Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Have You Ever Listened to a Raisin?

We all know the phrase "stop and smell the roses" right? Well, here's a new one for you, have you ever stopped and listened to a raisin? And I don't mean the California Raisins! I am referring to a regular Sun-Maid raisin. Would you have me committed if I told you that you can indeed hear a raisin? A week ago I may have thought a person was off their rocker to claim a raisin makes noises, but after listening to a raisin with my very own ears I now think differently.

Last weekend I attended a formation workshop on "Mindfulness" with Simona, Kathy, Sr. Helen, and Sr. Mary. How mindful are we? Well on a mindLESS scale from 1-35 I scored a 22, but in my defense average is 17--and really my score was skewed by my love of day dreaming. As far as most things were concerned I tended toward a lower score of mindlessness.

We spent a good deal of time during the workshop experiencing intentional mindfulness. We closed our eyes to observe the sounds that surrounded us, while being encouraged not to pay attention to them but simply to note them and move on. The sister running the workshop made a distinction between observing and describing. To say someone looks angry is a judgement, to observe is to say a person's eye brows are furrowed, their mouth is turned down, and their eyes are squinting. Who knew we judged so much! In fact it was suggested that we use a pedometer of judgement per say--a counter to figure out the number of times we make judgements throughout our day. I have not yet agreed to try this . . . maybe I'm afraid of the results!

And so, we return to the sound of the raisin. As a final activity we were given a raisin and were asked to place it in our hand to observe it. The activity included smelling, and tasting, and yes, "listening" to the raisin. Believe it or not, if you put a raisin to your ear and roll it around between your finger and thumb you can indeed hear a prominent, squishy sound. WHO KNEW?! Raisins actually make sounds!

Of course when asked to reflect upon the experience I could not help but suggest, as a non-raisin lover, that M&M's would have been a much sweeter experience! But nonetheless I do have to admit, as bizarre as this activity was, and as difficult as it was to stifle the mocking laughter I felt bubbling up inside, there is a reality that was brought to light for me. If I have gone 27 years without ever hearing a raisin, how many things am I missing in my life? How often do I miss what is right in front of me, things that are seemingly simply, and yet have a depth to them that I have obliviously ignored my entire life? This call to be more mindful starts with giving things time. It took about five minutes to eat that one raisin . . . I have to ask myself if I am willing to take the time to experience other things at that depth. This may be the challenge for us all.

So, be honest, have you fetched yourself a raisin yet?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Either Way The Spirit is in it All

"Drop your nets and follow me."

I wonder if there was a time when that's all one needed to hear. I think of my own story, the doubt, the struggles, the excitement, the desire to say yes but inability to speak it, the tug-o-war with my emotions, saying yes and changing my mind, saying yes and jumping in . . .

If ever there was a moment when I simply "dropped my net and followed" it was last year when I finally made the decision to follow this call--or as I sometimes think of it--whisper, cause let's face it, God's not as blunt in the 21st Century as in biblical times! Yet even after saying yes it wasn't as simple as dropping the net and going, there is a whole "process" involved in entering religious life these days that simply did not exist 50 years ago.

Sitting around the dinner table the sisters here share stories of entering. Sometimes I smile, sometimes I cringe, often though I find that our experiences are quite different. Sometimes I'm jealous of their process, and sometimes I'm thankful I do not have to experience it that way. But whether over-processed or under-processed I believe the Holy Spirit is in it all! And that's the more important part of the story!

There are plenty of decisions I made quickly and easily, others took years of over processing to discover an answer, but through both ways I believe God has lead me to this very place in time. And that's the beauty of our God, sometimes we need the "processing" and sometimes we need to just "jump in." Either way our God is patient through all our doubts and excitements, hopes and uncertainties.

So, while I have come to abhor the word "process" and try in all instances to replace it with "journey," there are times I can recognize the goodness of the experience, and realize that I more fully understand myself because of it all!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Maria Anna Bachmann: Mother, Foundress, Friend

This weekend I, along with four other women in formation and three professed sisters on the formation team, gathered in the St. Joseph community room to immerse ourselves in the living witness of Mother Mary Francis Bachmann through her letters. Working at Neumann University for the past two years I have taught the history of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia as a precursor to the history of Neumann to first year students. This weekend I encountered a whole new understanding of Mother Bachmann, I was invited into her world and in return invited her into mine. What I found are the words to define the reasons I feel magnetically attracted to this particular community of women.

Mother Francis' sense of mission, her devotion to the Church in the face of challenging clerical power, her commitment to community even though dispersed, her understanding of life and forgiveness, her dedication to the poor, and her deep abiding love for Jesus and his Holy Mother have drawn me into a deeper sense of my desire to belong to a community of women who keep all these things alive and thriving in our 21st century world.

As a closing reflection we were invited to write a letter to Mother Bachmann, below I share my words to her. While this letter is personal on many levels I choose to share because she so freely shared of herself and this is my small way of sharing a piece of myself--with her, and with you.

Dearest Mother Francis,

In these past two days I have come to know you beyond the history I pass on to my students. Before you were stagnate, an historical figure, a seemingly "un-knowable" ghost of the 19th century. But a las, the reality of the communion of saints has brought our souls to a place outside time and space in which we are given the opportunity to encounter each other. You have given me a part of you through your words to our sisters and now I sit in the peaceful stillness of this Sunday--bathed in the sunlight streaming through the window--offering you a part of me.

There is, and for a long time has been, an undeniable force drawing me to this place and into this community. As I sit enlightened by your wisdom I wonder if your sense of mission, that has infused the lives of generations of Franciscan women, has been the driving force of which I speak. I can't help but ponder if women such as Dorothy Day were inspired by women like you! Go where there is need and serve where there is need--no matter the cost--our providential God in the end will sustain you.

In a world increasingly and publicly aware of danger, mission can be lost due to fear--fear of the unknown, fear of safety, fear of being alone. But fear will only hurt us further if we allow it to control our call. You have revealed your own rejection of this paralyzing form of fear by embracing your call of God. Fear has a place, it keeps us smart in certain compromising situations but we can never allow it total control.

As you have consistently pleaded for the prayers of your sisters I now ask for yours. As I step foot into my own foreign defined lands, far from my past understanding of home, be with me and bless my journey. Pray that I know the direction to go and that I have the courage to move toward it confidently.

Your loving daughter,

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Keeper Moments"

Twenty Four hours ago I walked into the convent after having traveled around Florida for ten days. I had been visiting family, going on retreat, and attending the Catholic Campus Ministry Association's National Convention. Last night I returned home. Lugging my luggage clumsily through the door I was welcomed by Maureen and Joan who had the fire place roaring, the wine poured, and chips and salsa ready to eat!

The whole scene made my heart happy, but the thing that most amazed me was that it was nearing 11 pm and they were both awake enough to sit and listen to my travel stories. In a conversation earlier in the day Joan had shared with me that they were staying up to welcome me home, it honestly made my day! It may seem cheesy but I have missed them greatly . . . I suppose in the end that's a pretty great confirmation as far as discernment goes, yet at the same time it makes me sad thinking that in a few months I will be leaving.

For now, in the words of Scarlet O'Hara, "I will think about that tomorrow."

As for today . . .

Snowy weather made its impression on the area. Once again we ventured out in hopes of making a snowman, or as Joan insists, "snowperson," but alas we waited too late into the evening when the snow had become un-packable. We did however, successfully build a miniature snowperson from the snow ball Maureen snuck in the house in an attempt to attack us. Our little snowperson sat on the kitchen window sill but lived a short life as none of us were willing to turn down the heat to create a proper home for our little snow buddy.

The flake of parsley sitting behind her head reminds me of the palm trees I just left behind in the Sunshine State. I can't believe just one day ago I was walking around in short sleeves and now I'm bundled to face 20 degree weather!

This short reflection may not seem like much, but it's these moments that are quickly growing to define my experience this year, because these are the moments that life takes place, these are the moments within true joy, friendship, and love are shared--freely given, and freely received. Last week on retreat we spoke of "keeper moments"--those moments you hold onto because of their sacredness in your story. This year is quickly filling up with "keeper Moments" that I hope will sustain me for years to come in this wild and amazing journey on which I find myself!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"The Doorframe"

The Doorframe
By Adrienne Rich, in The Fact of a Doorframe

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you double and you must
look back
and let it happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your opinions
to die bravely

but much will blind you
much will evade you
at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.

A new year and a deeper understanding to where God is calling me. This Tuesday (or maybe last depending on when I have access to internet giving me the ability to post this as right now I am on retreat in the middle of the woods in southern Florida) will mark one year since making the decision to say yes to this next step in my journey to finding and understanding God’s call in my life. January 5th, the feast of Saint John Neumann, was the day I shared this decision to walk through the door.

I walked into a meeting with Mary Beth, completely unrelated to the topic of discernment and vocation, and announced in the South Entrance doorway to Our Lady of Angels, that I was ready to jump in and just do it! She gathered herself up off the floor (metaphorically speaking) but remained a bit shocked, much like a deer in headlights, as we walked to the dining room where she turned to me and said, “Go get something to eat, I need a minute to collect my thoughts.”

This poem, shared this evening on retreat, brings these memories to the forefront of my thoughts. I have always held the image of the doorway as the truest understanding of my discernment. As we reflected on this image, and this poem I wrote these words:

Deciding to enter with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia was a doorframe I stood outside of, pondering for years about what was inside. Distractions came that drew me away from the doorframe for a time but something always grasped my curiosity and lured me back to gaze in at the inside world. A world I had experienced through the stories of others but never first hand. Years of wondering wore away my questions that caused such hesitation in walking through--though I still had no answers I realized the only way to find them was to go through myself--walk the halls.

Since walking through I’ve “remembered my name.” Those distractions that drew me away from the doorframe were never true to me--they were fun but not fulfilling.

Further reflection on this image raises an awareness within myself, and though I am at risk of overusing the image, home is what comes to mind. Home is where I find myself.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Virtue Ethics, It's Something You Do

A year into my graduate studies at the University of Dayton I found myself coming face to face with the reality that it was quite possible I was going to my fail my Ethics and Scripture course because I could not understand Aristotle's Virtue Ethics to save my life. Being a graduate assistant I was technically at risk of losing my assistantship in Campus Ministry, my director quickly settled my nerves by sharing with me that there was a lot more that went into the decision of taking away an assistantship.

With my nerves taken care of it was time to face virtue ethics, sink or swim, I had to try. I began meeting weekly with my professor, if there was an award for coming up with the most creative analogies for ethics my professor would have most definitely received it! In the end he finally found a way of breaking through my inability to grasp it, and surprisingly in the end not only did I pass, but I did so with an A-.

They say that Patience is a virtue. It took me a long time to understand the basics of virtues let alone attain them, and so I can sit here and honestly share with you that patience is something I have to work on for what I predict will be a long time.

I recently had an argument with an elderly relative, an argument born out of frustration on both sides. As we grow older we naturally become more and more forgetful, but sometimes it's more than forgetfulness, sometimes we call it dementia, sometimes we call it Alzheimer's, sometimes we just aren't sure if it's anything at all. If I'm completely honest with myself I would have to admit that I could use a lot more patience in this relationship. But getting there is a lot more challenging than this reflection. It makes me think of virtue ethics. I have to practice it in order to attain it, it won't be a gift given to me in a single instant, it won't be something I magically just have, it will be something for which I must work--and maybe this relationship is the place to start.

And so I go back to virtue ethics, it's not something you get, it's something you do!