Sunday, October 31, 2010

"A Cajun Killing"

It's August 1905, we were three days on the Magnolia Queen cruising down the Mississippi when tragedy struck! Benton Thorne IV was MURDERED, stabbed to death in his state room! Everyone had their reasons for not liking the man, but who felt strongly enough about it to kill him?!

This was the big question Friday night when Rose Thorne, Captain Jack LeBad, Marty Graw, Candy Barr, Allie Gator, and Rag Time Joe gathered over dinner to solve a murder!

Among the suspects a few Sisters of Saint Francis showed up to cast blame on who they thought done it!

What better way to celebrate Halloween weekend than with a Murder Mystery Dinner Party?! A fun time was had by all as we uncovered the truth behind the characters present.

As I sit here sharing, knowing that my blog is about discerning religious life, I feel I must reflect for a moment on why I am writing about this particular evening. It is actually not hard to come up with a reason for sharing. Too often religious life is placed into a box, a box that is quite narrow. This box is simply not the reality! Sisters choose to live their lives in intentional community, praying, eating, sharing, and caring for each other, but they also have fun, laugh, party, and enjoy one another's company like any single or married person would!

Living in community has been one of the greatest gifts of my discernment. We are all very much a like and very much different all at the same time. We don't just coexist like roommates sharing an apartment, we live together as family. We care about what each person thinks and feels, which sometimes can be a challenge when we don't understand where the other is coming from . . . but in the end we choose to love!

Many people have asked me if I'm really going to be able to "give up" what is required to be a sister . . . but the reality is that I will be gaining so much more than I could have imagined.

Friday night I played Allie Gator, a young and beautiful girl disguised as a dock boy to stow away on the Magnolia Queen. I was not who I appeared to be, but in time, through questioning, my true identity was revealed! I think there is a connection to be made here . . . religious life, like questioning the suspects onboard the riverboat, is something worth discovering!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Inspiration is Cyclical

You just never know how your life can inspire others. You go about your life, you work, you feel overwhelmed by the ten thousand things on the back burner that you left the kitchen forgetting about, and then one day you walk home and there is a small green envelope sitting outside your door. A very dear friend with whom you have not spoken to in an embarrassingly long time has dropped you the most beautiful letter that has turned your day from one of shambles into smiles.

That dear friend is mine, and that letter was outside my door upon arriving home from work late this evening. On a day I most felt alone in this world I received a beautifully written letter that reminded me that I am loved. This friend wrote to me to share that I had become an inspiration in her life, that my decision to discern religious life in today's society has inspired her, little does she know of the many times she has inspired me to leap!

I want to share her words, not only because they are beautifully written, but because their meaning is so profound that I want to share it in hopes that it may inspire others.

She writes, "your discernment is an inspiration, Sara. I mean that in all truthfulness--I am inspired by your journey of discernment, by your leap of faith, by your actively searching for your calling, by your ability to live, love, grow and pray through any fear that accompanies this life shift, change, decision."

Well friend, if I'm completely honest you were a major part of my leap of faith. You have jumped so many times in your own faith life into the unknown worlds that have brought you into deeper relationship with God's people in such a way that I was the one who was inspired!

Inspiration is cyclical! In the greatest experience of Christian community we continually inspire each other into life changes that draw us deeper into the reality of the paschal mystery. Your life calls me to honestly follow God's call in my own life which in turn draws you deeper into your own vocational call. How cool is that?!

Tonight I set my frustration of life aside and sit in the silence of this dark and quiet night to thank God for this friend. Though distance and time have attempted to make their mark on our friendship God has drawn us ever closer. I love you friend and I too pray for your discernment. Si Dios quiere. Dios te bendiga, te amo siempre!

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Sickness and in Health, Live Community!

It seems to me that the body knows something that the mind fails to recognize, or maybe it is simply that the mind has the ability to ignore things that the body cannot, or will not. I recently wrote about the challenge of balancing the many things I juggle in life. After this week I would be remiss to not admit that I was struggling more than I had originally shared. I did not purposefully neglect to share, but truthfully speaking I am not sure I totally understood it myself.

Tuesday morning I woke up terribly ill, what my mind had been suppressing for a while now was made evident in my body this week. Bed ridden and house bound for three days I spent much time thinking about my schedule and my priorities in life. And while I am unfortunately not in a position to change the challenges in my schedule I am aware of them in a way that hopefully will help me in the future. The reality at this point in life; however, is that too many life situations have collided at once, making it difficult to focus fully on any one thing--hence the challenge of juggling . . .

Again this week, my community has taught me something about myself and my desire for community living. For a few years now I have been on my own. I remember living in Reading, by myself, and getting deathly ill. I was so sick that I did not get medication for a few days because I did not have the strength to drive myself to the drug store. This week my community really took care of me, in ways I have not experienced since my parents took care of me when I was sick as a child. It's nice. It's nice to be cared for and about, it's nice to know you're not alone, it's nice to be asked how you're feeling, it's just nice!

This week was a sure example to me of my deep desire, in sickness and in health to live community!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Corn Syrup Arms Versus the Rotted Rubber Band

Did you ever play with a Stretch Armstrong doll? I use to play with one when I was a young girl, I remember my best friend had one, we were amazed at how far Stretch could stretch without breaking in half. Sometimes we would put the full force of our weight on him, pulling in opposition. Never did he crumble.

Unfortunately I am no Stretch Armstrong. My limbs are not made of corn syrup filled latex. And so when I am stretched I react much more like a rotted rubber band that snaps in two than the action figure that always returns to his original size.

Community, work, family, and friends has become a balancing act for which I was not completely prepared. I wish that I could be home more often, at dinner more frequently with my community, I suppose what it comes down to is wishing to either be endowed with super human powers or to be granted more hours in each day. Seeing as neither one of those outcomes are likely ones I better keep working on balance.

Life situations at present make this balance a challenge, I am hoping that in a few months things will settle down and I will have a little more time to myself. I am feeling very low energy lately and worried that I'm running myself into the ground. But I am also not so sure I know what to do about it. I cannot simply not go to work (although sometimes I'd like to), I cannot disengage from family or community obligations (and would not want to), and at least every once in a while I would like to see my friends (because it's important to).

This is where I turn to Saint Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes, because the reality is I am not sure how to find balance in my life right now.

There is however, one thing that makes the imbalance livable, and that is a community that supports me through the craziness. One of the things that has most surprised me about my community is there willingness to work with my schedule and to support me emotionally and physically through the uneven terrain I maneuver.

Saturday, as part of the Homecoming festivities at work, I performed in a faculty/staff talent show to raise money for a scholarship. I assumed, due to the late hour, and the distance my work is from home, that my community would not be able to make it. I was completely surprised then when I walked out of the dressing room and saw them standing there ready for the show! I almost cried, of course I'm an emotional person so really that does not say much, HOWEVER, they truly made my night, and I hope that they realize that!

So when the rotted rubber band is winning the battle of balance in my life and I feel like I'm ready to snap in half, I am thankful for the understanding and supportive community I have been placed into here at Corpus Christi.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"You Keep Praying THAT!"

Today I write to share a comical and potentially profound moment. I have found myself thinking often lately about my early years of discernment, the years when I flat out told God to back off, that I was not interested in what was being offered! I would become defensive at the slightest remark or suggestion of my potential ability to become a religious sister.

In the summer of 2004 I spent time living at the Saint Francis Inn in Kensington, Philadelphia volunteering with the mixed Franciscan community there. In a short time I had become attached to the many people with whom I interacted that summer. On my final day there an elderly Irish woman who regularly volunteered her morning hours to serve breakfast sent me forth with these words, "I know, as God as my witness, someday you will return to us as a Franciscan sister." As I respect my elders I did not snap at her with the ferocity I typically expressed at such a comment, she was too gentle for that, and so I resolved to simply smile and say, "you never know." In my head it went more like, "hell no!"

I think in some ways my intense rejection of religious life came more from a deep unconscious belief that it was exactly what I was suppose to be doing with my life but something, in many ways, for which I was not ready. Now, I look back on that white-haired, Irish woman and think, yeah, you're right! I wonder what she saw that I was not willing to see within myself? I was recently told that she has passed away, I hope that she is able to see my life and know what her revelation has done for me.

Last week I was at a Assisi House with Sr. Pat Hutchison and Sr. Mary Ann McCarthy to thank the sisters who had assisted us with preparations for Neumann University's Welcome Back Day. Many of the sisters there helped us fold thousands of note cards that we then distributed to the University community. One of the sisters, at the conclusion of our time together, expressed how happy she was that I was a candidate with the community, and hoped that I would stay put for life. I quickly turned to her and said, "well, I pray every morning that I live as a holy franciscan and die as such in the community!" There was an eruption of laughter, quickly followed by, "AND YOU KEEP PRAYING THAT!"

Well sister, I will!

Holy Father saint francis
be with me and our entire community.
Guide all the labors of our vocation
obtain for us a great love for jesus and his mother
aid us that we may live as holy Franciscans
and die as such in the community.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

That's Crazy Beautiful!

There are two types of crucifixes, those supporting the limp and broken body of a crucified Christ, and those displaying the victorious risen Christ. The San Damiano cross depicts the latter, a risen Christ reaching out to the world. In Assisi, Italy hundreds of centuries ago the Christ of this cross spoke to Francis, "rebuild my Church." These words lead to the full conversion of this young man born into wealth. Francis become poor, dependent, needy to experience the fullness of Christ's suffering and ultimate love.

Today, as I grabbed a quick bite to eat at my desk, I sat and reflected with a woman who I will call my soul friend. My friendship with her is one I deeply cherish for the simplistic environment we create, open and conducive to spiritual sharing. Be it in our office, at a restaurant, in the car, walking through campus, or on the phone, we find ourselves enthralled in spiritual conversation more often than not. I am told these friendships are rare in life, yet I am blessed enough to have a number of them.

Today, as we talked we found ourselves reflecting upon the Christ of the Crucifix. We agreed that the crucified, dead body of Christ was not one with which we felt connected. Rather, we embrace the risen Christ, the "active" Christ. I must give credit where credit is due and so I share that this following piece is a reflection from my soul friend, Kathy. The Risen Christ is an active Christ who reaches out from the cross into the world, our world. I wonder if this caught Francis' attention . . . Francis was a man of action . . . what did he see in the cross?

As we continued talking about the active crucified Christ I had an epiphany. When I was a student at West Chester University, I spent many countless hours in prayer sitting in the small chapel in the Newman Center. I was always captivated by the crucifix that hung above the tabernacle. I often brought my deepest heart's desires to the foot of that cross. As I sit here, a few years removed from that time in my life I realize that the cross that hung in that chapel is the same cross that graces the walls in every Franciscan home, the San Damiano cross. I don't know that I ever knew why the San Damiano cross hung in the Newman Center, but I feel more deeply connected to Francis in knowing that from the first real moments of my discerning religious life I was sitting in front of the very cross that Francis had so long ago.

How cool is God?! I wonder why this connection now? I'm sure I've realized it at other times in my journey, but it was not until today, not until Kathy made the connection of the active Christ reaching out from the cross, that I realized the fuller connection to the Franciscan life. Something drew me into the Franciscan world before I ever met a Franciscan, and that is crazy beautiful!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Two Thumbs Up From Matthew

Two thumbs up from Matthew, that's what I got when Joan introduced me to the students at Corpus Christi School. As we traveled from class to class and grade to grade the students had many good questions: Why do you want to become a sister? Specifically why the Franciscans? When did you know you wanted to be a sister? Out of everyone's reaction, however, Matthew's exuberant "yeah!" accompanied with two thumbs up was by far my favorite.

In some ways I would imagine Matthew's "yeah!" to be similar to the reaction God had when I finally took this latest step. And in many ways it was an expression of my own excitement over this adventure on which I find myself.

I have been living in community for a month now, and every day I'm uncovering new aspects of community that support my yes. This past weekend it was the ability to go away and have fun together that drew me deeper into my understanding of this community. In many ways "praying" together comes easy to me . . . but "playing" together is trickier. There was a moment in the car ride down to Ocean City, Maryland this weekend that I became very aware of . . . how do I put this delicately . . . let's say I became very aware of the fact that I was a bit younger than the others in the car. This very point intrigues many of my friends and family. And to be honest, sometimes it doesn't always make sense to myself, but after this weekend together I can surely say there is something about it that just works!

As we sat on the balcony overlooking the ocean, sharing stories, and laughs I was reminded of the many hours I sat on the porch of the duplex in Dayton with my friends in graduate school. As we played games, watched a movie, ate s'mores, played miniature golf, and simply sat in each other's presence the earlier feeling of the disparity in age disappeared leaving only sisterhood. I felt as I do with any of my friends, free, happy, comfortable, and at peace.

I cannot help but feel the reality of the Christian community through experiences like the one I had this weekend. I think that what we find when we let go of numbers and labels is who we really are inside, which allows us to love more freely. I hope that I am bringing something to this community, but I know that they are bringing something to me. And like Matthew's two thumbs up I too give my two thumbs up!

Monday, October 4, 2010

I am Sister Sunflower

This evening I opened a card, a gift for celebrating the Feast of Saint Francis. On the front of the card was a sunflower. I have always loved sunflowers, in fact I felt at home and happy when Maureen showed me the beautiful sunflowers she had planted in the side yard.

1989 was the year I believe I first gained an affection for the strength and beauty of the flower named after brother sun. I was in second grade and preparing for my first Holy Communion, we were taught a children's song that was suppose to teach us the way of discipleship.

"Like a sunflower, that follows every movement of the sun. So I turn toward you, to honor you, my God."

So simple, but I couldn't think of a better image for the Feast of Saint Francis than that of the sunflower following the path of the sun. If God is the sun, I am the flower constantly turning my head toward my loving creator, the one who gives me life, sustains me with rays of light, and nourishes my every need. Just as Francis lived his life vowed to a gospel way of living, following the movements of God within his soul, I too turn toward God.

As I drove home this evening I was overwhelmed with tears of joy, out of no where I felt emotions welling up and expressing themselves. Have I finally found home? Not the home we live in, or the building that shelters us, but the feeling deep within our souls that assures us of our divine inheritance. I don't know that I really understand the answer to this question at this point in my journey, but there is a build up of hope like the tension of tectonic plates on the verge of a major earthquake, but unlike the destructive outcome of plate tectonics this build up brings immense goodness and joy!

In the quiet of my room this Feast of Saint Francis I sit blessed by God, graced by community, supported by my sisters, entranced by the life of Francis, and captivated with the movement of the Holy Spirit. Trinitarian love bonds me to the reality of the call within my heart, placed there by God. I am a disciple of God, who longs to live the gospel life; I am sister sunflower.