Friday, December 28, 2012

Mary and Elizabeth: Looking to the Future Together

My housemates and I at the Disney Store
before going to see Once.
The past few weeks have been a great time of reconnecting with Sisters in my own Congregation.  I've had the opportunity to visit friends and attend pre- and post-Christmas celebrations.  As a local community, we went to Manhattan to see the Broadway musical, "Once."  

The Crazy Christmas display in the Bronx.
I presented what the novitiate experience was like to our Sisters in our infirmary.  I've had good conversations over meals with several of my Sisters.  I went with Sisters from several Congregations and the Dominican Volunteers living in the Bronx to see the lights on Pelham Parkway.  (Yes, this is one of the sites that was featured on TLC's Crazy Christmas Lights).  

Rockefeller Center Tree
With one of our elder Sisters, I watched an elementary school Christmas Program at St. Anthony School, which is staffed by Dominicans from Blauvelt and Sparkill.  

And, I spent the day walking with a friend to many of the tourist sites in Manhattan while discussing our hopes for the future of the Congregation. 

At our Chapter in 2011, my Congregation decided that they would do what they could to create an "Enduring Future."  This year, I was invited to preach at our Advent Reflection Series the Wednesday before Christmas.  I'm sharing the text of that preaching with you, as I think we, as the Dominican Order, are working to create an Enduring Future together.  

Jenn Schaaf, Sisters of St. Dominic, Blauvelt, NY

The Visitation by Fra Angelico, Dominican

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke.

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,the infant leaped in her womb,and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

"Blessed are you among women,
And how does this happen to me,
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

The Good News of our God.

Preparing for a New Year of Retreatants in San Rafael

After returning to my home congregation in San Rafael, California, I have had the opportunity to help at our lovely retreat house Santa Sabina Center. It is a brief walk through the Dominican University campus past old Victorians, and I have been going several days a week since I got back. The Center itself is gorgeous with a mixture of Gothic and Mission architecture surrounded by cottage gardens, so it is always a treat to be able to visit, even to work hard!

The first project was a several thousand piece mailing that needed to be sorted, put into envelopes, addressed, and stamped with multiple pieces of information. We spread out all over the dining area, which used to be where the novices ate before Santa Sabina became a retreat center. It felt right somehow to be there as a novice myself, and I couldn't help thinking of all the women who had come before me through that hall as I folded and stamped the papers.

The second project I have been working on is going through the bookstore area. There is a new identity font for Santa Sabina, and the taxes had changed, so we needed to go through all the books and replace the tags.

Step one was creating an inventory of the books we already had, then creating every label. The biggest step was cutting all those little pieces and alphabetizing them! I then went through the books, replaced their tags, and found their stands.

You can see in the photo how the left side is done, and the right side books are not upright yet. That was my code for what had been completed.

It was quite the project, but it was great to see the bookstore go from empty shelves and piles everywhere to looking neat and organized again. The retreatants of 2013 have a great shop to look forward to!


Thursday, December 27, 2012

These last few months...

Consuming fire, love that expands my heart to lengths I never thought possible,
Can we talk again? And when words are useless, inadequate and incomplete, can we talk in silence?  And when silence is too loud, can we talk again with laughter?  Can we hold hands and touch each other’s cheeks?  And when touch is too much, can we part ways –you leaving with my heart and I’ll take yours?  And when distance is too much, can we call the world to bring our hearts together?  And when the pulse of our hearts is too loud, can we let the world to hold us until there’s no more me, you, they but only one breath, one body…

I am directionally challenged.  If you tell me to go East or West, I’ll give you the puzzled look that says, “plain English please.”  Left or right I can do.  Cardinal points not so much.  I can also doubt my choice for one direction vs. another.  But my experience has been that there is no right or wrong turn when it comes to following God’s call.  The crucial element is thriving to be authentic.  In St Louis I have encountered numerous people whose main goal is to live authentic lives.  The place that I first considered a temporary stop has become a home of communities, and I am so grateful for God’s invitation to take this step.    

When I moved to St. Louis, I was already tired of building relationships in new places only to have to say goodbye a few months later.  And let’s face it: Who has the energy, not to mention the time, to maintain ALL relationships, especially when you need to be present to a new community –and when you need to pay close attention to everything you’re experiencing?  As much as we stay in touch with family members and friends, the transformation of relationships is inevitable.  With each letting go of what we once knew and experienced, we walk into the unknown hoping that that which we will find is so much more than that which we have left behind.  We are always mourning and rejoicing.  Mourning a past that had its own dreams in its own future and rejoicing in the new dreams and hopes of a future we yet have to see.  Deep down we know that what we follow is beyond anything we have imagined.  Guides along the way welcome us not with signs for directions but with so much more: with their witness to a life they live through daily commitment.

The communities I have met at Aquinas Institute, at the Dominican Priory, at the Inter-community novitiate, at my ministry, and in the city that welcomed us with kind, warm people have all enriched my discernment.  However, I couldn’t have come to appreciate them had I not had the support of my CDN community.  Through our tears of sorrow and joy, through our serious and playful times, through our daily living, I have become more of me -- I have embraced my own unfolding identity with reverence and joy.  I have celebrated with them my Romanian heritage, my struggles as an immigrant, and my voice is more authentic because of their listening hearts.  If this blog entry reads more like a love letter, then know you’re not mistaken.  It is a love letter for the God who called us to discern religious life and for the people who have allowed me to be me. 

In August Alexa, Jenn, Joye, Megan, and Renee were the names of my new community members.  Today they are so much more.  They are my sisters.  They are the women who take the time to give me driving directions in my own language (with left and right not E or W).  They are the women who hum for me so I can lead chanting because I cannot read music –and they encourage me all along.  They are the women who fast with me and offer me support with their prayers.  They are the women who invite me to consider my shadow side when I’d rather ignore it for a while.  They are the women who remind me that when the time comes, I am the only one who can push for new birth and they will be right there by my side with their cheering pompons (metaphorically speaking).  They are the women I would CHOOSE for community but instead God chose them for me this year, and all I can say is, “Thank you, God.” 

If I were to summarize what my experience has been, then this is how I would describe this fall semester: I have learned that despite all risks, being vulnerable is the only way I can live my call as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I have learned that people surprise you when you open the eyes of your heart.  I have learned that as much as I dislike surprises, I also love them.  I have learned that when we surrender to God, we become a paradox ourselves.  I have learned that our models of living religious life come not only from those who witness to an authentic life, but also from those who do not.  I have learned that I bring my own prejudices to every encounter only to discover how limited my love is.  I have learned that everyone does the same... 

~ Adela Langa, Adrian Dominican Sisters

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

CDN Advent Wreath

 (Greens Courtesy Jenn's Father)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Accepting the untidiness within

During days of reflection, I often visit the Missouri Botanical Garden. When I first arrived in St. Louis, it was still summer with green trees and flowers everywhere. Over the months I have been here, the gardens have succumbed to autumn and now into winter.

One of my favorite areas when I first came was the Woodland Garden. It was like a fairyland of supple trees interspersed with creeks and benches with flowers springing up from the turf and ferns. Overhead birds sweetly chirped during the day. Recently, though, the trees have lost their bright leaves and instead of a lush green forest floor there is a tangle of skeletal twigs and fallen leaves beginning to decay.

As I sat in the Woodland Garden looking around at how much it had changed, I asked myself why I continued to come even after it had lost its fairylike quality. As I looked around, I realized it was still beautiful, but in a different way. There is a stark, yet dreamy quality to the bare trunks and scattered garments of leaves on the ground. If the gardeners were to rake up all the leaves, many places would merely show bare dirt. The untidy lived in quality of the forest had become a part of its beauty. To "clean it up" would be to truly rob the woods of their attraction.

As I considered the forest, it became intermingled with how I see myself. Part of the novitiate is an intense time of seeing who we are and the challenge to deeply share in a venerable way. The more I looked intently at myself the more flaws and failings I saw and wanted to "rake up" to be perfect. Looking at the messy forest floor, it is an image of how I see myself—bare patches, lots of downed dying things, and yet interspersed with tiny flowers and growth pushing up through all the negative. When I asked the question of the forest why I kept coming back even in the beginning of winter, it became a sort of question about me as well. When I look at the untidy woods settling in for winter, do I see their beauty, or an area to "fix"? As I realized the answer was that I saw beauty in the untidiness it seemed to be the Holy Spirit telling me that is how God sees me. I don't have to be the perfect spring-time woods with orderly green sprigs and flowers covering every surface. Just because there are downed leaves and neglect doesn't mean the forest is ugly or no longer a forest. It doesn't mean someone needs to go in and tidy it up so it can be perfect again. It is exactly how it should be during this season and it is still beautiful.

—Alexa Chipman (