Sunday, December 2, 2012

Edge of the Unknown

I am notoriously behind the liturgical season.  I show up to Lent late; The Resurrection isn't quite visible for a couple of weeks post-Easter day. Most of the time, I simply wait. I've resolved that I am on my own timeline and as such, the liturgical calendar is less of a strict schedule and more of a basic guideline. 

With all that in mind you can imagine my surprise when I awoke today and it was Advent. That is, the calendar didn't just say today was the first day of the season and friends weren't just sending me messages to wish me a happy new year. No.  When I opened my eyes, I knew it was Advent. In my heart, in my mind, and in my soul, a time of waiting has begun.

Will this season of hopeful anticipation resolve itself in four weeks? I have my doubts. I don't think I'm set to synchronize my being with the liturgical calendar for good, but by grace and synchronicity, Advent and I have collided. Oh happy fault!

As I stared up at the ceiling of my bedroom, I talked to God. (We've been doing a lot of that lately.) The past few months have brought blessings and challenges. Some I had hoped for for the longest time, others have come of their own accord, and still others have been rude awakenings, teaching in their own perversely delightful way.  All of these have accompanied me through these first few month of religious life; they were, in some way, shape, or form, to be expected. Now, though, I find myself on the edge of what seems to be completely unknown.

Coming to this life, making the transition, was unknown for sure, but it was the type of unknown that while mysterious is not completely unbeknownst. There are hints of what it will be like, your gut tells you certain things will be true, and so when things (events, lessons, blessings) occur they seem somewhat familiar although they are new.  

Recent days, though, are uncovering a true unknown before me. Who am I being called to be? What does this world need? What is the future of religious life? What is becoming of the Church? Who is listening to the Spirit? What must I become and what do I need to surrender?  All of this is unknown. I can't even speculate what the answer is or might be. All I do know is that it requires faith in the present moment, in where God has led me so far, and faith in the future, of God's continued presence and ongoing creation... that is hope.

That is what God cries out to each one of us on these cold, dark December nights. Have hope. Hold tight to faith. I do not forget my promises. I will be the Way. That is the cry that we listen attentively for- the new creation within each one of us in this season and the cry of a little baby that is still weeks away, which we have heard before but which we wait to hear with new ears.  That cry asks us to be present, to wait attentively, to hold tight to faith, and no lose our sense of hope. The future holds wonder, we simply need faith.

Each day is an opportunity for this. A new day for learning and growing. No one says that it will be easy but, as Christians, we are a people of hope- caled to be the cry of hope and joy we ourselves listen for. 

In thinking of this, I remember the four martyred American Churchwomen: Ita Ford (pictured above), Maura Clark, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel.  Today is also their day: the anniversary of their martyrdom 32 years ago in El Salvador.  I have reflected on the hope they share with me before. But today, as Advent begins, the hope and faith they offer is all the more poignant. 

Today it is Dorothy Kazel, the Ursuline Sister of the group, who speaks to me:

El Salvador, Savior of the World, is writhing in pain – a country that daily faces the loss of so many of its people – and yet a country that is waiting, hoping, yearning for peace. The steadfast faith and courage our leaders have to continue preaching the Word of the Lord, even though it may mean laying down your life in the very REAL sense, is always a point of admiration and a vivid realization that JESUS is HERE with us. Yes, we have a sense of waiting, hoping, and yearning for a complete realization of the Kingdom, and yet we know it will come because we can celebrate Him here right now. 

Despite all the unknowns and all that awaits, we pause to remember that what we await is, in fact, right here before us. Jesus is Here. The Kingdom is coming. Despite all the darkness, light will guide our way.

And so, Advent begins.

Today is the day. The dawning of a new year. A day of mourning for all that has passed away, all that we have lost in the last year and yet it is also a day full of hope as we of look forward to what is ahead, the promise of renewal and new beginnings. 

Today is a day to be lived into. A day to discover something new. A day to have faith in the future tense. A day to be who we truly are.

Monday, November 19, 2012

ethereal to immanent: Journey, Story, & Prayer

Two months ago today, I became a Sister of St. Joseph. And honestly, I haven't posted nearly as much as I would have liked in that time. But this time isn't about blog posts. Be assured that I'm writing; it's just a matter of what does and doesn't make it to the internet.  In many cases, the pen stays to paper in my journals but isn't making the virtual jump.  On this day though, there is something that I've been wanting to share (and is about 2 months overdue) and a reflection that this anniversary gives me the opportunity to share.

I spent this afternoon sharing with a group of seniors from Mount Saint Joseph Academy, the all-girl high school sponsored by our congregation, as a part of their Vocation & Human Sexuality course.  I can't speak to their experience of my sharing but know that to have the privilege to share my story (both of faith journey and vocation) was a great blessing for me.  

As with any story, this story changes each time that I tell it. It depends on who I am sharing it with, what the purpose of the sharing is, and what at the time seems most pressing to be told. Anyway though that it is told, it is like making a straight line out of what on paper surely does not appear to be straight. But there is even blessing in that.  Our stories are not designed to be ironed out; they take on the wrinkles and creases of time and we simply need to take them out every now and then, so that they might see the light of day and so that the silent influence that they have had on us all along can go from ethereal to immanent.  Sharing provides the opportunity for that and I for one am a firm believer in the power of story to unite us to God and to one another.

I won't go into the details of the day here, but be assured that in the light of day my journey still has much to teach me and God is certainly using my experiences past and present to form me.  As I spoke to the group, I took note of the draw that I felt deep within myself to this formation. Grace has brought me safe thus far and in sharing the grace of this journey I felt at ease, assured that it all points back to Christ and in so doing, gives me life... honest, true, authentic... a life worth living.

And so with that, on this anniversary I share a prayer that probably should have made its way here on September 19th, my initiation date, but has taken its time in coming.  It is the closing prayer from my initiation ceremony, a prayer that was given to me this summer in Boston and which resonated deep within me.  It is the prayer that led me into this experience and as I pray it for myself, I also pray that it might ring true for each one of you.

 God of our hearts, your love has the power to transform.

  Set my heart on fire, let your loving flames consume all that I am and transfigure me from the inside out. Quench my thirst for You alone. Give me the grace to surrender to your work in me, that everything else that occupies me might be taken away and who I am may be set in Christ.  Ignite your fire deep within me and let it burn in me and through me each new day.     Amen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Altogether Standard Rarity

I am sitting on the cusp of a rarity in life in the novitiate... a day off.

You wouldn't think I'd need it from a run down of my weekly schedule as a novice but something of the intensity of this time escapes a simple calendar view. Monday I spend time at our congregation's retirement home, visiting with sisters, starting conversations, engaging women I have never met, and soaking up their wisdom. Tuesday and Wednesday I have classes- Spirituality of Religious Life, Ecclesiology, and Congregational History.  They are wonderful and extremely personal. Just think myself, my director, and my teacher. Really, these classes are one-on-one. You do ALL the readings, engage ALL the topics, and try to integrate the material. Thursday, I spend the day in two classes (Human Integration & Discernment) with 11 other novices, men and women, from various congregations around Philadelphia. Friday, I pray. Yeah that's right all day. Throw in a smattering of events at our Motherhouse, Mass each day, morning and evening prayer, and workshops on the weekend. And you have my life...and... I love it... and... it is one of the most exhaustive things I've ever done.

Just imagine, nothing I do is graded. Nothing is for a purpose other than growing in relationship with God and with this community I am now a part of... Nothing.

And that to me is everything.

Yet, it is draining. Everything is connected. The things that I learn make their way into my prayer. My prayer makes its way into every aspect of my life... even the aspects I have consciously and unconsciously tried to keep it out of.

As I said in my last post (way back when), even time is sacred.  God works in time and I can surely report that God is working in me.This Jesus fellow that I pledged to follow, who I've loved for so long, he's turning out to be a completely different person/ God than I thought I knew and yet he is completely familiar, taking up residence in my soul, a place he's been for so long... only now he seems to be stretching it out, making more room. I guess that's where the everything comes in.

After jumping around last week to accommodate my prayer day (Friday), which was shifted by my Liturgy class, welcoming a barrage of handy men to our convent/house to fix numerous problems over the last month, and finally picking up and moving for three days to accommodate Hurricane Sandy, it is time for a day off.

And I must admit... I don't know exactly what that means.

Because, we all know that on a day off, time doesn't stop. And if time doesn't stop, well then, the Sacred surely doesn't (you know with that whole "before all time, in all time, beyond all time" thing it's got going). And if the Sacred doesn't stop, it's going to be present to me. And I'm being conditioned to recognize the Divine and commune with it and grow in relationship and let myself be deepened. And that being the case, what I used to define "having a day off" as certainly can't, won't, and shouldn't be the same.

Instead, tomorrow will be a day off of the normal schedule. It will not be out of the ordinary. In fact it will be filled with what I'm coming to realize each of our days are filled with: the Divine just waiting for us to take a moment to look up from our schedule, to lock eyes with the One who loves us, and to witness the altogether standard grace that we make a rarity: God in our midst, woven deep in our lives, no matter if it's a off day or not. And that, my friends, that's extraordinary.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Consecrating Time.

It has begun.

Tonight marks the one week anniversary of entrance into the novitiate. That means I have officially been a Sister of St. Joseph for 7 days or 168 hours or 10,080 minutes, however you want to put it.

I can't really believe it has been a week.  In some ways, the time has flown by and in others, it feels like it has been months since my Initiation into the congregation just a few short days ago.  My days have been full of orientation and workshops, but not too full.  There is time for prayer and I am finding that there is a rhythm  to this period of time that I have not quite synced into yet.  On top of all of this, I am coping with the normal chaos of transition; you know, the jumble of thoughts, emotions, and actions that occur (and can only be explained) in the midst of the abnormality and disarray of transition.  Like, why would you put milk in a hotshot rapid water heater, thinking it might be able to produce warm milk for chai tea? Because it makes sense in the moment but despite the logic behind it reflects the irrational much more than the rational of the life you're living currently (and results in scrubbing burnt milk off a hotshot rapid water heater for an hour).

This time though, despite the challenges of transition and the like, is a very special time.  That is what I have heard more than anything else in this past week.  Each sister, it seems, takes the time to say that. This time is special, appreciate it and savor it.  And truly I do believe that it is and hope that I can.

Our SSJ Constitutions say "The Novitiate is a time of initiation into the essential and primary requirements of the life of a Sister of Saint Joseph. It is also a time of mutual discernment of the novice's call in the context of the life and works of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The primary goal of the novitiate is to provide the novice an extended period of time to deepen her heartfelt knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ. At the same time, she studies the heritage and spirituality of the Congregation while developing her capacity to enter into simple, sincere, and generous communion with others as an expression of our mission of unity."

It is a time like no other. A time afforded to a person so that they may study, grow, deepen, and discern.  All of this is done through prayer.  It is intensive prayer. It is a prayer that is part taught and part grasped through living. Ultimately it is a form of prayer that is surrendered to. It pervades every moment of your day. You must surrender to the whims of this prayer, it goes at its own pace and works in all different ways. It also requires you to stand open and powerless before God, in the midst of all else, to deepen a relationship that is, and becomes evermore, second to none.

To that end, novitiate is a time not to do, but to be.  That takes a lot of adjusting. It means cutting down communication, sacrificing your plans, and immersing yourself in the process. Each moment holds opportunity to be in union with God, whether you're a novice or not; God is constantly working in each and every one of our lives. Novitiate simply creates the opportunity to develop the ability to recognize the moment you are in right now, to find God and listen... to consecrate not only yourself and your relationship with God but the very time in which you exist.

Consecrating time is no easy task, but it is made easier when I realize the task is not mine alone.  It is an action that I am a part of through intention and purposeful living. A lot of what I've been reading speaks to this idea of consecrating time. As the 2002 Vatican document Starting Afresh from Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium states all consecrated people "must learn to be formed by everyday life, by their own community, by their brothers and sisters, by everyday things, ordinary and extraordinary, by prayer and by apostolic fatigue, in joy and in suffering...Openness to the other and to otherness, particularly in relation with time become most important. People in ongoing formation [i.e. me] take advantage of time, they don't submit to it... they allow themselves to be moulded by the liturgical year in which the mysteries of the life of Christ are relived in order to start afresh from Christ... everyday of our theirs lives."

Ultimately though, consecration is God's doing.

I surrender, God blesses. 
I admit that letting go is hard, God blesses.
I take longer than I want to ease into it or let go or realize that the moment is here, God still blesses. 

And as God consecrates this time, it becomes something that I can't explain, something that I need to live and love- a blessing and a mystery that I cannot control but can simply ease into... recognizing the moment, no matter the time or place, praising God and letting it all be blessed.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ecuador: A Delicate Balance of Beauty

For two weeks at the beginning of August I had the great privilege to travel to Peru and Ecuador. The trip was simply amazing. The awe of the natural world that we encountered is hard to describe and just as difficult to capture in images; it is something you need to experience.  Below are my photographs from our time in Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  Quito was a beautiful city and the Galapagos Islands were basically like being in an issue of National Geographic. The result was a mix of a Catholic, urban cityscape and the wild beauty of animals in their natural habitat.  May these images  capture the delicate balance I encountered and reveal what your eyes are meant to see.