Monday, January 27, 2014

Sexuality and Consecrated Celibacy - A Match Made in Heaven!

Our ICN group for the sexuality workshop which included: the
Alexian Brothers, Daughters of Charity, Dominicans, OMI's,
Sisters of Mercy, Franciscans and Sister of Charity (of Cincinnati).
As I look back of our chronicle on this year, I am amazed to see that my sisters and I have yet to mention an integral part of our week: ICN!!!  When I shared this information with them, they were all equally amused.  See, ICN stands for “Inter Community Novitiate,” and it takes up at least one full day of our week.  My sisters, directors, and I gather on Wednesdays with approximately 20 other novices (plus their directors) from the St. Louis region for workshops on religious life.  We are blessed to have access to notable presenters, like Ron Rolhieser, OMI and Anthony Gittins, CSSp.  Past ICN topics include: transitions, discernment, the culture of religious life, communication tools, intercultural living, and centering prayer.  This week we were graced with the presence and knowledge of Lynn Levo, CSJ for a four day talk on Psycho-Sexuality.

…I know.  My first reaction was, “WHAT are we going to talk about for four days?!”  And I have to admit, I strolled into our first meeting with the Salt N' Peppa standard, "Let's Talk About Sex, Baby..." in my head.  Lynn started out her presentation with a discussion about sexuality...thus setting the context for the following four days.

I hear your thoughts! “Wait - what do YOU need to know about sexuality?!  You’re planning to take a vow of celibacy!”  I think this is a frequent question that stems from a common misunderstood definition of sexuality.  Sexuality is not limited to having sex any more than the vow of consecrated celibacy is not limited to not having sex.  Sexuality is the creative energies with which we were born, compelling us to connect with others and generate life (again...not limited to procreation).  We are whole, integrated beings, both body and spirit (and if I’m not mistaken - St. Dominic had a thing or two to say about that!), expressing our desire to love and be loved, to know and be known.

I had a 5th grader recently ask me, “Why can’t you get married?”  At the time I was in the middle of reading Sandra Schneider’s tome on religious life.  I responded, “When you get married you are creating an exclusive community.  While that is great, I want a larger community.  So, my church, this school, you are all my community…”  Looking back, I was on the right track, but my response would change slightly. I was gifted with a new revelation about the vows this week.  As religious women and Dominicans, we are called to generate life within the context of the vow of consecrated celibacy.  Not life as a married couple would create, (e.g. a baby, a family, a generation) but life stemming from the deep relationship with Christ and others that is generative and renewing.  We are called to bring that life to all the relationships in which we participate and out to the missions and communities where we minister. 

Celebrating New Year 2014 with my sisters, Peruvian style!  
A story to illustrate my point.  While I was in Springfield over Christmas break, I had the privilege of interviewing some sisters about the history of the community.  One of our sisters from Peru shared her story with me.  Long after our interview was finished, and I had turned off the camera, she began telling me about the hardships of nursing in the rural mountains.  As the story unfolded, I regretted not having the camera on.  She explained that, in the rural village where she was missioned, families often needed transportation to the hospital in the city, far away.  As a service to the town, she would routinely drive people to their appointments or clinics as needed.  She told me about one family whose child was born premature.  They couldn’t afford access to an incubator (in Peru, healthcare is only offered if you have enough money to get in the door).  My sister told them that she would do what she could, and tied the baby against her chest under her blouse, which provided a natural incubator, allowing the mother to rest, and her to continue on with work.  She finished the story by saying, “In this way, I was a spiritual mother to some of the children of the town.”  What a beautiful example of the generative life that came from her vow of consecrated celibacy!

This week I was offered deep and beautiful revelations about my own sexuality.  And we were challenged with a question: how am I going to bring life each day?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What Splash Are We Making?

 It's my turn to blog.  And, to be truthful, I just don't feel like it.  Maybe it's the gray skies and cold weather or the short days, which are thankfully lengthening.  Have you ever felt that way ... about anything? Where something you might typically love to do seems chore-like?  As Frank Sinatra once sang, that's life.  And life in the novitiate is no different in that respect.

It is in those times when our faith and our friendships tap us on the shoulder to remind us of their presence; they lift us.  However, this year I've also come to more deeply appreciate the fact that I have choices.  I can choose how to react or respond to situations, to the events of a day as it unfolds, to my emotions ... to pretty much everything.

One of my favorite greeting cards urges me to "Scatter Joy". The effect of that choice, which might seem so small at the time, could be extraordinary.  Take a look at this drop of water, probably no larger than a ladybug.  Yet not only is it innately beautiful, it also creates seemingly unending ripples.  It has an effect on things unseen. The drop is transformed into something so much more than it once was.  It is a work of God's art.

And so it is with me and with all of us.  The choices we make have a ripple effect ... they are transformative in one way or another.  By our choices, which are sometimes difficult ones, we can add to the beauty of the world or we can diminish it.  We can choose to be light.  We can choose to scatter joy.  The fog has lifted; the blahs are gone.  C'mon ... are you with me?  Let's scatter joy together!


Saturday, January 11, 2014

On Being Formed

Weeeeeee’re back!!! Last Wed, the 8th, we regrouped back in St. Louis, braving no less than a polar vortex, to commence the second half of our canonical novitiate year. We came back full of emotion, and as of this writing are still riding high from all the love and attention we received during the holidays from our Sisters at our home congregations and family and friends. I sense we all came back strong, confident, with a let’s-do-this mindset.
And what exactly is the “this” to which we came back? Of course, the answer would be different for each one of us, but I would venture that the struggle of putting into words exactly what is happening to us here is something we would all share. Properly speaking, it is called formation, which has always to me implied a certain reshaping. But there is another sense of the word, which I’m beginning to think is more appropriate: the sense of coming into being, of emergence. “This” is the place where I get to ponder the question and discover some answers to: Who am I?

There are many levels to this question, I’m learning. The Buddhists were onto something when they identified it with a lotus flower. The outermost petals are the really superficial things, like what kind of car I drive, how much money I make, etc. Going inner, I began to encounter who are my friends, what’s my job title, and so on. Going inner still, there are the values and beliefs, like how I should be in the world. This is as far as a lot of us get, I think, and I sense this is where I am now. And I am mindful of how easily the question can get lost in the cloud of What should I do? especially as the apostolic year starts coming into view (yikes!).
The mystics seem to be the ones who persisted with the original question and found the answer for themselves. Beyond the shoulds, the systems, the theologies, the virtues and vices and even mindfulness itself, they seem to have experienced, paradoxically, the dissolution of their very sense of self – perhaps nothing more than a construct of the mind – to be The definitive answer to Who am I? The jewel in the lotus. The mind free of itself. The one who has gained her life after losing it. The most interior room in the castle. Who they are in God. Their deepest Self. Sounds like something worth longing for. I imagine they had to cross many, many polar vortices along the way.
I get the feeling that this road to Self-knowledge is the very same one as the road to realizing ever more deeply just how much God truly loves each one of us. It’s a long road that keeps going, a lifelong formation, I get that now; and that “this” is a time and place like no other. Thank you.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Light-heartedly into the new year

At the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate, in the Dominican tradition, we deepen our relationship with God, we contemplate in prayer, we study, we integrate prayer and study, we live in community, we become more aware of who we are, we build mutual relationship, and embrace all these in serving others. I am very glad to say, that novitiate has been very fruitful. We all, novices and directors help each other in this formation process.

During Christmas break, we have similar experiences, but it is lived from a different perspective: reconnecting with our home congregations in all aspects (prayers, learning deeper about who we are, what we do in ministries, and community time with sisters.) As you read the last two blogs, the novices are on Christmas break. Well, it’s not about skiing in the Alps or in Colorado, but we do enjoy this time by living and ministering in our home congregations, and also visiting our friends and families.

Right now, I am with my home congregation (Peace) in New Orleans.      
I would like to dedicate this blog to them. I am going to share some of the light-hearted stories.

Time of “trouble”
On several nights, I visited house communities and had dinner there. One night, when I came home, there was no parking available at the motherhouse, so I parked the car at the pink house. The next morning, I went down early, and said to the sister who uses that car:
Me: Sister, I didn’t park the car where I was supposed to park it.
Sister: Pray the Rosary 5 times... Where did you park the car?
Me: At the pink house.
Sister: Oh... pray the Rosary 5 more times... 
Then sister looked at the table and saw the car keys.
Sister: You didn't return the keys. Pray the Rosary 5 more times.
Good thing that I knew her and knew that she was just joking with all these. But I could imagine that in her time when she was a novice, probably, it would have been seriously taken. Anyway, we had a good laugh.

A sister and I played "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?" game on the iPad. We had a nice time together and it was a way to start talking to each other. But, it was so cute to hear when we got all questions right, she said: “We really won this game!” Then we continued playing Bookworm, Solitaire, and Mahjong, and talked in between.

Eat your veggies!
Fortunately, they don’t tell me that. But they do watch out for me in a caring way: one morning, one of the sisters told me to eat a lot at breakfast, because it was going to be shrimp for lunch. (They know that I only eat Swedish Fish [candy], tilapia or salmon.) 

It’s a New Orleans thing
On my second day here, during lunch, one of the sisters asked me at least 3-4 times to pray for the Saints. She told me that they needed lots of prayers, because they would play against the Eagles (Philadelphia) and it's freezing in Philadelphia, PA. The next day, she was the one offering petitions at Mass. I asked her afterward: “Sister, how is that, that you asked me at least 3-4 times to pray for the Saints every day, and you didn’t include them in your petitions?” She was giggling: “I would have been in trouble, but we do need to pray for them in our personal prayers.”

Popeyes – Louisiana kitchen
A sister took me to Popeyes, we had a great time there, but as we were eating, her face turned into a face that showed concern, and she said: “I hope the Saints pack some Popeyes chicken.”  

Here, in Louisiana, I also got to eat Po'-boys (fortunately, not the shrimpy one), I learned how it got its name and how to make one. I also had beignet (yumm), king cake , drive-through tour in the city and also learned about St. Mary's Dominican High School and the damages of Katrina. Monday, I will have another tour, then Tuesday, I will go with a sister to her ministry, Lantern Light Ministry, where they assist people with applying for birth certificates, IDs and food stamps, offering daily lunch, and help with resumes etc. 
After that, I will have an opportunity to preach again.

Something I learned appreciating is: time. Between meals/prayers/Mass I have a lot of time. So, I have been using those times for prayer and reflection. Actually, I am loving it! Still haven’t finished with reflection, but am having a fruitful time…