Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Living in the light

Beautiful St. Beuno’s 

The galloping girl has emerged from retreat.

The gorgeous countryside surrounding the retreat centre

I recently spent 6 days in Wales at St. Beuno’s, a Jesuit retreat centre, enjoying a lovely retreat. It was just what I needed – free-flowing, spontaneous, uncluttered, intimate, and creative. Sometimes retreats are a lot of work. They are not, generally, like a vacation. But this retreat didn’t really feel like work – the only work was letting myself sink into the experience of God in all things.

I had to make a little visit to Gerard W. Hughes, SJ at the beginning of my retreat and say a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the help he has given me through his books, especially God of Surprises and Cry of Wonder

The wonderful labyrinth on the retreat grounds – a very helpful walking prayer

I encountered God in mostly small ways – the community Eucharist, quiet prayers outside or in one of the chapels, through the courtesy of my fellow retreatants, and out in the fields and forests surrounding the retreat centre. Most of all, I encountered God within myself, expressed through artwork – mainly collage, that gave shape and form to mysterious encounter and abiding love.

A collage made after a meditation on the Sun of God (and yes, I mean sun!)

Spontaneous creativity after prayer

My first collage – I was struck by the cartoon “Inspiration for Creatives”

It was a beautiful time to reflect on the activities of the past year and dream with God about what comes next (including the Mary Ward Summer School in York, where I am right now!).

On the final day of my retreat, my director gave me a poem to pray with by Jan Richardson that I would like to share here. It helped to bring together all of the little moments of my retreat.

 

How the Light Comes

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.

What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out
what is hidden
what is lost
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body
for finding its way
toward flesh
for tracing the edges
of form
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

—Jan Richardson

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Paris and London

This galloping girl has galloped around Paris and London and is heading off to Wales to make retreat tomorrow at the beautiful St. Beuno’s.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

The past week has been an incredible adventure with great friends. I spent two and half days with my friend, Catherine, a member of La Xaviere Missionaire de Christ. She generously housed me, showed me her city, and welcomed me into her community for shared meals and prayer. She took me to Montmartre and the University of Paris, where Ignatius and his companions spent much time. I was fortunate to be able to attend Mass at the Martyrium of St. Denis – the location where Ignatius and his first companions made their personal vows to serve God – celebrated by a Jesuit friend from Canada. I visited churches, gardens, important squares and landmarks, and interesting shops (La Procure and La Bovida), and of course, walked along the Seine. It was a whirlwind visit and just enough to have a taste of the beauty of Paris (and what an appetizer!).

With Catherine at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Now I’m in London and have spent the past three days exploring the city, visiting a variety of sites to satisfy my interest in both World War II history and Mary Ward history. I was fortunate to meet the London IBVMs and enjoy dinner and conversation together, and I was delighted to spend a day with my Congregation of Jesus sister, Theo, seeing Mary Ward’s London together – visiting churches where Mary Ward would have prayed, the neighbourhoods she lived in, and of course, Lambeth Palace, famous for the daring graffiti she left for the bishop. And later, taking a riverboat jaunt to Greenwich, a DLR trip back westward into the city for a visit to Westminster Cathedral and a walk past Buckingham Palace (for a day’s grand total of over 28,000 steps, according to my Fitbit). Today, I spent hours in St. Paul’s Cathedral, absorbing the spiritual and historical legacy of that great building, and thinking quite a lot about Christian unity.

The stained glass in St. Etheldreda’s, London, where Mary Ward likely attended Mass

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Tomorrow, I head off to Wales to make retreat, to finally slow down after a busy year (since last summer’s retreat) and spend some time with the sheep and walking the hills (unless my aching feet protest too much), absorbing all that I have taken in this last while.

The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, at St. Paul’s

I think I’ll end this post with a lovely poem I came across in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields earlier this week, that accompanies the surprising and beautiful East Window, which is inspired by ‘Jacob’s Ladder’:

In No Strange Land 

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air –
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars! –
The drift of pinons, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places: –
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry; – and upon they so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross.

You, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry, – clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Gennesaret, but Thames!

– Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

East Window, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London


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Galloping Girl

Summer has officially begun and I am setting out on an adventure! Mary Ward and her companions were (derisively) known as ‘galloping girls’ – forever on the go, setting up foundations and schools across Europe. Well, this galloping girl is off on her own European adventure. First stop: Paris. For a delightful weekend with the always delightfulLa Xavière Missionaire du Christ Jésus. My friend, Catherine, will meet me and be my guide for the weekend. I’ve never been to Paris before so am thrilled to have the opportunity. I will see a little bit of the Paris St. Ignatius would have known (and I will think about where in Paris Mary Ward’s companions would have been – I think Winifred Wigmore may have spent some time there). And then, I will be off to London to begin my Mary Ward extravaganza! But more about that in future posts.

Mary Ward and companions – the ultimate galloping girls

I am very much ready for a bit of a break and for something new. The academic year was very busy and intense (though rich and rewarding), and the spring has proved to be equally busy and fairly intense itself. I took a spring course on the history of the Second Vatican Council, and I have been busy planning activities for the fall and next year.

IBVM Artists Gathering at Maryholme Spirituality Centre
May 6-18, 2019

Of course, the spring was also filled with many moments of blessing and grace: meeting the incredible Loretto artists at our gathering in May, attending the ordination of my Jesuit friends to the diaconate and to the priesthood, and an absolutely gorgeous celebration of religious life: the first profession of Melinda Uy, a newly temporary professed Sister in the Loretto Canadian province. We are together now in formation here in Toronto and I am so blessed to have her as a companion. She was a galloping (llama) girl in Peru in April/May and now I am galloping off to Europe. The Lorettos really don’t know how to stay in one place…

So, now it’s off to meet new people, to learn, to explore, and to enjoy!

Sr. Melinda Uy, IBVM – the new Sister on the block


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Resurrection Sunday

(I took these photos when I visited the Heidelberg Project in Detroit in 2013. Begun partly as a political protest, the Heidelberg Project is revitalizing the blighted neighbourhood of McDougall-Hunt. I was fascinated by this community’s efforts to change their city. )

In her message for Passover, Rabbi Sharon Brous recalls the wisdom of a friend who taught her to challenge the narrative of a story, whether Scripture or the story of her life. She shares three questions we can ask ourselves when we contemplate our own narratives.

We begin by asking ourselves, “When have I been a victim in my life? Can I name one specific moment where I was the victim?” We have all experienced times when we were the victim of a circumstance or of another’s actions. It is important to recognize these moments because they hold a truth about that experience. However, we must not stop there. We need to continue and ask the next question. Looking at the same story, we ask ourselves, “How was I the hero of the story?” Oftentimes, in challenging circumstances, we have been both victim and hero. We have suffered because of external conditions but we have also been graced with agency and the ability to act and take responsibility for ourselves. It is important to acknowledge these moments in our lives, too. And finally, we look again at the story, and we ask, “What did I learn?” We see that in all stories, we may be victims and we may be heroes, but we are also learners. We are always disciples seeking truth. Rabbi Brous says we are “learners on a timeless journey from narrowness to great expansive possibility”.

The Resurrection opens us to great expansive possibility. Pope Francis, in his homily for the Easter Vigil, makes this clear. He suggests that in our lives we often come up against the stone that blocks the tomb. He says, “At times it seems that everything comes up against a stone”. In the readings for the Vigil, we are reminded of the stones that mark salvation history: the beauty of creation but also of the reality of sin, the liberation of the Israelites but also their infidelity to God, the promises of the prophets and the indifference of the people. The stones that mark salvation history mirror the stones that mark our own lives.

In the Resurrection, however, the narrative is changed. The stone is rolled away. And all because of a simple question that is asked of the women who go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. A simple question, one we need to ask ourselves, day after day: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

This is the question that changes the narrative. From failure to victory. From victim to hero. From victim to hero to disciple. Jesus is not dead, he is risen. Why do you seek the living among the dead? This question calls us (and calls me very loudly!) to look carefully at our own lives and ask the questions: In what ways am I looking for the living among the dead? Do I even realize that this is what I am doing?

Waking up this morning to news of the bombing in Sri Lanka was devastating. To learn of innocent lives taken and senseless violence that destroys families and communities does not square with Easter joy. It is not easy to encounter the violence that exists in the world, in our cities, and even in our homes. Where is the Risen Christ in a violent world? There are no easy answers.

In the Easter season, however, not only are we being asked to challenge the narrative of our lives, but to do so within the hope of the Resurrection. I experienced this hope profoundly in the Easter Vigil celebration last night. I was reminded that I, and all of us, have been given the Light of the World. Symbolized in the stark beauty of the Easter candle alit with new flame, I saw that the flame is undiminished no matter how it is divided. In fact, the more it is divided (symbolized in the tapers we lit last night), the flame glows all the more brightly and vividly. We take the hope of the Risen Christ, the flame of the Light of the World, out into the world with us and we challenge the narrative of the violence of our world. It is not an easy task but we are disciples who learn along the way, who journey from narrowness to expansiveness.

I’d like to end this blog post with excerpts from the Exsultet, that ancient prayer of the Easter Proclamation. It never ceases to give me goosebumps when I hear it chanted. It proclaims the victory of Christ, the victory of the light over darkness. May it give us the hope our world so desperately needs.

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred,
fosters concord,
and brings down the mighty.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed
to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

 


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The way of love

Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered today in the United States. I am a relative latecomer to his sermons but I have been deeply moved by the power of his rhetoric. My favourite of his sermons is “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”. In it, he speaks as the Apostle Paul, offering a critique of American society. His words continue to resonate and are significant for many societies around the world, including Canadian society. I’d like to share an excerpt from that sermon. Its words speak to my heart and are needed more than ever in today’s world where so many of our actions emerge from a place of fear rather than a place of love. This excerpt is taken from “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” found in the anthology Strength to Love published by Fortress Press.

American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language and you may possess the eloquence of articulate speech; but even though you speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, you are like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

            You may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behaviour of molecules, you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you have all knowledge, and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but, devoid of love, all of these mean absolutely nothing.

            But even more, Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor, you may bestow great gifts to charity, and you may tower high in philanthropy, but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilled blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s supreme heroes; but even so, if you have not love, your blood is spilled in vain. You must come to see that a man may be self-centred in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego and his piety his pride. Without love, benevolence becomes egotism and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

            The greatest of all virtues is love. Here we find the true meaning of the Christian faith and of the cross. Calvary is a telescope through which we look into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking into time. Out of the hugeness of his generosity God allowed his only-begotten Son to die that we may live. By uniting yourselves with Christ and your brothers through love you will be able to matriculate in the university of eternal life. In a world depending on force, coercive tyranny, and bloody violence, you are challenged to follow the way of love. You will then discover that unarmed love is the most powerful force in all the world.


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drifting beauty

It has been snowing, off and on, this weekend. The first real snowfall of winter in Toronto. It’s finally really cold. -15C, feeling like -25C with the windchill. I’ve been waiting for this weather to feel as though winter is properly here. When I lived in Calgary, and then in Ottawa, winter was a real presence, showing up sometimes too early in the fall, and often staying past its welcome. But I always enjoyed the cold, even when I complained about it; its sharpness and chill make me feel more alive and invigorated than summer heat.

Living downtown we don’t get much snow. It falls and doesn’t stick around for long. So this morning I went up to our roof with delight, desiring to photograph the snow while it was still fresh and clean and white. I wanted to try to capture something of the frost-bitten rooftops of the university campus that I view from my window. When I downloaded the photos to my laptop, I was taken aback. So busy looking at the snow, wanting to see if my camera could capture its crystalline essence, that I didn’t look above and notice the dramatic beauty of the dazzling blue sky and drifting clouds. How often do I miss the beauty that fills each day?