Update

Dear friends,

When I was discerning entering religious life/the Sisters of Providence, I read many blogs written by younger sisters. I would get disappointed when it seemed that the authors just stopped posting, so I promised myself that I wouldn’t do that. But I did. I’m grateful that I was able to allow myself the space I needed to process my time and transformation, so I thank you for your patience with me.

My year of canonical novitiate is approaching its end. It was a great blessing but also a great challenge. I was busier than expected. As I expected, it was a time to do a great deal of inner work. I honestly think that the world could be a lot better if everyone had a canonical novitiate – although I realize that the opportunity also requires buy-in from people willing to do the work. All that to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity and hope to continue to grow as I move on to the next phase.

Speaking of which, my next phase is called apostolic novitiate. It’s almost a year, during which time I’ll live in a local community (with other Sisters of Providence away from the formation house) and work in full-time paid ministry. I’ll join an LGU (Local Government Unit, a group that engages in conversations three times per year to build relationship and help guide the members of our congregational leadership team through community-wide processes of discernment) and meet regularly with smaller groups of sisters to discuss the vows we take of poverty, chastity, and obedience as part of my discernment as to whether I’ll take first vows in June of 2019.

For my apostolic novitiate ministry, I will be teaching high school theology (and possibly one sociology class) at Bishop McNamara Catholic School in Kankakee, Illinois. I’ll have sophomores and seniors, and I’m (unsurprisingly) most excited about teaching world religions and Catholic Social Teaching. Kankakee is about 2.5 hours from both St. Mary-of-the-Woods and Indianapolis and 1.5 hours from most of Chicago (45 minutes from some of our sisters who live on the south side of Chicago).

As I prepare to transition, I’m pondering what ways I can sustainably re-commit to the values I hold dear. I hope, as I move forward, to get back into blogging here, while also remembering my primary ministries: to my students, my local community (the sister I’ll live with), my novitiate responsibilities, and my self-care. It’s a balancing act, and I plan to keep improving as I readjust all throughout my life.

Until next time, friends, may we strive to love the world a little more each day.

In peace,

Emily

Advertisements

“I am with you in the work.”

The other day during prayer, I asked God to lead me toward a part of the Bible that I needed to hear, and I opened up to the book of Haggai.

Have you ever read anything from the book of Haggai? I’m not even sure I’d ever heard of it. A mere two chapters stuck between Zephaniah and Zechariah, Haggai is considered the beginning of postexilic prophecy (or so says the Bible I was reading from). It tells the story of God calling the remnant of the Israelites who had returned from exile to rebuild the temple. “Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4). According to the footnote, the reference to paneled houses is a reference to luxury. The wealthy Israelites are living in luxury while neglecting the house of God.

Then again, on Sunday, I picked up the Bible to re-read this story. I was immediately transported to mass that morning, which I attended at a local parish run by the Conventual Franciscan Friars. Because today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the presider told the story many of us know about God’s call to Francis: Francis was praying in a run down Church of San Damiano when he heard Christ speak to him from the cross. “Francis, rebuild my church.” Francis heard these words literally and obeyed, rebuilding the physical Church of San Damiano and then two others.

In Haggai, we hear “Consider your ways! … Because my house lies in ruins while each of you hurries to his own house.”

Though our understanding of Francis’s story now leads us to believe that he misunderstood God, who actually meant “church” as the people and community of God rather than the physical structure, Nathan Schneider posits in America Magazine that the physical rebuilding of the churches was intended as Francis’s first call. He says, “Fixing them and tending to them trained him for a revolutionary ministry. These were the places where he heard God’s voice.”

San Damiano
The Church of San Damiano: Small and simple, it required simply a desire to do the work and an attention to detail.

Francis came from a wealthy family, and his efforts to repair the church of San Damiano resulted in his father disowning and disinheriting him. It took him out of Assisi, his place of comfort, to a countryside that wouldn’t have been a part of his daily experience. The repair work taught him stewardship and attention to detail. It took him out into the world and onto a path that would change the world.

Between the call of the Israelites through Haggai and the call of Francis, it’s clear that God is calling on those who have wealth or live in extravagance to put that wealth to use for God’s glory. (This includes little extravagances. You don’t have to be a millionaire to answer God’s call to simple service.) What isn’t clear in either of these stories is whether God’s house or church refers to the physical building, the people of God, or both.

The temple of Solomon had been glorious. As the people set to work repairing it, God says through Haggai:

Who is left among you
that saw this house in its former glory?
And how do you see it now?
Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes?
But now take courage … all you people of the land,
says the LORD, and work!
For I am with you, says the LORD of hosts.
This is the pact that I made with you
when you came out of Egypt,
And my spirit continues in your midst;
do not fear!
(Haggai 2: 3-5)

In the work, do not fear. In the detail, do not fear. For I am with you, says God, in the work and the detail, in the process. Whether the process be building up the physical structures of worship or the community of God’s people – or the physical structures that will house or otherwise nurture the community of God’s people (that is, the community of all of humanity).

So, ‘Work!’ says our God. ‘I am there with you in the work.’ Where will you find God?

Naming Diversity

Last week, I and two of my fellow Sisters of Providence traveled to New York for a gathering of Giving Voice sisters – women religious from many congregations under 50 years old. There were almost 70 of us, representing over 50 congregations and 4 continents. Some of us wore habits the whole time. Most of us didn’t. And some fell somewhere in the middle in relation to how often to wear the habit. Some of us didn’t speak English as a first language. Though we had a translator and translation devices, we still only had conversations in English and Spanish.

As I think about the great diversity present and how we were able to recognize and celebrate our differences without fomenting division (a topic we explicitly explored in one of our open space conversations), I consider how the ways we structure our worlds and how they help or hinder our ability to build bridges.

Today’s gospel reading provides material for a fruitful reflection around this issue. Matthew 10:1-7 names the apostles and recounts some of the comments Jesus made as he sent them out.

  • Simon/Peter
  • Andrew
  • James
  • John
  • Philip
  • Bartholomew
  • Thomas
  • Matthew
  • James
  • Thaddeus
  • Simon
  • Judas

But were these really their names? They sure sound Westernized and even Anglicized to me.

A little exploration reveals the names given in a Spanish translation of this same passage:

  • Simón/Pedro
  • Andrés
  • Jacobo
  • Juan
  • Filipe
  • Bartolomé
  • Tomás
  • Jacobo
  • Tadeo
  • Simón
  • Judas

But Jesus didn’t speak Spanish when he walked the earth any more than he spoke English. So how about some Aramaic? Scholars seem to think that two of the disciples had Greek names and were likely Greek, rather than Aramaic names translated through Greek to English or Spanish or whatever modern language they find themselves in today. And it’s valuable to keep in mind that Aramaic and Greek would both have been written in different alphabets, so any Latin-alphabet representation here is transliterated.

  • Shim’on/Cephas
  • Andreas (Greek)
  • Ya’aqov/Yaqov
  • Yochanan
  • Philippos (Greek)
  • Ta’oma’/Tau’ma
  • Bar-Talmai
  • Mattityahu
  • Ya’aqov (Yakov)
  • Yehudah (Jude/Thaddeus)
  • Shim’on
  • Yehudah (Judas)

Why does it matter? Let me be clear: I’m not saying translating the names like this is good or bad. I’m saying that, when we’re not aware of it, it can have some unintended consequences.

The good: With a basic level of literacy, any person can read the scriptures. Translating the names has the added benefit of helping a speaker of that language to be able to see himself or herself in the scriptures. It becomes easier to imagine myself as a part of the story. It becomes inclusive.

The bad: In an incredibly diverse society like ours today, it can become exclusive to hear only Anglicized versions of names – to hear only the names that predominate in my own culture. Even when we objectively know that Jesus didn’t speak English or the apostles didn’t have English-sounding names, the gut experience can dominate the understanding we have. I wonder what would happen differently in my own gut reaction if I heard stories about Jesus’s apostles Jacobo and Juan instead of James and John. What I do know is that the distance from the head to the heart is so often one of the hardest distances to traverse.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t tell stories about Jesus’s disciples James and John. I am, however, proposing that hearing stories of Jacobo and Juan, at least occasionally, might be an experience worth having. It might help this knowledge travel that great chasm that so often appears between my head and my heart.

Moving On?

It’s hard to believe I’m nearing the end of my first year in religious life. I entered the Sisters of Providence as a postulant in September. It’s an 11-month program, which includes the discerning and applying to move to novitiate, stage two in joining a religious community.

A few months ago, I started the evaluation process. Self-evaluation, evaluation of my director, evaluations from two other Sisters of Providence, a meeting with the General Officer in charge of new membership and my director, and finally, last week, a meeting with our general superior. My request for entrance to the novitiate goes before the full council at the beginning of next month, and I’ll formally find out whether I get to move on.

Like any relationship, there are steps of deepening. Some of these steps are public. Some are private. The public steps tend to be later in the process. Formal commitments tend to be public ceremonies. First vows, final vows, marriages, etc. In these first stages of the process, though, the steps and accompanying ceremonies are private. Sorry, friends and family, you’re not invited. I’m not sure I’d invite you to a first kiss with a future spouse, either, though. I hope you’re not offended.

At this point, I don’t see any barriers to this next step, and neither does my director or the general superior. So I’m starting the mental process of transition, yet again. Next year will be more restricted, so I’m getting my camping trips and a short vacation in. I’ll likely have a different on-campus volunteer ministry, too. I’ve had a few thoughts, but I don’t officially know what my options are, so I’m staying open. I’ve thought a little about leaving behind my current ministries with Mission Advancement and Providence Health Care.

Before I transition, I’ll also go on retreat. I’ve chosen to visit the Cedars of Peace retreat center run by the Sisters of Loretto in Kentucky. I’ll spend a week down there toward the end of July in silence and solitude, with daily meetings with a spiritual director.

Next year I’ll tackle classes on community history and church history, go to St. Louis almost weekly for an inter-community program, and have monthly days of solitude in the hermitages by the lake on our campus. I’ll work with a new formation director as I process the experiences of the year. I’ll spend more time in prayer and reflection. I thought this year required a great deal of inner work, but I’ve been repeatedly warned that next year will require more. As the end of the year approaches, I’ll begin discerning a ministry for year two of novitiate: mission novitiate. At that point, I’ll return to the world and find work outside the community.

So canonical novitiate is on the horizon, unless I face some unexpected change in course. I still feel as if I’m in the right place, on the right path. Thanks for journeying with me.

On Death and Resurrection

This year, I experienced Lent in a profoundly different way than I have in the past. The experiences of the past year have changed my perspective.

I see Mary’s journey with her son, her profound pain, in a new way. In thinking of IMG_0553Mary’s walk with her son toward Calgary, I think of my aunt and uncle who had to bury their son and my cousins who had to bury their brother this past year. I hold their grief in my heart as I walk the Way of the Cross.

I see the path of transformation that first requires the process of death and grieving. In my own journey, I’ve had to embrace grief on my path to transformation. I left people I loved in Indianapolis to seek transformation through living as a Sister of Providence. Both what I left behind and that which is new are challenges of adjustment. Even still, I have begun to see the transformation – the resurrection – that they are bringing, a transformation that I hope and trust will bring me more fully into myself and help me to serve with a greater fullness of my being.

In the past six months, I’ve started the work of therapy with a psychologist. I IMG_0546embrace bringing forth the pain of working through my issues because I trust that it’s necessary to bring about growth and greater health. The hope that it will heal me doesn’t make the process easier or less painful, but it pushes me through.

As I sit here writing this after having prayed “The Way of the Cross for Justice” with many members of my community, I think of the pain in our world, so much of which is unnecessary. The injustices and violence we see every day are so great. Just yesterday, our own country admitted to mistakenly killing 18 of our allies in Syria and then dropped the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat on Afghanistan. I think of the lives ended by our massive military might and the choice to use it. I think of the lives ended or forever altered here at home by the use of violence to solve problems. I think of the challenges that hold people back from developing their full potential: poverty, hunger, discrimination, lack of funding for the arts, and so on. While there will always be some pain, there is much that could be avoided if we had the collective will to care for each other and to create the social conditions ripe for human flourishing.

And even in this pain, that which can be avoided, that which is unavoidable, and all of which cries out for healing, Jesus walks with us. The way to healing is through the pain and grief. Jesus walked through the pain of human suffering, the suffering of interpersonal and structural violence, the suffering of human nature. By this we are redeemed. By our own ability to walk through our own pain, too, we find redemption.

And so this Easter Triduum, I hold in compassion all those who suffer. I hold in compassion my aunt, uncle, and cousins, whose family is profoundly different this IMG_0547year, whose pain I can only hope that my prayers lighten a little. I hold myself in compassion, knowing that I am growing, not expecting perfection, recognizing the hard work of growth and healing. I hold in compassion those who have been waiting in limbo after being forced to flee their homelands due to violence. I hold in compassion those caught up in hatred because their seeking of wholeness and fullness of life might come into conflict with the beliefs of others. I hold in compassion those who fear that which is different. I do my best to hold in compassion victims and perpetrators, seeking through that compassion to find a way to bridge that which divides us and to heal the world.

What Does Lent Ask of You?

What Does Lent Ask of You?

I was asked to give a reflection for the Ash Wednesday service at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College this evening. Here’s what I’ve prepared:

What is it that Lent asks of us?

What do your Lenten practices mean?

I know I have a history of using Lent to jump-start new goals. Isn’t the great thing about being Catholic that you get a second chance for New Year’s resolutions just a couple of months in?

Seriously: trying vegetarianism that continued beyond Lent, giving up soda, the personal achievement of staying off of Facebook or not watching tv for the season. I’ve done all of these things. I bet many of you have, too.

But Isaiah tells us:

“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.”

Really, though, the question isn’t whether meat or Facebook make good fast choices but why I chose them. A new friend, a young Dominican sister, recently published an article on Global Sisters Report that framed the statement as “What I’m getting for Lent.” The question we should be asking ourselves isn’t ‘What should I give up for Lent this year?’ but ‘How can I make my Lenten sacrifice meaningful?’

Isaiah tells us that our fasting should not be about turning inward for its own sake but about turning inward so that we can turn ourselves outward: to release those bound unjustly, share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked. Yes, Isaiah includes the qualifier “when you see them,” but how often do we look?

Then, after we do these things, Isaiah promises, “your wound shall be quickly healed.” Then “Your vindication shall go before you and the glory of God shall be your rear guard.”

I want to touch for a moment on the concept of healing. I’ve been working on some healing of my own lately. It’s not easy. I’ve spent time learning about trauma that I never before realized was an unhealthy way of interacting. I’m learning to see it clearly and to name it. I’m learning that only by doing that will healing have the opportunity to occur.

It’s hard to accuse someone else of doing something harmful to me. It’s hard to stand up for myself. It’s equally hard to see the ways I contributed to the problem and to develop new habits through which I won’t accept the treatment I’d justified to myself before. It’s hard to let relationships be changed by these new pieces of information coming to light. But I must see them clearly if I want to heal. Healing isn’t about hiding away our pain and our brokenness but bringing it to the light, giving it the air it needs.

Our first reading today begins with God telling Isaiah to tell the people of their wickedness. It’s a community thing. Healthy community helps us to see our own sins clearly. But community, and especially society, often maintains systems that aren’t always healthy because, much like the behavior in my family, those systems have not been seen clearly as unhealthy.

As for my Lenten practices: I chose to give vegetarianism a try eight years ago because I saw the impact the meat industry had on the environment, on people, mostly people of color, and on animals. I chose to give up Facebook and tv in order to have more time for more meaningful pursuits. I eat meat, get on Facebook (and Twitter and Instagram), and watch tv now. But, on good days, I’m more conscious and do less of it than I did before. These small, sustainable changes of behavior do make a difference. Lent provides the invitation.

Because our God calls us to look outside of ourselves and to free the oppressed, we have to start by seeing. Let us see clearly how the systems of our world bind others and us unjustly, oppress others . This may require listening and seeking out radically different viewpoints. It’s hard and scary. But as the prophet Hosea urges us in our opening song, “Don’t let fear keep us apart.”

Then we must do something about it.

It’s an invitation. Will you come along?

~~~

If you’re looking for a reflection guide for this year, check out Walking through Lent with Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, a daily series I put together for the Sisters of Providence website.

Giving Voice to Our Dreams

I told myself when I started this blog that I wanted to make sure I remained consistent. For a number of reasons, that hasn’t happened.

img_0267
Post-kickball team picture

As I have continued getting to know the Sisters of Providence and myself, I’ve been continually challenged to go deeper. This past weekend, I spent three days with 17 other women religious under 40 years old, representing 13 communities, at a Giving Voice retreat for sisters in their 20s and 30s. We laughed and prayed and played and dreamed. We broke bread and broke boundaries. We dreamed of intercommunity collaboration and honored each others’ distinctive communities and charisms. It was beautiful.

And as I return for four days of the daily grind, I’m reminded of those times within my own community when we laugh and pray and play and dream together. I’m reminded of those times I’m challenged by the people around me to grow into new spaces and new ways of being in the world. And I’m grateful for the intentionality and strength that can come with community.

img_0269
To close our weekend, we had a sage cleansing ritual, from a Cherokee tradition.

I return to four days of a “regular” schedule before my own community’s gathering of newer members. Women in initial formation (WIFs, those who have not yet taken final vows) will gather for our own retreat this coming weekend. Together, the seven of us will laugh and play and pray and dream. And then we’ll once more return to the daily grind of bringing Providence to the world and being love, mercy, and justice in the world around us, however imperfectly.

~~~

I’m beginning to see the role of women religious in the world as an invitation to all of us to go deeper. I’m grateful for the special ways I’m challenged to bring contemplation, depth, and intentionality into my life.

As someone reading my blog, you may or may not be called to religious life. Either way, how is it that you are being invited deeper? How are you being invited to the joy of community, the joy that God desires for all of creation?