Friday, March 28, 2014

Love Without Mercy Is Not Really Love

So much has gone on here at the CDN since my last blog.  You’ve heard about some of it…our Spring break trip to New Orleans where we helped with the St. Bernard Project, what we’ve been learning in our respective classes at Aquinas, the grace of the many wonderful speakers at our Inter Community Novitiate. Right now, though, in the midst of Lent, I’d simply like to tell you about an extremely moving experience we had tonight, (Thursday, March 27,) during a Day of Reflection and how it connects to a vigil held at College Church this past Tuesday night… the night Jeffrey Ferguson was put to death here in Missouri.  Although Days of Reflection are normally on Fridays, this week’s leader, Sr. Bea, (pronounced "Bay'-uh") started tomorrow's reflection tonight.
Bea took down all of the framed pictures on one side of the first floor of our house and taped up very simple but simply profound, sketched drawings of the Stations of the Cross.  As a group, we prayed the Stations in candlelight, after supper.  As we sang “Jesus Walked This Lonely Valley” between Stations, I found it very difficult to keep my emotions in check.
            The Stations have always had that effect on me. But in particular, Station IV almost literally knocks the breath out of me.  I'm the mother of a 28-year old son.  I can never quite go in my mind or heart to the place that Mary had to journey with her son, but I’ve gotten close enough to cry every time.  Yes, she IS a model of faithfulness and trust in our God but, still, she must have felt that her heart was being ripped from her body, watching her boy being cursed, beaten, mocked and ultimately murdered.
            Which brings me to Jeffrey Ferguson, and all men and women in our country who are on death row, or who have been put to death as a result of the imposition of the death penalty. I think of their mothers. I think of their torment… for the suffering their child has inflicted and for the suffering their child faces. I think of the love they still have for their child. Their anguish pierces me. And, yes, of course, I think of the mothers and fathers and family and friends of the victims. Their anguish pierces me. But killing just begets killing. Violence begets violence.  Where will it end?

            This isn’t a political statement.  I’m not really looking for affirmation or dialogue, although dialogue is welcome because I believe it’s the only way we will ever stop hurting each other.  This is just me, tired of the ways we find to inflict pain on each other; just me, believing that our Creator God, who is Love, and who loves each of us into being, also dispenses infinite Mercy. Mercy that none of us has ever merited or earned.  Just me, believing we are all called to do the same.

(Image by Sr. Teresita Kelly, OP, Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, dec.) 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Dream & The Mission

American rocker Dave Mathews has a song that goes:
Civil Rights Museum/Lorraine Hotel, Memphis

  Could I have been… a parking lot attendant,
  Could I have been… a millionaire in Bel Air,
  Could I have been… lost somewhere in Paris,
  Could I have been… your little brother,
  Could I have been… anyone other than me,...
  Could I have been…anyone?

Interesting question.

Every so often, when I come across someone in dire straits – say someone begging at an intersection or a homeless person or someone screaming at no one – I wonder: why you and not me? And I think: It could’ve been me. I could’ve been born into abject and viciously cyclical poverty. I could’ve had horrible parents. I could’ve had few opportunities, little access to good education and employment. I didn’t, but there are those who do, and none of us chose our starting point.

Inevitably when I go down that road of questioning, this one eventually comes up: how does the reality of the situation of radically unequal opportunities comport with my experience of a loving and just God? The question makes me uncomfortable. I ponder it for a little bit, then I give up. But I gained a new awareness in this regard just last week in New Orleans, when we helped rebuild Ms. Vera’s house, which had been destroyed by Katrina; and in Memphis at the Civil Rights Museum, when I listened to the subhuman working conditions of Black sanitation workers against which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke – this kind of suffering is not necessary. We can do something about it; that was MLK’s point. Jesus’ too. All the way back to Moses, in fact.

My new understanding helped me to reframe my question. The point isn’t about understanding why them and not me. There shouldn’t be awful starting points - for anyone. It doesn’t have to be that way. Therein lie the dream and the mission.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

More than just a communal adventure

First of all, I apologize that this blog became long… 
However, I feel that the gift we received during Spring break deserves at least this much.

I feel that this story must be told and retold, as this story is based on a natural disaster that has been calling forth efforts to unite diverse people to share God’s love by serving those in need.

Before our New Orleans experience, I asked novices about what makes the novitiate unique that there is no such app for that. I heard many responses, but what I would like to share with you is the very fact that
  • While it is a communal adventure, and we learn to live in community with each other, the discernment is very unique and personal.
  • It is very real.
  • We never know until we live it.
  • We grow into a deeper relationship with God.
  • It’s “Cold and broken Hallelujah” - it's a challenge and from that challenge comes all the gifts. They are truly gifts.
  • We learn how to live for others.
I would like to share about this latter one.

Learning to live for others is lived daily by being present to one another in community, by praying for the needs of the world, for the needs of our sisters, and for the intentions of those who ask us to pray, etc.

Another way is choosing ministries (service experiences) based on the needs of others. Each week for a few hours, we each volunteer to help the poor or marginalized by needs, by health, or by being a foreign student.  

During spring break, as a community, we decided that we would go to New Orleans, where Katrina hit in 2005, and that we would volunteer helping rebuilding New Orleans through the St. Bernard Project,  here is a short YouTube video (click on link.)
While it was a service, I feel that we received just as much or actually, even more.

St. Bernard Project connected us with Ms. Vera, a survivor of Katrina (center of the photo in blue sweater,) the owner of the house that we were working on. St. Bernard Project gave us the tools, materials, and the lesson on each task, along with the story of Ms. Vera.

Ms. Vera lost a grandson before Katrina hit (he was at a birthday party and was found drowned in the pool.) When Katrina hit, she evacuated to Mississippi. Her husband (stayed to look after the pets) was promised by a passing-by-boat that he would be picked up, but that remained a promise, and he ended up wading through the floodwaters, until he reached the highway and her sister-in-law was able to pick him up. When they returned to Louisiana, Ms. Vera’s husband was working on their house, but one day, his heart’s pace was slow and the next day he passed away. Four years later, Ms. Vera lost one of her sons in an auto accident, now she is raising her son’s son, Robby. The week before we arrived to help her, she lost another grandson who died from leukemia.

                               In the middle of the photo: Ms. Vera and her grandson, Robby.

There we were, ready to help her. 
But here it is what really happened, why I feel we received so much more...

Before we were able to help (and during our stay), we received a wonderful welcoming, care and hospitality from Dominican Sisters of Peace, feeding us, touring us around the city, and making our stay feel like home. They also prayed for Vera, her family, and for us to have the strength.

Our week seemed to get viral on our congregations’ digital news, and so, our sisters, too, prayed for the family, as well as we received their prayers.

When we arrived to St.Bernard Project, there were other volunteers.
One of the group of college students played a game, I only asked what was the name of the game, but their response was not only the name, but also welcomed us to play with them, and so we did. I felt being included, I felt a unity of the same spirit: being there for others.

When we arrived to the house where we helped out, Delcy and Amy (part of St. Bernard Project staff) were very welcoming, appreciative and were  very patient teaching us how to mud, sand, and paint. During breaks, we had very rich conversations with Amy. We felt touched by those stories and also left us changed. (Amy is on the far left on the photo.)

From left to right:
Amy, novices Bea and Christina, Ms. Vera, novices Katy and Kathy.

First day of our volunteering experience, we ran out of drinking water, and the house had no drinking water. It was a hot a humid day. I went over to a neighbor, and asked her to refill our water bottles. She asked me to let her give us new bottles of water that have been refrigerated. I first refused, as we had our bottles, but she really wished give us the cold ones, saying: “you are helping my friend and this is the least I can do for you.” So, I accepted. I talked with her mom a bit while she was getting the bottles for us. I again, was touched by their story and their compassion for Ms. Vera.

As the day went by, Ms. Vera came by and we got to meet her. She gave us a tour on how her house used to look like before Katrina, and how the new rooms would be used. As the conversation went by, she shared her story, with tears of sorrow and pain. But then, her Kindergartener grandson ran by, and that brought her back to the present, and she cheerfully showed us which room would be her grandson’s.

The four days we volunteered there, the more we got to know Ms. Vera. She is a wonderful, courageous and pleasant woman. Her smile itself is very life-giving, and she is so vibrant. She has been truly a blessing for us, and we also learned how to stay open, loving and hopeful in times of sorrow and pain.

After we left, the following day, we had a theological reflection with Sr. Dorothy Trosclair, OP, who helped us integrate what we experienced this week, and where and how God has been present in all these. It was very insightful and deep reflection and we really appreciated this experience.

St. Bernard Project is one of the many organizations that help rebuild New Orleans, rebuilding homes, but most of all, rebuilding hope and lives.
The story is not just a story anymore.

In 2005, I heard about Katrina.
I followed it as it was on the news.
Each year, I went there and saw the changes as the city was coming back to life.
I was a tourist.

Resonance with the novitiate:

  • I didn’t really know until I had a taste of it. I feel changed.
  • It was a communal adventure, were we as individuals came together for the same reason
  • It has also been unique and personal: I feel blessed and changed
  • It is real.
  • Through the prayers we shared and received and theological reflection, I feel in deeper relationship with God and feel ever more passionate about sharing that God is there even in the midst of deep loss and sorrow.
  • It’s “Cold and broken Hallelujah” - it's a challenge (sorrow) and from that challenge comes all the gifts (love, compassion and hope.) They are truly gifts.
Lent is a time of conversion, we fast, we pray and we do good works as we prepare to renew our baptismal commitment at Easter, recommitting ourselves to be Jesus' disciple. I feel that during this Lent, this 'communal adventure' was more than it sounds. It was really helpful to me to discover God's voice in our heart through others's stories and theological reflection, and gained encouragement to continue being God's disciple and doing God's desire.

Thank you for reading our blog. You are invited to post a comment as long as it is relevant to the blog.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

God As a Strange Attractor

"Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand."
~ Isaiah 64:8

Strange attractors.

I was reminded of this concept at the beginning of the semester in a place I wasn’t expecting.  This semester I am taking a class on the Torah, taught from the Jewish perspective by a rabbi.  The class has been a fascinating look at the Jewish scriptures through a new set of lenses.  This new way of understanding my Jewish brothers and sisters’ has challenged my aptitude to articulate my own theology and offered ample opportunities for deeper reflection.  I’ll give you an example.

Planetary Nebula NGC 6302.  (cc)
Our class began in the very beginning (…do I hear Maria Von Trapp’s voice in the distance…??) with a discussion on The Creation.  Genesis 1:2 describes the state of the “world” before God acted upon it as “unformed and void.”  The Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim) comes, hovers over the formless void, and creates.  As a modern, when I hear this verse, I usually picture the immense darkness of outer space, sans stars.  For me, the opposite of created order is something not created, or nothing.  Ancients understood the world in a very different way.  For our early ancestors, the opposite of created order was disorder or chaos.  Religion fulfilled a very important role for them, as it imposed an ordered structure on a disordered world. 

At this point in the class, the Rabbi turned to us, and asked a “thinking question.”  Let me explain.  Our class is quite intimate.  Myself and two others comprise the sum total of registered students.  In order to stimulate discussion (and I expect check that we are doing the readings each week) part of our homework includes “thinking questions,” that is, discussion questions of a reflective nature which integrate the weekly reading material with personal theology.  The Rabbi asked us, “So, the thinking question for this week was: Might we say that part of the role of “religion” is to quiet our fears and anxieties of chaos by positing an order to the universe?  Tell me, how do you see chaos?” 

And, honest to God, my first thought was, “I’m in the novitiate!  Forget seeing chaos - I LIVE in it!!”  Those of you who have been through novitiate – you know exactly what I mean.

Strange Attractor Fractal.  (cc)
This notion of chaos and order has followed me since that first weeks of class.  Recently, I was reminded of a concept that might put structure to my wonderings on this subject - strange attractors.  Through a very basic education in the new cosmology (and its applied theology) I have come to understand strange attractors as spontaneous, emergent changes which reorder an open, dynamic (and chaotic) system.  Used to describe the shape of this spontaneous emergence within Chaos Theory, the strange attractor imposes a new order within the chaos.  I have been wondering, “What is the strange attractor that is attempting imposing order upon my own interior chaos this year?”


I learned later that the Hebrew tetragrammation of God’s name (YHWH) is rooted in a form of the “to be” verb.  God gives a name with a root that is causative (as in God CAUSES "to be").  Just as the Ruach Elohim came down over the formless void in the beginning, so too, Adonai is working within me to reorganize my interior structure and form it in a better image of God’s-self.  And this work is not limited just to me.  Through my experiences this year, I have come to believe that our call, if we choose to accept it, is to maintain open systems, to listen and be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit. The Lord is working in all of our interior lives, each and every day.

‘Till You are my one desire
‘Till You are my one true love
'Tilll You are my breath, my everything
Lord, please keep making me.

Keep Making Me by the Sidewalk Prophets