Friday, June 26, 2015

How Nuns Spend their Summer Vacation

to every thing there is a season, 
    and a time to every purpose under heaven.
Summertime is a time of relaxation, barbecues and pool parties. If you are in religious life, it is also a time for chapters, community meetings and retreats. These are times of spiritual renewal and of connecting with the sisters and brothers and a celebration of the community's spirituality, life and mission. It is a particularly grace filled time for me since my ministry affords me the privilege of joining communities during these kairos times.
I have had the occasion to examine the official chapter documents of several communities, for a period of time running over the last 50+ years. The exercise reveals some common trends. When I have shared this information with religious, they often say that it rings true with their experience of their own communities as well.
Examination of the official Chapter documents of several religious communities reveals this interesting trend. In the 40s and 50s, the years before the Second Vatican Council chapters were often focused on details of habit, schedule and finances.
In the tumultuous 60s and 70s, following the Council, communities were charged to renew their lives and revise their Constitutions, which set out their fundamental way of life. Thus for the space of a decade or so, the Chapters invited participants into a dialogue about the identity of religious life and every aspect of how it was lived. There was wide participation in these discussions both in chapters and in their preparation and follow-up.
In the 80s and 90s, the chapter discussions turned outward to issues of mission and social justice. During these decades and into the 2000s, there was comparatively little discussion of the internal matters of religious life and spirituality.
Now as we come to the 50th anniversary of VCII, we are beginning to see yet another shift. Some communities turn back to their own life. Many communities are coming to realize that they are in their final decades; they realize that these may be the last decades of their community's life cycle. This is a time to reflect, give thanks and make some important decisions. During this year of consecrated life, it is a great opportunity to reflect on the great gift that we have received and all that we share with the people of God.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Laudato Si

The long-awaited encyclical on Creation is finally out. Pope Francis has certainly created a stir by inviting us all to reflect on care for our common home.
I am grateful to find an expression of the importance of reflecting on this theme in relation to other themes of justice and care for one another, especially those who are most fragile and marginalized.
I have two simple reflections on my first read of the document.
1. I was struck by the range of voices and points of view that are brought into the conversation. True, one will search in vain for a single woman's voice. However, in addition to citing scripture, early Christian writers, popes and councils, the pope also cites current statements from bishops conferences and leaders from the orthodox churches. There is even a reference from a Sufi mystic. This is our common home. All of us, women and children, rich and poor, north and south, east and west, all of us live together on this earth. It is a beautiful and resilient home, but it is at risk from our abuse of its abundance.
2. The second point that struck me was the acknowledgement that the endangered state of our common home puts pressure on many other social, economic and political issues. It reminds me of my own house or office. When they are in disarray, it is harder to address any of the other issues that need attention. Likewise environmental decline means less usable water, less abundant and less nutritious food, increased disease pressure, more desperate people with 'nothing to loose'. So environmental decline also increases poverty, hunger, sickness, racism, gender inequality and violence. All of these issues are interrelated.
This can seem overwhelming, and in one sense it is. But it also empowers each of us to take up the cause. Each choice I make has an environmental impact:
  • what I eat
  • what I wear
  • what I buy
  • what I throw away
  • how I set my thermostat
  • where, how and how often I travel
  • what I plant
Each of us can make choices today that will effect us all. I am grateful for a small space of earth to plant natives, perennials and edibles, so that I can begin to be part of the solution and begin to invite others into this movement.
Is this related to the theme of this blog: the future of religious life? I believe that it is. I believe that sisters and brothers join together to face the biggest challenges of society. Historically, we have nurtured and healed and educated in the most dire and overwhelming situations. Now we have a new challenge. As we come together in communities of praxis, let us listen attentively, live simply and love freely, in our common home, and for the sake of our common family.

Read it here.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Balancing Act

It has been great to have my friend Sr. Deb Timmis with me for the past two weekends. She is starting a new role with the CSJ Federation and spent a few weeks here in St. Louis doing an orientation to her new job. On the weekends she came to my place and we did loads of catching up and shared life and community. What a treat!

We talked about many things, and among them was how to build life-giving communities, the communities that will support us now and in the coming years. I want to share where I ended up after our conversations, and after conversations on the same topic with other 2.0 Sisters. Many of us seek local living situations where we can build life-giving communities.

I feel like there is a certain balance that is needed. On the one hand, there is the total community where we are 'all in'. We live together, work together, pray together. We have a common ministry and I can fully count on you and you can fully count on me. I have been in that kind of a community, and there is certainly a sense of belonging and security in that world. On the other hand, there is the kind of a community that is more like a bed-and-breakfast. I come when I can, then I am off to my ministry, etc. There has to be some minimal commitment to one another, but we are basically on our own. I am responsible to meet my own needs and we form a community of convenience with minimal connection.
Whoever is free may pray together, but there is no real commitment to be there.

I feel more called to balancing the two models. I would like to have a real sharing of life, prayer and some aspects of ministry: a commitment to each other such that we can really rely on each other's mutual support in life and ministry. I picture a real sisterhood in community. Yet I believe it is also important that we find and cultivate other circles of support: family, our wider congregations, justice and sustainability groups, etc. My local community is an important focus of my life and ministry. Other circles are complementary places where I can share energy, interest and support.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think it also takes a village to nurture each human heart on its journey. This is one of the greatest gifts we give to one another in community: a place to flourish as persons, as Christians and as religious.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Summer Sisters

Summer Sisters is an idea that we have been kicking around for a few years. The idea is to open our hearts and our homes to one another over the summer. We also thought of this as a possible vocation outreach, inviting women who might be interested in having an experience of religious life for a brief period of time - call it convent-immersion.
This year though, we decided to open it to Sisters in various religious communities. So, we would like to take this opportunity to invite Sisters to stay with us over the summer. We are specifically inviting GV and 2.0 Sisters who would like to spend a little time with us. Call it retreat, vacation, mini-sabbatical, inter-community sisterhood networking, eco-spirituality immersion, urban eco-village experience, etc. You may have heard of couch-surfing... this would be more like convent-surfing.
Summer/retreat/vacation time is a great time to open our doors to one another, to build the networks among us and to nourish the spirit that is moving among us.
We are not putting particular parameters on this. I.e. both Maco and I have plans over the summer. One or the other of us will be out of town at various times for retreat, vacation, community meetings and ministry. We have another sister who may be joining us from time to time as well. So, if this sounds like something that would fit into your summer plans, feel free to contact me or Maco and lets see what would we can work out. We are in St. Louis, fairly centrally located and we would love to have you.