Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The People of the Waiting Room

After about two hours of sitting in the waiting room of the surgical unit at Saint Francis Hospital I had at least a dozen ideas as to how to create a more pleasant waiting experience for people. The aquarium filled with fish darting from side to side, top to bottom, and weaving in and out of faux trees can only entertain a person for so long. After the 25th loop of the morning news and about all I could handle hearing of William and Kate I was ready to redesign the whole room.

Waiting rooms are interesting places. They simultaneously and paradoxically house hopes and fears. People are brought together from varied worlds to the common existence of waiting. There is little to make the time pass faster. Two chairs occupied with diligent card players, a group of people slumped, half sleeping in front of the television, children wearing out already exhausted parents. While we all attempt to take our minds off the anxiety of waiting there is little that actually accomplishes the task.

By mid-morning the doctors begin to filter in and out, sitting next to wives, and children, and siblings, discussing the results of the varied surgical procedures. Some choose to meet in the "consultation room" others simply plop down where the loved one has been waiting. Three hours and still we wait. Doctors come and doctors go, but not the one for which we were waiting.

I made a profound observation today in that holding pattern; waiting rooms can teach us something very deep about Christian Community. Title, class, political party, and social status mean nothing in that room. The people of the waiting room shared stories, thoughts, laughs, and curiosities with each other, all the while everyone was waiting for their news. As we sat, having heard from the doctor but still waiting to be given clearance to head to the recovery room, a woman we had been speaking with earlier came over to ask if we knew anything yet. When we shared the good news she too shared that they were relieved in her family with their own news. As she turned to leave she gently tapped another "waiter" on the arm gently saying, "good luck with everything."

The world outside the confines of the waiting room has a lot to learn from this experience. Cell phones did not work, computers were not available, options for entertainment were limited. At least there were two of us waiting making the wait slightly more bearable. But what we discover when we remove the technology that holds our attention captive on the outside world are the people around us--Community! And opening our eyes to that can make all the difference.

The people of the waiting room have no choice but each other.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Into Your Hands I Commend My Spirit"

"Into your hands I commend my spirit." These very familiar words, spoken by Jesus as he took his final breaths on the cross, spoke very deeply to me throughout this Sacred Triduum. As I approached the front of the church to venerate the cross on Good Friday I found myself silently chanting these same words.

. . .

For the past few years I have spent the Holy Triduum at Daylesford Abbey, but this year was different. Two years ago I began working with a young woman at Neumann University in the R.C.I.A. program. When she began the program she did so with the sole commitment to learn more about the Catholic faith. She is a woman of serious faith who knew she could only say yes to a faith she deeply believed to be true. Because of her dedication to this she spent two years learning and growing and where appropriate participating in the Catholic Tradition.

Shortly after the winter break she came to my office all smiles to share that she finally decided that she would like to enter fully into the Catholic Church. This brought much joy to my heart, she is an amazing young woman who has so many gifts to share with our world! And so I knew in that moment the only place I could spend my Tridduum would be with her, welcoming her into the faith I too so dearly love.

Being that I am (as a close friend calls it) a "Litur-Geek," I feel compelled to attend the same church for all three days of the Triduum. Holy Thursday to Holy Saturday is one continuous liturgy, to church hop during this time would be like going to one church for the Liturgy of the Word and another for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And so I chose to attend St. Francis De Sales in Lenni for all three.

I not only shared my experience with the young woman who was baptized but with another phenomenal young woman who had never before experienced the Triduum. It was the most profound feeling to experience this age old tradition through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time! While, liturgically speaking, Daylesford is hard to top, I must share that this year's liturgical celebration of the paschal mystery was one that has impacted me much deeper than I anticipated.

. . .

"Into your hands I commend my spirit." I continued to hold and proclaim these words in my heart and vocally as we sang these ancient words in the dark of Holy Saturday night. I desire deeply to give my life to Christ, what exactly that looks like on the outside I'm not completely sure of, but as I silently chanted these words of Christ I found myself united in both the suffering and victory of Christ.

There are little words to describe my love of God; simple, true, and passionate. There is nothing I would not do if asked by God, but the disconnect always happens in the translation . . . sometimes I just don't understand what is being asked of me. In the words of Christ this Holy Easter I continue to sing, "into your hands I commend my spirit," and for now, as I celebrate these fifty days of unbounded joy (and the anticipation of the nearing transitions in my life), I believe the desire alone is enough to please God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Authentic Voice

The people gathered were settled, while she sang with a rich and booming voice she spoke in soft, melodic tones. She quietly repeated into the microphone, "The most powerful voice is always the authentic voice."

Three months ago Sr. Mary Craig and I discovered that we shared a common love for the music of Carrie Newcomer. Sometimes I listen to her music and I am left in awe as to how someone could think up such deep and meaningful metaphors, and then to go the step further and put it to music. At the time, Mary shared with me that Carrie was going to be in the Swarthmore area giving a workshop on "Writing Mindfully"and invited me to go with her. The workshop was tonight, and tonight has truly been a pretty amazing one!

Carrie spoke of writing the song of today and the meaningfulness that comes from being present. She said, "choosing to be present will change you." She spoke of openness, honesty, love, and desires. As she spoke of "risk" I thought of Mother Bachmann's words, "no risk, no gain." Carrie says, "we don't want to risk the thing we want most because if we don't get it, it would mean something." As I sat and listened to these words I thought of my own writing and my own music (which I often keep hidden away under my own hand-fashioned bushel basket.) Why do I not share more? What is my fear? What would happen if I were to let go of that which holds me back?--Questions I don't yet have answers for, but I assure you I'm trying!

Another running theme of Carrie's music is finding the Holy in the ordinary, sharing that sacred moments come and go and we appreciate them while we have them but we have to let go because "sacred is not a tame thing." There is so much truth packed into that sentence!

As Mary dropped me off at my car we shared our enthusiasm over the night, I shared I wanted to blog but realized it would be quite late by the time I was home. Mary suggested writing some thoughts down on paper and to write more fully tomorrow--Which was all well and good until I got home and had so many thoughts rumbling around in my head that I couldn't sleep without releasing them! And so I share . . .

While her story sharing and music were phenomenal I must say the most memorable moment of the night for me was sitting with Carrie afterwards, just the three of us, as she taught us how to play a guitar using her sawed off capos. Talk about holy in the ordinary! That she would take the time to answer and be excited about Mary's simple question, "can I ask you about your capos?" That was truly a holy moment.

Carried shared that "the closer we get to what we love the more potent our work becomes." Since my entering community last September I have expressed more through the written word, both here and in my music, than I have in my entire life. This to me speaks to the true desire of my heart and the reality of God's presence in my life. I believe my "authentic voice" has been found, not in any of the childhood dreams I had, but in the place I find myself this night, in the present moment and the present path on which I find myself.

So today, tonight, whatever applies to you--let your authentic voice be heard!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Smart Phones and Poverty

What does the vow of poverty mean in the 21st century? As radical as Francis' commitment to poverty was and as impressive as it seems to us, he lived his poverty in a particular historical context that is quite foreign to us. Francis did not have to make the decisions we face today in the 21st century. I don't mean to diminish his life, in fact what he gave up to live the vow was dramatic for the place he found himself. But times change . . .

In the 40's and 50's to stop on the side of the street and give a homeless person $5-$10 was absurd. That was a lot of money and therefore a lot to part with, but today to give that same amount would be no sweat off most people's back. Times change . . .

There was a time when every sister in community having access to her own personal car was unheard of, but today, given the range of ministries and varied needs of the individual most sisters do in fact have access to a personal car. Times change . . .

Today it is more challenging than ever to decide what the vow of poverty really looks like. I do not doubt or criticize those who feel called to such radical poverty that they literally live with little to nothing. The reality, however, is as an active community ministering in the world and preaching the Gospel, there are certain cultural and societal necessities that may outwardly appear to be inconsistent with a life of poverty that in actuality are not.

This conversation of the idea of poverty in the 21st century started with me a few weeks ago when I was talking to my mother about the need for a new phone before novitiate in July. (By the way, I was officially accepted and will definitely be entering novitiate this July!) She suggested I look at the smart phones because they have come down in price. I immediately retorted that I could not have a smart phone, it is not consistent with the life of poverty I am choosing.

Over the past few weeks though I have had this conversation with a number of sisters and family members that have given me pros and cons to add to the debate. For example there is a very useful app that is completely consistent with a life of poverty. This app allows you to scan a barcode with your phone so that you can retrieve a list of the stores in your area that sell that same product cheaper. Seems efficient to me.

Needless to say, I have found myself seriously contemplating the iphone. While I have not made a decision either way I am considering the pro/con list carefully. On one hand I do question what is poverty, and in the 21st century when technology is becoming common place where is the line? In many ways our ministry could be supported and more efficient with the greater use of technology because that is where the young people are! When working at Neumann it would take a student three days, if not more, to respond to an email. If I were to post it on their facebook wall I would have a response within minutes and in many cases seconds! Something to ponder . . .

When I really think about all the iphone has to offer however, I find myself wondering if I do really "need" it. And I fear I would become addicted to the use of it. Could I have one and not become obsessed with it? Maybe, but I believe it would take a conscious effort.

At this point the list is pretty even, and the scales are not leaning one way or the other. Luckily there is time to discern smart phones and poverty.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Self Invites: Courting the Community

Typically it is considered rude to invite yourself to a person's house for dinner right? Well, when you are 28 in a predominantly older community self invites are all relative! I have been inviting myself to all sorts of sisters homes over these past few months and every one of my requests has been received with a warm welcome, amazing food, and fantastic company!

One of the sisters with whom I live once asked me how I determine where I invite myself, the answer is really easy. One of two ways, either I see the sister at a function, or out and about and something about her makes me want to know her better, or I simply go through the photo directory and play Eni Mini Mini Mo.

Am I crazy? Probably! But it has proven to be the best way to get to know the congregation as a whole. And in reality, if I were dating a guy I would probably do the same thing, "can I come over tonight and hang out?" It's my way of courting the community.

Over the past week I have had two dinner dates that have just put me on top of the world. Last Monday I had dinner with Sisters Margaret and Mary Theresa. I met them at their apartment where we shared a bit, and prayed a bit. I even had the opportunity to meet other sisters in their apartment complex when we stopped by to return Sr. Hildegard's prayer book. Then, they took me to their favorite Italian eatery, the Olive Garden.

It never ceases to amaze me how much I thoroughly enjoy the company of women so many years . . . um . . . wiser than me!

Last year I was invited to Sisters Nora, Miriam Eileen, and Mary's for dinner, upon leaving they told me that the plant sitting on the table was their gift to me. Unfortunately there is no green in my thumb. I wish there was, my grandfather was an amazing gardener who attempted in every way to pass his talent on, but somehow it just never made its way to me! I forgot about the plant and left for a month in India and Nepal. Needless to say I killed it. At the time I was not living in community.

Last Monday, Sisters Margaret and Mary Theresa also gave me a plant. What's up with Franciscan's and plants??? I guess it's the whole love of creation thing! The beauty of this plant however, is that now that I am living in community it has a MUCH HIGHER chance of survival!!! In fact Maureen just watered it this morning!

Last night I spent a lovely dinner with Sisters Rose Raymond and Marie Francine, thankfully they just gave me meatballs and no plant! I don't think I could handle caring for two plants at once! Seriously though, I had a wonderful time! They are fantastic and FUNNY women who have enlivened me!

I suppose I should reign myself in from this rambling. But I felt I must share these experiences because they deepen and enrich my ability to continue to say yes to this path on which I find myself! These women have lived their lives with no regrets of the choices they have made and have openly shared that they wouldn't change a thing! I hope that through the years I too will be able to make that same statement!

I guess when you find where God is calling you there is no regrets, only faith, hope, and love.--AMEN.

P.S. I also accept invites as well!

Friday, April 8, 2011

You Will be a Great Mother to Her

I recently completed a reflection paper required as part of the process of formally applying for acceptance into novitiate. In reflecting upon these past seven months in candidacy and my discernment as a whole I found what was most important to me to share was the shift I have experienced when it comes to the things I most desire in life.

Like many young girls I have dreamed about my wedding day from the time I donned my first pair of plastic high-heel shoes and began to play dress-up! The dream never really changes, it evolves, but there is a guy, a proposal, a white horse drawn carriage (okay, I may have been a more extravagantly oriented child), and of course an amazing honeymoon on an Alaskan cruise. Your typical fairy tale type stuff! Motherhood always called to me. Early in my discernment of religious life, when I would find myself leaning toward saying yes I would find myself pulled away by my innate desire of motherhood.

Over the years I found myself in a place where children were a non-negotiable. Husband or not I was going to find a way to have children. Maybe by means not so accepted by church teaching or maybe adoption, I imagined it all . . . the thing is however, that my desire for children, as it turns out, is not so contrary to religious life. In fact it may be the best place for me to embrace my desires of motherhood.

As I continued my discernment I came to a place where I suddenly realized that the biological desire to have babies was just that, babies! When I sat back and really reflected upon adolescent and adult children my motherly instincts suddenly vanished, I have NO DESIRE to have teenage children! And seeing as it's not really acceptable or human to raise kids to the age of ten and then send them off into the world, I had to reevaluate what my desires were really all about!

I use to secretly roll my eyes at sisters who would claim they have lived their motherhood through the children they teach, and that in many ways they were more of a mother than they could have been in the context of one nuclear family. But the truth is I'm beginning to understand that on a much deeper reality than I had in the past.

Today, as I arrived at the Motherhouse I ran into Sr. Elsa, an amazing sister who never fails to make me smile! She said that I was missed in choir as they prepare for the Sacred Triduum. I shared with her that the reason for not singing in choir this time was that I would be attending the parish where a student I have worked with for the past two years will be entering into the Church. She will be baptized, confirmed and receive her first Holy Communion. It is important to me to be with her as she makes a true commitment to Church. The journey has been a long one for her, I have been there for much of it and am really looking forward to celebrating this great moment in her faith life along side of her.

To this Elsa smiled and said, "You will be a great mother to her!"

I sort of chuckled at first, I thought she was saying I'd make a good mother someday . . . I almost turned to her and said, "When did the Church approve that?!" I quickly realized I misunderstood and realized what she actually said. I walked away with a little hop in my step because the reality is, as much as I rolled my eyes at this concept in the past, you really can embrace your motherhood by serving others! I will not only be sister, but I too will be mother. It might not look like the 5 year old Sara imagined in her plastic pumps and lace dress, but it's just as good--or dare I say, without the commitment of teenagers, better!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Holy Sea Isle!

There is nothing sweeter than the smell of the ocean, the sound of the waves, and the company of amazing women. Sunday morning Kathy, Joan, Maureen, and myself sat on the beach in Sea Isle City watching the waves gently crash upon the sands having traveled inland from the horizon. We had spent the weekend together on retreat reflecting upon the holy in the ordinary-in our world, our lives, and each other.

I did not think I had ever been to Sea Isle before but in sharing the weekend with my mom she shared that the best arcade was there and I in fact was there many times as a child. I think I was too young to remember! As far as my cognizant years go this was my first memory of the city that captures your smile! "I was captured by you smile, as we drifted by Sea Isle . . ."

It took a mere hour for the first brilliant smile to spread across my face. On our outing to the Acme Joan and I had a chance to witness the glorious sun setting over the bay. It was a moment that reminded me much of God's voice and calling to us. As we pulled out of the driveway Joan pointed out the golden gleam on the houses reflecting the sun's rays. I was so oblivious, until she had pointed it out I thought the source of the light was nothing more than a street light. It was as if brother sun was speaking to Joan, calling her to follow. And as she turned up and down side streets winding her way to the bay she listened to his words. I'm glad I was present to observe her following because it too brought me a gift that night and reminded me that following God means following the little hints, because that is what leads us to the greater treasure.

The next morning I ventured down to the beach. While it was a little chilly that first morning it was nonetheless beautiful!

There is something magical about the beach in early April, the sand untrodden leaving perfectly whole shells to be admired.

I was so happy that I was given the opportunity to share this retreat with my community. It was a small gesture of thanks for their undying support of me these past 7 months. We prayed together, played together, and praised together! There is nothing sweeter!