I’m aware that the discernment and formation process is unique for every novice, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve approached it in a way that is unconventional, to say the least. I asked to enter the Sinsinawa Dominicans because the calling was so unexpected and so far out of the range of possible paths I envisioned for myself that I felt compelled to listen. I entered the congregation shortly thereafter, not aware that a more typical approach was to look at various congregations before choosing one to discern with. Despite not making sense on many levels, my decision—to discern and to do it as a Sinsinawa Dominican—has felt strangely right and I haven’t second-guessed it once.
I’m realizing, however, that one of the reasons I have felt so at ease and comfortable with the process is because I’ve been viewing it from a somewhat limited perspective—as discernment. I’ve been conveniently telling myself that it was premature to speculate about whether or not I’d take the vows because I just didn’t know enough about religious life to make an informed decision, yet. How could I decide whether life as a professed sister was the right choice for me when I had SO much to learn about what the vows meant spiritually and practically—how my life would be transformed? Knowing that a decision would be deferred until I could make an “informed” one gave me comfort and the space to fully enjoy this process with a presence and curiosity without feeling pressured. However, thanks to the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate, I’m quickly coming to a place where I can no longer fall-back on this “easy out”, so to speak.
During my candidate year I gained wonderful experience living in community and getting to know the Sinsinawa Dominican charism by building relationships with my sisters and via a phenomenal formation process. Since beginning this novitiate year, however, I’ve been exposed to so many more aspects of Dominican charism, the vowed life and religious community—and I’m sponging it up! Getting to know the Dominican student brothers and the men and women of the Inter-Community Novitiate has expanded my perspective of religious life to recognize the amazing diversity among men and women religious, their congregations and communities.
Attending classes at Aquinas Institute has allowed me to learn about preaching—the mainstay of the Dominican Order—and to gain a well-rounded understanding of the vows at the heart of religious life. I can’t say that the preaching and vowed life classes have made me any more eager to preach or to profess, but I CAN say that I’m developing a much deeper appreciation for them as foundational and profoundly defining of the vocation I’m considering. In particular, I find The Vowed Life course valuable: the readings and the lively discussions about the theological basis of the vows and the complexities of living them out in today’s world are priceless. Maintaining lively and engaging discussions is all the more impressive when you consider that the class consists of only Sr. Regina (the teacher), Nicole, and myself! Our spritely and extremely well-informed professor doesn’t shy away from the more difficult and sometimes ambiguous finer points—and she also has a great sense-of-humor, which is essential at times.
In the meantime, my novice director has also been providing top-notch guidance around the issues and questions that are surfacing for me personally—helping me piece together how and if I fit into this picture. Her skillful counsel, gentle probing and non-judgmental observations are invaluable right now.
I can’t say that I’m “closer” to making a yes or no decision. If there’s anything I know it’s that discernment is not a linear process—at least it isn’t for me. I still flip-flop regularly: from envisioning my life as a professed Sinsinawa Dominican sister to anticipating what my next steps should be if this part of my journey ultimately leads me in another direction. It reminds me of the numerous jigsaw puzzles I worked on at the Mound: focusing on fitting together the pieces of large, often separate sections, knowing that at some point these parts will “click” together to create the picture on the front of the box. The good news is that I feel I’m quickly gaining the insights and understanding necessary to determine what’s right for me when the time comes. The tricky part is that I don’t have the picture from the box and I’m not even sure that the sections I’m working on came from the same box in the first place…