Friday, November 8, 2019

Why Do I Stay?

Sometimes people pose the question: Why did you become a nun? Why did you enter the convent? 
This prompts me to return to that moment years ago when I first thought about becoming a sister. I was in college and I had all the high ideals and lofty hopes typical of a young college student. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to change the world, I wanted to live a meaningful life. The notion of a religious vocation came into my life in this liminal space that was charged with high-minded dreams.
When the notion of vocation first struck me, it came loud and clear, fast and furious. I was gobsmacked. Who? Me? God? Calling? It took time to sort out the meaning of this experience. I explored, visited, prayed, and discerned. Yet I still remember the afternoon in my college dorm when I first intuited a call to religious life. For some it is a gentle tug, for others a deep longing, for others an undeniable certainty.
People also ask: Why do you stay? Why are you still here after all these years?
This is harder to answer. I could return to that first moment, that first sense of call. My life, with all its highs and lows, its consolations and desolations, has been a 'living out' of that first sense of call. Some say that when I come to religious life, the first decades make me who I am. There are the years of formation in which I deepen my sense of call, learn about religious life, about prayer, community, and mission. And then after the decade of initial formation, I begin living religious life. It becomes natural. My personal identity and my community identity become integrated. I am a Sister. I am a Sister of St. Joseph. After decades of religious life, you can take the sister out of the community, but you can't take the community out of the sister. So I stay because this is who I am, who I have become.
Am I happy? Yes. Do I struggle? Yes. Is it all worth it? Yes, and Yes, and Yes.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Laudato Si' and the Amazon


Image result for amazonia sinodoLaudato Si’ is in continuity with a great deal of good work that has taken place in fields dealing with ecology, sustainability, eco-spirituality, and the integrity of creation. The encyclical makes reference to many important voices, and significantly leaves aside others, in the conversation about the current ecological crisis, global poverty, and sustainability. It situates conversations about ecology within important discussions about morality, justice, poverty, technology, and globalization. By articulating an integral ecology from below, it challenges everyone to a new level of co-responsibility. The document invites all people into a conversation about “our common home,” a term that the pope repeatedly uses in referring to this planet we share. “Our common home” is a term that points to the deep unity of all creation, and the important connection that we all share as part of the natural community.

We all make simple daily choices regarding food, energy, transportation, and consumption. Each of these choices affects the world we live in, and hence each choice affects each of our brothers and sisters. The cumulative effect of our choices, whether for good or for ill, impacts every living thing on earth. Environmental degradation disproportionately impacts the poorest and weakest in the human community and in all other communities of plants and animals.
While it does a great deal to bring care of creation into the mainstream of Catholic social teaching, Laudato Si’ is not without its faults and its critics. While it represents a step forward, it also has flaws that exemplify some of the challenges we face today with regard to gender issues in the church and in sustainable development. The Amazon Synod seeks "new paths for the church and for an integral ecology" and there is some hope that gender issues are beginning to be raised in the conversation.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Circles of Collaboration

Circles of collaboration are a distinct facet of religious life today that has emerged in recent decades. These circles of collaboration provide spaces for the newer generations of sisters to build support networks, engage in joint projects and nurture emerging energies. Alongside the leadership conferences, vocation, and formation conferences, there are networks that the newer generations of religious have established:

  • Giving Voice
  • Sisters 2.0
  • Leadership Collaborative
  • Federation gatherings of sisters

The development of these various collaboratives demonstrates the dynamic interaction of personal relationship, social media, community organizing, and in-person meetings. These grass-roots movements take their place in the unfolding story of religious life, affording sisters a space where evolution can occur. They are places for building the relationships and networks that will help to support them in the coming decades of religious life. There will be fewer and fewer sisters taking on more and more of the leadership roles in their communities, with the dual task of hospicing the greatest generation of their community’s history and fostering the life and evolution of the minority cohort. Both tasks are critical. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Community and Ministry


https://www.amazon.com/dp/1626983321
The balance between community and ministry is shifting. In the early- and mid-twentieth century, the balance was strongly on the side of ministry. People grew up in larger families, and religious communities lived in large houses. Community was assumed, or rather communal living was assumed. Some communities, just as some families, fostered deep and lasting relationships. There were also cases of merely functional communities that met one’s physical needs but left spirits empty, if not wounded by abuse and dysfunction. People, particularly women, entered community to live a life of service and of ministry in education, in health-care, in pastoral service, and in social service. In that era, for many women, community was assumed, ministry was not.
Fast forward to the current century and the default living situation is increasingly solo and options for ministry are wide open to those who wish to pursue them. For many, the option to choose a particular field of ministry is broader outside of religious life. Obtaining the appropriate preparation for ministry is possible, if expensive, outside religious life. We are moving away from a world in which community is the norm and ministry is not. And we are moving toward a world where ministry and service are available, if not the norm, and community is increasingly a rare commodity. Many entering religious life today come from a life of ministry and service. They desire to enhance their life of ministry and service by banding together with others who hold similar values and with whom they can live in mutual support. They often live singly, having grown up in smaller family units than those found in households of earlier decades.
Vocation is still a mystery of the Spirit, a mystery of call and response, and that mystery is lived out in the very human context of our hearts and our lives and our society. This vocation is lived in a distinctly different context that calls for different instincts in inviting young people into our communities. It requires a shift in how we welcome and incorporate these women and men. It is important that we welcome them in a way that nurtures their vocation and prepares them for the distinctive challenges and opportunities of the current century.
--from Beyond the Crossroads, Religious Life in the 21st Century by Amy Hereford

Friday, August 2, 2019

Resting Places


As Catholics, we talk about Jesus 'real presence' in the eucharist. Jesus chose to remain with us as the life of our life, the heart of our heart, the center of our lives and the source of our hope.
When I think of real presence, I ask what real presence are we talking about -
Is God every really absent in any meaningful way? Is there an absence of God into which Gods presence could come?
I'm reminded of the story of Noah. In the midst of an ungodly era, God comes to earth to visit Noah - who is God's resting place in a world that has lost its godliness. Noah is that place in creation where God finds resonance of spirit, and the robust presence of the divine image. The name Noah is based on the Hebrew word for a resting place.
The good shepherd gives us a resting place in the deep waters where our spirit can find harmony in the God from whom we take our origin. We rest in our always, already present God.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Be, Be for and Be with

I am at our congregational chapter and we are having excellent conversations about who we are as Sisters of St. Joseph. As we continue our conversations, we are coming to a natural consensus about the articulation of our identity for this present moment in our congregational story.
In the course of our conversations, I was particularly struck by one formulation that is connected with the principles of the new cosmology. Those three principles are interiority, diversity, and communion.

  • Interiority is living into and living out of our core identity as called into life and holiness by our loving creator.
  • Diversity acknowledges that every person, and every living being, and every rock, and star, and particle is called into being by the same loving creator.
  • Communion acknowledges that our loving creator, the God of Love, placed the desire for relationship at the deepest core of each of us. 
We have come to articulate these as:
  • Interiority - Be who we are
  • Diversity - Be for others in service
  • Communion - Be with others as we serve others 
We acknowledge with St. Augustine that our weight is our love, and that it pulls us into relationship, and into loving communion with God and with our Dear Neighbor (a familiar phrase in our community).

Our conversations are very rich and call us to renew the best of who we are and what we are called to be.

Peace,
Amy

Friday, June 14, 2019

Something New


I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (Is 43:19)

Really new things are both completely obvious and completely unimaginable. So when making something new, God finds it necessary to point it out - really, there's something new here. See the pathway through the wilderness? See the rivers running in the wasteland? The destruction you feared is not the end of the story. It is merely a transition, it is merely a chapter. I can hear those trite infomercials that try to sell you something crazy.... but wait, there's more!! So God says, as we lament what is passing away: but wait, there's more. As we stand by the tomb on Holy Saturday: but wait, there's more. And in religious life, as we lament the passing of the greatest generation of religious that we have ever known in the US, God says: I am about to do something new. See I have already begun. "But wait, there's more..."
We are building relationships that will sustain us deep into the 21st century. With a firm grip on hope, we celebrate what has been, and we grieve its passing. With deepening confidence, we let our sisters go, one by one, into the great promise of death and resurrection. And we commit ourselves to this new thing that God is doing among us. ... but wait, there's more!

Friday, May 31, 2019

They Times They Are A-Changing


Many religious communities of sisters struggle with the question of vocations. We would love to have women join our life, continue our mission, continue our charism. Yet we are getting fewer and older. We have trouble meeting our needs for ministry, for leadership, and for the day to day functioning of our communities. Does such a community have the capacity to welcome new vocations? Can they provide a healthy space to nurture their vocation? Can they build sustainable life-long relationships in community with newcomers who are decades younger than themselves?
I find that communities are reluctant to close down their recruitment efforts and to definitively say no to future vocations for their community. They have difficulty admitting that their community does not have the capacity to admit newcomers, to provide them the orientation, formation, and education necessary for their lives, and to open their hearts to new relationships and new ways of being in community together. Lacking this capacity, they may accept women who walk with them for a time but then are left to walk away sad because they are not afforded the resources to support their life-long commitment.
And the women who come hope that they will find a community that will support and nurture their life of community, spirituality, and mission. They come with high hopes and joyful expectation of becoming a Sister and of giving their lives to something bigger than themselves. It is important that they realize the challenges they will face. Religious life is changing radically as the greatest generation of US Sisters passes into elderhood and on through the paschal mystery. Those who join religious life today must seek and find their circles of support within their communities, and they must also build circles of support in the broader global sisterhood in intercommunity and Intercontinental relationships. 
As I write this, I am reminded of the lyrics of Bob Dylan: "The times they are a-changing."
Keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
--Amy 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Transferring between Religious Communities

I have heard a good bit lately about Sisters transferring between religious communities. This was a fairly common phenomenon in the 80s and 90s when as many as 1% of women religious had experienced transferring from the religious community they initially joined to another religious community. I think of this as the first wave of transfers after a change in canon law made it a more feasible option. This first wave trailed off after 2000. Many Sisters who transferred during that time are happily in their new communities. During the first wave, there was a program that helped Sisters share their experiences and helped smoothe the path of integration into their new communities. I transferred communities at the end of that first wave and very much appreciated the opportunity to network with other Sisters who were transferring and benefit from their experience and encouragement.
In the past several months, I have heard of several sisters who are considering transfer or who are in the process of transfer. It leads me to wonder whether there might be a desire or a need to provide a forum or program such as was available in the 80s and 90s. If you would be interested in helping to organize such a program, or if you would be interested in participating, please reach out to me and we can move this forward. Please pass this invitation on to others who may be interested.
Peace,
Amy

Friday, May 3, 2019

Authentic Encounter

pocOur local group of vocation directors met for a few days of input, networking, engagement, and planning. Our speaker via video, Dr. Hofsman Ospino, shared rich insights into the place of culture in vocational discernment, and more broadly, its place in our communities, in the church and in society.
Historically, people of color have not received the same opportunities and access that has been afforded to white people. This is true in the wider society and this is something that we are working to dismantle. We do this first of all by becoming aware of our privilege and by taking on new habits of mind and heart. We also do that by seeing and deconstructing societal norms and barriers to people of color. We have a lot of work to do.
In our days together, we focused inward on our church and on our religious communities. How can we be more 'sister' to our sister of color? One of our sisters of color shared her hopes: more than strategies or quick-fixes, she hopes that we can come into a more and more authentic encounter. She hopes that we can truly dialogue with each other and share our community, our spirituality and our struggles for justice.
Amen!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Summer Sisters 2019

Once again this year, I would like to extend the invitation to join in building community with me here in St. Louis, for a period of time during the summer. It can be the experience you seek: Retreat. Sabbath Time. Vacation. R&R. Embodied Commitment to Sustainability. Emersion in an Urban Ecovillage. Nurturing body, spirit, the future of religious life.
We'll have to work around the house schedule which is a little crazy this year - but then when is life not crazy. Let's do what we can.
Here's a link to a prior invitation. If you're interested, drop me a line and we'll talk more.
ALSO - if any women discerning religious life would like to spend several weeks in a live-in experience, let me know and we will see what we can arrange for that too. We have several houses where you might be able to join us.
Amy
www.ahereford.org

Friday, April 5, 2019

Garden of Relationships

In my local community, we have space for a good-sized urban garden. Often, in the cool of the day, my footsteps  take me to the garden to plant and water, tend and harvest the good things of the earth. This is a quiet space, populated by nature’s abundance, wildflowers and berry bushes draw a plethora of activity. Birds and butterflies and all manner of critters share the space. And I do believe that God also strolls in this space in the cool of the day, a witness to the ongoing unfolding of creation and once again pronouncing it “good”.

As we tend the good things of the earth, God is tending us, tending our spirits, watering here, trimming there, mulching abundantly. We are blessed by the blessing we give, we share abundantly in the abundance we plant.

Religious life too is a garden, and in community and in ministry we are called to tend gardens that are not our own. We enter into a rich ecosystem of communities that share the work of filling the earth and stewarding it into that abundance that God called us to be. We are not an isolated species, living out our lives for ourselves. We never were. Today more than ever we are called into relationships of mutual blessing and enrichment. These happen in local communities that are themselves in relationship with other communities in a vast network, a mutually enriching ecosystem of blessing. These overlapping circles of relationship are a characteristic of twenty-first-century society. The resilience of a community comes not from large size and vast wealth but from the depth and breadth of relationships that it nurtures.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Triumph of Tenderness

There is no cathedral so grand as a city bus.
You danced with abandon at the birth of each child of grace.
You sent us forth to wend a way through Eden and through Gethsemani.
And here we gather, each on our way, burdened and blessed,
In this cathedral, cloaked as a city bus.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Life Without Artificial Sweeteners

Many processed foods are sold on the basis of those things that they do not contain: fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, etc. Fat, sugar and gluten are natural nutrients that are contained in natural foods. They have gotten a bad rap over the years as our collective waistline expands and we try to limit our food intake. They taste good, but their nutrient value is questionable.
Studies are beginning to show that the substitutes found in processed foods also have negative health effects. So now foods are being sold on the basis of yet more ingredients they don't contain: no artificial sweeteners, no MSG, etc. Take a favorite of mine: no sugar added, no artificial sweeteners, fat-free, gluten-free, no MSG. It's an apple, or a carrot, or any one of a host of naturally occurring foods. Or we could look at the advertising slogan: the incredible, edible egg.
Now let's talk about spirituality. There are lots of artificial ingredients: things, thrills, and superficial relationships, drugs and alcohol. Sure these things will make me happy for a time. But spiritually, they are artificial sweeteners; they taste good but lack nutritional value.
Micah has a recipe for natural, organic, no artificial additives spirituality: Do justice, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God. Again, our CSJ motto: Community, Spirituality and Justice. This needs no artificial sweeteners and delivers simple, wholesome nutrition for our spirit.

Friday, January 18, 2019

A Lifetime of Prayer, Service and Compassionate Encounter


I believe that the ministry of presence, this ministry of encounter, is one of the great gifts of our elder sisters in religious life. With quiet joy after decades of dynamic and faith-filled service, they remind me of the poem the New Collossus by Emma Lazarus (1883) that is cast in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
[They cry] with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
These our sisters, walking each other home to heaven, also lend us their gift of a listening ear, a comforting word, a compassionate heart. Hearts formed through a lifetime of prayer, of service, and of compassionate encounter.