Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Our Lady of the Valley

It's a hideaway shortly down the road from your typical East Coast town, and as I walked down the dark back road with nothing more than the light of Sister Moon shining before me I felt a deep peace that this is home.  Our Lady of the Valley is a quiet spot of serenity in the midst of comings and goings.  There was a process of discernment that led me to this local community that was most certainly headed by the Holy Spirit--I feel I belong.  The sisters with whom I live were beyond welcoming to me and have from day one embraced me as their sister--I too embrace them as mine!

There is a certain level of uncertainty that accompanies any time of transition, maybe I am overly optimistic or maybe I am delusional, but it feels so right to be here that any uncertainty seems to fade to the background.  I have been fully initiated as a "Valley Girl."  Seems so fitting given the 80s were the backdrop of my childhood!  Totally for sure!

I suppose if I am honest there is one frustration, the lock on my driver's side car door stopped working . . . so I've been climbing in from the passenger side!  It was quite funny when leaving ministry tonight to notice the faces of people watching me get into my car.  But alas, this is only temporary, I hope it can be fixed soon . . .

All in all I must say I am happy.  No, not just happy . . . there is a deep joy and peace.  It's as if I cannot imagine my life looking any different than it does at this moment!  Peace and All Good!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Dwelling Places and Semicolons

September has always felt like a time of starting anew.  Maybe it's that my life has revolved for so long around the calendar of an academic life, or maybe Labor Day and all the unofficial "end of summer" rituals call for shifting tides.  Either way the reality is as I turn the page on my calendar I too turn a page in my life.

A little over two years ago I said farewell to blogging for the time of Novitiate.  Part of me thought as I begin writing again that I would fill these early posts by sharing stories of what these two years have looked like and part of me thought I would just pick up and allow imaginations to fill the gap.  As I sit writing this evening, however, I feel that it is not an either/or situation.  In time I will be sure to share experiences of those pages in my life.

In choosing to not share all at once I must ask my readers to trust one thing, to trust that I have changed and in many ways I hope that you will experience this through my writing.  Deeply rooted in the Franciscan tradition and charism is the lived experience of conversion in our lives.  We are called and thus commit ourselves to a life of ongoing conversion where there is always something deeper to which God calls us.  I know that I certainly fumble on the way and have to remove my foot from my mouth quite often, but the reality of love that God offers to us makes it a journey on which I will always be willing to embark.

There is one incredible gift of my Novitiate that I will share at this time.  It is the gift of discovering the importance of creating a dwelling place for Jesus within myself.  Early on in my Novitiate I read Francis' words of dwelling place but it was through some significant experiences that I began to own them and embody them for myself.  Hollowing out, chipping away, carving into, none of these things go without challenge and pain, but as the master carver will demonstrate there is great beauty that comes forth from these experiences.

My Daddy has always taught me the important lessons in life.  His words still echo in my ears as I begin to put too many things on my plate, "Do one thing at a time, do it very well, and then move on." Not too surprisingly my father's lessons did not end with my adulthood, but what was most unexpected to me in these past two years is the truth that I have come to know, his lessons do not even end with his death.  On November 15, 2011 my father passed away after many complications during bypass surgery.  At the time I was in St. Louis, Missouri for my first year of Novitiate.  The challenges I experienced as I faced this new reality in my life are more than I could share here, but what my father continues to teach me in his physical absence is the deep importance of dwelling place.  I not only have a dwelling place for Jesus, but I too hold a dwelling place within me for Daddy.  A friend shared this Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote with me which has deeply shaped my understanding of hollowing myself out:

Nothing can fill the gap when we are away from those we love, and it would be wrong to try and find anything.  We must simply hold out and win through.  That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation, since leaving the gap unfilled preserves the bonds between us.  It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap.  He does not fill it, but keeps it empty so that our communion with another may be kept alive, even at the cost of pain.

"Even at the cost of pain."  So much of what these words express defines what I have been about in these past two years, keeping that empty space empty.  Too many in our world long for a God who will take away all pain and suffering, but I'm not sure I could count myself in that group . . . because what God has done for us, through the Incarnation, is given us the gift of meaning even through the challenges, and in time we just might discover, as I have throughout my Novitiate, that "weeping may endure the night, but with morning comes joy."

And so that brings me to this moment--the moment of Joy!  This afternoon I reflected upon the semicolon.  Yes, that is where my life is . . . I am at the semicolon . . . between two complete thoughts.  As the page turns from Novitiate to Temporary Profession I await with great excitement the coming of God's next thought!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


There is a spiritual battle taking place in my heart--not a great war of good and evil, but one much like Jacob on the bank of the Jabbok river wrestling with God. The only outcome of this battle is "good". Deep in the shadows of the night I hear God inviting me to "let go," followed by Julian's gentle whispers, "all shall be well." I am on my way, in the in between, where I mourn the loss of what was and anticipate with great joy all that is to come. But hanging out here in "no-man's land" I feel a little lost--much like I imagine Jacob felt that night he spent wrestling with God.

Yesterday I began my transition into novitiate. Step one: sold my car--a little weird I must admit to be carless for the first time since I was sixteen. My every remaining possession, with the exception of a suit case for the week, has been moved into Canticle House where I will officially be a novice with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia. There is great excitement over this, but the only way to get there is to move on from the goodness, the bounty, that this year has brought into my life through my local community at Corpus Christi.

My heart holds nothing but love, gratitude, and deep sisterhood for sisters Joan, Maureen, and Kathy. Words cannot express the bond that has been created. Relationships can be a funny thing, a year ago these women were not at all a part of my life, and here I stand today unable to imagine my life without them! I cannot think of our time together without shedding tears of joy for all they are to me--and all I hope they continue to be to me!

It's hard to let go of those you love, this is the battle of which I speak. But letting go will free me to love more deeply and will open my life to new relationships that I will look upon next year in the same light as I do my girls at Corpus Christi. And that my friends is a beautiful thing!

Thomas Merton writes in his book, The Ascent to Truth:

Our ordinary waking life is a bare existence in which, most of the time, we seem to be absent from ourselves and from reality because we are involved in the vain preoccupations which dog the steps of every living [person]. But there are times when we seem suddenly to awake and discover the full meaning of our own present reality. Such discoveries are not capable of being contained in formulas or definitions. They are a matter of personal experience, of uncommunicable intuition. In the light of such an experience it is easy to see the futility of all the trifles that occupy our minds. We recapture something of the calm and the balance that ought always to be ours, and we understand that life is far too great a gift to be squandered on anything less than perfection.

This year has been filled with these such "discoveries," and I am eternally grateful for having them.

And now I turn toward the year to come, filled with hope, excitement, and the newness of all that is to be . . . I will mourn my loss, but how beautiful a thing it is to arrive at the "next place" with someone waiting to be my shoulder--not to wipe away my tears but to give me the space to embrace them. This I am discovering is community!

And now for a continued note of thanks, to each of you who have supported me in my discernment, my writing, and my daily life. I hope that reading my reflections on my life and prayer has brought faith, hope, and love into your own life and prayer. As I prepare to fully transition into my novitiate experience I must push the pause button.

July 2006 I drove myself into Ohio, a quaint little state that has forever changed my life. As I drove across the border I read the sign, "Ohio: So Much to Discover." I have entitled my final (for now) post "Discoveries" because this is what fills my life. Every corner, every move, every moment brings us new discoveries. Discoveries that, as Merton expresses, aid us in "recapturing" the important things in life that open our eyes to the beauty that God has placed before us. All we have to do is be open to it!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Story of Life

These past four days have been days of great joy --filled with the Holy Spirit, they have enlivened my soul, rejuvenated my own spirit, and have propelled me into the future. Being in a room of 400 religious sisters--my sisters--does something deeply profound to the soul.

The Assembly is a time in which the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia gather mid-way through a leadership team's term. There were so many opportunities for me to meet sisters from all over, to hear their stories, share in laughter and tears, to grow deeper in relationship with the women who are becoming my family.

One sister in particular that I had the opportunity to visit with has spoken so deeply to my heart. Her life speaks of struggle yet her handheld computer that vocalizes the words that ALS has stripped her of the ability of doing for herself, speaks of joy, deep abiding joy! My conversation with Anna May was only over the course of our lunch break, but as we sat talking I saw the most beautiful woman in the world before me! She laughed as she typed to me the irony of her inability to speak, as she shared how "chatty" a person she was. I wish I could have heard her voice. I bet you it was beautiful too!

Sitting before me was the answer to many of my most recent prayers and reflections concerning this next step. I have no clue where it is going to lead me, in some ways I walk confidently while in others I stumble and wonder . . . but here she sat, laughing, joy-filled, supportive, and loving. She has every reason in the world to be mad at what life has dealt her, but instead of throwing in the towel she has chosen to adapt, to grow, and to become closer to the woman that she was created to be. The Holy Spirit shines forth from her eyes telling a story of life.

I sit in the quiet of my room praising God for the gift she has become in my life. Her promised prayers fill me with complete faith that "all shall be well." Thank you Anna May!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Naked With God

The light was red, my eyes wandered as I sat waiting for it to change to the green that would allow me to continue on my way. Still red my eyes fell upon a bumper sticker gracing the fender of the car in front of me. I could not help but inch closer to read the quip notable enough to be placed upon one's car. Curiosity usually gets the better of me, and sometimes it pays off! Waiting on that green light I read, "God's original plan was to hang out in a garden with some naked vegetarians."

This seemingly simple and laughable saying spoke deeply to an experience I have been living this past week and a half. For the first time since my first reflection I have failed in my commitment to write at least once a week. This was in part intentional. I write about what I experience. As a writer I commit to speaking the truth in honesty and love; I could do neither for the past week and so I chose to keep silent. But now, on the other side of contemplative prayer and with a deep desire to make sense of the circumstances, I am ready to share--in truth and in love.

There is a deep desire in my heart to continue on this path toward becoming a religious sister. And deep down I rest in certainty that I am exactly where God is calling me to be--but with any call there is a sense of being stripped. In the calling we are gently persuaded by God to return to the garden, to do so, however, we must be stripped. And this is never easy.

Last week I had a formation meeting in preparation for the transition from Candidacy to Novitiate. Novitiate is like this big unknown foggy cloud lying before me. I can theologically and canonically define novitiate, but as many sisters have shared it is something of which I must experience to really begin to understand it's true meaning and even then it may take years to fully make sense of it all.

Last week it was shared with me that during my time in the novitiate I will not be permitted to blog. This was difficult to hear. While in honesty I must share that I do not fully understand the reasoning behind this decision, I must also share that I have a deep openness to discovering it. As I sat last Wednesday soaking in what had just been said to me I could only feel the impending loss, looming over me like doomsday. I felt like my voice was being taken away.

That all said I have come to a place of understanding, not of the decision made, but of my life and the decision I am making to follow this path of more radical commitment to Christ and to living the Gospel message. To get back to that garden I have to be stripped. Last week I only saw loss, last week I misplaced my excitement of novitiate. I have not fully regained that excitement, but I do have it in sight. It will be different than the previous excitement and rightly so, I am a different person than I was two weeks ago.

I share this tonight in truth and love and assured that there is hope in this experience. And so, in the next few weeks I will continue to share my experiences as my time as a Candidate with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia comes to an end and I transition into the novitiate.

The omnipotent "they" say that when a person loses one sense another is enhanced. I am excited to see what will change in me through not blogging this coming year. I will still write, an enthusiast of the word can never give that up. But it will be different. There is a whole big world out there to discover and a thousand, bazillion ways to discover it AND share it! I am in search of the intimate place where I can be naked with God--and maybe I just can't have an audience for that.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Faith in the Mountains

About a year ago I spent a few weeks traveling in the far East. There is something quite unexpectedly beautiful about India. Having stayed in the south where it is much cooler, and in a small village where the upkeep of flowers and gardens are possible, I experienced the India of which many have never heard. From there a dear friend and I traveled on to the small country of Nepal, a country slightly larger than the state of Pennsylvania. We stayed in Kathmandu for a few days before traveling to a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas.

During my short time in Nepal I attempted on three different days to make it to Mount Everest. All three days the clouds made viewing one of the world's most majestic mountains an impossibility. Day two we actually made it off the ground but as we flew within sight of the mountain the pilot announced that the clouds were just too thick. Never seeing Mount Everest was the great disappointment of the trip.

I recognized on that third day in hearing that it would not be possible to even leave the ground that the reality of my seeing the mountain was fading. There is probably never going to be another opportunity in my lifetime for me to travel to the Himalayas. But I live in hope that the mountain is there, through others' eyes I can experience Everest, and though I never saw it myself I believe, in faith, I have felt the spirit of the mountain.

Two days ago I arrived home from traveling to Oregon and Washington to meet our sisters in the west. I thoroughly enjoyed my time, especially with the sisters of St. Ann's in Tacoma. Sr. Martha Joseph has especially been supportive of me and my journey these past few months through her letter writing. It was a joy to sit down for a meal with her. She put a smile on my face as she passed me in the hallway saying, "Enjoy your life!" These women to me exemplify faith. I hope that in my life I can be as dedicated as these strong women have been in their own.

The idea of faith was deeply tugging at my heart as I experienced the west. For one thing as hilly and at times mountainous as Portland is not one sister I drove with EVER used her emergency break! That's living in faith! But in all seriousness I had a profound experience out west that has drawn me deeper into my own faith. Much like the Himalayas in monsoon season the mountains of Oregon were hidden from site. I spent the week hoping that the "mountain would be out" as they say. But it never happened.

Driving to the airport at what should have been the crack of dawn had there not been so much cloud cover, I thought of my time in Nepal. Neither then nor now did I see the mountains, but it does not make me believe any less in their presence. I believe because nothing has been proven to dissuade me. The mountains, in this past week, have become a metaphor of faith. Though it is unlikely for me to return to the Himalayas it is quite possible that I will return to the west, and hopefully seeing the mountains of Oregon will become a reality. But until that day arrives I live in faith of what's to come.

My faith in the mountains is no different than my faith in God. I know the vast and immense love of God in my life. There are times when the clouds are so thick that I could easily conceive the impossibility of God, but I choose to believe despite the things that tell me not to. Like feeling the spirit of Everest I too have felt deeply the Spirit of God. She has touched my life in so many ways that I cannot imagine a life without faith. Unlike Everest, I believe whole heartedly that one day I will see God, and that is what makes life worth living!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Day Without Hair Mousse

There we stood on the tarmac having just de-boarded the 19 passenger prop plane in Riverton, Wyoming. We quickly scooped up our bags checked at the gate and headed inside where Sr. Teresa was waiting with open arms. Teresa, more or less, single-handedly runs two parishes located on the Wind River Indian Reservation. She is a do it all sort of woman! Everything from Sacramental Preparation classes, to taking pledges from recovering alcoholics, to vacuuming the church, to feeding the neighborhood strays, and yes, even patching leaky hot water heaters! She does it all!

It was good to be with her! A little less wonderful, however, was discovering that the checked bag that Pat and I shared didn't quite make it to our final destination. This was the bag that contained my hair mousse! What is a girl to do? We were assured that the likelihood of the bag arriving on the next incoming flight due in later that afternoon was high, and so we made our way to Teresa's home on the range in Ethete.

Much to our delight we received word at 5 pm that night that our bag had indeed finally made it to Wyoming! Bad news? We couldn't pick it up because the airport was "closing for dinner." This is the reality of small town America--a reality of which east coasters are unaware. This meant I was going to go a day without hair mousse.

The simplicity of going a day without my self-proclaimed "necessities" became a freeing experience for the week. On our flight later in the week Pat and I had a very intriguing conversation concerning the vow of poverty, lived as simplicity, which has opened my heart to new possibilities of letting go. While I don't have any desire to give up my hair mousse I do think there are times I could obsess a little less!

These few days in Wyoming have opened my heart to the beauty of creation not often witnessed by the masses. The first full day on the reservation Teresa took me to a home Mass. During the consecration I could not help but be slightly distracted by the clanging of glass in the kitchen where someone engaged in final preparation of the dinner to follow. My distraction, however, quickly melted into reflection. Suddenly the melody of rattling dishes replaced the bells of the altar server and the realization of the reality of the Body of Christ became clear. We the people have become the consecrated Body of Christ, and as I sat pondering this I suddenly felt like Thomas Merton on the street corner of Fourth and Walnut, I "suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me."

We have moved on from buffalo and prairies where cattle were herded to the fast-paced freeways of the city where people are herded. My time in Wyoming will not soon leave me, I just got off the phone with Teresa who called to share that she was going through a little withdraw. I too feel that loss. But the beauty of community is that no matter how many miles span the land between us we are bound by our sisterhood! And it is this thought that keeps a smile on my heart.