of mercy, love, and engagement.
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It's hard to believe that after months of campaign ads, primary battles, debates, and commentary, Election Day is still a month away. Each day brings with it a new batch of headlines, claims of he said this, and she did that. At the end of the day, it can be exhausting. And yet, with 31 days until November 8, we are each called to consider this election cycle in terms of what it means to answer the baptismal call as a citizen and person of faith.
This year, in celebration of my 30th birthday, my parents gave me two presents. They are presents that have stuck with me.
The first, quite literally, has stayed on me since May. It is a Fitbit. This little band on my wrist, a fitness tracker, has taken the place of my watch and has counted the number of steps I take each day. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd like it, but now I barely notice that it is there, save for the little reminders it gives me to get up and move during the day and the way it gleefully buzzes if/when I reach 10,000 steps for the day.
The second gift was more of a surprise. It was a letter containing a story I had never really heard — the story of my birth. In it my parents bantered back and forth on the page about what was important to include. My mother made a point of saying I'd taken my time coming out. My father recounted how, because of that, he was able to leave in the middle of the long slow labor to go to a retirement luncheon for my grandfather. I laughed and I cried as I read the story. These were things I'd never known. But even more so, there was such love in their words that I couldn't help but give thanks that I'd been born to these people. Their letter affirmed a part of who I am and poured forth the love parents have for their children.
But what do a Fitbit and a sentimental letter have to do with baptismal call or this year's election?
These gifts give us a good framework for considering the baptismal call that we live out each day. This call traces itself all the way back to Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. For all the differing accounts of Jesus' life and ministry in the four Gospels, the baptism of Jesus distinctly appears in each one without exception. This is where Jesus' ministry begins. To put that in Fitbit terms, that's step one on the journey. For everything that will follow, this moment marks the beginning of the rest of Jesus' life, a life that embodies the call to live in and with God, growing daily and encountering the Divine in every aspect of life.
And what is it that Jesus hears as he emerges from the waters of baptism? "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."
Before any miracles or healings, before any temptations in the desert and before any disciples began to gather, before any parables or teachings, there is only Love. God declares right then and there, before Jesus has done anything, that he is God's beloved. And God does the same for us.
The majority of us don't remember our baptism. We were infants and the call we answered was not of our own accord. The people who answered by bringing us to the life giving waters of baptism believed. In their love for us, they wanted us to have the gift of that belief, too.
I imagine God smiled on each one of us that day, no matter our age or the circumstances, and said "This is my beloved child: I love you and you are mine."
And from there, we — like Jesus — stepped out into the world. As with my Fitbit, some days are better than others. There are nights, I find myself walking up and down the block to get the last few steps to 10,000 in before day's end. Yet, no matter the day, in our lives of faith the call of our baptism echoes over and over. Our goal is to strive towards the goodness God sees in us and to share the graces we have been blessed with. This requires attentiveness to our relationship with God and our relationships with others. That's a challenge that requires action beyond steps. We must be active in sharing the love of God, remaining faithful to the challenge of the Gospel in our lives: to be more loving, more merciful, and more engaged.
Nowhere is this truer than in our role as faithful citizens. The Gospel doesn't promise to win us friends or make us rich. It seeks what is right, standing on the side of the forgotten and proclaiming that the Good News begins in the heart of Love. At the Transfiguration, Jesus would be reminded of his "beloved"-ness. Perhaps this is what he needed to go back down the mountain to pursue the Truth that would ultimately land him on the cross.
That too is part of our baptismal call: to stand for justice and to seek God's will in the workings of the world. That will is bigger than our own. It requires a consciousness not only of my security and comfort but also that of the common good.
At the end of the day, I wonder if I am healthier for having a Fitbit. The answer: maybe. But I can tell you I am more health conscious because I have this little tracker on my wrist. The same can be asked of our baptism: Are we as a country and communities healthier for me having lived my faith today? Have my actions been attentive to God's will and call? Did I strive to bring God into the everyday actions and being of my life?
Each day we will answer these questions differently. The hope is that over the span of many days we might be able to answer more affirmatively than not and, in the process, ultimately discover the transformative effects of our faith lived out.
Part of those transformative effects can be seen in our children. My parents wrote to me "You never know how a child will affect the way a family works." Yet, having another child simply expanded their capacity to love.
If we could see each person as an individual inviting us to a greater love, how might our world change? Rather than turning against one another, we might see that my future is inherently tied to yours. This is part of what we say yes to in our baptism, consciously and unconsciously. It is the gift and challenge of the faith we've received. Each day is a chance to better live those promises made long ago, to renew our baptismal call.
As we look towards Election Day, we are again invited to consider that baptismal call.
There are no perfect candidates, just as there are no perfect people... Continue Reading Here.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fitbits, Family Ties, & Sacrament Forums

Tomorrow I'll be posting a excerpt from my latest Global Sisters Report column, which deals with our baptismal call as it relates to being a faithful citizen. The metaphors and examples used in that article, though, have been doing double duty this week. On Tuesday, I offered a reflection to a group of parents whose children will be making their first Communion or Confirmation this year. My remarks focused on what it means to live your Baptismal call especially in regards to the everyday life of a parent. I offer those remarks here for your reflection and hope they shed light today, in their original context, as much as they will offer tomorrow in a more general sense.

This year, for my thirtieth birthday, I got two birthday presents from my parents. They are presents that have stuck with me.

The first, quite literally, has stayed on me since May. It is a Fitbit. This little band on my wrist has taken the place of my watch and has been tracking the number of steps I take each day.  At first, I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, but now I barely notice that it is there, save for the little reminders it gives me to get up and move during the day and the way it gleefully buzzes when I reach ten thousand steps for the day.

The second gift was more of a surprise. It was a letter containing a story I had never really heard… the story of my birth.  In it my parents bantered back and forth on the page about what was important to include.  My mother made a point of saying I’d taken my time coming out. While my father recounted how, because of that, he left in the middle of the day to go to a retirement luncheon for my grandfather.  I laughed and I cried as I read the story. These were things I’d never known but even more so, there was such love in their words that I couldn’t help but give thanks that I’d been born to these people.  Their letter affirmed a part of who I am and poured forth the love parents have for their children.

So, why am I telling you this? What do a Fitbit and a sentimental, biographical letter have to do with the Sacraments or Baptism or anything we’re discussing this evening?

I think that in a way, these gifts give us a good framework for considering the Baptismal call that we live out each day. This call traces itself all the way back to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, of which we heard Matthew’s account proclaimed tonight. 

For all the differing accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry in the four Gospels, the Baptism of Jesus distinctly appears in each one without exception.  This is where Jesus’ ministry begins. To put that in Fitbit terms, that’s step one on the journey.  For everything that will follow, this moment marks the beginning of the rest of his life… a life lived in and with God, growing daily and spreading to all those he encountered. 

And what is it that he hears as he emerges from the waters of Baptism? “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Before any miracles or healings, any temptations in the desert or before any disciples began to gather, before any parables or teachings, there is only Love.  God declares right then and there… before Jesus has done anything… that he is God’s beloved.  And God does the same for us. 

For the majority of us, we can’t remember our baptism. The call we answered was not of our own accord. But still the people who brought us to these life giving waters believed… and in their love for us, they wanted us to have the gift of that belief, too.  And, I imagine, God smiled on each one of us that day, no matter the circumstances, and said this is my beloved child:  I love you and you are mine.

And from there, we- like Jesus- stepped out into the world.  As with my Fitbit, some days are better than others.  There are nights, I find myself walking up and down the block to get the last few steps to ten thousand in before day’s end. Yet, no matter the day, in our lives of faith the call of our baptism echoes over and over.  Our goal is to strive towards the goodness God sees in us and to share the graces we have been blessed with. This requires attentiveness to our relationship with God and our relationships with others. That’s a challenge that requires action beyond steps. We must be active in sharing the love of God, remaining faithful to the challenge of the Gospel in our lives- to be more loving, more merciful, and more engaged.        

At the end of the day, you might ask Am I healthier for having a Fitbit? Maybe. But I can tell you I am more conscious because I have this little tracker on my wrist.  The same can be asked of our baptism: Am I healthier for having lived my faith today? Have I been attentive to God in my midst and did I strive to bring God into the everyday actions and being of my life?

Each day we will answer these questions differently; but the hope is that over the span of many days we might be able to answer more affirmatively than not and ultimately, in the process, we will discover the transformative effects of faith lived out.

Part of those transformative effects can be seen in our children.  As parents and guardians, you bear the responsibility of nurturing the faith of your children. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. “You never know how a child will affect the way a family works.” My parents wrote to me this year. Yet, having another child simply expanded their capacity to love. 

As their letter filled in the blanks of my birth story, I realized that the big details were never a mystery. I may not have known how exactly I came into the world, but I already knew the faith, hope, and love they instilled in me by example.  That’s the gift and challenge you’ve been given as parents and are called to continue to give.  Even before your child could say “Amen” you said it for them. You made the same promises that your own parents, mentors, and god parents made for you… each day is a chance to better live those promises, to renew your baptismal call.

In a few moments, Fr. Bob will invite you to formally recall and renew those promises responding with the words “I do.”  As you do that, I hope you’ll think of those people who said “I do” for you and you’ll be aware that your response is not just for you, it is an example to your child too. As you travel the journey of this special year with your child, I hope you’ll remember the deep love from which you were called and recognize it is the same deep love to which you’ve been given.    

Let the Spirit live in you… The same Spirit that came down at Jesus’ Baptism. And take each step knowing you are beloved: called by name, gifted by Grace, and sent out to transform the world by affirming those promises each day with your life.

Monday, August 22, 2016

"An Experiment in Hope"

In my last post, I alluded to the article it connects to, a reflection entitled "An Experiment in Hope" in the Global Sisters Report, that was published last Friday as part of the Horizons column.  Below is an excerpt and link. May it offer insight into the reality of the future and how seeking a new horizon is as much about changing position as it is about gaining new insight. 

Demographic collapse is tough ground to build a case for hope on. Yet, that's exactly where Marcia Allen, CSJ, began her presidential address, entitled "Transformation – An Experiment in Hope," to the Assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) last week.

She didn't talk about diminishment or downsizing, as women religious are apt to do. She didn't sugarcoat the facts or put on rose-colored glasses. No, she stood as a leader of the largest association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States and spoke the truth: Membership is collapsing.

"Our members are virtually evaporating!" Allen declared as she provided the statistics to support such a claim. What once served the leaders of 150,000 to 181,000 members will by 2025 serve the leadership of fewer than 29,000 sisters.

I can't imagine anyone in the room was shocked, but, as I read and reread Allen's remarks later, I was struck by the clarity and realism with which she spoke and wrote. What might at first seem tragic, struck me instead as awe-inspiring. This was real — and when we face reality, whether it is in ourselves or in the systems we are a part of, there is potential for growth. If demographic collapse was being so frankly discussed on a public stage, there might be hope. After all, the topic at hand was transformation, not desolation.

I have often said that as a young woman, I came to religious life knowing full well the reality of religious life. To the extent that I could, that is true. Yet, as with all things that we come to as an outsider, I could only know so much. At times, the reality of collapse is starker than I ever realized and in certain moments, it is actualized in ways I never would have imagined. In time, I've come to grapple with it more fully and to understand what exactly it means for me and the women I call sisters. Some days it spurs hope, other days it brings gratitude, and on even more days it causes me to wonder if change is possible.

The amalgamation of these thoughts and emotions is what Marcia Allen's poignant words struck on in me. And in her upfront naming of reality, I recognized that this, in fact, is the reality we need to move beyond.

Our task now is not to develop a new way of seeing the old. We're not meant to rearrange what we have, to make a new plan or to remodel what has been. The task at hand is to allow for a totally new view ― to recognize a new horizon.

The only way to see a new horizon, though, is to change where you are standing. Like falling asleep on a road trip, we awake to find that the cityscape we once saw has given way to fields of green and a flat horizon. Perhaps that is the way it is with hope and the transformation of religious life, too. For so many years, we've told ourselves numbers will increase and change will come. The change, though, has come in a different way, not in the form of new and abundant vocations, but in the inevitable impact of time. As we have waited and worked in hope, collapse has taken its toll.

So much has already changed, but still, no matter our numbers, we choose from where we see, and we have the opportunity to take in a new horizon. To see, as Allen puts it, "a whole horizon of possibility, a landscape filled with potential and unlimited opportunities." We cannot just sustain what was, we must develop questions that move us beyond now, meeting the needs of the future.

Reaching that new horizon, however, requires shifting our stance. It means approaching religious life in new ways, deconstructing systems, and gambling on the essence of our foundations. This isn't easy. No one ever said it would be.

In futility and desperation, we might shout out: "Tell me where to stand!" No one can, though. Like the Israelites in the desert, we wander. Taking in our surroundings and our reality, we keep our eyes on the horizon, bracing ourselves for what is to come. We remember too, that God works in the darkness. The wind blows through the night to part the Red Sea; in darkness, the Spirit hovers above the waters of Creation to bring forth life.

As a newer member in religious life, this wandering can be tiring but it is also formative. Just as Marcia Allen says that transformation is an experiment in hope, so is religious life today. It is an experiment that we take part in — that we give our whole selves to. In faith that leads to hope, we traverse the landscape...Continue reading the rest here. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Poem: "The Power was Never Yours to Begin With"

Tomorrow my latest column will come out on the Global Sisters Report. The piece is a reflection on Marcia Allen, CSJ's Presidential Address at last week's LCWR Assembly. In the course of writing it, the following poem emerged within me. I originally thought it would close the piece but in the end, it turned out to be a part of the creative process instead.  Hopefully, it shares its own light and will shed light on what is published tomorrow. 

The Power was Never Yours to Begin With

You will feel like you have died
and you have
because there's no room for you
that's the only way
the future can come
by your letting go

be put in the tomb
And, lo, wait until you see what emerges
resurrected
Hope never before seen
shining
on a new horizon.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Flotation Devices

This summer has been a bit of a whirlwind. Between retreat and formation classes, time in Orlando for the US Federation of Sisters of Saint Joseph 50th Anniversary Federation Event, and vacation with family in Wisconsin, today marks the first time in a month that I will sleep for two consecutive nights in my own bed.  

That break, however, is short lived as I pack to head up to Boston College for a week to study before getting back to ministry in August. 

Yet, in the midst of much activity, I've found the time to write a new column for the Global Sisters Report's Horizons column. The piece is entitled "Holding onto Hope in troubled times" was published on Friday and explores the difficult necessity of finding hope as the world faces tragedy, violence, and disunity at (what seems like) every turn.  Hopefully, it speaks to your own experience as it draws off my own. Together, let's find hope in the trouble times and hold on to each other for buoyancy.
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Pulling into the post office parking lot as I came off of retreat, I stopped for a moment in the car. I thought to myself, The flags are at half-staff again.

And for a moment, I couldn't remember why.

A laundry list of places streamed through my mind: Baton Rouge, the Twin Cities, Orlando, Nice, Dallas, Baton Rouge (again), Istanbul ...

The names spun round and round in my head, and yet, I guiltily admitted to myself, I couldn't place the reason why the flags in front of me hung in mourning. At some point, I had to turn the news off; I had unplugged in exchange for my sanity and my soul.

Hope, it seemed, needed help floating. Perhaps that's what we all need in the darkest of times: flotation devices.

As the new year began in 2014, Pope Francis departed from his prepared remarks about creating community and ending violence in the world to ask, "What is happening in the heart of humanity?"

Without missing a beat, he answered that question with a simple imperative statement: "It is time to stop."

As the 24-hour news cycle continues and reports of violence flourish, it's hard to imagine that stopping is an option. How do you possibly counteract hate? How do you stop violence? How do you heal the heart of humanity?

Faith, hope and love: These are the only viable answers. These are the virtues that dive deep into the heart of God and draw directly from the one who made us. Love may be the greatest of all these virtues, but truly, no one virtue can exist without the others. Love begets faith, which begets hope, and vice versa.

We love because God first loved us. We believe because love has been revealed to us in one way or another. And we have hope because current and past experiences of faith and love inherently foster a future full of hope. In the simplest terms, the heart of humanity is found in faith, hope and love. If we believe that, then anything — even stopping the current cycle of tragedy and violence — is a possibility.

That's all I could think of as I watched individuals join hands along the length of Hope Memorial 
Bridge in Cleveland on the eve of the Republican National Convention this past weekend. They came together to "Circle the City with Love," a founding principle of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who organized the event.

There, on that bridge, thousands of people stood in silence for 30 minutes to witness to the power of love. In the process, they gave a glimmer of hope by not only showing the love present in their city, but by revealing love at the heart of humanity. They stopped and, for a moment, the heart of humanity beat brighter.

In much the same way, NETWORK's Nuns on the Bus have been traversing the country since July 11, speaking to the ways we must mend the gaps in our society. Each stop of the bus offers another moment of healing, a pause for grace, for faith, for hope, and for love to enter the world. The stories shared at each stop are glimpses into the shared humanity we hold. Together, we can overcome hatred and apathy; we can grow in awareness and foster community. The first step, though, is to see the gap so we can mend it.

Those gaps can be anywhere: in our social service systems and our everyday relationships with one another, in the divides we realize and in those we have yet to become fully aware of. The recognition that these divisions exist is the first step of many to creating union in our world.

Seeking such unity moves far beyond this moment in time and recent "newsworthy" events. It calls us to recognize the many injustices that exist in the world, to bring hope and change beyond the headlines. It challenges me to recognize my role in labor trafficking, to face the fact that my food might not be fairly produced, and to call upon myself and the corporations I patronize to embrace just labor practices. It means praying for peace personally and with others. It means joining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in a national boycott of Wendy's restaurants, calling elected officials about immigration reform, and working to minimize my carbon footprint in all areas of my life.

And in all of these actions, hope is alive, working toward a better tomorrow by believing in and loving today.

Perhaps that is the greatest challenge: keeping hope alive in the small things so that no matter how daunting a moment seems, the darkness can never overtake the light.


Hope, then, floats above tragedy, above violence, and above grief and mourning. Hope sustains us and allows us to see more clearly, no matter how blurry the signs of the times might seem. When read with eyes of hope, faith and love, the signs of the times can be transformed from tragically daunting to utterly inspiring... Continue reading the rest here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Cost of Being Here

As summer kicks into full gear and as I look forward to my annual retreat, it seems fitting that I would share my latest reflection from the Global Sisters Report, an article entitled "The Cost of Being Here."  May it meet you where you're at and as these days of rest kick in may you settle into the loving embrace of God.
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Only two weeks into my summer vacation, I've hit a snag.

The past few weeks, at the college where I minister, have been full of activity. Like a blur, finals, commencements, dinners, evaluations, graduations, service trips, goodbyes, and planning sessions for the year ahead have come and gone. And after months of going at breakneck speed, I paused to rest . . . and found I couldn't.

Whether you work in a school setting or not, summer offers a welcome respite. As the weather warms, minds wander to thoughts of vacation. And perhaps, if you're lucky, the season brings with it the opportunity for a change of pace and ultimately some rest.

That's what I had hoped for as I waved goodbye to the last student departing after our final week-long service-immersion trip of the semester.

Walking back to my office, I felt the frenetic pace of the semester give way to a feeling of exhaustion. The adrenaline that seemed to have been fueling me dried up, and suddenly all I wanted to do was rest. The frantic pace of life had exacted a certain toll on my body and soul; after a few good nights of sleep, I found myself feeling more refreshed, yet, the deep desire within me to rest felt unfulfilled.

Even though my days were less filled, I still seemed to be rushing around. When I sat to reflect, I felt like my body was still in motion as if I'd stopped after a long day's journey only to discover that the road was moving beneath me.

It seemed my mind was still set in the mode of accomplishing things. Whether I was catching up on reading or going for a walk, the pace I kept was still just as fast as during the semester. And even though it was what I knew I needed, the last thing that I wanted to do was stop.

As a result, I just felt more tired. Finally, I convinced myself to sit longer than I had let myself before. No distractions, no goals, no desire except to stop and be here. I resisted for the first 20 minutes. My mind swore that there were things I could be doing. It darted like a child overtired and hanging on to the last semblance of energy before crashing. I thought about the future, about the things I needed to get done and about the things I'd already forgotten to do.

Finally, the racing stopped and there I was in the quiet. Why is just being here so difficult? I wondered. The response to my question came quickly from within: because being here is costly.

Taken aback, I stayed with that response. What was the cost of being here in this moment?

Being here meant that I wasn't somewhere else. To my mind programmed by the semester to keep on going that seemed like a pretty steep price. The cost of being here is the loss of the opportunity to be somewhere else. It's a forfeiture of the chance "to do" in exchange for the opportunity to actively "be." In many ways, it's a trade-off that doesn't make sense to modern sensibilities. I knew there were messages waiting for me on my phone; that for all the times I'd said I needed a break, I had not meant to stop and actively reflect on where I was. I wanted time to mindlessly be and yet, when I got that, it left me feeling unfulfilled.

I knew that feeling well, it sat somewhere near the roots of my call to religious life — that feeling of wanting more, of being unsatisfied, of longing for something deeper.

I must admit, there are moments that that desire is not met, that I find my soul's longing deeply wanting. The question is how do I find rest in those moments?

Feeling my mind scramble for activity as my heart relished being in the here and now, I recognized the cost of being here. It meant denying the desire to be busy for something far less exciting and far more important — rest in God.

That's the kind of rest we as humans struggle with and we as women religious, in particular, are challenged by on a regular basis.

I am not what I do.

A sister I deeply respect once told me never to say no to an opportunity to do more. In order to be here and now, though, you have to be able to make space. You can't be completely given to a ministry (no matter how good or pressing it is); you have to allow for a space to stop and let God speak. In that moment and place, God could very easily bring ministry to the forefront, but it is the act of relinquishing control that is the true cost of being still for a moment.

Our ministry, after all, is not judged by the exhaustion we feel or the rest we don't take; it is measured by the lives we touch. And we are only able to touch lives as far as we are in touch with the One who calls us to service. Without rest, what we do is a wash. Who we are becomes caught up in what we do, not whose we are, in the here and now.

Even as I write this, I recognize the contradiction between my words and actions... Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Subordinate Clauses

Recently, as I was writing, I noticed something repetitive about the phrases I was using. The word "seem" was making frequent appearances in the piece I was composing. The first time I used it, the word provided a good turn of phrase. The second time, it did the same. The third time I took note of its presence and then, by the fifth or sixth use I wondered why I seemed to be qualifying everything I was saying.

A quick glance at the dictionary revealed what I had already internalized.

Seem (sēm/)verb meaning to "give the impression or sensation of being something or having a particular quality." 

A note below the definition said "used to make a statement or description of one's thoughts, feelings, or actions less assertive or forceful." Why was I softening the words I was writing?

I thought about the topic I was covering. It hadn't come easy.  Instead of the natural process of waiting for inspiration to come, I had had to cajole the article from its place deep within me. I knew it would work, but it was a matter of making it come out naturally as if it hadn't been forced to work.  In the end, I was pleased by the results and struck by what it taught me about my creative process.

After weeks of hard work and a busy schedule, the piece I was working on stood as a final hurdle before a true break could come. Whether I was doing so intentionally or not, my writing voice conveyed a sense of doubt and reticence.  I was seeking clarity as much on paper as in my own being.  All I could do to draw forth my truth as I knew it in the moment. Perhaps, that is where the "seem" came from.

Pausing as I wrote, I would pray and wait.  It is in the silence of my heart and being that ideas make themselves manifest.  The time and patience required is the nature of my process.  What comes has the feel of an emerging creation, which I give thanks for whenever I have the privilege of working it out.

Putting the final words on the page, I smiled.  A weight was lifted and I could go forth to rest and relax... to allow the renewal which creation feeds off of.  This doesn't just seem to be the case; it is the case.  In that space, new life can emerge. That new life brings a hope that is so exhilarating that I can't help but give thanks for what has been created and the process of creation.  It is a secret beauty that renews my soul and before I can qualify this process I think of what might come next, reveling in what has been and hoping that these gifts given by God will continue to give abundantly into the future.  That is my hope and so far, it seems to be working.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Step by Step Revisited

The past few days I have found my mind wandering back to the blog. May is a time of endings and beginnings. My ministry on a college campus shifts drastically as the month goes on and for me personally, May marks my birthday and this year that means entrance into a new decade of life. (Farewell my twenties, you were lovely!)

These endings and beginnings find me retracing my steps too. How did I get to where I am today? As I help college students look towards the prospects of the future- possible years of service and discussions of vocation- I find myself drawn back into my own story. Then, today I revisited a blog entry from five years ago entitled "Step by Step." 

That entry meets me at the journey one year into my time in Philadelphia.  In a meta- sort of way it reflects on a year prior and so from my vantage point today, it captures two distinct times... the time I decided to leave my job to do a year of service and the moment where that year was almost over, my heart was moving to the next steps of life, and I readying myself for a move into the next step of my discernment of religious life.

Sitting and reading the entry tonight, I was struck by what has changed and what remains the same. I am still the same young woman searching for home and striving to find God; I am the same person who has fallen in love, I am the same Colleen who longs to reveal glimpses of God in the everyday. Only now, I have many more experiences under my belt.  I have and continue to be refined. I know more now than I did then- about life, about myself, and about not knowing much at all.

A package came in the mail today, a gift from a friend for my birthday. I smiled when I saw the handwriting, knowing instantly who it was from.  It was from one of the other volunteers I lived with during my year of service. In her card, she wrote "It's hard to believe it's been 5 and a half years! Your friendship is like gold."

It is hard to believe. We always said if we didn't live together we probably wouldn't have been friends and now 6 years after signing on the dotted line for that program, I marvel at the wondrous providence of God that draws us together in the least likely of places.  Step by step we grow together; we learn what it means to walk this journey and every step of the way we realize that there is no way we can do it alone.

Cheers to the journey and all it holds! Thanks for walking it with me & here's to whatever is yet to come!

Read "Step by Step" here.


St. Bernardine of Siena, Pray for Us on the Journey!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Dilemma of Charism: Mission Alive

In April, I completed the last retreat of the semester for my ministry- a retreat on the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph & Chestnut Hill College for faculty and staff at St. Mary by-the-Sea in Cape May Point, NJ.  The retreat was a wonderful experience, which drummed up in me reflection about what it means to pass on mission and share charism.  The resulting article appeared in the Global Sisters Report's Horizons column. May it stir in you the charism of your heart and make you consider to what and where we are all called.


"Charism is simply the grace to live our mission well." Sr. Bette Moslander, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, once wrote.

Standing in front of a group of colleagues on a recent retreat for college faculty and staff, I read those words aloud from a slide, acutely aware that the presentation I was giving was one of the only things standing between them and a beautiful spring day. They had chosen to be here, though, and despite the sound of crashing waves outside, they remained focused on what I was saying.
"The gift of our charism is already alive in you" I told the group, "you wouldn't be here otherwise. It's in the how and why of your teaching, the groundwork of your interactions, and the foundation of everything we as an institution try to embody."
The task that lay ahead was to get the group, as individuals and as colleagues, to recognize the gift of mission and charism in their midst. I'll admit it wasn't the hardest task in the world — these were people who understood the value of working in a place rooted in the legacy of religious sisters. They'd taken time from their busy schedules to step away to reflect on and be stretched by what it means to work at a mission-driven institution.
Sharing with them over the weekend, I found myself returning with new eyes to a dilemma I faced early in my formation. My dilemma was this: If I embrace the charism within me and give my life to this mission, will I spend my whole life simply passing it on to others and never really living it?
I loved the mission and charism of my congregation — the Sisters of St. Joseph — from the first moment I read it. "We live and work to bring all people into union with God and one another," the vocation director, quoting our constitutions, wrote in her response to my initial inquiry about the congregation.
I remember reading that line and feeling my heart beat a little faster. That is what I want to be about, I thought to myself.
As I moved my way through the first stages of formation within the congregation, I deepened my understanding of that first line and, in the process, I fell more and more in love. That feeling was a confirmation of the life I was discerning. If this mission was the reason we existed as a congregation, then I wanted to be a part of this group of women. As I grew in community, I began to realize that the way in which we strived to achieve that mission — our charism — wasn't just something I desired, it was something I already possessed.
The dilemma I found myself facing, though, as I began ministry was the fear that somehow in lovingly sharing the mission and charism I'd given myself to, I might never get to live it out, but instead be forever bound to passing it on to others.
Looking at the men and women in front of me as I spoke about charism, I wondered again what it means to pass on mission.
To survive, the seeds of mission need to be planted. But what is to be done in a culture, like today's, where people lack the language, or even context, to identify/qualify charism and mission?
It seems that part of our role as people of faith is to prime the soil for such planting. In that role, the means of transmitting mission becomes a bigger question. If we authentically live our lives, embodying the mission and charism of our religious institutes, is that enough? Won't our mission be passed on implicitly?
That is our hope: that the lives we live will speak to something larger, reflecting the principles and aims of our religious lives. Yet, there's no guarantee of that.
Perhaps, here is where a more explicit approach to mission and charism is necessary. Lives well-lived surely give the Spirit room to move both within ourselves and within others. It is by our lives that we bear witness to the Gospel. Yet, it is also our responsibility to give those with whom we work and minister the tools to name and own what they are witnesses to; giving them the ability to identify the mission they are already a part of and claim the charism they already possess.
Sitting on a deck during a break in the retreat, I chatted with a colleague. "I'd forgotten how much I love this mission," she said. In the hustle and bustle of life it can be easy to become distant from the mission. "This isn't just what the sisters or this school is about," she said pausing, "it's what I am about. This is my mission. It is a gift."
Sometimes it's in remembering that giftedness that Grace has the opportunity to change minds and hearts. Mission and charism aren't things you just toy around with. They are part of who you are and what you do. For my colleague, it was the recognition that she had gifts that were meant to be shared in the same way those before her had given of their own gifts to foster her personal, professional, and spiritual growth. Just as the mission was alive in them, it was and is in her.
Sitting there by the seashore, I had to think of Jesus. His life, his mission, and his ministry — it was all about passing it on. The love of God incarnate, he lived so that those around him might come to believe and in turn, that they might pass on the Gospel message to everyone they encountered. The Spirit endowed them with a charism to do so and each set out in a unique way to spread the Good News. In the process, they learned more about the God they loved and who they'd been created to be. Sometimes they did it more perfectly than at other times, but they lived and learned.
That's the way we foster, broaden, and strengthen our gifts: by putting them into action. Like athletes or craftsmen, we must practice to hone our skills. Few of us, if any, are prodigies and that reality is, in and of itself, a liberating gift; it keeps us humble and reminds us who and whose we are... Continue reading the rest of the article here

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cultivating a Hungry Heart

Over the last two years, I have been blessed to write for the Global Sisters Report.  This week marks the two year anniversary of my start with the site and the publication of my latest piece on Friday will mark my 22nd column for the Horizons feature. Before that piece is published, I thought it would be fitting to post an excerpt from my last column "Cultivating a Hungry Heart", a meditation on what it means to give and to gain through the lens of Lent and a life of faithfulness- enjoy & thanks as always for reading:

For years, I've taken something on for Lent — a work of mercy, a good deed, a practice or a devotion. One year, I went to daily Mass; another year, I gave donations to local charities.

This year, I did something I haven't done in a very long time: I gave something up.

I gave up snacking between meals and, in the process, I learned what it means to cultivate a hungry heart.

As a college campus minister, I am quite literally surrounded by food. Snacks draw students into spaces. They help facilitate conversations and give space and place (for good or for bad) to emotions, stress and sharing. They are everywhere, and for that reason, I knew giving up those snacks would be a challenge.

Within the first week of Lent, I realized the difficult, if not enlightening, situation I'd gotten myself into. Just as taking something on for Lent had served for years as a way of being more conscious of my actions in everyday life, returning to the practice of giving something up did the same for me in a new way.

I quickly realized that the snacks that are ubiquitous with my ministry weren't going anywhere. They were still there as I talked with students; I just needed to refrain. More difficult, though, was that I came to realize that after a stressful conversation or emotional moment, I couldn't reach for something sweet or salty to dissipate or absorb what I was feeling. Instead, I had to recognize what appetites exactly I was feeding. And where I might normally pause and gather myself for a moment with a mindless munch, I had to gather for a moment of recollection, centering myself again on the One who grounds my ministry. That moment of recollection made me realize the many moments of my day that call for rededication to what I do, moments when I might collect myself and invite God more deeply into my being and doing.

Those moments, no doubt, are even more numerous than I was able to realize. As the days wore on, though, I found myself more conscious of when I needed to pause and pray. My heart, it seemed, was hungrier than I had realized for these moments.

In the frenetic pace of our lives, this is often the case. It's only when we can stop ourselves (or even just slow down) that we realize how much more there is to be consumed and digested in each moment. To cultivate a hungry heart, we must be able to recognize and admit that we, in fact, are hungry. That acknowledgment of hunger is the beginning of a process of being fed.

Once I acknowledge my hunger, I can try to identify what will feed me. This requires paying attention and listening, not only to myself and my body, but to God.

Over the 40 days of Lent, I came to know more clearly the moments I needed to stop and reflect, and yet I also found that sometimes that reflection, for whatever reason, wasn't always a ready possibility. Sometimes I just didn't have the energy I knew it would take to dive deeper, and at other moments, it was a matter of not having enough time. Realizing that the hungers of the heart — hungers for justice, prayer, goodness, and grace — are those I can so often ignore, push aside, or, quite frankly, miss, I recognized the need to be intentional about how and for what I make space in my life.

My days of fasting between meals taught me the importance of what you eat when you get the chance. I became acutely aware that whatever I consumed during a meal needed to nourish me enough to carry me through the day. Meals on the fly weren't a good option. If I ate quickly, my body missed the intention of the meal. I would feel this later when my stomach gurgled. My body needed time to know it was eating, to feel cared for, to be filled.

In time, I came to understand the best ways to navigate my Lenten sacrifice and to see how it applied to what I ate and also how I lived. At its basest level, choosing not to eat between meals made me more aware of the most basic needs of my body. It wasn't until Holy Week, though, that I realized that what I'd given up had larger lessons to teach me about the truest hungers of my soul and what it means to have a hungry heart.

_____

As my Lenten season came to a close, I took a few days during Holy Week to gather myself. The first few months of this year have been full of ups and downs; I'd barely had time to pause, let alone stop, to nourish my heart and soul. As I looked toward the holiest days of the year, I realized the need and desire within myself to step away and reflect. My heart and my soul were hungry. Like a body constantly in motion, eating meals on the go, I needed a moment to be filled. I needed time to stop and recuperate.

What I wanted were days of deep connection. I longed for release and relaxation. Yet as I settled into the silence, I found that I could only handle so much. I found myself both relaxed and restless. I knew what I wanted those days to be, and yet somehow, like a diner with too many menu choices, what I ordered never seemed to satisfy. Continue reading the rest here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Joseph on the Journey


The following is a brief piece on Joseph written in anticipation of the feast of Saint Joseph this Saturday. Written for my students as part of a larger prayer, it speaks to the journey of life and living that Joseph traveled. As a journeyer, Joseph shows us that sometimes we don't know where we're headed and that sometimes it's in the subtle prompts of Love that we find our way... one step at a time. 
San Jose en el Rio Grande by Fr. Bill McNichols

St. Joseph was a man sent on a journey.

He had a dream. And like the dreams of many, it came from deep within, from the One who was creating something new even if Joseph had no clear idea what it was. “Do not be afraid,” the angel said in the dream. “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded and took his wife into his home. And so, a new journey began.

A beautiful baby boy was born. Joseph pledged to care for the tiny babe in his care. Joseph was a just man; he would teach that sense of justice to this child. And each person he touched would bear the mark of care and compassion from his father. A touch taught on the journey- a journey of listening, of going to far-off lands, and of seeing the distance love will take you.

Joseph was a man sent on a journey. He was a man with a common touch. A person taught to follow, to care, and to dream. Beyond all knowing, beyond common knowledge… deep in the heart of God... for the life of the world.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Touchstones


Last weekend, I went for a walk in six degree weather. The air I walked in was the type that burns any exposed skin... that makes your sinuses ache when you scrunch your nose and your eyes water in the wind.  These aren't the types of temperatures we often have in the Mid-Atlantic region and yet, despite the absolute chill, I walked for over a mile.

Sitting here as my forehead peels, I'm grateful that I did. I cleared me head and allowed me to see things from a new perspective. It also reminded me of where I've been. You see, for the year I lived in Chicago as a novice I walked a lot and at least once a week I walked multiple miles in temperatures near zero to get to my ministry site at a Montessori school across town on the North Side.

I remember the freedom those walks afforded me. As novices, the women I lived with and I lived in close quarters. We spent an inordinate amount of time together and a lot of time praying and processing together. This time was full of grace, yet every Monday when I hopped on the L, I was happy for the walk that awaited me. That walk gave me time to reflect on my own.  I'd walk a mile to the station by our house and then reaching the North Side, I'd walk at least another mile because the bus never seemed to show up.  Through rain and snow, ice and wind, I made that walk.  And trudging down the hill to our Mother house Saturday, I couldn't help but remember all that time in Chicago meant to me.

There are some moments in life, when it feels like seismic shifts are taking place, that you find yourself grasping for solid ground.  And, there are other moments when, even though the shifts are seemly imperceptible- whether by design or denial- that you find yourself happening upon touchstones in your life.  These touchstones give you something to stand on. With each footfall this weekend I felt a little more support.

These cold winter days are filled with change and challenge.  The stark realities of religious life stand out when everything else seems to be stripped bare. It's at that intersection that I seem to stand. And here is where numerous touchstones seem to be coming to me, as if God is saying "Be still. Fear not. I am here and you are mine."

Two weekends ago, I found myself at my Alma Mater for a reunion of sorts. Each year, alumnae of the Religious Studies program at Fairfield University gather for an evening to join in conversation and community.  This moment of pause with old (and new) friends in familiar places is a gift. This is a touchstone community for me, full of touchstone people.  This is the group I left suddenly the first year to go be with my dying grandfather and this is where I return year after year to reflect personally and theologically on life and the future.  We share and journey together. I am reminded who I am, simply by being with those who know a part of me and as a result hold a touchstone piece in the mosaic of my life.

Before leaving campus the day after to drive back to Philly, I stopped by the Egan Chapel- a cornerstone of my Fairfield experience. Here is where I prayer the Spiritual Exercises during the 19th Annotation, where I spent countless nights, where I gave my energy and found a deeper sense of living.  Simply being in a space like that is rejuvenating.  Everything you encounter holds significance, reverberating with a sense of the holy and evoking a fundamental wholeness.  This place is home, even after many years of absence.

It is the places, people, and experiences of life that ground us. From time to time, we find ourselves called to return to them.  In some cases, we know why and in others, we are left to wonder.  Either way, we know them in the core of our being. These are our touchstones. They lead us closer to God and the pave the way for what lies ahead, reminding us that no matter how rocky the path gets it is the touchstones that hold firm beneath our feet.