Friday, February 21, 2014

I'd Rather Be Compost

We (novices) are taking a Contemporary Religious Life class with novices of other religious orders through Aquinas Institute of Theology.  Last semester’s class focused on the history of religious life in the United States, as well as on the vows in relation to each of our respective congregation’s constitution.  
        This semester we’re digging more deeply into the vows but we’re also learning about the evolution of religious congregations - from a historical standpoint, (i.e. – looking back,) to looking at current congregation configurations, to envisioning what the future might hold.  We’ve talked about the process of dying in the context of ways of life, ways of living in community, and in ways of thinking of ourselves.  We’ve learned that reasons for congregational change (in the form of mergers, unions, completion, covenant agreements and so on) range from financial concerns to diminished numbers of both professed and entering sisters, to visioning the best way forward in order to advance the Dominican mission of preaching and teaching the Gospel - to bring about the reign of God.  The latter is how Joye Gros, OP described for us the rationale behind the union of seven Dominican congregations now known as the Dominican Sisters of Peace, (with another congregation joining in 2012 through a merger process.) Unbelievable, and unbelievably difficult, forward thinking!
Certainly, consideration of change is challenging, should be handled with sensitivity, and should never be taken lightly.  It is never accomplished without pain.  I sure can understand that.  But what became clear to me in our class discussions was that ‘death’ is not the enemy unless death is allowed to lead to extinction.  Even as a congregation might consider ‘completion’ … its natural ending once the last member has gone to God… how the assets of heritage are disposed of can be decisions that generate new life …  in another congregation, in a secular ministry, or in any number of other ways.  Passing on one’s heritage is a generative act to all of those who follow.  What a gift!
        The entire spectrum of possibilities reminds me of composting.  Eggshells, banana peels, coffee grounds, apple cores, etc rot if we simply throw them in the garbage.  But layer them outside in your garden with leaves, grass clippings, newspaper and other organic matter and in a month (give or take) you’ll discover rich black dirt that can be used to nourish vegetables or flowers!  That ‘garbage’ is now home to thousands of beneficial microorganisms.  What we once considered ‘dead’ is very much alive, just in another form.
        And so it is with religious life, I think.  We can ‘throw it away’ or we can compost.  As for me, I’m going with composting… and I’m really excited to see what the future holds – for all of us!      

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Got Vocation?

Things are beginning to really speed up, now that we’re reached the second half of our year here. We’ve just reached another major milestone. This weekend the formators from our sending communities are in town, and we are doing our mid-year evaluations. The Board of the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate, which consists of representatives from the 16 member congregations throughout the US, are also in town for their annual meeting. Yesterday we shared with them, in a presentation that was very well-received, what has been most impactful to us and how we’ve grown during the year. So in the last couple of weeks, the thrust has been on looking back to see where we’ve been, as well as in finding the words to describe the place where we are now.

I thoroughly enjoy the experience of being catapulted from mere knowledge of something to an actual awareness of it; and I see, as I looked back in the past 14 months that I’ve been in religious life, a number of these occurrences. One of the most profound and recent of such experiences has been on the subject of vocation. Much has been written on this topic, which I won’t repeat here; rather I want to share the unique way in which I got from knowledge to awareness. The turning point, the aha! moment, came when first I drew my “social atom” and then afterwards, when I reflected on the quality of each of the relationships I had drawn. The social atom, a psychological tool developed by J. L. Moreno, is a graphical snapshot of the significant relationships and issues in one’s life at a particular time. It is a way to know oneself in context. And what had reflected back to me from my drawing, apart from how radically my life had changed in the last couple of years, was how much of my relationships and issues have truly constellated around my relationship with God and the living of that in religious life. I was, and in fact still am, shocked by how absolutely everything in my life has been ordered and re-ordered to this constellating principle. I became aware that that is what this life, this vocation, means. And the fruit of that realization: deeper meaning and tangible form to the discernment questions of I am called to this and Is this the best way for me?

Another kind of experience that I thoroughly enjoy is when seemingly unrelated efforts begin to dialogue with one another and produce resonance. In my Foundations of Spirituality class, we spent quite a bit of time diving into the theology behind the doctrine of the Virgin Mary, with most of us still left scratching our heads wondering if it’s really quite ineffable. How is she different from the rest of us? Part of the key to the mystery of the Theotokos (the God-bearer) lies in her being “full of grace” (Luke 1:28), which we are not. But also now, through the lens of vocation, particularly her vocation, she has taken on a whole new meaning for me – a rich ore that I will be mining for some time.

And so how about you? Got vocation?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Time for what?

If you had 30 minutes… what would you do?

If you YouTube "30 minutes", you can find all sorts of things for '30 minutes', such as: learning to cook a meal, different exercise programs, full episode of a TV show, how to build a computer, how to paint a seascape, how to learn a new language, total relaxation exercises, Zen meditation timer, etc. However, 30 minutes is not enough when that’s all you've got for making a Thanksgiving meal, or watch full episode of West Wing or Call the Midwife.

30 minutes before entering novitiate... To me, it was a time to fill it up with something. I could fit in one additional activity in my day. I was just zooming in and zooming out from Mass, to and from school; I was constantly on the go.

So, really, what is 30-minutes good for to make the most out of it?

What matters isn't how much time we have, but how we use it.

How can we make most of our time?

Just a few days ago, we learned, that St. Dominic used to say to his brothers: "always think or read about something."

In the novitiate, we have several ‘things’ that last 30 minutes, such as contemplative meditation, as well as morning and evening praise.

Centering prayer or 30 minute contemplation: In the beginning, I kept looking at the clock…thinking about: “Are we there yet? Is it over?” Then slowly, I learned to make most of it. How? First of all, I learned not to get frustrated when I get interrupted with thoughts, but rather it is the intention that counts and the relationship with God. So, with that in my mind, I return to the sacred word, and let myself move beyond awareness. I learned to open my mind and heart. I just love this part of my day...

Theological reflection invites me to gain a deeper awareness by connecting daily life experiences with my spiritual life, and then challenges me do something about it. What I appreciate about it is that I get to be aware of things I would have missed without reflection.

On Fridays, we have reflection days. During Christmas break, one of my reflection days was on “time” using this reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11.

“There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
What profit have workers from their toil?
I have seen the business that God has given to mortals to be busied about.
God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.”

We can focus on the past and the future, but it is really the present moment that engages the mind, focusing on what we are doing. The challenge we are living today is paying attention to and being present in the moment.

In the novitiate, I am learning to be present to the opportunities, soak up and integrate everything novitiate has to offer: 
- being fully attentive to God in prayer,
- being attentive to God's presence and work in daily happenings,
- being more aware of who I am,
- being present to community,
- studying God's Word and the world, so that I can serve others
- being there for those I serve in ministry.

How do you stay open to the opportunities God offers you each day?

What is God inviting you to do?

* picture from:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Your community's charism

This week we are being asked to reflect deeply on the religious 
community we have chosen and its charism. In our recent workshop presented by Lynn Levo we were challenged by the statement "You are in most need of your own charism."  So what is it about the Dominican Sisters of Peace that I am attracted toward?

  •       These women are strong
  •       These women are courageous
  •      These women are joyful

As I pondered these qualities I wondered why they would attract me so? Do I need strength, courage and joy? And the answer of course, is yes. I need to be with others who are strong because it helps me be stronger. I need to be with others who are courageous because it helps me to find my own courage. I need to be around others who are joyful because it helps me to learn to allow God’s joy to bubble up within me.

But these qualities can probably be applied to almost any Dominican women’s congregation in the world. What is it about this specific congregation that attracts me? I believe our chapter commitments have captured the intent of this community at this time and it is these commitments that I feel an affinity toward:
  • To study, ponder and live God’s revelation
  • Promote non-violence
  • Transform oppressive systems, especially against women and children
  • Create a community where all are welcome

Each of these commitments stretches me outward, calling forth strength, courage and joy. They call me to be a more loving person. And I think that is what I need most, to express and receive strong, deep love, courageously and joyfully.

So I invite you to ponder, what is it about the charism of your community that you most need?