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:

Share Your Resources:

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.


Wait for it ...

Today's first reading is one that I have long used in prayer. I also actually have it as my footer on my email template (yes, I am that much of a nerd). It is a reminder to me that our job is not to be God.  Rather, our job is to wait (and act) in hope, to hold fast to the vision, to be persistent and faithful in our pursuit of God's justice and our sharing of God's love in the present moment. The rest is not up to us, it is up to God. And God's vision will be fulfilled on time, on God's time ... it will not be late.


Bizarre Yet Beautiful ... Reprise

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a prayer poem on the blog titled "Bizarre Yet Beautiful."  Yesterday, after a very powerful (and well timed) session with my spiritual director where I reflected on the bizarre and beautiful movement of the Spirit in my life these days, I took the time to check out the Rene Magritte exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The title of the traveling exhibit is Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary. As a surrealist, Magritte was deeply in touch, I think, with the bizarre yet beautiful aspects of life. Thankfully for us, he was able to capture this aspect of the human experience on canvas. I bought a small version of the painting at the right, depicted on a button (the kind you can pin to your clothing). The painting itself is called "L'homme au chapeau melon." 

I was really touched by the painting, because you see part of my ongoing discernment process has been recognizing and befriending my own limitations. This has been especially true during the past few months. As I mentioned a while back on the blog, I have been invited to discern my willingness to serve in elected leadership for my congregation (both bizarre, given my time in community, and beautiful, given my love of my community and belief in our future).  

I received my invitations to enter into this discernment process just before I spent 3 weeks at vocation director summer school, where we learned about psycho-sexual integration and behavioral assessment. While the focus was on assessing and screening potential candidates, there was also a bit of introspection and inner work involved.  As a result, I came to the discernment weekend having befriended (again) many of my own limitations and "prickly points" within the context of my discernment process. They are very real ... I, like most if not all people,  carry my life experiences, baggage, and personal challenges with me along this journey we call life. Hopefully as we become more self aware and engage fully in the work of life and relationships, our rough edges become softer and those prickly aspects of our personalities cause less and less damage to ourselves and others. Nevertheless, through much of this time of leadership discernment, my limitations have been front and center. Replace the dove in the picture with a prickly cactus and you'd get the idea!! It's hard to see the forest for the cactus, if you catch my drift.

One very real blessing of the weekend retreat I spent with the other Sisters discerning openness to serve in leadership, and the days since, has been a real experience of the promise of peace. We are all better than our worst selves, and community helps us to grow together in truth and love into our best selves. As our CSJP Constitutions say: "As we live our vows each day we trust that Christ's blessing promised to peacemakers will sustain us, knowing that God working in us will accomplish more than we can ask or imagine."

This painting by Magritte, with a dove blocking the man's face (instead of a prickly cactus!) is a reminder to me of the promise of peace.

Please join me in praying for the ten women, including myself, who decided after the discernment weekend to leave our names in the mix of nominees for elected leadership. Our General Chapter takes place September 5-16 in Seattle, with the elections taking place in a spirit of discernment and prayer towards the end of that time.  As one CSJP friend mentioned in an email, it says wonders for our community that we have such a powerful and prayerful group of women open to congregation leadership at this crucial time in our history. No matter which women will make up the final mix of leaders, leadership of our community will be in good hands, good minds, and good hearts. God is so very good ... mischievous and surprising at times, but very good.

In the words of our Chapter prayer:

Come Holy Spirit,
refresh and renew us,
draw us deeply into your love,
soften our hearts,
rouse our spirits,
open us to all that the 
Congregation Chapter may entail.
St. Joseph, dreamer
and practical one,
help us live our dreams into reality.
May the whole of creation
rejoice in God's justice
and live in God's peace.
We pray with confidence
and faith.


Deeper and Wider

The theme of my community's General Chapter, which will take place in September, is "Deeper and Wider - The Challenge of Peace." Here is a prayer poem I wrote this morning,  inspired by the theme.

God's gift of peace
calls us deeper into the very
heart of God.

Christ's blessing,
promised to peacemakers,
challenges us ...
to stretch out
our hearts,
our minds,
our hands,
ever wider,
embracing all God's children,
embracing all God's creation.

Deeper and wider,
we are one,
immersed in the immensity
of God's love
for each and every one of us,
and in a particular way,
for those called least.

The challenge
it seems
is to focus our energies,
our resources,
and our very being,
in solidarity and justice
with those
Christ loved so well.

That is our challenge.
That is our call.
That is the promise
and gift
of peace.


Blessed by Religious Life Peers

This past weekend I gathered with friends, some old and some brand new, for the first ever Giving Voice Retreat for Sisters in their 40s at my community's vacation house outside of Seattle.

I attended my first Giving Voice Retreat when I was in the novitiate. Of course I was younger back then (with less gray hair), so it was the annual 20s/30s retreat weekend. The connections I first made 6 years ago on MLK weekend have sustained me on my journey and made me a better Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.  This weekend was another graced opportunity to be with people who get both religious life and what it is like to be my age IN religious life and who also believe deeply in its future. In our closing prayer we were invited to share one grace we received on the retreat. I shared that I had quite literally been blessed by my GV Sisters.

Because you see, this summer I have also stepped out of the circle of leadership for Giving Voice, having served on two conference planning teams and as a member of the Core Team for the past 3 years. As part of our closing prayer on Sunday, my GV Sisters surprised me with this blessing:
In gratitude for all that you've done to serve Giving Voice so well, we offer you this blessing: 
May you know God's love and the gratitude of your Giving Voice sisters for the ways in which you've offered your gifts to serve us. We pray in thanksgiving for the ways in which you donated such time and talent to us. 
May you continue to grow in relationship with sisters in Giving Voice, sisters in yours and other communities, and with the people of God. 
May you recognize the ways in which you've grown from having served on the GV leadership team. 
May you continue to be effective in your service to others as you work for solidarity and justice in the world. 
May your faith propel you forward, enabling you to take "prophetic risk[s] so that God's reign might be more fully realized." 
May your next venture be successful and life-giving, and may you know God's presence with you as you move forward into something new. 
May your prayer be fruitful and intimate. 
And may you always know God's immense love for you, God's tender care of you, and God's guidance of you. 
With your sisters, we pray: "In unity with the church and with all of creation we give praise and thanks to the Giver of all gifts. We open ourselves to the liberating power of God whose Spirit in us leads to peace."

The quotations are from my CSJP Constitutions. I cannot tell you how powerful it was to be standing in the center of GV Sisters, hearing them pray the words of my congregation's constitutions. It was a beautiful reminder that we all women of the Church, connected in so many ways yet diverse in the way we embody the gifts of the Spirit.

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve in leadership of this grassroots peer led organization. As I wrote in my final GV E-Newsletter last month: "As I take a step out of the circle of leadership back into the larger circle of GV Sisters, I know that my friends and Sisters will continue to create spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life."

I am well and truly blessed by the presence of each of my GV Sisters in my life.

Hiroshima Day ... Transfiguration

69 years ago the world changed. And not for the better. 69 years ago today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, my country brought unimaginable destruction by dropping a euphemistically named atomic called "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. "Little Boy" had an estimated equivalent explosive force of 12,500 tons of TNT. An estimated 140,000 people died as Hiroshima became the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack.

On August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb called "Fat Boy" was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. An estimated 80,000 human lives were lost in that City. "Fat Boy" was actually more powerful than "Little Boy," but its death dealing power was lessened because it was accidentally dropped on the outskirts of the city.

Out of every 6 deaths from the bombings, 5 were civilians and 1 was military.

Women, children, the elderly, families, school children ... all killed indiscriminately. When he visited Hiroshima in 1981, now Saint Paul John II said: "To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace."

We remember Hiroshima ... we still have the power to kill every living person and creature many times over. We have the power to undo creation. And each and every day, more innocent people are killed. Here, there, and everywhere.

Today is also the Feast of the Transfiguration. We remember the voice from the cloud, telling the disciples that Jesus is God's beloved son ... listen to him.

Jesus called us to be peacemakers ... do we listen?
Jesus called us to be brothers and sisters, beloved children of God ... do we act accordingly?

Transfigure us, O God, into people of peace. Transfigure us, O God. Help us turn in love to all our brothers and sisters, especially those who suffer from our violent and destructive ways. Inspire us to be peace, to build peace, and to nurture peace in our families, neighborhoods, cities, nations, and world. Give us the strength and wisdom to use our gifts, so that together we may transform our world through your promise of peace and your boundless love. Amen. Shalom. Amen.