Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bundles of Hay and Driving Privileges

A dear friend of mine often calls me a "litur-geek" due to my affection for all things liturgical and my desires to create the environment for what I once heard referred to as "the possibility for the miracle to happen." As I tell the liturgical ministers that I train, doing what we do well matters! Preparing is a vital piece of liturgy. Everyone can tell the difference between the lector who prepared and the lector who is reading the passage for the first time. Could you imagine being an unprepared lector today who had to read about "drunkards" and "orgies"?

This weekend I had an opportunity to spend time catching up with dear friends from college, one of whom is just about as (if not more) "catholic dorky"as I am. Upon arriving at the convent for the night she pulled small bundles of hay out of her suitcase. She explained that we were to each take a bundle as a reminder of how we are preparing for the coming of Christ. I must admit, I laughed at her gesture . . . maybe I just couldn't get over the fact that she had just pulled HAY out of her SUITCASE!

She kindly made enough for the sisters with whom I live. I was still a bit giddy over this concept of praying with bundles of hay throughout the Advent Season, but as I distributed them to the sisters I realized through their genuinely joyous reactions that there is something in this worth reflecting on.

How am I preparing myself for the coming of Christ, not just the baby Jesus but the deeper, more transformative meaning of Advent, the second coming of Christ? This question was also the focus of this evening's homily. After a hilarious retelling of a Black Friday shopping adventure in which Fr. Lowe broke down three attitudes toward Advent through the actions of his nieces and nephew he raised a point that shifted my whole mindset toward the Season of Advent. There are three ways he laid out to enter into Advent. 1) The Placid Nephew--waiting calmly, "I've done it before, I'll do it again, I know the routine." 2) The Ecstatic Niece--so focused on the outcome and excited in the moment that nothing else matters. and 3) The Enraged Niece--"There's nothing here for me, let's move on."

As he spoke I quickly labeled myself the "Ecstatic" one. I am excited to be entering into Advent. As Joan and I sat earlier talking about our elaborate plans for our nativity scene I lit up brighter than a Christmas tree. Just when I was feeling proud of myself for being the one who was excited he made the shift. What if we opened ourselves up in such a way that we truly listened to God's call in our lives and what God's path was for us throughout this season? How different would our journey look?

While it's good to be excited about the season I have to remember that it's not my own journey, I walk this path with Christ and so I must be open to new directions. I cannot let my excitement dictate the path, but God alone must be given the driving privileges!

And so I will keep my bundle of hay this season as a reminder of just that--openness to truly listen to God in my life as I prepare myself for the Christmas Season.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Realizations and Wonderings

"Everything happens for a reason." Well, I don't think so!

But I do believe we can give reason to everything!

I have spoken a few times now about my local community and the joy I have found with them. That doesn't mean our lives are utopian, but I really believe the Spirit has brought such amazing gifts into my life through these women.

Last night we went to see Jersey Boys in Philly, what a fantastic time together (this was our "Thanksgiving celebration".) Today we parted in separate directions to visit with family and friends over the holiday, but Sunday we shall all return home to each other.

I don't believe things "happen for a reason" but I do believe that I can find meaning in most things that occur in my life--like when someone in your life has a sudden health issue and you let your mind wonder too far down uncertain and unrealistic paths only to realize for the first time how deeply you love that person. Would I ever wish that health concern upon the person? NO! But am I grateful for the awareness of my feelings for that person? YES!

Meaning is something we seek out, it rarely falls out of the sky landing perfectly in our laps. It goes the same for my discernment. Answers won't just appear, I have to search for them, so as we sat ready to pay the check last night at dinner I thought about how this whole money thing works . . .

What is the budget of a sister and how many pairs of shoes can I buy with it?

My hair products alone bring me to about $20. If the budget I've heard from a number of sisters now is really the budget I'm going to be living than I can tell you now I'm going to need a heart defibrillator! Okay, okay, that's my inner drama queen showing herself. But if I'm really honest with myself, celibacy is cake next to poverty!

Tonight at dinner with my parents and brother-in-law we discussed this future money situation. While I totally recognize that the vow of "poverty" is nothing near living on the streets, I am sure that it's going to be the most challenging aspect of religious life for me. My father once counted my shoe collection, let's just say that number might have been over 40. My family and I soon began to discuss possible loop holes, at which point my mother said, "so are you going to be the first sister to lie about money?" Okay, point taken! Maybe I need to just relax . . .

Kathy pointed out that I will need to really figure out the difference between "want" and "need" but I'm telling you as sure as the day is long sometimes that really cute pair of shoes fall under the "need" category!!!

Oh, I'm doomed . . .

Oops, sorry, reigning in my inner drama queen!

I can do it, I know I can, I think I can . . . stay positive . . . I can!

I hope . . .

So, while I don't believe it all "happens for a reason" I can sit here tonight and share with you that meaning can be found, living this poverty thing is something I will have to intentionally seek out and practice--it won't just come easy to me! But in living it I will grow in my understanding of it, and I will hopefully bring to the world a deeper understanding of transformation through faith.

But in the mean time, Dear Jesus, help me see the goodness of poverty in Francis' eyes . . .

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Takes More Than Fried Bananas

The meal was simple, but the aroma that wafted through the air was filled with the promise of tasty goodness! It was Tuesday night, my night to cook, Joan and Maureen were digging into the fajitas I had prepared at Joan's suggestion (for which I was grateful as earlier that day I had no clue what I was going to prepare for dinner). As an added palatable pleasure I decided to make fried bananas.

As I shared this treat with the girls I rather smartly proclaimed, "I have to do something to earn my keep!" Simultaneously Joan and Maureen had very different reactions. Joan smiled and sweetly said something about not needing to "earn" my keep, they'd keep me anyway. Maureen on the other hand shared her sarcastic side by quickly blurting out, "it's gonna take more than fried bananas girl!" to which the three of us burst into laughter!

That Sr. Maureen, she's quick on her feet in a way that comes out of no where!

These two reactions have been on my mind throughout this week, partly because the title "It Takes More Than Fried Bananas" was just too good to pass up, but also because I think the two reactions are profound examples of my favorite two aspects of the community we have built here at Corpus Christi--Love and Laughter.

I truly feel loved here. There are times I walk through the door after a difficult and challenging day to sisters sitting in the prayer room welcoming me home. They embrace me as I am, listening to me, and supporting me. I remember days when I would return home to an empty apartment I desperately attempted to make "home." I think my definition of home will always include people with whom to share my life.

They say 8 minutes of hard laughter is just as good as an 8 minute ab workout, let me tell you if that were truly the case we would be well on our way to flat and toned tummies in this convent! I am thrilled to be in a community that understands the importance of fun! It is through the silly moments that I become more closely bound to my sisters!

And so yes Maureen, you are correct! It DOES take more than fried bananas, it takes the love to be real and compassionate and the laughter to embrace the totality of the human soul. It is through the offering of these two pieces of ourselves that we find our keep!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Community Away from Community

The clock was minutes away from striking five pm, the mark of the end of the typical work day. My job, however, is far from being typical. Our inter-religious faith sharing group, which I am responsible for facilitating, was meeting later in the evening and I had an hour to figure out what to do for dinner. Driving home between events is no longer a possibility; I am no longer living ten minutes away. In fact adding it all up I've come to realize I drive close to 200 miles a week, putting me in my car for about an hour to an hour and half each day. I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

From 2006-2008 I lived and worked at the same place, I put less than 10,000 miles on my car per year and that INCLUDED driving back and forth from Dayton, OH to West Chester, PA to visit family. To say the least I had become spoiled. So, back in August when it was shared with me that I would have a "longer" commute I was all but throwing a temper tantrum. Actually if I'm really honest with myself, I did throw a temper tantrum, I just did it by myself behind closed doors!

In some ways I think my humanness gets in the way of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is definitely tiresome and frustrating to have the commute that I have (especially given the nature of my work, it's not exactly nine to five), and in many ways it makes this time difficult. I sometimes feel like I am unable to please people because I am pulled in so many directions. BUT, at the same time, I would not want to change my living situation for the world. It's an odd paradox in which I find myself.

But in this paradoxical existence I have discovered yet another aspect of community living for which I have become most grateful, and that is my community away from community. Sisters Pat and Eileen have been more than gracious to me in giving me a place to rest in the in-between. They have fed me, given me shelter, and a place to lay my head when my ministry becomes demanding in ways that make traveling home difficult. I can only imagine how thankful I will be if we have the winter we had last year! 45 minutes on icy roads is just not how I want to spend my winter months!

Their generosity of spirit and hospitality has made me to realize the beauty of community. My local community is immensely important to me, but they are a part of the whole that makes this life worth living. Just because my technical address/residence is here does not mean that it is the only place I can experience as "home."

A home is something beyond the brick that makes this house, home is a sense of family and belonging. Whether I am in Delaware, across the street from work, or having dinner with other local communities I have found home.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


There is a show on the discovery channel that I think is worth comparing to my current adventure in life. Mythbusters is a show in which two guys take a commonly accepted belief from the big screen and test its truthfulness in reality. Ever watch a guy scale the inside of an air vent using magnetic shoes and gloves? BUSTED! While it's technically possible the magnets would have to be so strong that the person would 1) need to be fairly strong to move the magnets and 2) be so obnoxiously loud that they would NOT be under the radar per say . . . which I'm guessing if your scaling the inside of an air vent in place of taking the elevator you probably want to go undetected!

Well, much like this show busts and confirms the proposed truths of Hollywood, I hope that this year and this experience of writing allows me the space to confirm the truths and bust the myths of religious life. Let's call it Faith-busters!

Tonight's episode I will share with you the image of religious life held by (I would estimate) MANY of this country's population. What is a nun? She is most likely wearing a habit, carrying around a ruler and clicker, she probably never smiles, and when she's not in school teaching children, she's in the convent praying. Well, maybe not EVERYONE has this view, but some variation of it I'm sure creeps into the minds of most.

First off, a "nun" is typically cloistered and therefore would not be seen walking around let alone teaching . . . but as most use the word "nun" and "religious sister" interchangeably I will continue by sharing that this "MYTH" is BUSTED!

What I can confirm this evening is that a convent is not just about praying 24-7. In fact while washing and drying the dishes tonight my convent erupted with laughter as we took our dish towels, twirled them between our hands and swung at each other! Like children horsing around while their parent looked the other way we went at each other through laughter and playful banter. I suppose it would be important to share that this digression into childhood came from our dinner conversation in which we all shared stories about ourselves as rebellious and ditsy teens. Those things that we probably shouldn't be too proud of, and in reality should never have done, but boy don't they make great stories now?!

When I tell people that we pray together as a community most mornings at 6:30 I am met with questions concerning our lives. Is that all we do? Pray? The reality is that's not all that there is, in fact I believe that prayer leads us to everything else. Firm foundations in faith bring us to places of confidence that give us the freedom to be silly! Making prayer the center of our lives without it being the only thing that encompasses our lives leads us into deeper relationship with Christ. So, by no means do I wish to discount the importance of prayer but what I would ABSOLUTELY like to emphasize is that playful banter can also bring us great understanding of God in our world. After all, I think Jesus was a funny dude, we just miss it in the historical context of scripture.

So, religious sisters sitting alone all day praying is BUSTED by Faith-Busters! In place I wish to leave you all with this image, the image of the family. Living in a convent is much like living in a family . . . you have your responsibilities within the household: your nights to cook dinner, your chores, your days to lead prayers, etc. But along with those responsibilities also comes the fun things that keep you connected as a unit!

So please, take that decrepid image of "NUN" out of your head and replace it with the reality of living a life devoted to following God's will! I'll tell you, from what I have experienced from a number of the older sisters in the community, it's well worth it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Midnight Musings

The house is quiet. Everyone sleeping soundly, not even the usual city sirens can be heard, only the occasional clunk of the radiator signaling the promise of warmth. I am tucked into bed and while I typically am sleeping at the point where one day becomes the next I am instead wide-eyed and if I had a tail it would be bushy. . .

There is no real explanation for this burst of alertness, in fact my weekend was exhausting from the festivities surrounding my sister's wedding. The sheer dancing alone should bring sleep upon my body. But alas, I lie awake, thoughts filtering through my brain a mile a minute with a certain certainty creeping into my being--as if something is assuring me of the "rightness" of this time in my life.

While I was away from the convent this weekend I felt a yearning to return, I was happy to be with my family and we had an amazing weekend together, but driving home I felt a comfort settle in my heart. I am on the other side of our first misunderstandings as a community and so thankful for the openness of all to be in conversation with each other and myself. But there was something about that moment around the dinner table that made me feel like I belong more so than I have thus far.

This afternoon I was helping two of the sisters with a project that has recently been consuming their time. I believe there are many reasons why God has brought me to Corpus Christi, but sitting around the table, working together, I felt my gifts and passions were appreciated and accepted in ways that gave me great confidence. I have felt appreciated from the first moment I joined the community here, but there was something unexplainably significant about today.

During my sister's wedding the priest read a letter that my sister wrote about her intentions of marrying her fiancee. She explained that what she most cherished about their relationship was that they "wanted" each other, they did not "need" each other. I think there is something very profound about this mentality. While I do believe we ALL "need" each other I do also believe that it is more important to be wanted, to belong.

And so to reach the point of my midnight musings . . . tonight I sit here with a deep feeling of being wanted, and isn't that what we all desire most in life? I feel fulfilled in my desire for being wanted (and while the sisters with whom I live could argue this, I sort of have a hunch they would agree!) And to be honest, I want them too!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Where the Earth Meets the Sky

How often do we stop in our busy lives to witness the majestic wave of God's paint brush wisp across the heavens painting the backdrop of the golden sun sinking into the place where the earth meets the sky? There is something quite profound about a sunset. Everyday it is the same ball of fire, everyday it is the same sky, and yet everyday it is magically and wonderfully different! Sometimes deep oranges streak the horizon while other times purple clouds filter rays of light.Sunsets have always touched my soul on a deep and personal level. They act as a stop sign to witness God's beauty. Sometimes I leave work at the exact moment when the sun is sliding behind the trees over the turf field, lately I have been convincing myself to stop, breathe, and experience the beauty. I believe that if there is any moment where I can most feel the presence of an all loving God it is in that moment when my eyes meet brother sun saying goodnight to a world in need of rest. The sunset is an invitation to relax, to "be still and know" God's love and presence.

Five months ago I sat with Sr. Mary Beth in a quiet hotel parking lot in Denver, Colorado. Having spent the last six days with students working in Ethete, Wyoming with Sr. Teresa Frawley, we were resting for one final day before heading back east. Few words were shared between us as we witnessed the majestic Rocky Mountains bathed in shades of purple and pink as the sun sank behind them. Rays of light shot upward behind clouds creating a surreal effect. As we sat and watched the day turn to night I felt tears well up inside of me. How could one sit and experience such awesome beauty and not believe in God. My heart broke in that moment for everyone who did not feel that celestial love.

A year and a half ago I headed west with my two best girlfriends. Three women, a trunk full of clothes and camping gear, a cooler in the backseat, and a chevy cavalier. We were most blessed to be on the road and without a plan. Although we loosely planned our travels we stopped when we felt like it, changed directions as we felt called, and ate when our bodies told us we needed it. There is something so right about the freedom of that trip, as if that is how we are meant to live, without a map, without a plan, just a feeling and a call.

Where the earth meets the sky, that is where I embrace God, that is when I feel wrapped in love, that is where God's voice is so loud that it is impossible to ignore . . . where the earth meets the sky.

Lake Superior, 2008, camping trip in Northern Michigan with two friends celebrating our graduating Graduate School.

Wheat field, somewhere in Kansas, 9 hours of road behind us, 3 more to go. We sat and watched the sunset anyway.

Just past Lake Powell, Arizona, Grand Canyon bound.

Arizona desert, sometimes the reflection of the sunset is just as beautiful, sometimes you just have to turn around.

Grand Canyon, June 2009.

The Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tumkur, India, summer 2010 visiting a friend.

Foothills of the Himalayas, Nepal summer 2010.

And you don't have to travel somewhere exotic: Reading, Pennsylvania, Fall 2008.

February 14, 2010. My front yard, photo taken by my daddy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reflections: Mirrors into our Souls

It's time for bed. Pajamas on, tucked in under heavy blankets, space heater humming away, alarm set for the awful hour of 6 am, and I cannot sleep! I am high on the excitement of a wonderful night. I spent this evening with a fantastic sister, a woman I have felt drawn to and captivated by for a while. We enjoyed each other's company over a delicious meal, sharing stories, faith, laughter, and learning a little more about each other.

In the context of our conversing we talked a little bit about my blogging experience. She shared a unique perspective with me tonight on her own experience of reading my blog. She expressed that what was particularly enjoyable was that my writing reflects back to the sisters their own lives. As I sit here tonight, contemplating this thought of reflection, I cannot help but love the image of a mirror. We are mirrors into each other's souls, what I reflect back to you assures you of your faithful following of God's call in your life. Just as what you reflect back to me assures me of my own desire to live the life to which so many of you have said, "yes!"

It seems lately there is a theme emerging in my writing, a theme of the desire for and need of community in discovering who exactly I am called to be in this life. I spoke last week of the cyclical nature of inspiration, and tonight I speak of reflecting to each other our true selves. If I can be my true self, and the community can reflect that back to me, then I must be on the right path . . .