Sunday, November 18, 2018

Poem: The Soul that Moves Our Feet

The melody lies in the space between the notes
the silent gap filled with waiting 
testing the senses
like a touch never forgotten
Held in the memory of flesh
We drag our humanity across one another
leaving prints only later uncovered
Distinctive marks of mercy
Intimate movements of grace
the divine that makes us quiver
the soul that moves our feet
With each movement I gasp
Is this what it's like to breath
or is this just the stuff of life?
Maybe they are one in the same
Life + Death
Song + Silence
the desire made real in each moment of suffering and joy
all joined in the radical reality of a God made real.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Humility: A response to troubled times

The last few weeks and months have been filled with news that is divisive and destructive to hope in our world. In response to the current state of affairs, I chose to use my latest column for the Global Sisters Report as an opportunity to meditate on the virtue of humility and the grace that it has to offer at this time in our lives and the life of our world. Enjoy!


A coworker calls to me from her computer, her head already shaking back and forth, "Did you hear?" Whether I've heard or not, I'm not sure I want to know. The news, it seems, isn't all that good recently. I find myself shaking my head before she's done delivering whatever news has broken. It's better to know than not to know, I tell myself, holding whatever the breaking news of the day is and praying for our broken world as I take it in.
The news these past few months has been troubling to say the least. Institutions that should instill trust have instead betrayed it. Each new headline brings with it a flurry of emotions. In the church, new revelations of wide-spread and institutionally covered-up sexual abuse against minors has shaken the faith of Catholics in the United States and beyond. News of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's abuses of power and those put under his charge brought with it a new round of questioning the power structures within the church. Meanwhile, in society, the #MeToo movement has revealed sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace and on a larger scale. Within government, a number of scandals have broken, the most vulnerable of society have been compromised, and powerful people have been called to answer for their misdeeds.
Troubling times call for drastic measures. What response could measure up to the needs of these times? What could conjure up hope or bolster a community, country and church in anguish? It might seem foolish, but in this muddled moment, a moment in need of greatness and fortitude, perhaps part of the key to moving forward is an apparent opposite: humility.
This virtue in its truest form might be exactly what these troubled times are calling for. The essence of humility is this: to know yourself as you truly are, your gifts and struggles; to acknowledge that you are small in the grand scheme of things, but even in your smallness you are created and beloved by God. It means having a realistic self-image and as a result, a grasp on the reality of the world around you.
Contrary to popular belief, the exercise of humility is not to cower in the face of compliments but to honestly assess one's own being. A humble heart holds the truth of both its giftedness and its neediness, as well as that of the world. The word humility derives from the Latin word humus meaning "earth." And so, to live humbly is to literally be "of the earth." Thus, true humility is to be in touch with the ground of our being, the very dust that we are made of and the dirt of life.
In this moment in history, the dirt is overwhelming. Simply engaging the brokenness of life will make us feel small. The choice we have is to embrace the humility conjured up at this moment and to boldly stand as people without the answers, people hurting and confused, imperfect people trying to make a way for faith and hope to prevail.
The temptation of our times is to embrace an illusion of ourselves and a false sense of control — to curate the self we share with the world and to choose to hear only the news, voices and perspectives we want to hear. Humility, in contrast, grants us the ability to see ourselves as we truly are. In true humility, we can acknowledge our gifts and also recognize our shortcomings. With humble hearts, we engage the world around us, choosing not to shy away from what is troubling but to claim our place in it all, even if only as witnesses to the realities of this day and age. To do otherwise would be to avoid reality, to sugarcoat the bitter pill and to claim to be "other than" rather than "one with" the reality of what is.
Famously, Lilla Watson, activist, academic, artist and indigenous Australian, said, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." If we can humble ourselves enough to recognize that we do not have all the answers and may in fact benefit and learn more from sharing and growing in relationship, then we open ourselves to the possibility of finding light in the darkness and emerging with a sense of solidarity and triumphant hope. That's not to say that the troubling times won't continue, but it is a call to foster hope even in the most troubling and disturbing of times.
Together, we don't have to go it alone; imperfect, we don't have to (and see we can't) solve the world's problems on our own but instead we commit to the steady, if slow, work of change through the work of awareness and action.
Humility is grounded in awareness and action. Aware that we are human, full of foibles, we are humbled. Our lives are based in such self-discovery as we continue to grow in knowledge of ourselves. As Christians, we are constantly reminded of our humble being and the humility our faith requires. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," Jesus preaches in the Sermon on the Mount. Meekness, the gentle and loving nature of those who truly know themselves in relationship to God and others, is the condition for taking on the troubled times of our world.
Aware of the many problems in our world — the pressing needs and tragedies of our society, government, and church — we can feel powerless and defeated. A heart can only hold so much. The primal instinct in this moment is to shut down and tune out the world around us. Complacency and apathy draw near awaiting the opportunity to settle into our souls. This is when action, no matter what size or to what extent, is so important.
Meekness is not the same as weakness. It requires a strong faith and stalwart character. To become and remain aware in this day and age can be exhausting. In the face of such a challenge, it is the humble of heart who live lives alert to reality.
By acting on what we are aware is in disarray, even if the action is simply to engage in dialogue with someone else in the midst of confusion, frustration, sadness or weariness, we continue to engage in a real way and remain humble in doing so. Choosing to remain active and engaged grounds us; we remain open to learning and growing and, in the process, allow our horizons to expand rather than being confined by — what can seem like — perpetually bad news.
Humility gives us an opportunity to hold the reality of what is without having to make excuses or provide solutions. In that space, we are on the ground floor of what is...Continue Reading Here

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

As We Celebrate, We Create Communion

Oh how the summer flies!  With retreat and the work of getting a new ministry up and running in Camden, NJ, I have been remiss in posting here. Since my last post, I found out that I (as part of a wonderful group of writers from the National Catholic Reporter) won a Catholic Press Award for the 'Young Voices' Blog. To learn more, see the announcement sent out by the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph

And now, without further ado, my latest column from the Global Sisters Report... Enjoy!

This time last year, I found myself standing in the empty living room of the tiny three-bedroom house I would soon call home. Devoid of any furnishings except a few discarded boxes of junk previous tenants left in the basement, the house was a blank slate, the first step in a new mission another sister and I had been tasked with undertaking. The larger task at hand was to open a neighborhood center in Camden, New Jersey, but in that moment, finding furniture to fill our local community seemed like as much as we could handle.

In the days and weeks ahead, we would scavenge closing convents and generous donors' homes for spare pieces of furniture to make our house a home. Within a few months, the living room I had stood in in the stifling summer heat thinking it might fit a small couch and possibly a chair was filled with the hustle and bustle of our first open house.

Everyone who came had a part to play in the community taking shape. One sister marveled at the way the rugs from a dear friend's old cabin miraculously matched everything else, while a former colleague smiled when he saw that the oak chest his father had built now acted as our coat closet. Our next-door neighbor, an older woman from Greece, marveled at the inside of the house, which in her 30 years in the neighborhood she said she'd never seen so clean.

From near and far, people gathered to celebrate this new beginning, not just for my local community or the neighborhood center, but for all of us: a community bound by much more than furnishings and well-wishes, a community bound by connection and rooted in communion.

As the sisters, friends and neighbors departed that night, the same sentiment was repeated time and again: "It was so good to be together, so very nice to celebrate like we used to!"

Celebration, it seemed, by and large had become a thing of the past. The implication was that we used to do this, but somewhere along the line, life butted in, and celebration, the joy of being together for the sole purpose of shared enjoyment, seemed to have slipped from our grasp. Sure, there were big community events like chapters and assemblies, milestones like jubilees, and generational gatherings and reunions, but these were exceptions rather than the norm.

As our living room emptied out that evening, there seemed to be a larger void that needed to be filled. The power of communion, after all, lies in the ability to gather people together in love. That requires intention and attention. We must be intentional in making a point of coming together, giving special attention to the purpose of our gathering and the aim of inclusion. This allows us to create space for relationship, space where we can come to know the other, celebrate one another and learn, with joy and humility, that there is always room for growth and development in our relationships, to discover newness in our midst.

Over the coming months, we began welcoming more people into our home and our new venture in communion. First, there were sisters living near us whom we wanted to get to know better. Then there was the community of neighbors in Camden with whom we began to develop relationships as we ministered with and among them. And then there were the neighbors we encountered each and every day in our local parish and beyond.

In each of these settings, communion looked different. Yet the call remained the same: to celebrate what drew us together and the gift relationship brings as we develop and/or renew relationships over time.

Together, we found cause for celebration. Sharing simple meals and finding space for prayer and fellowship across denominational, racial, socioeconomic and ethnic lines helped us celebrate the gift of being together and being one, despite our differences — or, perhaps, in the light of embracing our difference. We learned more about those we thought we knew, and in sharing new experiences, we garnered the power of communion and all the hope and joy it brings with it.

This idea of the power of communion is nothing new. Even as I write this, I've thought to myself that things like celebration and communion aren't serious enough to warrant putting pen to paper. It's easy to think that. With all that is wrong in the world, with sexual abuse and misconduct, with racism and gun violence, with natural disasters and civil discord, what difference do a few open houses and a little mission have to make in the world?

The temptation is to write off goodness and grace in the face of dysfunction and discord. That, though, is when the power of communion, the presence of love, and the critical work of celebration are most needed. Truth, no matter how simple it seems, shines brightest in the darkness. Holding space for communion and celebration then becomes essential because it is in the space of those two things that hope flourishes and love holds firm.

It is the persistent and faithful flourishing of hope that causes us to say, not out of manners or perfunctory habit, but out of genuine desire and intention, "We must do this again!" We know in those moments we are better because we have been together. We know we call out the best in one another and, as a result, we long to revive and stoke the fires of hope we spark within each other's being when we're together. These then become the moments that shine through in the lives we live even when we are apart.
Just as our little house had overflowed with love after that first open house, communion has continued to take shape through grace-filled crafting over the last year. When the work of bringing the Gospel call to life is tedious and trying, bearing few concrete products, it is the relational results of ministry that inspire hope...Read the rest of the article here

Monday, July 16, 2018

Freedom to Fail

One of the most memorable questions I've ever been asked in an interview came as a surprise. Having laid out the case for my application and credentials to the search committee, one of the interviewers turned to me and asked, "This is all well and good, but have you ever failed? Or has everything you've done been a success?"

I was taken aback by the question. My mind went blank and I paused to ponder how best to respond. Had I ever failed? I wondered to myself. No immediate examples came to mind. Yet, it didn't feel genuine to say I had never failed.

The search committee stared back at me as I bided my time to think of a response. Silence seemed to stretch out between us as I came to an answer internally. Finally, I was able to respond.

"I can't say I have failed." I said, speaking off the top of my head. "I wouldn't consider anything I've done a failure. Sure, there are situations and circumstances that didn't work out the way I thought they would, but I wouldn't call anything I've done a failure. Every situation has the potential to teach us something; looking at my life through that lens, I can't say that anything has been a failure — because no matter the outcome I've grown and benefited in the process."

The interviewer who had asked the question nodded, smiling as she wrote something down on the paper in front of her while another member of the committee asked a new question. I felt confident that the rest of the interview went well, but walking out of the interview, that solitary question begged to be revisited.

"Had I ever failed?" I continued to ask myself."If I had, why couldn't I name or claim it? And if I hadn't, what lessons might I have missed along the way?

Despite being rattled by the question and uncertain about the quality of my response, I was offered the position. Yet, even then, the question remained — one of those existential questions I return to from time to time.
After years of lying dormant, the question has returned recently with a vengeance. Now, though, it comes with a larger berth than before. What once was a question that only concerned me as an individual has now taken on a communal aspect. And what was narrowly defined in terms of the past (had I ever failed), now urges me onward as I look to the future of my own life, our church, and religious life.

How free are we to fail?

The question has become not will we fail, but how do we approach failure, what effect does it have on us, and how do we understand failure as an integral part of growth, transformation, and the journey of faith? Failure, after all, is intertwined with change and transformation. 

The way in which we read the signs of the times calls for an ability to adjust to change and to meet adversity with grace and creativity.

As I consider religious life today and into the future, the question of being free to fail rises up again and again. As I sit in circles that discuss the future we are trying to live today, the same questions arise over and over: Can we try something new without the guarantee of success? How free are we to live the mission and not just leave a legacy? What does daring newness rooted in bold Gospel living look like today? And what is our capacity for and our desire to live this way?

The call it would seem is two-fold: to be free enough to fail and to have the courage to live in ways heretofore thought impossible (whether by fear, history/tradition, or complacency). 

Answering that call and keeping the questions it bears at the forefront promises not to be pretty. Where we might desire clear answers, we will instead be plunged into the messiness of life. There, we face the reality of the Incarnation, a reality we've given (and continue to give) our lives to.

In the words of Sr. Teresa Maya, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, from an interview with U.S. Catholic earlier this year, "God is stirring things up. We need to trust that. It is a call to faith. … In many ways, it's not whether you do or don't like change, it's how you live change. We need to understand that the incarnation is the transformative conversation that God has with us and that the transforming conversation happens always in the present. It happens when we engage the present."

Engagement with the present looks different at each moment. It requires ongoing discernment and an ability to surrender what we think is best in exchange for or with a consideration of what God most desires. That shift lived out could easily look like failure, like plans uprooted and order disturbed; but perhaps instead of seeing such change as failure we might interpret it and treat it as what it truly is: faithfulness.

To be faithful to God's call is to risk all for the glory of God. Allowing for and witnessing to Incarnation has always been and will always be a gamble. Yet, God goes all in on us: trusting 2,000 years ago that a young woman would say yes to the annunciation spirit, and experiencing the graced grittiness of the world everyday with us.

Held in that presence we must dare to face the world with a spirit of hope and courage. We must take heart in the One whose death on the cross seemed, in that moment, to be a marked failure. That failure was one grounded in faithfulness, a moment of transformation pointing towards a new day and new life.

To be free enough to engage the present moment is a liberating — if not also anxiety-inducing — movement. It requires a letting go that chooses to trust in the grace of this moment, even when "what's next" is uncertain. Jesus joins us in that uncertainty and invites us to let go of the need to succeed and the notion of success as we once defined it. Projects may not be carried to completion; plans may need to be changed.

Our priority must become an attentiveness to promptings of the Spirit. When heeded above all else, this grace has grounds to blossom and we have the capability to do the work of God — work that doesn't always follow our designs or inspire instantaneous consolation. Yet this is the work we cautiously commit ourselves to, transforming ourselves and our world in the process... Continue Reading here

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Tending the Flame: Gathering a Religious Generation

"When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together…" (Acts 2:1)

For as long as I can remember, I've prayed with a candle in front me. Whether I hold a votive in my hand or watch the flicker of an electronic flame, there is something soothing to the way the light softly dances, be it on the floor in front of me or through my closed eyelids.

This past Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, I sat in a room with 35 other Sisters of St. Joseph, feeling the heat of the candle in my hands and the warmth of their spirits surrounding me. Prayer rose up around me, the presence in that place pure blessing.

We'd come from throughout North America, sisters from Canada, Mexico and the United States; all of us, the newest members of our communities, candidates and novices, sisters in first vows and those up to 10 years finally professed.
The aim of our time together was simple and yet deeply profound: to be together … in prayer … in process … in play … and in the process, to discover, dream and imagine where the Spirit might be leading us as individuals and as a group into the future.

For the first time in our history, the group had self-organized, taking what began years ago as a gathering planned and implemented by formation personnel and making it our own. To do that, we named our needs, called forth organizers from our ranks and set to work. The result was (and is now) a four-day biennial gathering entitled "Tending the Flame."

Sitting among my sisters on Pentecost, I couldn't help but marvel at the work of the Spirit in our midst. "We came as ones, as individuals," one sister marveled, "and we are leaving as one!"

And those around her nodded in agreement. Words like connection, joy, support and life rose up from the crowd. Our time together had fostered a sense of unity and commitment that each could have and hold into the future.

Together, we were tending the flame not only of our individual vocations but also of our collective heart. That is part of the gift of gatherings such as this. God is the fire starter, the divine spark that burns within us, but it is our duty to tend to that flame. We don't do that by ourselves — we can't. We need to lean into God and into others for support along the way. 

The companions with whom we share this journey help to fuel the fire within, and it is times spent together — times spent away — that remind us that for a fire to burn steadily you need to provide space for the fire to breathe.

Like a flame, to be sustained, this life needs tending. Space must be made for the fire to breathe and for the burn to encompass our being. We must consent to being consumed. For each person, authentic tending looks different, but there is no doubt that to burn bright we each need the nourishing presence of God as revealed in unity with others on the journey.

To that end, generational gatherings such as Tending the Flame or those facilitated by Giving Voice or other federated groups of congregations, create grounds for union among newer members. They remind us that each of us is working at this life and, though separated by distance or living situations, we are living this reality together.

One day, we all may be one. For now, though, we know ourselves as united in spirit if not yet congregationally.

In the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (as in other congregations), this is particularly poignant since newer members share in a federated novitiate experience, which brings novices from various CSSJ congregations together for one year of their two-year novitiate. This shared formative experience creates bonds that last a lifetime and that are nourished and renewed each time we come together.

It is in the times when we come together that we can physically sense being part of something larger; rather than listening to the stories of the distant past and of realities that are not our own, we are able to have new experiences and make memories to carry forward. We are forging relationships and doing so in the fire of experience as we join together.

We've been formed and are being formed within the federation, understanding ourselves not as sisters bound to any one particular place but as Sisters of St. Joseph of the world and ultimately, of the universe.
Reflecting on questions like, "How are you intentionally tending to the heart of religious life?" and, "How do you name your place in this life today and moving into the future?" we are drawn into thick conversations. To speak in this way is to bare a part of your soul to another.

Such conversation facilitates, through vulnerability and honest, compassionate sharing, a feeling of being known and understood. Being with sisters who share in the experience of being newer members creates grounds for companionship and builds relationships that preserve and conserve hope.

Together we can trust not that everything will be fine, but that we do not journey alone. "We are thrust forward into the unknown," one participant stated, "knowing only that we travel that unknown way together."

Throughout our weekend, the palpable feeling of joy in union pervaded. Voices that "back home" would be drowned out by larger cohorts could be heard. From the strong singing voices at liturgy to impassioned pleas in group discussions, whether it was joy or sorrow being shared, the sentiment was heard and held, a witness to the gift of community.

Like the disciples gathered in the upper room, we were reminded both that in the face of overwhelming fear, community remains, and that to be received, the language you speak needs ears to hear it.

To echo the words of Sr. Michelle Lesher reflecting a few years ago, "We must continue to consciously enter that upper room, that space of sacred patient waiting, and pray for the coming of the Spirit in our time. … Continued reflection on our life experiences will sharpen our capacity to see God in our midst, begging us to notice and respond in ever more creative ways. It is essential that we hear one another; for each member, when listening deeply from within, has much wisdom to offer."

As our time together at Tending the Flame came to a close, I watched and listened as that Spirit took action to draw forth such wisdom.
"What about those sisters who will age out of this gathering?" I thought to myself, thinking of the experience we'd shared and the joy I found in their company. After nearly 20 years in this cohort, they would surpass the 10-year perpetual profession cap placed on the gathering before our next time together.

Before anyone could broach the topic, they raised their hands to speak themselves. Reflecting on their experience, the sisters spoke of the deep value of these gatherings and their appreciation of all they'd been a part of and then they earnestly said "while all this is true, we know in order to make room for those who will come next, we have to go. Otherwise their voices won't be heard and they won't have the same safe space we've cherished for so long."

Their wisdom stemmed from a place of great freedom, love, and grace. To move forward, we must be both protectors and trailblazers; we must illuminate the path for others and be with the grief of what is lost and also the hope of what is to come.

Deep within all of this, the Spirit burns and beckons us to live the vibrant life to which we've been called. This means being free enough to be truly ourselves wherever we are and to bring the lessons we've learned to bear on all situations.

Fortified by the Spirit, we emerge from our upper rooms bearing the Christ light in what might seem like unbearable times. Generation after generation, we, women religious, have done so. Together we answer the call and move forward together, bearing the light within and trusting that in our living and tending, we never go it alone.

See more images of the event here.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

When Easter Joy Waits

This year, for the first time in my life, I missed Mass on Holy Thursday. Rather than watching the washing of the feet, I sat in the emergency room of the local hospital with someone in need of care.

Good Friday, I walked the Via Crucis through the streets of Camden, New Jersey, reliving Jesus' journey to the cross. Bystanders watched as actors playing Roman soldiers flanked a battered Christ, and the crowd of the faithful that followed waved to the prisoners in the county jail.

As the Exultet rang out Easter Saturday, all I could think of was standing in the poignant silence with Emma Gonz├ílez at the March for Our Lives a week before.

The events of the holy days weren't what I had expected, and despite my best Lenten preparations, it felt that Easter, like the daffodil shoots beneath the unexpected snowfall of Easter Monday morning, hadn't yet had time to bloom.
There are some years when everything seems to go according to plan, and others when nothing seems to fall into place.
There are moments in our lives when our beings and our moods aren't in line with the liturgical year. These, I find, are some of the toughest times to have faith — when Easter waits or Advent extends or Good Friday ruminates.
In these moments, it is a challenge to reconcile what you feel with what the perceived mood of the moment is. All signs point to Easter, and yet we face the realities of events and debates surrounding gun control, immigration, nuclear proliferation, climate change and myriad other issues.
I wonder how I can contain it all: the joy, the pain, the growth and the goodness. Can I become a human liturgical calendar? Letting all that is, and will be, be present in myself, holding it all in balance and taking each day as it comes?
To holistically hold all of this, I need the gifts of honesty and authenticity. I must be honest about how I feel and what I am experiencing; to offer such honesty is to honor the authenticity of the emotions God has given me. I must feel what I am feeling, not what I wish I could feel or what I think is required by the season.
Authenticity frees us. The unbridled joy of Easter is just that: unbridled. It can only truly exist if we are free of restrictions and boundaries; if we loosen our grip on being joyful and allow the joy that is naturally ours — by virtue of our faith-filled belief — blossom in our being.
Such joy is spontaneous. When we see Peter and John run to the tomb, it is in their every footfall. When Mary Magdalene cries out "Rabboni!" we feel that joy in our bones.
As we read and hear the accounts of Easter morning, we are reawakened to the joy of the moment. The words of the first witnesses remind us of our own joy-filled resurrection moments. We remember moments when joy has flowed so naturally that all we could wish for was a savior to wrap our arms around.
As we experience Easter, or any liturgical season, we can forget that those in the scripture readings were living through the story for the first time. What is familiar to us was a new experience for them. Yearly remembrance wears thin our sense of awe, and repetition breeds familiarity.
And while familiarity can draw us deeper as we make the stories our own, it can also serve to foster a false sense of comfort with stories that are meant to challenge our perceptions and continually stretch and expand our faith.
We can imagine that all the disciples awoke Easter morning filled with clarity and receptive to the Resurrection. In reality, the events of Holy Week had worn them down. They had been tried in many ways.
Beyond mourning their dear friend and teacher, they also feared for their lives. I imagine that nothing seemed real. Everything begged the need for questioning. After all, the one they'd trusted in was gone, and with him went any semblance of hope or joy. To turn that all around in a day is a stretch of the imagination. Somehow it seems a little more difficult than putting out some lilies and hyacinths, or lining a basket with plastic grass and sweet treats.
While the fifty days of Easter offer us the chance to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection, allowing the unmitigated joy of the season to flourish in our world and transform our hearts, I wonder if that time also gives us a hint as to the time it took for the joy of Easter to become complete for the first followers of Christ... Continue reading here

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Poem: When the call doesn't sound like you think it should

When the call doesn't sound like you think it should

Does your heart break?
Do your eyes water?
Knowing that what you imagined
                       what you hoped
                       may never be.

Tell me what do you do then?
Locked in the upper room
of your being
Scared to emerge into the reality
of what is.
For fear
For distress
For anger
For dying
All may be lost in this moment.

And what remains?
A call you thought you knew
A love that has seemingly disappeared
All is lost, including you.

How then do you begin again
rise again
When the call doesn't sound like you remember
doesn't feel the same deep within your soul
When stripped bare you take account of what's been lost
Pause and hold it there.
What is worth it
What does your heart tell your head
not vice versa

For this is the realm of the heart.
Real life felt- lost and found.
There are no solutions
only questions or substitutions
the choice is yours

What remains we must engage
or the tomb wins out
Death's victory
Lost only to the one lost enough to find,
grieved enough to feel,
loved enough to behold
a body risen, a call revealed, a hope revived.

Monday, March 26, 2018

An Open Heart Policy

My most recent piece for the Global Sisters Report draws off of a series of workshops that I'm giving to our sisters on conflict resolution, nonviolent communication, and intercultural dialogue.  In it, I offer a few simple insights about conflict and how having an open heart opens us to the possibility to transform moments of friction in our lives. May it meet you where you are and I pray offer a moment to consider the conflict of our world and your life in light of the call to love. A blessed Holy Week to all!+

A sister turned to me after a recent workshop on conflict resolution. "I ask myself," she said with a troubled look in her eyes, " 'How is it that after all these years I can still feel this conflict in my bones?' It's like it never left me."

There were sadness and surprise swirled together in her statement. In her eyes, I saw a search for hope, a desire for resolution. I had no response to her statement except to nod knowingly. All I could do was return her gaze with a look of loving compassion. It wasn't that I was at a loss for words, but rather that no words would do in that moment. Instead the sentiment hung between us, a truth held in the reality of being spoken.
As she spoke more, she wondered aloud, "Why am I still carrying this with me? Why can't I just let it go?"
It's a reality that many of us know — if not fully, at least in part. That sense of conflict once forgotten that returns; the shaky feeling of trying to stand under the weight of a memory revived.
The truth is that conflict runs deep. The way we engage the conflicts of our lives has a big impact on what it is that we carry with us from those moments and experiences of opposition.
Simply put, conflict is the encounter of feelings or elements, such as actions, ideas, interests, beliefs or perceptions that are in opposition. Few people enjoy conflict, and yet it is an inevitable reality of life; conflict is normal and there's a consolation in knowing that. Wherever two or three are gathered, conflict is not far behind.
At this moment, it might be the sharing of a memory reawakened of a long forgotten or avoided feeling; in another, the awareness of an overreaction or displaced response that comes from another place, situation or relationship entirely; and in still another moment, it might be an actual encounter with someone that dredges up a sense of conflict you thought was forgotten or forgiven.
These moments are rarely expected or readily welcomed. Yet that's not to say we should ignore them. To shy away from such feelings when they surface is to deny the deeper need for healing and the long-term effects of hurt in our lives.
Opening our hearts, transforming conflict
Every conflict begins with a negative perception of the other. That perception stems from the initial judgements we make of others to the state of mind and being we're in when encountering a person or situation and everything in between. To be able to recognize the many aspects of ourselves and the situations that lead to conflict when parties come together, we each must be aware of our own interior life as well as the way that life interacts with the world around us. Such awareness requires an openness on our part; we need to be honest about our feelings and attentive to the many elements interacting in any given moment.
Sometimes this happens in the moment and helps us to prevent conflict, but, more often than not, it's only after a conflict occurs that we are able to stop and assess what has happened (and then choose how we will or will not react).
Each of these choices is just that — a choice.
As a mentor once said to me, "Depending on the moment and your capacity in that moment, you need to ask yourself — is this a time to 'block and go' or do I need to 'stop and engage?' "
Just as we have the ability to interpret a situation for good or ill, we also have the capability to face conflict head on, through compromise, not at all, or through a myriad of other approaches. We all have our reasons for the choices, both conscious and unconscious, that we make concerning conflict. Our choice reflects our desire; the skills we employ to deal with conflict help to facilitate that process.
The skills for dealing with conflict are imperative to living a life of peace and love in the world. They are skills that in theory seem easy to practice but in practice stretch us to be proactive, self-aware and humble. Such skills do not promise to eliminate conflict. In fact, in some cases, they are sure to instigate conflict. Yet, they also provide a means to transform conflict so that we might emerge less shaken, more informed, and with a greater sense of wholeness by working through conflict in relationship and dialogue with others.
Part of transforming conflict, not just managing or resolving it, is to choose to engage conflict and to do so with an open heart. This means being willing to look at what lies beneath the conflicts of our lives and seeking to more deeply understand who we are by how we engage conflict.
Much like an open door policy, an open heart approach to conflict creates space where it is safe to explore conflict in our lives. This requires courage and a healthy dose of humility. It invites us to stop, assess, think, and then act, while undertaking seven key steps: Continue the article here

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lent: Missing Pieces, Finding Fullness

The Lenten journey is one that offers us opportunities to deepen our relationship with God and to examine the way we live our lives. In my latest piece from Global Sisters Report, I look at the invitation in this season to discover what might be missing and to invite God into the emptiness.  Below is an excerpt; I pray it might give fuel to your reflection and speak to your experiences- Lenten Blessings!

"Not only we ourselves desire life in abundance; God desires it for us as well. Not only must our eyes and ears be attentive; God's "eyes" and "ears" are always attentive to us. … God does not wait for us to puzzle out the way of life; God rushes in before the soul finished its prayer to show us the way. And the way is to rejoice in this constant, loving Presence." —Norveen Vest, Desiring Life

A few weeks ago, I found myself in front of nearly 150 students in grades five through eight at a local school where one of my congregation's associates-in-mission is principal. I had been invited to come speak on vocations and my own story.

After speaking to a similar number of students from the lower grades, I dove into the lesson prepared by our vocation directors for middle school students. We began by looking at our own unique being and how the God who has uniquely made us calls us to be who we truly are by living out our call to love and to embody God's love in the world.

Of course, no matter your age, exploring such topics isn't simple. And so, after reading a poem and a prayer, I pulled out a bag full of 24-piece puzzles featuring cute animals and cartoon characters. Unbeknownst to students, each puzzle intentionally had missing pieces.

Grouping the students by grade level, I spread them out in 15 groups around the gym we were in and put the stack of puzzles in the center of the room. "Your task," I told them over the flurry of chatter in the space, "is to create a whole picture. The first group to complete this task wins!"

With that challenge, the energy and noise levels in the room went up a notch. On the count of three, each group would send a member running to get their puzzle and to race back so that they could hopefully win.

"One ... two ... three!" I shouted into the microphone as students rose to their feet in pursuit of the prize.

Soon the groups began to realize something wasn't quite right. First, the oldest students flagged me down. "Do you know where our pieces are?"

I shook my head and shrugged. Almost instantly they began to theorize about what this all meant. Before I could listen too intently to their discussion, a younger student ran up to me out of breath and with a look of panic on his face. "We don't have all our pieces. … Where are they?"

Again, I shrugged. He quickly left my side and began searching under chairs and in the corners of the gym for the missing pieces. Meanwhile, his fifth-grade classmates began to ask me what the true meaning of this exercise was.

"What do you think?" I asked them.

Their responses surprised me: No one is perfect. God is the missing piece. We can't always put the whole picture together. You need other people to give pieces and help complete the puzzle.

All of those lessons are true.

As I called the group back together and the disappointment of not winning subsided, lessons began to sink in, and the students began to recognize that the puzzles had more to teach us about how God calls and how we put that call together, even when we don't have all the pieces.

Then I ended by sharing pieces of my story and inviting the students to strive to work with God to assemble the puzzle of their own call, now and in the future.

That's the call for each of us. Leaving the school, I thought of the eagerness with which the students responded and the conclusions they drew. I patted myself on the back and then promptly got back into the grind of everyday life, all but forgetting about the experience. That is, until I began preparing for Lent.

Reflecting on what I might give up (fasting), give back (almsgiving), and give to prayer (prayer) in order to draw closer to God this Lenten season, the image of the empty space in the puzzle returned to me.

We all have those spaces in our lives that are in need of greater clarity, the pieces of our lives that require time, patience and prayer to discover, recover and uncover. The empty spaces remind us of the lessons many of us spend our lives learning — no one is perfect; you don't need to be perfect to be loved; there's grace in empty spaces; God fills us when nothing else can or will.

Dwelling on the gaps in my own self-awareness and spiritual life, I remembered the fifth grader who ran up to me panicked, out of breath, and desperately looking for the pieces. How many times in life have we or do we busy ourselves in frantically searching for the missing pieces? Running to the point of exhaustion, only to realize that it might benefit us more to sit with the empty space?

When we take a loving look at our lives, what might benefit us more: filling the hole in our life or being in the hole with God?

The latter is a simple and yet profound gesture. In the empty space, we surrender; we don't know or need to know; we can be and be perfectly well in and with Christ.

In her new book (and accompanying podcast), Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I've Loved), Kate Bowler underscores "what it feels like to live a non-shiny life in a world that prefers glittery people." That word — "shiny" — resonates within me as I consider the life I live and the life each of us is called to. Life can be messy, and we often find that pieces are missing or that they don't fit the puzzle the way we think they will. God's invitation is to get dirty, to rend our hearts as the Prophet Joel declares in the Ash Wednesday Scripture.

Lent is not a shiny season; it is a season of grit and dependence. It requires us to lean into God while examining (and hopefully letting go of) what prevents us from growing in relationship with God and one another. This requires determination. Not determination to get it "right," but determination to hang in there, to persevere, to occupy the empty spaces, and to embrace the missing pieces and perhaps, in the process, regain our missing peace.

As we enter into these forty days of reflection, there is the invitation to be in it all with God... Continue reading the piece

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Time to Bless TIme

A new year bring with it the invitation to bless time and to be in touch with what has been, what is, and to hope towards what will be.  With that in mind and with blessings to you all as we enter this new year, I offer my latest piece from the Global Sisters Report, "A Time to Bless Time":
For the last few years, I've spent the days leading up to the new year in the cozy confines of a retreat center in western Massachusetts. While friends send text messages about New Year's Eve, I share silence with a group taking a prayerful pause at year's end. In silent, guided reflection there is the invitation to reflect on all that has been, to pray for all that will be, and to bless the time we have.
Without fanfare, one year flows into another. Peacefully, like fresh, unblemished snow, a new year begins.
There are few times in our normal lives that we as a society pause to reflect on what is, what has been, and what lies ahead. Yet, as the frenetic pace of preparing for Christmas comes to an end, the opportunity to make an account of our year becomes an invitation, whether you're on retreat or not. Here in the still and quiet winter days following Dec. 25, a hush falls over us. Christmas, we know, lasts more than just one day, and as we settle into the season we find that to reflect on the nativity of Jesus also draws us into reflecting on the realities of God's love incarnate in our lives this year.
Making the time and space for such reflection deepens our sense of the season while also inviting us to make an account of all that we (and God) have been up to. There is a grace and a gift to such reflection if we can intentionally take the time to sit with God and see where the year has taken us individually and collectively.
How have you grown? Where has God been evident? What were the blessings of this year? What has given you energy and life? Where in your life are you being invited to be more attentive? What can you hand over to God to share the load? What are the gifts or what are the graces you need most at this time in your life?
Like any relationship, our own relationship with God benefits from renewal and reflection from time to time. Year's end and the beginning of a new year lend themselves to such practices, as, collectively, we as a culture set goals and make resolutions to begin again.
Reflecting back on the year and how we've come to where we stand today, though, are only one part of the equation. At New Year's Eve, we stand on the brink of something new and unknown. One foot is planted in what has been, while the other moves forward into what will be. We know from experience that there is no knowing what the future will hold. Standing on the threshold of the new year, we ask for gifts and graces to handle what we don't yet know.
In this "in-between time," we catch a glimpse of the mystery captured in the Incarnation. God has become human, and in that act what has been is joined irreversibly in hope and prayer with what will be. Our lives and faith testify to that union. Our hope placed in the One who sanctifies time by entering into it. The God who is beyond all time, conditions and bounds came to live among us so that our human bounds might not bind us.
Embracing that mystery and celebrating it invites a leap of faith. We trust that God will be with us wherever we go, just as God has been with us everywhere that we've been. In the space in between, we pause to be with God before rushing on to what will be.
At the retreat house, as retreatants awake on New Year's Day there is a special tradition of blessing time. With calendars and watches in tow, everyone gathers in the chapel to offer a blessing on the items we use to keep time. What began 30 years ago as an assembly of paper calendars and analog watches is now joined by cell phones and smart watches, step counters and datebooks. Though the pile may look different the blessing has the same intention — to consecrate the minutes and months of the coming year to God.
As we begin again this year, it is a blessing I offer to you, a means to bless time and an invitation to prayerfully pause and ask God's blessing on all that lies ahead:
A New Year's Blessing of Time & Time Keepers
Life-Giver, in the beginning you set the days in motion;
as we begin this new year, we ask your blessing on the days ahead.
to be attentive to the time we've been given —
time keepers, not only marking time but marked by time,
open to your indwelling spirit and to the moments beyond measure.

Help us to remember those things that come without notifications or reminders... Continue the blessing here