Challenged to trust in Mystery

Yesterday I finished packing up my classroom. A somber weight pressed upon my shoulders as I cleaned out my desk, dusted shelves and put books and picture frames in boxes.

In the silence I prayed in gratitude for the room that has held so much life and energy for me during the past four years. I smiled as I thought of the love, learning, laughter, singing, dancing, and playful energy that the four walls had held. I sighed with relief to know that I will no longer have endless piles of papers to grade or have to deal with the pressure of an academic calendar. Sadness colored the blank walls with the intensity of letting-go.

I am not sure if I’ll ever teach in a classroom again. I am not sure what the future holds. I don’t know what God has in store for me.

I know some of the general facts, of course. This fall I will begin serving as a program and retreat presenter at Marywood Franciscan Spirituality Center in northern Wisconsin. I’ll live with some sisters from my congregation in the Spirituality Center’s lodge on Trout Lake and have the opportunity to connect with God alive in creation each and every day. I’ll continue writing and studying, hoping to complete the master’s degree I have been working on and increase my creative writing endeavors.

And, I know I’ll continue to live my life as an FSPA and that I’ll offer myself for the service of God and God’s people. I know I’ll remain connected to my family and friends. And, I believe God will continue to guide me and show me the way.

I am not afraid of the future. I am encouraged by the past. I am challenged to trust in the Mystery and remain faithful to the Truth of Love.

God’s invitation to change ministries and move on came to me like a whisper, like a gentle nudge felt both in the exterior of community life and in the solid feelings of my body and heart. Mid-Lent I was at a meeting with some of my sisters, a discernment circle. I told the other sisters that I thought I’d make a change in ministry within a couple years and read aloud a list of the things I really hoped for in wherever God called me to next: more time in nature and for writing, ministry in an area of high need, service to the poor and marginalized, a strong community life. I had all sorts of ideas about how this could look, but hadn’t even thought about moving further north and into a largely rural area.

Our God is totally a God of surprises though, and once dreams are announced to a loving community one can let go and let the Spirit show the way. After I shared my general dream in that discernment circle a couple of sisters from Marywood spoke about the needs in the Superior diocese. As they spoke, one of the FSPA I am the closest to shot me a “Are-you-hearing-this?” look that I tried to ignore. Within days, more occurrences served as glaring road signs directing me to let go of the timeline I’d created and accept that it was actually the best time for me to move onward. When I prayed about what might happen, I heard encouragement to ask the sisters at Marywood about possibilities as soon as I could. A deep peace warmed my gut and my thoughts were immediately reframed. Before I could completely catch on, the Spirit blew through and stirred up my entire life.

When things shifted for me, I was in the midst of teaching my students about the epistles of the New Testament. I spoke to my students about St. Paul’s travels and itinerant, missionary life. I described how he went into some cities–such as Corinth, Phillipi, Ephesus, and Thessalonica–for no more than a couple years and established a strong Christian community centered on Love and service in a very relational way. He would preach in synagogues and minister and offer a loving presence straight out of the store where he mended tents and in the homes of those who hosted him. He was effective as a minister because he was excellent as a communicator and relationship builder.  He was a master of maintaining relationships once he transitioned onward.

I am challenged by St. Paul’s witness in the early Church and encouraged to remain faithful to the Franciscan traditions of itineracy, preaching and poverty. I hope to maintain my own movement proclaiming the goodness of God, detached from taking possession or ownership of any particular place, ministry or group of people.

Nothing is mine. All is in the hands of God. There is a great sense of liberation in knowing this. And freedom permits me to joyfully express gratitude:

I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you because of your partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right that I should think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. –Philippians 1:3-11

I am not sure if I’ll ever return to teaching in a high school classroom or how exactly I will be of service to God and God’s people in the long-range future. I leave, though, with faith that the future is in God’s hands.

No matter how we are nudged and encouraged, I believe that God can shine goodness into any situation and the challenge of letting go.

"Rowing on Trout Lake" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Rowing on Trout Lake” by Julia Walsh FSPA

 

Hearts on fire for the good of all

Soon after I decided to ask to make my perpetual vows and was approved to do so, I became a bit obsessed with fire.

It’s not a dangerous obsession or anything, it’s more that I am paying attention to all the ways that fire images and metaphors are incorporated into our culture and faith. I quickly became fascinated by what I was noticing and how often I heard popular song lyrics and ordinary conversation casually incorporate words like “fire,” “burn,” “spark” or “enflame.”

It got me thinking about all the different ways we use the idea of fire – like in St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation, where he offers praises to God for “Brother Fire,” for being so bright and lively. I saw a print once that showed…

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

“Hearts on Fire” was painted by Peter Neel (my brother-in-law) especially for the occasion of my Perpetual Vows. Peter’s art can be found online at www.saatchiart.com/peterneel and www.zazzle.com/peter_neel
“Hearts on Fire” was painted by Peter Neel (my brother-in-law) especially for the occasion of my Perpetual Vows. Peter’s art can be found online at http://www.saatchiart.com/peterneel and http://www.zazzle.com/peter_neel

Table manners and global sisterhood

Over eight years ago, I had a conversation about table manners that continues to challenge me.

At the time I was a canonical novice and fairly new to religious life. During that stage of formation, I was trying to make sense of what it meant to be a Catholic sister and sort through my ideals. I was in a period of serious discernment about whether this religious lifestyle would satisfy my deepest desires, to take a vow of poverty and to serve the poor.

Then, in a somewhat ordinary conversation about table manners, I learned one of my most important lessons about what it means to be sister. The sister was outlining her expectations for mealtimes. As she did, she casually mentioned her conviction that…

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

Franciscan Global Local Group

More than boy-crazy

“How can you be a nun? You’re the most boy-crazy girl I know!”

My good friend first jokingly teased me with this question when we were both still teenagers. I was in the earliest stages of my discernment at the time, and I couldn’t give her a good answer to her question.

That was nearly two decades ago. I like to think that I’ve matured a lot since I was a boy-crazy teenager, and that I’ve come to understand how the complex parts of my personality can all enrich my relationship with God. Over the years, I have become convinced that God used my teenaged feelings to steer me toward my vocation. In fact, being “boy-crazy” actually influenced my first experience of “call” to the Catholic Sisterhood.

I was a teen who deeply desired to please God. I remember praying for guidance regarding my attraction to a certain boy while alone in my bedroom one night. As I prayed, I heard a very intense answer….

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

Photo credit: “Journey Through the Bible, WordPress”

The Pain of Climate Change

Last fall, I heard a story on the radio that caused me to have all sorts of physical reactions.

It was the end of a busy day of ministry, and I was cooking dinner for the sisters I live with, a group of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. I was casually listening to the evening news while I set the table. Then, I heard a story unlike anything I had ever heard before. For those four minutes, I was frozen, staring down at the empty plates while I listened. I was completely stunned. After the story ended, my mind and heart hurt from what I heard. I gasped and groaned and prayed out loud.

What I was hearing, what was disturbing me so deeply, was the news that a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati, (pronounced KIR-e-bass) is in trouble. Due to the stresses of rising sea levels, Kiribati is likely to be completely uninhabitable by 2030. The people must find somewhere else to go or they will not survive.

A nation is dissolving. A people must abandon their home. This was preventable and it is not their fault. It’s our fault. We have destroyed their community, their nation, their lives – and we don’t even know who they are. . .

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

Photo of Kiribati from Business Insider

 

when our relating rocks and ripples

One of my favorite TV shows is Joan of Arcadia.

I became hooked on the show and realized its profundity when I was part of a canonical novitiate community five years ago. We watched the entire series from start to finish together.  I remember how we would frequently be impressed with how the themes and lessons of the shows would reinforce what we were learning about God’s loving, relational ways in the classroom, ministry and communal living.

Now I continue to learn over-and-over again how the point of all this Gospel living is not piety, nor service, nor any great accomplishment.  Rather, relationship is the core of this messy Jesus business.  Yup, building God’s kingdom requires a lot while we increase and deepen our relational connections.

We are made to be together, grow closer to God and unite in love. In fact, the Holy Trinity models for us how to be in a constant, selfless, flowing, creative communion.  In our community, we give and receive, we share, we listen, we help, heal, teach- just like God does.

The thing is, it takes a lot of work to build up relationships that are good and strong.  We must be vulnerable, open, honest, trusting and compassionate.  If I don’t take the risk of being genuine and admitting my inadequacies with my students, could I ever expect them to be real with me?  If I don’t reveal my weakness to my superiors, can I really count on them to support me when I fall and fail?  Can I expect others to listen lovingly to me if I don’t take the time to lovingly listen to them?  There’s a lot of give and take; it’s rocky and unstable.  Yet the hard work creates a rock solid foundation that can survive any tumultuous crisis, misunderstanding or mistake.  I count on my relationships with people being rocky.

Truly, my worse sins are those that rock the relationships that I hold most dear.  I can tear myself apart with sorrow that I may have hurt my path to union with God or my connectedness to other people.  Sin is, in fact, any thing that hurts or destroys one’s relationship with God, others and oneself.  I am glad God heals, forgives and mends my mistakes!

Ah yes, the great God relationship!  Back when I was a novice, my life was focused on the hard work of building a more solid foundation of prayer and contemplation in my relationship with God.  Amazingly, I began to realize that my conversations with God were beginning to be influenced by how Joan related to God in the Joan of Arcadia series that my community was watching together.  I became more genuine and real.  I went through all my moods with God’s steadiness serving as my rock.  I’d get ecstatic; I’d argue; I’d pout; I’d complain; I’d say no and then yes. I never held back what I was thinking and feeling in my getting to know God better. And, I kept on listening and loving without fear of how it might change me.  I realized my realness was a gift that only I could give God and I became more happy to give it, because well, God rocks, right?!

Lately though, my relationships have magnified the meaning of rocks. In fact, I am in awe of how rocks, when thrown into water, create ripples.

This contemplation is also influenced by the Joan of Arcadia series! I keep thinking about this segment from when Joan’s boyfriend, Adam, hears the suicide note his mother read aloud:

Helen Girardi: [reading Adam’s mom’s suicide note] “Dearest boy, my Adam. I dreamed a dream, you and I facing each other in a tiny yellow boat on green water under a blue sky. Me and my son and a yellow boat. And we laugh, and the boat rocks and the ripples spread from the boat to pond to sea to sky and nothing can stop them, and nothing ever will. When you think of me, Adam, know that in a world of pain, you were, and always will be my joy. Love, Mom.” -From “Joan of Arcadia: Jump (#1.12)” (2004)

As I love, minister, and relate to many, I continue to be astounded with how God’s graces send ripples of love and joy throughout all the webs of my relationships.  It’s like networks, I suppose, but that just seems like too much of an institutional or corporate word for the messy, rocky, wavy way of the Gospel.

It’s true, though, one little loving touch on the web of relationships can send ripples of goodness all over.

One of the greatest ways I have witnessed the ways that relational love can ripple is by what I have witnessed happen to Tubman House in the past six weeks.  Praise God! Many, many people and groups of people who I know have responded generously to my plea to help save Tubman House.  I have been surprised with how my Truth-telling has multiplied blessings and miracles.  I have been impressed with how people I barely know (and others I only know by the 2nd or 3rd degree!) have given their time, talent and resources all to help keep the non-profit going.

Wow, there’s great beauty in the ripples of our love.   Often it’s a beauty we never get to see.  See it or not, we can have joy and then send more ripples of goodness moving!

“peace rain” by Julia Walsh, FSPA