Our 22nd General Chapter Ends ... Another Chapter Begins

The 22nd General Chapter of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace has come to an end. For the past 10 days, we have been gathered outside of Seattle to break open our Chapter theme, "Deeper and Wider - The Challenge of Peace."

It is both humbling and amazing to realize that this was the 22nd time since our founding in 1884 that the community has come together to discern our future direction and elect new leadership. We certainly stand on the shoulders of incredible women of faith who trusted deeply in God's abiding love and took risks in order to serve God's people in need and meet the needs of the day.

The atmosphere during our gathering was buzzing with energy, love, and passion for our charism of peace through justice and a deep desire to move together, as community for mission, to meet the needs of today. One of my CSJP Sisters often speaks about the "sneaky Holy Spirit," and I think that is a good description for the ways the Spirit was nudging, even disturbing us, to embrace this new moment in our community history.

We celebrated the profession of vows of FOUR Sisters during the early days of our gathering. Sister Dorothy professed perpetual vows, while Sisters Juliana, Katrina, and Sheena professed their first vows as Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.  This was the first time we have celebrated profession of vows during a congregation Chapter. The joyful hope was palpable.

Our Congregation Leader, Sister Margaret Byrne, invited us to seize this particular moment as a new opportunity to "begin again." She actually used the word "again" 23 times in her address, which was grounded in our rich community history as well as the present call of Pope Francis to move beyond "structures that give us a false sense of security" in order to witness to the Gospel with our lives and reach out to those on the periphery of society.  Fr. Anthony Gittins spoke to us of radial discipleship and Sr. Gail Worcelo reflected on living on the edge during this moment of grace.  We also heard the deep desires of the seven Sisters who have entered during the past decade (myself included) to move forward together as community for mission.

In many ways, it seemed as if the Holy Spirit was weaving together all of these threads in creative ways which culminated in our Chapter Call:

Disturbed by the Spirit, we recommit ourselves to Jesus' way of radical hospitality. 
We are called to a deeper and wider living of community for mission in company with poor and marginalized people. 
Our contemplative discernment pushes us, individually and as Congregation, to action; deeper mutual support enables us to take risks for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
As disciples of Jesus, we respond anew to the call of Mother Clare to be "brave, noble, large-minded courageous souls."

We will be living into and out of this call during the next 6 years.  And starting in January, I will be living this call in a particular way as I respond to the call of the Chapter to serve in elected leadership as part of our Congregation Leadership Team. This will certainly be a new chapter in my own life!

But first, I am sitting now in the departures lounge at the Seattle Airport getting ready to head back to Chicago where I will spend the next 3 months finishing up my studies.

One benefit of moving into this new leadership role is that as I was saying goodbye to the CSJP Sisters and Associates I have spent the past weeks with, I know that I will have an opportunity to see them all again soon. And that, my friends, is a blessing.


13 years later .... Praying for Peace

Thirteen years ago today my heart was both broken and awoken to my call to seek peace in our wounded world.  I've written before on the blog about how I became a peace activist thirteen years ago on September 11, 2001.  In many ways, the seeds of my vocation as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace were also planted in my heart that day, although it took a few years for my head and feet to catch up.  And now, on this 13th Anniversary, I am at the half way point of the 22nd General Chapter of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Today is a free day, but I have invited some of my Sisters and Associates to pray with me at 11am in our meditation chapel this morning.

This morning, I brought to prayer President Obama's speech last night, detailing plans to "ramp up" our military involvement in Syria and Iraq in the next phase of our war on terror. I also brought to prayer this morning the families of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 and the war and violence that has followed.  And continues to follow ... and lie before us ... until and unless we choose the path of peace.

And so I pray. For peace in our troubled world.  For an awakened heart and conscience on the part of our political leaders and indeed on the part of the American people.  That we may accept the responsibility of what has been done in our name and commit all our efforts instead to building true peace upon the foundations of justice. I pray for all the lives lost and forever changed through terrorism and the wars on terror.  I pray for dialogue and diplomacy, not bombs and death.  I pray in hope and gratitude for people of good will from every nation, race, creed and way of being. That peace may come, that we may help to bring about that peace. 

Pope Leo XIII, considered the father of Catholic Social Teaching (and perhaps not coincidentally the Pope who blessed Mother Francis Clare's new community, St. Joseph's Sisters of Peace) wrote this:

O Lord, you see how everywhere the winds have burst forth, and the sea is convulsed with the great violence of the rising waves. Command, we beseech you who alone are able, both the winds and the sea. Restore to [humankind] the true peace of your name, that peace which the world cannot give, and the calm of social harmony. Under your favor and inspiration may [people] return to due order, and having overthrown the rule of greed, bring back again as ought to be, the love of God, justice, charity toward neighbor, temperance in all desires. May your kingdom come.
God of peace, push and pull us to work and pray and live tirelessly for peace. Be in the mind and heart of our political leaders. Enkindle the flame to build peace among all your children. May we seek peace, and may peace come. Amen.


Chapter Moments

We say in our Constitutions that at Chapter, "we celebrate our unity, renew our life and spirit, reflect together on the call of the gospel, and make decisions in fidelity to our charism." At the end of Day 3, we have certainly done the first 4. Decisions will not come until next week.

Celebrating our Unity:  It is such a joy to spend time with Sisters and Associates from all three regions. Some I know very well. Others I am just getting to know. We are having our Chapter at a hotel and the other guests are very curious about this group of joyful people who obviously love one another. Talk about gospel witness!

Renew our life and spirit: Last night we celebrated the first ever profession of vows at a Congregation Chapter, with not one but FOUR professions!  It was such a hope filled moment to witness the first profession of my Sisters Katrina, Juliana and Sheena and the final profession of Dorothy. All I can really say is .... God is very good.

Reflect together on the call of the gospel: We are beginning our Chapter with input to help us reflect on our call as Sisters and Associates of St Joseph of Peace at THIS particular moment. Yesterday, our Congregation Leader, Sister Margaret Byrne, inspired and challenged us: "Here at this Chapter we have an
opportunity – more than that, an obligation – to begin again, to think anew about what the call to go deeper asks of us." And today, Fr. Anthony Gittins invited us to consider discipleship, hope, community/communitas, and the Spirit. He said, "You cannot privatize the good news. If it is good news, you need to put your life on the line."

Wow. The Spirit is moving. We have been each day with a period of silent contemplative prayer. Our conversations have been rich and challenging, as we encourage and inspire each other to live out this line from the Chapter prayer we have been praying for many months: "St Joseph, dreamer and practical one, help us live our dreams into reality."  Amen. So be it. Amen.


Margaret Anna Fridays - Chapter Edition

It's a tradition on this blog to share some words of wisdom and inspiration on Fridays from the founder of my religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.  Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day. 150 CSJP Sisters and Associates are gathering outside Seattle, Washington today for our Congregation Chapter. Over the next week and a half we will be pondering our future and making decisions that take us deeper and wider in response to the challenge of peace. Given that, I thought these words were more than appropriate!

Let us begin to-day, let us begin now. We may expect many failures, we shall meet with many difficulties; but our failures will not become less by waiting nor our difficulties less by delay.

No doubt Mother Francis Clare and all our Sisters who have gone before us will be cheering us on from heaven during these days of Chapter. 

Please keep us in your prayers as well.


Sacred Community Space

I have been spending these days at St. Mary-on-the-lake in the company of my CSJP Sisters. It is always a joy to just BE with them/us. 

In these days before Chapter, there are other Sisters from across the Congregation here who have come a bit early to be with us.

Our dining room here has circular tables, so there is always room to "squeeze in one more" at breakfast or lunch or as we just sit and have a cup of tea.  The conversation and presence,  just being with one another, is sustaining and energizing. The love we share for God and each other is palpable.

Our coming together is truly sacred space.

Tomorrow I head to the hotel where we'll have chapter to help set up and welcome Sisters and Associates coming from near and wide for our Congregation Chapter. Please hold us in your prayers!


Embodying Hope

I have been privileged to spend the last 3 and a half days in sacred space and in the company of holy women.  At the invitation of our Congregation Leadership Team, the seven Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace who have entered community in the last decade met with some Sisters in leadership, vocation, and formation roles to share our experiences, hopes, and dreams. We had an agenda and a marvelous facilitator, but what happened was beyond our imagining and will, I am sure, lead to some incredible hope-filled dreams becoming reality.

This was the first time the seven of us had all been together. Some of us know each other well, but as there are essentially two main formation groups, we had never before mixed and mingled or even shared our stories.  We come from very diverse backgrounds and experiences, but the common threads were astonishing and deeply moving.

We say in community that something special happens when we come together in person, and this experience was yet another embodiment of that reality. It was also an emodiment of hope. The energy was palpable in the room. Our charism of peace through justice was alive. And on more than one occasion, I felt the presence of Margaret Anna Cusack (known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, our founder).

Our reality is that we are separated on a regular basis by many thousands of miles. But we have a deep connection now to each other that I know will continue to grow and bear much fruit. I'm also aware that as we welcome those who are "yet to come" to our circle, we will be even more enriched, challenged, and inspired.

As we say in our Constitutions .... we face the future with gratitude and hope!


Trafficking: Resilience & Resistance ... new Global Sisters Report column

My latest column was just posted on Global Sisters Report. This column focuses on the reality of human trafficking, what I've learned from journeying with trafficked persons, and some ideas on how we can resist the social sin of human trafficking (yes, essentially what I'm hoping to turn into my MA thesis).
Poverty puts people at risk of being trafficked by creating a seemingly endless supply of vulnerable people, in the midst of a culture that devalues life and human dignity. Profits fuel the multi-billion dollar human trafficking industry, in which human beings are treated as disposable commodities. We cannot stop our analysis here, however. If we are truly committed to ending trafficking, we must also look critically at our role. Consumers demand cheap products at any cost, while our sexualized culture normalizes sexual exploitation. In my presentations to community groups, parishes or schools, I have always challenged those becoming aware of the reality of human trafficking to ask themselves how they might use their own power as conscious consumers, citizens and members of society to resist and help break the cycle of demand.

Read the whole column over at Global Sisters Report!

End of summer adventures

I woke up this morning and realized that I only have one more sleep in my own bed before heading out on a 3 1/2 week adventure in the Pacific Northwest as summer comes to a close.

First up is an opportunity to send a few days with our "newer" members--those Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace who have entered in the last 10 years. This will be the first time we've ever all been together! We have been invited to gather with some Sisters in leadership and formation to share our hopes for the congregation and religious life and to dream together.

The group of women I entered with
Me visiting our 3 novices in London last summmer
 I am sure it will be a wonderful gathering. And we can get a photo of all 7 of us at last!

Then I have a few days to visit friends over Labor Day weekend before I head back to Seattle and ..... CHAPTER!  Chapters only happen every 6 years. They are a time to listen to the heartbeat of the congregation. To celebrate and pray and laugh and discern where God is calling us together. Or, as our Constitutions say:

The Congregation Chapter is the highest
decision-making body in the congregation.
In this event we celebrate our unity,
renew our life and spirit,
reflect together on the call of the gospel,
and make decisions in fidelity to our charism.

Exciting things on the horizon. And hopefully, comfy-ish beds for yours truly so I have energy to enjoy and soak it all in.

I'll try to post from my adventures .... stay tuned!


Today on Promontory Point

Today on my walk around Promontory Point I spied, in no particular order ...

Walkers, runners, joggers, cyclists
A double stroller
A wheelchair
Oodles of picnics
Karaoke at one
A dj spinning tunes at another
(Yes, both involved complex sounds systems they carted out here)
Caterers setting up chairs for an outdoor wedding
Wedding guests
The bride
A Frisbee game on the grass
Sun bathers
Another Frisbee game ... this one being played in the Lake
Folks enjoying the view of the City
Trees, grass, bugs, water, birds
And lots and lots of people


Suffering, Remaining & Witness

I was delighted to see that Nancy Schreck, OSF drew upon the work of Shelly Rambo in her 2014 LCWR Keynote address.  I have been reading (and re-reading) Rambo's Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (2010 Westminster John Knox Press) these days. I first used Rambo's book for a paper I wrote on the ministry of reconciliation with trafficked persons. I'm now using it as part of my thesis work (today in fact .... it sits open before me as I procrastinate in my research with this blog post!)

It was interesting to read Schreck apply Rambo's work on trauma to the place where women religious find themselves today.
This shifting within religious life and in world events has taken us to what I call a middle space. We find ourselves in this place of both creativity and disorientation. Much of what was is gone, and what is coming is not yet clear. ... 
I am greatly helped in this next section by the work of Shelly Rambo and her book Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. Rambo speaks about a theology of remaining in difficult places because "when you enter certain worlds, they do not let you go."  
Though her work is with trauma survivors and in no way do I want to diminish the aspect of trauma, I do think some parallels with or experience can be drawn. ... 
The task of "remaining" in this uncertain place is to pay attention to the reality that does not go away. In this experience all of our theological categories are re-defined: concepts like love, divine presence, incarnation, and world view are reshaped. Knowledge, truth, and experience of our world are transformed, placed on much more fragile terrain because of the radical disruption ... 
What we try to do in the middle space is to describe events that shatter all that one knows about the world and the familiar ways of operating within it. What if from this place we simply witness to and provide testimony about this experience, with special attention to truths that often lie buried and are covered over. ... 
In this middle space that is what we do: we call attention to things, things others might bury, or are afraid to face. That is why I say, however long the night we will be faithful and we will speak about what we are learning in the middle space. We trust Holy Mystery revealed in our midst. (Excerpt, Schreck, pages 7-10)

I need to think and pray into that some more, especially as it relates to my experience as a woman religious.

I've certainly been thinking and praying with a heavy heart today about the immense (human induced) suffering in our world today. And I mean, quite literally, today. A friend recently posted a very poignant list she's been carrying around with her these days: "Ferguson (police state, Black Man Walking), Gaza, Ukraine, Malaysian Air Flt 17, Refugee kids fleeing violence in Central America, Yazidi's fleeing the Islamic State, The Islamic State, Syria, Afghanistan, Ebola ..." No doubt you have your own (similar) list. It seems to be growing by the day.  So much violence, oppression, death, and trauma being caused to human beings by other human beings. One can feel paralyzed, helpless, or even complicit.  Our globalized media savvy reality means that we are present to this suffering on one (superficial/virtual) level, even though the vast majority of us are removed in our privileged spaces of comfort and safety. In my case, I think that's at the root of much of my own sense of being uncomfortable in my own skin as human induced suffering rages on and seemingly spreads. Removed as I/we are from the reality of suffering, I worry that it becomes easier to ignore or fail to act against it, thereby fueling more suffering.

Which is where I find Shelly Rambo's work so helpful:

In our current world, we are witnessing ongoing atrocities and different manifestations of suffering. The invisible forces of global capital and the undetectable effects of new wars and their justifications demand that theological accounts of suffering attend to the elisions constituting traumatic suffering. Although some may say that all 'suffering is suffering,' there are different expressions of that suffering and its effects that press for renewed theological articulation. I understand this as the increased invisibility of suffering and the power of its erasure. The discourse of trauma engages these invisible realities, continually calling attention to what falls outside the lines of what is, or can be, represented. The challenge of theological discourse is to articulate a different orientation to suffering that can speak to the invisibility, gaps, and repetitions constituting trauma.... 
A theology of the middle Spirit can help us rethink the theological discourse about suffering, given its new unique dimensions in trauma. Bessel van der Kolk acknowledges that one of the primary effects of trauma is a crisis of the human spirit. This crisis refers to a complete loss of meaning and trust in the world. ... How does a theology of the Spirit meet this crisis of spirit? ... 
I have started to envision practices patterned after this testimony, practices of tracking and sensing that propel us to recognize suffering amid its multiple elisions. .... 
The tracking and sensing, then, not only unearth and give theological significance to the unknown and unutterable within human experience, but these practices also testify to something of who we understand God to be. The work of the witnesses is to track the undertow and to sense life. But this witness is, as well, a testimony that runs deeper than we might imagine, to the nature of divine love. In the middle, divine love is witnessed in its remaining. ...The work of tracking and sensing is sanctifying work, the work of making love visible at the point where it is most invisible. 
If we read this sacred story as a story of survival, we are pressed to think about what it means to remain in the aftermath of a death that escapes our comprehension. To witness this sacred story is also to receive it for the truth that it tells: love remains, and we are love's witnesses. ... 
From this space, a different vision of life can be glimpsed. It is life as remaining. This transformation, this redemption in the abyss of hell, is not about deliverance from the depths but, instead, about a way of being in the depths, a practice of witnessing that sense life arising amid what remains. The middle story is not a story of rising out of depths, but a transformation of the depths themselves. 
(Excerpt, Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, 169-172)
A lot of words, many of them big theology words. But really, if I am even beginning to understand their power, I think it is summed up best by these two contrasting photos that have come out of Fergusson:

Top: Violence, suffering, and trauma.
Bottom: Witness, remaining, and healing.


Anne Shirley Moments

If you know about kindred spirits, the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder Company and the dangers of currant wine, then this post will make sense.

Sometimes I find myself having Anne Shirley moments.

It might be when my mouth and brain conspire to get ahead of common sense and I say that thing I am actually thinking rather than what should be said in public.

It might be when I spend an afternoon talking about nothing with a good friend, or curl up with a good book, and all is right with the world.

Or it could be like today, when I should be busy about many things, but find myself stopping on a park bench during my morning walk to gaze out at the lake where the sun is making the water glimmer in spots, the birds are playing with the wind, and the waves are quite literally dancing. If Anne Shirley were here, no doubt she would christen Lake Michigan today the "Lake of Dancing Waters."

Sometimes I have Anne Shirley moments, which are really Susan moments, because life is best lived when you let your attention be caught by beauty, make time to soak in the company of kindred spirits, and above all remember that tomorrow is always fresh without any mistakes in it.


Living the Gospel Today: Children at the Border

In today's Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples (and I think especially to us in the United States today):

He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. 
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.”

Whoever receives one child in the name of Jesus receives Jesus.
It is the will of our God in heaven that not one of these children be lost.
See that you do not despise one of these little ones.

Seems pretty clear to me.

Hold on to this message from Jesus as you look at these pictures I found when I googled the current situation of unaccompanied children at our border:

There are of course contrasting images.

But ultimately, it is the children that matter. "See that you despise not one of these little ones," Jesus says.

According to this Reuter's News Report, President Obama is seeking to speed the deportation of the children at our border. Yet, a majority of Americans are not so sure this is a good idea. Perhaps our collective conscience is kicking in? Perhaps we still have some of our humanity intact?

If we take the message of Jesus seriously, if we truly believe in the value of human life and dignity, then we need to act. Now.

Learn More:

Contact Your Elected Officials:

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Loving God, comfort your children far from home, seeking safety and shelter from their powerful neighbor. Give us the compassion, wisdom, and courage to open our doors, widen our hearts, and spread our wings to offer our protection. Inspire each of us to act in charity and for justice. Amen.