Friday, May 23, 2014

In Memory...


      As you know, this blog is our (the novices) effort at keeping any interested reader updated as to to life in the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate; to answer questions and shed some light on what the novitiate is like for each of us.
      Truth be told, this is a year like no other.  It is quite real but, at the same time, a bit surreal.  And, truth be told, life 'out there' marches on, regardless of what is happening in our lives or in our discernment.
      We were reminded of that this past week with the shocking news that Sr. Jean Meier, CSJ, Psy.D. - the woman who facilitated our monthly house meetings, who guided us in workshops on transitions, self-awareness, on the way in which family history and dynamics affect and form each of us in some way - unexpectedly passed away on the day we were to have our last facilitated house meeting.  I was so looking forward to meeting with Jean, as were my sister novices and our Directors.
      I wanted to tell Jean how much she has meant to me this year; how grateful I am for the many ways she gently taught me to recognize and speak my truth and to acknowledge and listen to the truths of others.  I was hoping to ask her some questions about transitioning from St. Louis to a new environment.  I was hoping to give her a hug, to tell her 'thank you'.
      The May 22 evening reading from I John 2:24-27 seems so apropos now: "Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you."
                Jean, we will never forget you or what you've taught us.
      With deep gratitude, we thank God for your life and service, and pray that God's loving mercy and compassion eases the pain felt by your sisters, your family, your friends and colleagues.

Friday, May 16, 2014

What is failure to you?

Dominic's 2nd way of prayer: God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
I learned this week about the dark time that St. Dominic spent in France, being ridiculed for his preaching and having his mentor and friend die suddenly, leaving him the leader of their then-fledgling band of preachers. Out of all the stories I had heard this week, that one really grabbed hold of me. I could imagine his anguish. I couldn’t imagine how he kept going, disappointment after disappointment; yet I know he did, and went on to establish the Order. To my surprise, Sr. Annie Willits, OP, after she told us the story, said to us: I invite you to fail.
Some part of me understood the invitation quite well. In dark times are when we are weakest, possibly also when we are most humble, most pliable, most open to the mercy of God. Yet another part of me resisted pretty vehemently. To welcome failure makes no sense. As I continued to reflect on this question, several things surfaced.
Scripture has some pretty epic fails: Sodom and Gomorrah; the Flood; wandering the desert for 40 years when there was a short-cut; Moses not seeing the Promised Land; the fall of Israel and Judah; Judas’ betrayal; Peter’s denial; Jesus’ Passion, if considered without the resurrection; Stephen, the protomartyr. What is failure in this light?
Failure is not the same as kenosis (self-emptying), but they’re cousins, to the extent that failure may lead to humility and the exposure of the false self.
What do we, in our typically dualistic thinking, consider a failure? Vulnerability? Under-achievement? Not getting something that we really want? Criticism? The disenfranchised? The false self? …and the list goes on.
Dominic's 6th way of prayer: for healing in our suffering
Dominic could not have been victim of our dualistic paradigm. Sure, the colors of our Order are black and white, but I don’t think Dominic’s world was like that, consisting only of either winners or losers. I suspect he did not consider himself a failure, even in his darkest hour. He loved God and his brothers and sisters too much to entertain such thoughts. Probably he kept going because he knew that that was the right thing to do, no matter what the outcome.
After all this, I do not accept your invitation, Sr. Annie. Even better than welcoming failure, I believe, is an honest examination of what I believe failure to be, which determines too what I believe success to be, and therefore my motivations. I’m quite sure there are dualistic tendencies there that do not serve me, or those around me, well. And I invite you to do the same. It’s an important consideration that could make a real difference in how we face our dark hours and whether we decide to keep going.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Being Dominican

We have been blessed with Sr. Annie Willits and Fr. Jim Barnett who have been giving us a "Lands of Dominic" experience. Before I came to this 5-day "workshop", I saw several photos of the presentations, and so, I thought that we would go for a virtual journey. Well, partially, we did go for a virtual journey, but I think the journey really came from how we integrated what we heard with our stories, spirituality, knowledge, and with our background, etc. I felt that I was on a spiritual journey, just like during this novitiate year we have been on the journey.

As Dominic's story was unwinding and developing for us, I felt more and more that this experience was enfolding me. I think that many others felt the same. Also, I felt that through the story of Dominic, God has been revealed to us as we never experienced.

For me, becoming a Dominican was mostly about something I was enthusiastic about, or thought that they were an awesome community of people of prayer, risk-takers, people of justice, people of compassion, etc. However, during this week, another aspect of Dominican spirituality became real. It is relationship. Relationship with God, relationship with other and with myself, and becoming brothers and sisters for one another.

Everything just became so real – not ‘just’ that I would like to be part of the Dominicans and serve God as a Dominican, but it became real to me what it means to BE Dominican. 

At first, being a Dominican meant that we felt being called to proclaim the Word of God to everyone through our being and doing, embodying the Truth.

Since I was a child, one of my favorite books has been "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. In that book, there are many deep thoughts that could be quoted, but I just share now one of them: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." We, Dominicans could rephrase this: we tuck our head into our heart - we bring everything in prayer and then we let everything that we do come from prayer. We observe and study, we pray, we dialogue in community, then show compassion, and then respond to the needs and do something on behalf of justice. During 'Lands of Dominic', Sr. Annie simply said: "If you are able to see with your heart, you begin to understand the tangible humanity."

But then this year, I came to know that being Dominican has just as much to do with relationships (which I truly felt and witnessed this year within the Dominican family.) Maybe it is vocation, "a place where our deep gladness meets the world's need" (Frederick Buechner), so maybe it is vocation that draws us to the Order of Preachers; but it is the mission (proclaiming God's Word) and the relationship that draw us together, Dominicans.

Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN) is a place for formation, but it is also a place to deepen our relationship with God, to further discern God’s desire, and to have a quality experience of Dominican life, community, prayer, study and ministry.

Throughout this year, we experienced all these, and deepened the experience with the “Armchair of the Lands of Dominic.” I have a deeper sense of how we become brothers and sisters to each other, how we make family, how the Dominican family is a model of the Church, and bringing the Gospel joyfully to everyone like our brother Dominic did. CDN provided us many opportunities this year to have that experience. We took classes, celebrated Mass and ate together with our brothers at Aquinas Institute of Theology , we prayed together and celebrated Mass together each week, and celebrated Thanksgiving and Feast of St. Catherine with our brothers at the priory, we went over to knit together, played music together, shared laughs and losses, had dinner together, had panel discussions on the vows and the four pillars of Dominican life. The doors were always open both ways. We also met many Dominican brothers and sisters who were professors or were just stopping by while traveling, etc. We went to several trips, where we met the bigger Dominican family, and there, we were welcomed and everyone made each place a home for us. Thank you, Dominicans, for giving us the experience what it means to be a Dominican today. Also, thank you, all Dominican sisters, brothers, friars, Megan, Joye, our Congregational Formation Representatives: Srs. Cathy, Mary Ann, Sue, and Theodora, Board of the CDN, and supporting Dominican congregations for helping us having this experience.
I am not writing a blog like I usually do: telling you every single bit of the experience of the 'Lands of Dominic', because I am still processing. (I do let you know that it has been a very powerful and meaningful experience.) Rather, I chose to give you two snapshots:

  • A Bible passage, because Dominic and the Word of God were travelling companions, and it is very meaningful for us Dominicans, 
  • a few questions that were heard during "Lands of Dominic." 
Bible passage:
"If you remain in my Word, you will truly be my disciples, you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:31-32)

  • What attracted you to the Order of Preachers and what continues to attract you to it?
  • Would you be willing to share any experience you have had in the Dominican family?
  • How does being a Dominican help you live fully your vocation?
  • What are we doing with the inheritance Dominic left us?
  • Our mission is about God. How do we do justice to God?
  • Is there anything else you would like to share with us about being Dominican?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Transitions, Transitions...

Last ICN Group Photo, 4/30/2014.

As our time in the novitiate is winding down our good byes have begun.  This week we experienced our last day of class at Aquinas, our last ICN meeting, and the last class with our dear sister Regina Siegfried, ASC.  Our time in St. Louis has helped us build support structures and connect with the Dominican family in a very special way.  As we prepare to leave all this behind and move on to the next step in our journeys, I am reminded of today’s Gospel about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Colloquium at Aquinas, 8/2013.
The story begins on the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  His two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem and the chaos which ensued that previous week.  They watched earlier that week as Jesus was welcomed to the city like a king, the crowds singing his praises.  Then the emotional tide turned.  A small, but very loud group of dissenters caused such havoc that the government official in charge feared the challenge.  Threatened with riots, he sentences Jesus to death.  Jesus, the very man who had been lauded earlier that week.  And Jesus was crucified like a common criminal.  Today, someone pointed out to me that these disciples walking to Emmaus were clearly close enough to Jesus that they were present at the Last Supper – for how else would they have known Him by the breaking of the bread?  They knew Jesus, they loved Jesus, and they experienced Jesus.  And at the beginning of this story, we see them attempting to return to their “normal” lives.  

"The Road to Emmaus"
It begs the question, “Did they really integrate experiences from the past week or are they returning to their ‘reality’ unchanged?”  Part of me thinks that, if they were in the novitiate, this would have been the point a novice director would have approached them for a conversation!  And we see Jesus, Himself, filling that role.  He meets and accompanies them along their path, gently helping them make sense of the chaos.  One might speculate that He is challenging them to integrate their experiences of His life and death within the context of their faith tradition and culture (sounds suspiciously like a Theological Reflection if you ask me).  And in the end, the disciples realize they cannot return to their “normal reality” the same people.  That Passover week affected them deeply.

Sr. Megan, Sr. Katy and Sr. Bea celebrating with Sparkie,
St. Dominic's Dog, 5/2/2014.
So the bigger question for us as we prepare for our transition out of the CDN is, how have we experienced Jesus and have we integrated those experiences?

Sitting in the chapel at Aquinas this past Friday evening celebrating Sr. Megan’s 25th Jubilee, I found myself looking around at the congregation.  Those who were at first unknown, have become an extension of my own community.  I thought back on our first meetings and remembered the trepidation as I introduced myself to these now too familiar faces.  I thought about the relationships that we formed and the deep connections we made; the support we offered each other as the process of discernment took its course.  And I was overwhelmed by love.  As Megan preached, “Community doesn’t happen in solitude.  I wouldn’t have a Jubilee without those groups represented here today.” 

We too, would not have had this year without the communities of the ICN, Aquinas and the Dominican family.  Reflecting on that, I realized that I met Christ along the road this year.  I experienced Him in all those who accompanied me and will be forever changed by them.  Thanks be to God.