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.