40 Years

A week ago, I celebrated my 40th birthday.

I remember when my mom turned 40. Her sisters arranged a special surprise – we woke up to find a flamboyance of 40 pink plastic flamingos roosting on our front lawn and a sign saying “Honk! Stephy’s turning 40!” to encourage all drivers passing by to pay homage. Her birthday party that evening was filled with “Over the Hill” decorations and gag gifts. I can’t recall if I gave her a pair of dentures or a cane.

My own 40th birthday was not quite so outrageous. The pandemic put a bit of a damper on the celebration I had originally envisioned (a rooftop extravaganza) but it was still a day spent with family and friends (on the phone and online), and it was topped off with a barbecue in the evening with community and five very special guests (our first guests since the pandemic began!). Lots of food and conversation and laughter, and of course, cake.

While I have no qualms about turning 40, celebrating my birthday always reminds me that the summer is passing. It’s surprising how quickly this summer is moving along. March and April were painfully slow in passing but since then, time has sped up enormously. Thankfully, it has been filled with many good things.

For one, I made a book! Not a professionally published book but a self-made book of a number of posts from this blog spanning my first three years with the congregation. It was a project that I had on my ‘To Do’ list for a long time and finally did it. I am really pleased with the result. It’s a lovely memento but also, I hope, I’ll be able to share it with women who are discerning a vocation to religious life. They might appreciate to hear one woman’s experience of discernment.

This month I’ve been in UN mode. Earlier in the year, I was named regional representative to our UN NGO – collaborating with our CJ and IBVM representatives at our NGO in New York – which I am delighted about and which has already been so much fun. I spent two weeks of July glued to my laptop, watching meetings of the High Level Political Forum, and participating in side events on financing for development, child abuse online, and climate change. Now I’m working with the NGO Working Group on Girls and contributing to planning for activities for the International Day of the Girl on October 11th. It’s energizing to be engaged in this work again.

I’ve also been working on research for a comprehensive paper that is part of my theology studies. I’ve been reading about children’s rights and religious freedom, the spiritual and religious development of the child, and ecclesial and sacramental engagement of children. There’s lots to explore and it has been fascinating to do some reading on these topics. I’m grateful to have the time to devote to it and to be able to explore interesting tangents and ideas.

The day after my birthday, I gave my first-ever homily/reflection as part of St. Basil’s parish online Gathering series. I really enjoyed the process of preparing the homily, and though I was nervous about the delivery, it went well, and perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to do something similar again in the future.

Finally, I’ve been re-visiting last year’s Mary Ward Summer School – reading Mary Ward’s letters again, and adding in some of St. Ignatius’ letters. I’m finding so much that inspires and consoles and challenges and, above all, so much that reminds me of what my vocation is all about and what has attracted me to it. This little extract has given me another way to look at this time of the pandemic:

I would wish you every well-being and prosperity imaginable that might help you in promoting the service and glory of God Our Lord. However, then I think that these illnesses and other temporal mishaps frequently come from the hand of God our Lord so that we have greater self-knowledge and a diminished love for created things, along with a deepened realization of the brevity of this life of ours. In that way we can equip ourselves for the next life which is to last for ever.
    ~ Ignatius of Loyola, Letter to Isabel Roser, 1532

Of course, in between all of these projects, I’ve spent lots of time on the roof, enjoying the sun and an occasional dip in the pool, reading and relaxing on the lounge chairs (I need more Ted Chiang!), watching the new Babysitters Club series on Netflix (so good – somehow both nostalgic and modern – and brings back lots of memories of reading the BSC books), watching Singy Songy Sessions by the marvellously delightful Kate Rusby, and walking a virtual camino.

And now…I’m going on retreat! A very different experience this year to be sure – a Zoom retreat from my bedroom – but I have no doubt that this 4-day retreat with the “Under 55ish” group of religious across Canada will be just what is needed. Time to reflect and rest and give thanks for these 40 years.

 

Learning from the Monks

Credit: The British Library
Copyright: ©The British Library Board

It’s challenging to live under these extended quarantine conditions. Whatever novelty there might have been in the beginning has long since worn off. I continue to be anxious about the state of the world and to pray for the many people who are suffering and for those who care for them and who keep our society running. But I am also experiencing psychological fatigue. One day I am feeling up and the next day I am feeling down.

In the midst of this angst, however, I watched an online retreat/talk given by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI in which he presented principles from his new book Domestic Monastery. I find them particularly apt for this pandemic experience and they are helping me to change my attitude. 

The principles are derived from the Rule of St. Benedict, and lessons from other monks and mystics. For me, they offer an alternative viewpoint that is liberating and helps me to imagine a way to get through this temporary time of forced enclosure. 

Ten Principles for Turning Your Home into a Domestic Monastery

“Regulate your life by the monastic bell”
While I do live in a religious community, we do not live by the monastic bell. We do, however, especially in this pandemic time, have a fairly set schedule of activities – particularly prayer and meal times. My monastic bell is also the schedule I set for myself each day – exercise, work on my theology studies, cooking, connecting with family and friends, etc. It helps to find order and flow in the day. It is also intended to remind me that my time belongs to God and not to me. This helps me to find balance, to set boundaries, and to be able to move freely from one activity to the next.

Stay inside your cell”
Rolheiser suggests that this phrase, for us non-monks, means being faithful to our commitments. To stray away from these things is to leave our cell. For me, this means staying faithful to my religious vocation but also to the commitments I have made that have become more challenging to meet during the pandemic. This includes community life, studies, academic committee work, and ministries that have moved online, as well as finding ways to keep in touch with loved ones and to communicate regularly during this time of distancing. 

“Let your cell teach you everything you need to know”
I find this principle a hard one to live out. Rolheiser says that our fidelity to our commitments will teach us what we need to know. This is a challenge for me. Right now, I feel a lot of resistance and resentment build up because of this forced enclosure. My cell, i.e. school, community, family/friends, ministry, etc. is often teaching me things I’d rather not know – about myself in particular, but also about others, and about the world. Rolheiser says that these things force us to “grow up,” to become more mature, and I suspect, to be more effective agents of God’s love. I take hope that during this pandemic, the moments in which I struggle most with resistance are the moments in which I will be able to experience the greatest transformation.

“Ora” – pray
This is essential. Given my current position of comfort and good health and well-being, committing to prayer is one way that I am able go beyond myself and my environment when it is so easy to stay locked within. Praying for the world – for all who are sick and dying, for all those who care for them, for those who continue to serve our society, for those who struggle with financial insecurity and lack of employment, and for everyone who struggles to cope in this uncertain environment. All of these needs of the world draw me out of my selfishness and my limited perspective and force me to encounter the greater reality of this pandemic. 

“Labora” – work
This principle is all too easy for me. My default setting is to work (at least on the things that I am interested in) and I have been able to find many things to keep occupied during this time. However, work is not meant for work’s sake. Work is meant to remind me of my vocation as a human being to serve God in all that I do. This is something I need to keep calling to mind when I get absorbed in what I am doing and am tempted to forgo other activities in order to keep working on a project.

Live in quiet – be in touch with “the mild”
a. Be in touch with what is gentle inside of yourself, others, the world, God
b. Be in touch with nature
c. Be in touch with your food
Living in the quiet has been both calming and unnerving. To live in a quiet Toronto has been very strange even though it is a necessary measure. Within the confines of my home, this principle speaks to me primarily of being quiet within, of seeking a gentleness of heart in a stressful time that tends to bring out the worst in me. It’s a reminder to be gentle with each person in my life and also with myself. Being open to receive the gentleness of God, especially when I am feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Rolheiser’s sub-points b. and c. remind me to appreciate the natural world around me, especially when I go out for a walk in the neighbourhood, and to appreciate and enjoy the food that I am blessed with each day. 

Understand your family as a “school of charity”
This principle relates to the third principle: “Let your cell teach you everything you need to know.” This experience of the pandemic is a teacher and I am definitely a student. Because this situation seems to frequently bring out the worst in me, I also need to at least try to let it bring out the best in me, too. In his presentation, Rolheiser speaks of a stone being polished by other stones. The little irritations I feel each day, then, if opened up to God’s grace, can polish me as well.

Do “vigils” when the angel of the night summons you
Rolheiser refers to the angel of the night as the grudges, resentments, and unresolved tensions that surface at night and either keep us from sleep or wake us from it. Certainly, these days I feel like the angel of the night is a frequent visitor as I struggle to sleep well. I continue to wake up in the night and to worry about all of the “what ifs” and I battle with the resistances I feel in not being able to live as I would like. It is time to do “vigils” – to confront and find a way to make peace with the angel that disrupts my sleep.

“Celebrate” the joys, particularly the joys of community and simple living – but all the joys of life
This is an important principle for these difficult days. It can be easy to focus on the negative right now and to discount the positive. I know that I struggle to allow myself to really celebrate when so many people are grieving, but I think it is necessary. I resolve to find more opportunities to create, celebrate and embrace moments of joy during this time of confinement – simple pleasures like eating lunch on our rooftop patio, watching the tulips bloom in our front garden, and laughing with family and friends over Zoom. 

“Persevere” – give your family the gift of your fidelity
Perseverance is probably the most necessary guiding principle right now. I must remain faithful to what needs to be done: staying at home, washing hands, and practicing physical distancing, especially when I am tempted to slack off because I am bored, or lonely, or just tired of following rules. Perseverance is assisted by love: being motivated by love for others pushes me to go beyond and do what I might not do solely for myself. 

These principles, while not easy to live by, are helpful to me, especially during this time of uncertainty. They have given me much to reflect on, to change my perspective on what it means to live within restriction, and to find a way to navigate through the doom and gloom that rises in my heart when I am not attentive. There is much wisdom to be learned from these monks.

Living amid the pandemic

Like many others, I’ve been glued to the news. Over and over again, I’ve heard the words unprecedented and never before used to describe the life we are now living amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We have entered into a time of intense global solidarity that is brand new for most generations alive today. It feels like a moment of great historical significance. We, as a global society, have the potential to be transformed into something new and better than we were before. But we don’t know where we are in all of this. We could be at the beginning of this pandemic or we could be nearing the end. It’s important to pay attention to the shifts and changes around the world and to who we are and how we are living in this time of uncertainty.

As the pandemic has progressed, I’ve noticed significant interior movements within myself. Three weeks ago, I was merely fascinated by what was going on. Having worked previously for the Public Health Agency of Canada and participated in a response to disease outbreak ten years ago, I was captivated by the evolving response efforts. I was nostalgic for my old job and I was in awe of what seemed to be a very smooth unfolding of a coordinated response across the country. 

As the crisis has continued to heighten, however, and we’ve entered into a state of emergency, my fascination has turned to worry and anxiety. Family members have been impacted by job losses, so many people continue to become sick and to die. The hypothetical has become very real and the real is scary. As a result, I’ve been struggling to sleep at night. I’ve often woken up early in the morning with panicked thoughts of people in hospital ICUs gasping for breath, of families struggling to make ends meet because of lack of income, of people on the streets becoming ill with nowhere to go and no one to care for them.

I am coping by doing what we are supposed to do: social distancing and connecting with people virtually. I’m focusing on completing my schoolwork. I’m praying with my community and doing my part to take care of them and myself. I’m not able to go out and volunteer as I am accustomed to doing, but I can prepare food for the homeless and give to the organizations that serve them and others in need. It doesn’t feel like enough but it’s all I can do in this moment. I am so grateful to those who are able to be present to people in need right now.

Gradually, my worries and anxieties are being relieved, or at least, better managed. They are embedded in my personal prayer and in my community’s communal prayer. They motivate the little actions I take each day to contribute to the overall sense of goodness in the world. For the past several days, I have felt a sense of steadiness. Not a complacency, but a stability and a quiet trust.  

The truth is that this time is a jumble. It is simultaneously a time of all sorts of things. It is a time of suffering: of anguish over rising illness and death, of economic devastation, and separation from loved ones. It is also a time of blessing: of connection and unexpected tenderness found in emails and phone calls, in the outpouring of gifts from musicians and artists to bolster our spirits, and the celebrations of daily life (birthdays, anniversaries and feast days). It is definitely a time of disruption and adjustment as our routines change and we figure out new ways to live, even if only temporarily. It is, I hope, a time of greater introspection and reflection: what does it mean to be human today?

Finally, what brings me the most hope and joy in this time of global suffering is the discovery of all of the diverse ways, large and small, that we can do good together, for each other, and that we are doing it an unprecedented way.

Mary Ward Week 2020

Prayer booklet for 2020

Prayer for the Beatification of Mary Ward

God, creator of all that is good,
we thank you for giving Mary Ward
to the Church and to the world.
Impelled by the fire of your love
she did not shrink from risks,
labours or sufferings.

She lived and worked
for your greater glory,
for the good of the Church,
for the nurture of faith
and for the dignity of women.

She was a pilgrim, who spread 
the joy of the gospel.
A women for our times.

Grant that through the 
solemn testimony of the Church 
the example of her life
may be a light for all
who seek God’s will.
Amen.

From January 23rd – 30th, we celebrated Mary Ward Week. With the help of our prayer booklet, beautifully written by members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters) and Congregation of Jesus, all of the Mary Ward family entered more deeply into Mary’s life, mission, and charism. Together, we prayed for Mary as ‘A woman rooted in God,’ ‘A model of forgiveness,’ ‘A pioneer for women in expressing themselves through art,’ ‘A woman of courage,’ ‘A beacon of light in difficult times,’ An inspiration for 21st century women,’ ‘A compassionate woman,’ and with her concern for the marginalized.  Praying across borders, reflecting on Mary Ward’s life and inspiration, and her influence in our congregation today, is an act of unity and of graced belonging in our Institute. We are women of freedom, justice, and sincerity, grounded in the joy of the gospel and in relationship with Christ.

A moving expression of our unity was our celebration of Mass in honour of Mary Ward and for her beatification on January 23rd at Loretto Abbey: 

We celebrated with our Associates and Sisters with a special reflection on the movement towards union of the IBVM and CJ branches of our Institute.

Celebrating together at Presentation Manor

At Loretto College, we celebrated Mary Ward Week in numerous ways: 

  • Creating a display for our residents on the life of Mary Ward and some of the creative ways the congregation has shared her unique charism and mission
  • Featuring quotes from Mary Ward each day to inspire and guide our residents
  • Hosting a social gathering with residents and Sisters – our ‘Mary Ward High Tea’ – and making our own lemon juice letters
  • Celebrating our annual Mary Ward Formal Dinner – this year incorporating the Lunar New Year to honour the diversity of our residents
  • Enjoying a ‘Marvellous Monday’ activity offering words of wisdom from our foundress and the opportunity to win a ‘Mary Ward Prize Pack’
  • Sharing with our staff and extended community at Loretto College, a new Salt + Light documentary on the Loretto Sisters: Something More Than Ordinary

A week full of activity, to be sure, but even more, a week full of blessing.

So much happening at Loretto College

Rest in the New Year

Finally. A new blog post for a new year.  What’s up, 2020?

Actually, first, let me say that 2019 ended on a high note. I spent four days at the Rise Up conference in Toronto listening to talks, praying, meeting young people, and chatting about vocations. Best of all, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of other younger religious to create a space for participants to take a break, hang out, play games, and talk with religious. I wrote about that experience for Around the Well.

On to 2020. The New Year always gives me a boost. I love, love, LOVE the chance to think about new things I would like to do in the new year, to reflect on all of the possibilities, and to listen to how God is speaking to me, asking me, perhaps to change things up. For a number of years, I would make resolutions and be reasonably good at sticking to them. But this year I decided to do something different. Inspired by this podcast and related blog posts, I decided to make a 20 for 2020 list: 20 activities/goals for the New Year. Not quite 20 resolutions because they don’t all involve behaviour change, but more like a ‘To Do’ list for 2020, with a mix of short term items and some that will stretch into the end of the year. It’s exciting to think of new things I’d like to try as well as finally accomplish some tasks that have been hanging around for some time (like put together an e-book of some my blog posts, especially the ones from my time as a candidate and novice).

There a number of fun projects on the horizon, including some discernment on what I might do when I finish my theology studies (still a year away but very exciting and motivating to start thinking/plotting about it now), some work for the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a new semester of First Spiritual Exercises retreats, and coming up soon, Mary Ward Week 2020 activities at Loretto College (more to come on this).

While action is a heavy theme on my 20 for 2020, I’ve also included a weekly day of rest. When I added this item to my list, it seemed ridiculous to me, but the truth is, I’m really bad at this. I know that I need to take regular breaks, I often long for it and feel frustrated when I don’t take time to just rest, but I’ve been very bad (for many years) about prioritizing it. Being busy is second nature to me (and usually a source of joy and fun) and resting, except when sick, is very difficult. But I know from my fall 2019 First Spiritual Exercises retreat that rest is a gift that God wants to give me, a gift that, obviously, I can choose to either refuse or accept. In 2020, I choose to accept this invitation. To psyche myself up for my day of rest, I’ve been re-listening to my favourite Sabbath-themed RobCasts: The Cellular ExodusLet the Land Lie Fallow, and Menuha!

I’m now two Sundays into my practice and it’s surprisingly rough going. What I’ve noticed most of all is how tired I am. I spent the entire day last Sunday watching The Messiah on Netflix, and today I’ve spent most of the day watching His Dark Materials. On the plus side, I’ve also started a new Sunday evening ritual, again aided by television, involving Earl Grey teaPim’s orange biscuits, and the new season of Doctor Who. I suppose I’ve basically spent my days of rest (so far) being brain dead. I’ve noticed that I feel guilty, slightly depressed, and bored. I don’t really know how to enjoy spending time not working on stuff. I’m going to have to practice. I’m convinced that once I get into the rhythm of regular rest, the rest will eventually turn into play. Even more, while technically not a retreat day, my day of rest will be a day of listening. Listening to my body, my heart, my soul, (perhaps even with my brain disengaged watching tv) and seeing what’s going on inside. Listening for the quiet voice of God to speak. 

Unguessed blessings

(The golden grasses on our rooftop patio)

As I wait, rather impatiently, for Malcolm Guite’s new collection of poetry, After Prayer, to be released, I am spending time with his collection Sounding the Seasons. Fitting for this weekend, and which I’ve likely shared in years past but am happy to share again, here is…

Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving starts with thanks for mere survival,
Just to have made it through another year
With everyone still breathing. But we share
So much beyond the outer roads we travel;
Our interweavings on a deeper level,
The modes of life embodied souls can share,
The unguessed blessings of our being here,
Threads of connection no one can unravel.
So I give thanks for our deep coinherence,
Inwoven in the web of God’s own grace,
Pulling us through the grave and gate of death.
I thank him for the truth behind appearance,
I thank him for his light in every face,
I thank him for us all, with every breath.
– Malcolm Guite
(this poem appears as the third poem in a sequence for All Saints)

 

This Thanksgiving weekend I am giving thanks for lives interwoven. I am thankful for my Loretto community, my family and friends, and all those I have met through my studies and varied works.

What is emerging this fall is the opportunity to deepen relationships. I’ve experienced a deepened sense of intimacy with my Sisters through our Mary Ward Letters Group (a monthly reflection group on the writings of Mary Ward, drawing on my experience at the Mary Ward Summer School). At our first gathering in September, I was delighted and inspired by their enthusiasm and sharing. Learning more about Mary Ward together is enabling us to learn more about each other as well.

(The peace pole in the rock garden of Loretto College)

My ministry work at Regis College is leading me into deeper relationships with classmates through the opportunity to c0-facilitate a retreat from the First Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola with a friend. We have been leading a group through Inner Peace in Divine Love, a four-week retreat that expands the final exercise of the Full Spiritual Exercises, ‘The Contemplation to Attain Divine Love’. According to Michael Hansen, SJ who adapted the First Spiritual Exercises, “[The retreat] begins with the note that love consists in mutual communication. St. Ignatius continues, ‘The lover gives and communicates to the loved one what they have, or something of what they have, or are able to give; and in turn the one loved does the same for the lover. Each gives to the other’ (Spiritual Exercises 231). This giving and receiving relationship of love cradles my retreat. It goes to the very roots of who I am.”  (p.28) The spiritual conversation that is flowing during this retreat is so life-giving. I listen to others share their experiences of prayer and of God’s presence in their lives, and I feel thankful and humbled to receive them. I feel thankful and humbled to be received in return.

(Autumn colours are slowly appearing)

Lastly, my ministry work with the residents of Loretto College is leading me into deeper relationships with them. I facilitated an Ignatian leadership workshop for a group of the residents at the beginning of the term, and, in larger numbers, we participated in the Global Climate Strike together at the end of September. Our monthly social gatherings with the Sisters and residents help us to build relationships of support and make Loretto College a home for each one of us. We are a community that lives together, cares for each other, and brings each other into the heart of God through prayer.

And, of course, this weekend I am taking time to connect with and pray for all the ones I love, especially the ones who live far from me.

(The prairie grass reminds me of my prairie home)

 

 

Where two or three are gathered

We are walking along a new path as the Canadian Region of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters). We met this past weekend to be inspired and to inspire one another.

Gathering at Loretto College

Our new leadership team gathered us together to share the ‘sparks and snapshots’ of our lives and mission. We gathered – sisters, associates, colleagues – in a spirit of interconnection and interdependence, recognizing that our lives are bound up together in the Body of Christ. It was a day of sharing and much laughter, squeezing in as much as we could into our 1, 2, or 4 minute ‘sparks’ of life. We were connected across the boundaries of time and space with our sisters in western Canada; voices on the phone suddenly making present those absent. Our theme, “Where two or three are gathered, there is hope,” a variation of Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them,” was our guide and source of blessing.

It was truly a hopeful gathering, marking movement out into the new, with announcements of our soon-to-be-open House of Welcome/Discernment, and new explorations for the Mary Ward Centre and others in ministry. We have entered into a period of renewed life and vitality in Canada, modelled by a leadership team focused on participation and collaboration. Each person in our region has an integral role to play in our present and our future.

As a newer member of the congregation, it was uplifting and inspiring to be part of the gathering and to witness the renewed sense of life. Since I entered the congregation nearly five years ago, I’ve felt a tension between institutional contraction and expansion. Rightly, a lot of attention and energy up until now has been focused on a degree of contraction within the congregation; closing Loretto Abbey and moving some of our sisters to Presentation Manor were major changes to community life. But now that these events have taken place and there is some stability, there is room to look outward and to see what newness and possibility God wants to inspire in us.

This abundance of newness coincides, happily, with the start of the new school year. I love this time of year. I still get a thrill on the first day of class. Actually, I get a thrill even just getting ready for it all to begin again. I’ve decided I need a motto for the new year, one that will help me keep things in perspective when, inevitably, I feel overextended. I’ve decided on: Go deep. Keep it light. (And the back-up motto, inspired by a recent visit to Invermara: Ice cream is always a good idea. I’ll keep that one for my final profession ring…)

I want to engage deeply with the material given to me this term. Learn as much as I can. Be serious about learning and knowing. Search for answers and, undoubtedly, discover more questions. I want to take myself much less seriously. Have more fun. Laugh every day. Play tennis and run. Write a TV comedy script with a friend, and short stories and poems. Give the First Spiritual Exercises. Read the letters of Mary Ward. Welcome young women to religious life. Discover newness in places I have not ventured, in people who attract and inspire me, and above all, in the God who fires the world with love and beauty and truth.

Move-in Day at Loretto College
Ice cream is always a good idea…

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?

 

 

A life rich in the living of it

I’ve taken a break from writing my blog for the past couple of months. I’ve been immersed in my theology studies and activities at school and in community. Life has been so rich in the living of it that I haven’t felt compelled to write about what has been going on. But I’ve started to feel that longing again to write, so I will continue as I can amidst the hustle and bustle of life.

Centre Island amusement park closed up for the winter.

One of the great treasures I have been enjoying is the gift of friendship. I feel very wealthy in friends these days, which is a big shift from when I moved to Toronto four years ago and knew practically no one. Bit by bit, I have met a wonderful miscellany of people – at school, in the community, and through various ministries – and I have been blessed to make a number of good friends. People who ask interesting questions, who laugh with me, and who challenge me to try new things and to see life from different perspectives.

Petite admiring the Canadian autumnal flora. 

At home, I feel especially blessed by friendship. I have been growing deeper in friendship with the younger sisters who are living in the Loretto community – Melinda, Maria, and Petite. I feel such a shift in my heart these past few months. After feeling lonesome for so much of last year, lonesome for peer relationships, and female friendships, in particular, I find myself gifted with these fantastic women and a joyful solidarity.

With Melinda and Petite.

A couple of weeks ago we went out to Centre Island to enjoy the autumn day. It was a great adventure – a time for spiritual conversation, laughter, and discovery. Being with these women made me think of Mary Ward, who was ‘apt for friendship’ and who said, ‘Let thy love be at all times rooted in God and then remain faithful to thy friend and value him highly, even more highly than thy life’.

Following the boardwalk to Ward’s Island.

And, of course, I also thought of Malcolm Guite, who wrote about old ways renewed by friends, in “Prayer/Walk”:

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,
Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,
And crossing places taken hand in hand,

The passages where nothing need be said,
With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot
And unexpected birdsong overhead,

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,
The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,
The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

A track once beaten and now overgrown
With complex textures, every kind of green,
Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,

The rich meandering of streams at play,
A setting out to find oneself astray,
And coming home at dusk a different way.

Cloud-and lake-scape melting into one.

those winter blues

From my window, I can see the snow-topped roofs of St. Michael’s College across the street. When the sky is grey, the wintry world appears flat, lifeless, and disturbingly dreary. Other days, the sky is bright blue and the sun streams through the window, offering hope that winter won’t last much longer. Lately, it seems like the grey days have outnumbered the sunny days.

Normally, I don’t mind the winter. I like to get out and walk in the snow, to feel the sharp chill of the wind and to hear the crunch of snow and ice beneath my boots. But this year winter has made me irritable. I’m discovering that winter in the downtown of a big city is a different sort of winter. The snow turns grey and dirty almost immediately upon falling. The piles of salt on the sidewalks turn the joy of crunching through snow into wading through mush. It’s not beautiful for long. And when the days are short and cold, the lack of beauty weighs heavily on my soul. The winter blues have struck and I’m having a hard time shaking them.

Of course, some of this melancholy is rooted in laziness. Obviously, this city has beautiful parks and outdoor spaces to explore in winter. When I lived at Loretto Abbey, I would go to Edwards Gardens on weekends in the winter. I just haven’t made an effort to find a similar environment downtown and I’ve managed to convince myself that if it isn’t within walking distance, I don’t have the time.

So instead of making an effort to go out, I’ve made it easier to stay in. I’ve let myself get caught up in the busyness of the winter term and allowed my studies and other ministries to take over. I’ve let the things that I know sustain me slide a bit. I’ve prioritized work over well-being and I can feel its effects: a decline in interest and focus in my prayer life and in my desire to socialize with friends and community members, and, as usual, a slip in my exercise habits. For some reason, it always surprises me when I let things get out of whack, even though I know myself well, and I know that I can get caught up in work, especially when something interests me. I tend to reach a point where I stop and ask myself, how did I end up here?

Now, happily, there is a remedy for what ails me, a remedy built in to the liturgical year of the Catholic Church, in fact. We begin Lent this week, starting with receiving ashes on Wednesday, a symbol and stark reminder of human mortality. (And when doesn’t a little reflection on mortality help to recalibrate a person’s priorities?) I’m looking forward to being deliberate during Lent: to slowing down, at least somewhat, and to reflecting on what it is than I am getting myself caught up in and how God is at work in it all.

I have a hunch that this Lent will see me spending more time with God outdoors, braving the cold together and going for walks in the snow (and the mush). We’ll also spend time reading poetry together, following along with Malcolm Guite’s The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter, letting the words take us where they will.