Friday, February 25, 2011

"Let my voice be heard."

That's what God seems to be saying lately.

In the midst of a busy schedule, the dullness of late winter, and the trying process of looking at what may be ahead while also being present to the current moment, God seems to cry out within me, "Let my voice be heard!"

In a way, I guess, God says that to each one of us in one way or another. Sometimes we need to listen to what others are saying to us; other times we need to pause to hear and give credence the voice deep within ourselves. And beyond listening, sometimes God cries out for us to speak up. After all, if God's gonna speak in the world s/he's gonna need someone's voice, so why not yours or mine?

With such things stirring in me, I guess it should be no surprise that following spiritual direction last week, and a growing pull towards encountering the divine voice as I rest in its presence, a call to receptiveness seems to be in order.

My blogging energies lately have been devoted to other writing projects and to an entry on Fordham's Lost? Conference that should (fingers crossed) go up in the next week. But blogging energy or not, the Spirit still moves. Stories grow and characters surface in your life from situations you can't really explain... God speaks. You listen.

There's been a lot of that going on in my life lately. First there was Sister India.

No, that isn't a pseudonym for one of the SSJs I work with or who is involved with the Mission Corps. Sister India's real name is Mary, but if you ask for Mary on Mascher Street no one will have any idea who you're looking for. So it's no wonder it took us so long to locate her home when a group of my social work interns and myself were out on home visits last week.

The corner of Mascher and Cambria is not the type of place you dwell for very long. The two bodegas that lie caddy corner to one another can sell you much more than eggs and bread, if you catch my drift. Well actually that's a lie, the bodegas won't sell you anything but the perpetual patrons of these establishments who transiently move in and out of the stores and occupy the corner with a sense of both command and complete anonymity. Everyone knows who they are but no one takes much notice.

When we arrived Mary was nowhere to be found. The street level door to her second floor apartment was barred and with no bell in sight, the prospect of reaching her seemed dim. Unable to remember how she had gotten on to my schedule of visits and/or if she spoke English, I had an intern call her. We were early but the faster we could get off the corner the better. Mary answered our call and said she was a few blocks over visiting a friend and would run right back to visit with us.

Being an unseasonably warm day, the ten minute wait wasn't too bad. I became acquainted with the details of my shoes in the meantime, choosing to maintain the anonymity of my corner dwelling friends amid the sound of dirt bikes riding through the streets and knowing that all eyes on Mascher were fixed, if only peripherally, on me and my companions. Soon enough, a vaguely familiar face came around the corner- Mary.

Originally from Puerto Rico and resident of numerous states up and down the east coast over the last few decades, Mary told us upfront to call her Sister India, "Everyone around here does." The reason was easy to see, Mary was extremely outgoing and her Indian heritage was apparent from the get go. Voila, Sister India.

There was no way to escape her charisma and joy. A coke addict for nearly 16 years, Sister India at 39 years old had seen her share of trials but found her way through to sobriety with only a few relapses over the last year. After years of dazed confusion, India had found Jesus and, in time, turned her life around. It hadn't been easy, but after years denial and substituting love of God with love of drugs, she had turned her self over to "the greatest rock in the world." Under those conditions finding Sister India in this neighborhood was a surprise- talk about opening yourself to temptation- yet sometimes means dictate where you can live. On her way to meet us even she had been solicited to buy crack, she cast the dealer behind her and kept on walking. For India, it was a voice inside her she had finally chosen to listen to and now she wanted to share with everyone.

The phrase "God will provide" permeated the air and there was no denying God had. India had found supportive community in the Christian community of local churches. Her apartment had come on the tip of a pastor and the scarce amount of furniture that she did have had come from those she encountered at church. "I have been blessed and I'm being called to pass it along," she said. Recounting stories of ministering to strung out prostitutes in the neighborhood and reassuring us that our presence was another way of God working in her life, I soaked it in. Sister India was great, but God was greater. You want a reminder that God is watching out for you and will provide in the midst of everything? Listen to the conviction in the voice of a recovering addict and witness the faith of a woman who's found something better. That's a voice to hear.

Then there was Bob the Postman. We mailed the community center's inaugural newsletter this past week, a process that was full of much learning and frustration. After writing and laying out the entire thing, I was sure that I was going to see the thing through to it's completion. Reaching that point led me to Bob. Two months of work led us to a 7 hour ordeal at bulk mail in Northeast Philadelphia. Knowing that the post office isn't the most joyful of places, I had prepared myself for a long day, especially since both Karen (my boss) and I had never gone through the bulk mailing process.

After going to the wrong postal desk and being redirected to a back room, we met Bob. From the start we explain that we were new to this, in the hopes of gaining sympathy from the system. Sympathy was slow coming. We began by reordering the nearly 500 letter by ZIP code and then making an exact count by holding container of the letters. Not having brought any paperwork with us we filled it out there and Bob was cordial enough, having patience and mercy on us. Then we met a snag: for bulk mail the USPS doesn't take credit. That meant a 45 minute drive back to Kensington to get cash to put in our permit account, an hour and a half round trip. Bob told us he'd wait and graciously let us take our letters with us in the bins we had already sorted them in. Three hours later we returned with cash in hand.

As Karen went to fill our account, I set to work calculating postage with Bob's calculator alone in his back office with him. The room was quiet except for my tapping on the calculator's keys. I was intent on making the write calculation to finish our time with Bob and the silence between us seemed content enough. I punched the numbers again. "So, are you two nuns?" Bob asked. I've gotten this question before (it kind of comes with the turf of being a volunteer with an order of sisters) but the last place I expected it was from a postal worker who I'd only known for the past 5 hours.

The conversation that followed was God-filled for sure. It turned out Bob was a former Catholic, former priest, and former alcoholic; those revelations came independently and in varied order, but they all came in a voice that needed to be heard and was laced through with the divine. By the time Karen returned, I knew a lot more about Bob than I ever thought I would, was getting an invitation to his church in Northeast Philly, and had found God at the post office (of all places).

In the silence of a back room, a voice called out. Bob spoke. I spoke. God Spoke. We all listened (and got a good deal of wisdom (and on postage, to boot.))

Then I found that if you find yourself speaking, a voice still cries out. Eleanor's eyes did the speaking. They cried out silently and let God's voice be heard.

I had been cautioned about visiting Eleanor's house. The priests who sent me explained she could be a handful- a filthy house, an attitude that could turn on a dime, and the challenge of helping someone in need who didn't want help. Yet, I found myself on her stoop early Sunday afternoon with a group of high school youth from New York City. These youth had come to Camden and Philadelphia for a service immersion program with the Romero Center, a group that we often partner with to give students an experience of relational ministry with our neighbors in need.

When I knocked on the front door, Eleanor called us into the house. I introduced myself to our host, who was confined to a hospital bed in her living room, and whereas I had planned to leave the group at the house to clean while I went back to the center to get some other work done I soon realized I needed to stay.

I needed to stay to reassure the group and to make sure they could hear Eleanor. I needed to stay to reassure Eleanor that someone was here to listen and that she, despite all she didn't have control of, could simply be talked to in love. I needed to stay because her eyes told me I needed to. God was reflected in her eyes.

"Let my voice be heard," they said, twinkling with Light.

"Let my voice be heard," Bob whispered as we stood together united in the most unexpected of places.

"Let my voice be heard," Sister India intoned, for if I could hear her God was surely speaking and providing.

God cries out in it all. There's a lot to hear and I'm not sure if I get it all, but I'm trying. The good news is God doesn't waste breath; s/he uses it to bring new life.

"Let my voice be heard... let it dance across your spirit... let it spur new life... let my voice be heard in you and through you" that's what God seems to be saying lately.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nothing, but Blue Skies

A few months back I pondered the importance of taking notice, of simply pausing to see the beauty of a moment. Looking up at the sky that day I took in the opportunity I was being given and the opportunity God gives me each and every day to bear witness to Wonder in my own life.

As is so often the case though, life came along and I was swept up. Administrative needs at work overtook my schedule of home visits. The drama of life decisions and looking towards next year overwhelmed my ability to be fully present to the Mission Corps experience here and now. Concern for a loved one's loss and jumbled thoughts about who I am and who my generation is in the Church eclipsed simple joy with confusion, anger, and unknowingness. And I was left with nothing.

There are some things you don't realize you miss until they're gone: contact with those you serve, the ability to hear their stories and give hope if but through an ear to listen, connection in prayer and a deepening of that relationship with God, and blue skies.

To have nothing and to regain those things can be a great relief and a great blessing. Depending on the moment you catch me at, I'll agree. At the moments I am without, though, I am burdened and misguided. Those are the toughest moments. They are the times you tell yourself it's bound to get better, stoking the fires of hope, if only with the desperate need to have such hope still aflame within you beneath grey skies and muddled thoughts.

My first reaction is to say those moments are ones to be pushed through (we've all tried that, haven't we?) but slowly I am realizing the need to look up at those dreary, murky clouds and see the shades of grey among them. Not necessarily to muscle your way through but to look at what you're facing. And maybe, just maybe, invite God into those moments.

Such invitations can seemingly go unanswered, like letters sent but never opened. Others can come back not necessarily in the prescribed manner of response. In lots of ways we invite God, just as God invites us. I can invite God in, but am I, in all honesty, ready for God to come rushing in? If I want to be vulnerable am I able to be "capable of and susceptible to being wounded or hurt", as that word's definition implies? All are good questions but they aren't the ones you ask in those moments. Distinguishing shades of grey and waking up each day to bleak January skies, you just want to see blue, to find God, to make some sort of connection.

This past week that was my hope. To move beyond nothing to, at the very least, nothing, but blue skies.

This morning I awoke to what seemed to be the first clear sky I'd seen in weeks. The crisp air complemented the clouds and the sheets of ice on the pavement kept me on my toes. I was aware as well of a dream I had last night. In the midst of all this confusion, I've been passing out at night, awaking somewhat rested (my brain not having reached a resting state from the previous day.) Yet this morning, one tidbit still remained in my mind.

For some reason I was being evaluated (why? who really knows with dreams?) on my quality of life. The woman sitting with me would ask a question and then based on my response and manner of response she would tell me how I was doing (certainly not protocol for study -I assure you!)

I don't know if I passed the evaluation or not... I could care less, but the only question I remembered when I woke up this morning was "Do you pause and reflect on 5 moments of beauty each day?" In the dream I hesitated, then reassured myself that I must do so, and then answered accordingly. The woman marked her paper and said bluntly, "You either do or you don't, making up answers doesn't help either one of us." Ouch. Subconscious anyone? Needless to say I had a lot to chew on as my day went forth.

Knowing beauty hadn't been my forte lately, I set to work. The blue sky didn't hurt matters. Neither did the fact that I was able to go out on home visits for the first time in nearly 3 weeks. That helped to center me, as it always does, and gave me perspective in the midst of other work around the community center. Dinner with a lovely community of sisters rounded out the day and completed my list of 5. All in all, thought, it gave me hope. The Spirit stirred in it (as I imagine it has been this entire time, all be it beneath my radar.)

Tomorrow may hold murk and grey; I can't control that. I just need to be (and have been) reassured that what feels and reeks of nothing may bring me to something, if only blue skies. Nothing but blue skies.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Frozen in Time

Who can believe it is already February and the first month of the new year has already passed us by? A cold and snowy January provided a time for reflection and mandated a slower rhythm to life. It also marked the midway point for my year in Philadelphia with the Mission Corps, a milestone marked by retreat at Chestnut Hill College. Frozen days caused a daze of sorts and put a freeze on my trusty steed and muse Bruce; nonetheless inspiration lay deep beneath the layers of ice and warm me as I find beauty in the darkest of days. Below find moments frozen in time & discovered by my eyes- may they warm your heart and reveal what your eyes are meant to see.