Praying with my feet: called to El Camino

For over a thousand years, millions of pilgrims have walked across Spain to the Catedral de Santiago (Cathedral of St. James). During Holy Week, I will become one of those pilgrims.

This Lent, much of my energy and prayer has been focused on preparing for this pilgrimage. During this, I have found that God has taught me a lot about what it means to be called.

I’ll be walking the Camino Inglés with five other women, four of whom are Franciscan sisters in my congregation. The Camino Inglés is one route — the quieter, less-traveled one — of the pilgrimage that ends at the Catedral de Santiago in western Spain.

Our little group will arrive in Spain on Palm Sunday and begin walking on Tuesday. We hope to arrive at the Catedral de Santiago in time for the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Each day, we will walk between 12 and 18 miles. Each night, we will sleep in very simple refugios. We will carry everything on our back and pray with our feet as we walk steadily over the trail that pilgrims have journeyed since the Middle Ages.

Nearly every day since Lent began, I have laced up my hiking boots and headed outside to walk several miles. I have been trying, physically and spiritually, to prepare myself for this journey. A few weeks ago, I even…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

“pack and poles” Photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Discernment via Reality TV

Last Sunday night I joined about nine million other Americans in a guilty pleasure past time—the season finale of The Bachelorette with Emily Maynard. First off, I have to say that in no shape or form do I ever suggest dating more than one person at a time. I also would strongly suggest against signing a TV contract which includes the clause that they may humiliate you or put you in death-defying situations. The whole set up sounds like a very bad idea.

But I did tune in. And I think I actually caught a genuine moment and the lesson to use your deepest wisdom to seek always after the eternal.

To catch you up, Emily, the single mom of a bright six-year-old, had narrowed down her choices to two men–Arie and Jef. She introduced them both, separately, to her family. Then she became quite frustrated with her family when they wouldn’t tell her who to pick. Though her father did add, “ I don’t believe you can be in love with two men.” And her mother (Ah-Ha, a voice of reason!) suggested that now was not the moment for an engagement. Emily was looking to outside sources for a sign and not into her deepest heart.

Ultimately, she chose Jef. Why? For one thing, she told Arie that while they might really last for a year or two she did not feel that they were made forever. With Jef she could see an eternity together. Also, breaking all bachelorette models, Emily and Jef do not plan on cohabitating before the wedding and are starting their life together by building wells in Africa.

So, not completely unlike Emily’s struggle to look away from the bright lights and the cameras to see what was in her heart, how do we discern our vocation? How do we hear what God is calling us to and not just what makes us happy or is most convenient? Ask a priest you know or a long-married couple and often they will tell you there are no fireworks in the sky, but the still-small voice of God in the deepest recess of our hearts. Our call is discerned slowly in trust and love. Not following just the whirlwind of emotions or the practicality of our reason, we must reach beyond this to follow the wisdom of our hearts. And once we are truly there to persevere in the hard work of relationships and ultimate trust in God. May God Bless us all!

You can see a little bit of the Bachelorette Finale here:

opening up to Truth of difference

I am great lover of diversity.

When I pray about the fullness of the kingdom of God, I visualize diverse people of every type gathering around huge open tables, communing by sacred bread, wine and laughter and uniting together in Love in their actions of justice.  The classic images of diversity come to mind for me quite quickly: different races, cultures, languages, and ages in particular.

I suspect, though, that for God the diversity that is needed is deeper than the visual differences.  We need everyone, no matter who they are, to feel free to sit at our tables with us.

Biodiversity can be pretty rad too.
"plain, open" by Julia Walsh, FSPA (Biodiversity can be pretty rad too.)

It’s beautiful when people who look different gather together and unite.  But, what about when people think and believe differently?

Certainly, there’s much tension and confusion when people just completely disagree about principles and values.  We don’t have to look too far into any political news to recognize how diversity can be damaging or even disastrous. Personally, the more I grow in understanding of who I am and what I believe, the more challenging it can become to relate to people whose lifestyles and values are completely different than mine.  When I admit this, I become embarrassed. Isn’t a point of Christianity to witness to what’s different?  When did I only want to hang out with people like me?  (Can you believe that in some circles I’m actually pretty normal? Ha!)

My life of Christian service and witness causes me to encounter people who are completely outside of my norm and bubbles, as it should.  It’s not a surprise to me that many- if not most- people live their lives without any experience of real Christian church and base their morality on what feels right and good. Sometimes when people behave in ways that I am strongly morally opposed to I feel like all can do is become awkward.  Likewise, friendship can feel nearly impossible when a person boldly tells me that he or she don’t want to believe in God nor does he or she like Christianity or religion at all.  Sometimes diversity can feel insulting. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out in the struggle.

Basically, I tend to prefer that my friends believe the same things as me. It’s easier and supporting. Or, is it?

I don’t want to be judgmental.  I try to love and listen when I am hanging out with people who spend their time and money on the things that I try to preach against.  Although I feel a sense of confidence in my faith and my opinions are quite strong, the real challenge is to remain open-minded and allow for my own conversion in the face of challenging diversity.  I try not to respond with criticism and instead only offer my opinions when asked.  I believe my loving presence is valuable, yet sometimes diversity can be so frustrating.  I bite my tongue so much it bleeds and pound my head against the wall so much that it bruises.

When God made us all different, I wonder how we were to live with it. Beating my head up against a wall and pulling out my hair is probably not what God had in mind.  I believe that we are called to lovingly accept all people but not all behavior.  I believe we’re to witness to the counter-cultural Gospel way through love and service.

I believe it’s all about openness. As I serve with an open heart, I must keep an open mind. As I live outside of my comfort zone and get stretched into weird shapes, I must remain grounded in Christ. Grounded in Christ and open to all, the strangest situations can bring me closer to Him.  I hope and pray that as I live in the openness of God’s love and diversity, I come to know the Truth that shall set me free from all that head-banging and social awkwardness.

As I fumble through this, I remain open.  As I open, I gain awareness. It’s a blessing that God can grace me with wisdom and guidance. After all, it’s a gift that there’s really no one else just like me.  And, it’s a comfort that my struggles and questions are sort of ancient stuff:

The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.
God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”
Solomon answered:
“O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king
to succeed my father David;
but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”

The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.
So God said to him:
“Because you have asked for this—
not for a long life for yourself,
nor for riches,
nor for the life of your enemies,
but for understanding so that you may know what is right—
I do as you requested.
I give you a heart so wise and understanding
that there has never been anyone like you up to now,
and after you there will come no one to equal you.” 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12s

breaking up with Jesus is hard to do

“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
and the day that is coming will set them on fire…”  – Malachi 3:19

“… they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  — Luke 21:12-20

Sometimes I just want to quit, because it is so hard, but then the words of the Bible sting me.

When I contemplate these scriptures, I feel like Jesus has me tucked me under His arm and is saying: “I need to know, are you really willing to die for this? How serious are you about doing this for me?” I wince. I whine that I’d rather just keep still, praying and adoring his awesomeness. Certainly, that’s the main job of some of us who are in this Christian life. But, it’s not my main job.

No, it seems that I am designed to be an action girl. I can’t say I am totally eager. Jesus can seem like an annoying friend sometimes, who is constantly demanding my attention. I roll my eyes. We argue. I remind Him that I already publicly proclaimed my devotion to Him when I agreed to be a Franciscan sister and enter my community at just 24 years old. And then I did it again when I was consecrated to Him when I made my first vows in July of 2009. These actions have totally messed me up already. I wanted those “yeses” to be good enough because they were pretty big deals. As I say all this, Jesus nods and smiles because He already knows.

For some reason Jesus (with the Father and the Spirit) keeps asking me to do more. I am so confused and resist out of disbelief.  I try to sit down and pout. I try to kick and scream “No! Leave me alone!”  After I calm down, I simply and awkwardly stutter “uh, uh, um, no, I can’t.”   Jesus laughs and reminds me that we’re united and I made vows to obey Him. I sigh and remember why I agreed to be dedicated to Him. (I like the way He sees things and His love is totally divine!)

Jesus wins the fight, of course, because, well, when it’s the Creator of the universe insisting it’s pretty much impossible to turn away.  Even though I am irritated I am still totally enamored by Him—just like I was all the other times He called me.  His power is fierce and I fall head over heals all over again.

So, I give into the demands, which are actually quite gentle. I know deeply that His ways are best; they are best for me and for the Kingdom. God can use me to help the Kingdom come, and I believe that a better world and church are possible.  I want more people to take Jesus seriously and be totally messed up by His love like I have been.

I know it’s going to be a lot of work and I am totally terrified. I know I can’t do it, really, but I know that with great grace from God, it’ll happen. I’ll try to add a voice to the song of creation that calls forth newness. I pray that I’ll be an instrument that the Holy Spirit blows through and the music is in harmony. I pray to be empty of my pride, sloth, lust, anger, and greed so that the song from my soul is in tune.  Somehow Jesus brought me into this conversion, and I seem to have said yes again.

With great trust, I let Him hold my hand and lead me into working with The Living Word. He’s called me to write. I’ve said okay, so here I go, because although it’s uncomfortable to cooperate with Jesus’ demands, it’s worth it.

Like the scripture says, I know I may be hated by all because of His name, but I decide to persevere anyhow. Persevering shall secure my life. I believe, in fact, that following His way will give me- and others- more freedom to live life to the fullest.

Plus, breaking up with Jesus is hard to do.  And, I didn’t really want to.