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)

 

 

Go to the limits of your longing

In response to my last blog post, a very thoughtful Loretto Sister sent me a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a beautiful poem and so I would like to share it here.

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

You can hear it read by Joanna Macy here.

Time to Celebrate!

Celebrate…by @Jerry – Flickr/Creative Commons

Today we celebrate significant milestones in the lives of the sisters. At a special jubilee prayer and dinner this evening, we will honour the sisters who have spent 50, 60, 65, 70 and 75 years in religious life. It’s really quite phenomenal. For someone who has spent only 6 or 7 weeks in a religious community, it seems an incredible feat to give 75 years to this life!

What strikes me, each day, is how happy the sisters seem to be. Even though they may struggle with physical ailments and limitations, they radiate happiness and joy, and they give me hope for my own future in religious life. Certainly, if the sisters I live with were unhappy or felt a sense of hopelessness about the future, I would be plotting my escape. But their dedication and their joy is a true inspiration. Time to celebrate!

 

Settling In

Three weeks have passed since I arrived. There has been a lot going on. It has been a very busy time. Full of newness: meeting new people at home and at work, navigating a new city, and trying to find a balance between work, prayer, and community life.

I am getting to know many of the sisters here – both those living in the infirmary as well as those living in the Abbey. It has been a real blessing to get to know them better. They have regaled me with stories of their lives: teaching experiences and life at the Abbey prior to the Second Vatican Council when the daily rhythm of life was more monastic. I’ve learned what it meant to be the refectorian, charged with preparing meals and the clean up afterwards, as well as sacristan. I’ve also heard bits and pieces about the hardship that followed when the community went through a major transition following Vatican II and many sisters left the community. It seems to me that the transition continues today as the community struggles to attract new vocations.

***

DSCN0311DSCN0314

We had a beautiful community celebration for Thanksgiving weekend. We had a fantastic social time (Happy Hour!) with the sisters in the infirmary on Sunday and then a big turkey dinner and Happy Hour at the Abbey on Thanksgiving Monday. It was a lot of fun to come together as a community and celebrate together. I was very happy to contribute a bit to the weekend by helping to decorate and set up the dining hall for the meals, something I always enjoy. We had beautiful flowers and gorgeous autumn colours to make it a very festive and happy occasion.

***

winter clothes fashion show
winter clothes fashion show
food for the evening banquet
food for the evening banquet
tea time!
tea time!

For the past week we’ve had an IBVM sister from Kenya, Sr. Marren, staying with us. She is currently studying canon law at St. Paul University in Ottawa and was here for Thanksgiving. It was lovely to spend time with her – we had many an evening banquet of toast and tea and fellowship. But most of all, it was a pleasure to experience her passion for religious life. She helps in the formation of novices back in Kenya and we had a few good conversations about the journey through candidacy and discernment. She gave me some very good advice for structuring my prayer to help make sense of what I am experiencing and to try to put all of the pieces together. We also had a great adventure together – venturing out last week to buy winter boots in the midst of torrential rains. Lots of laughter I won’t soon forget!

***

I have been reading about the life of the Institute foundress, Mary Ward. I must write more her soon. She is a fascinating woman and her spirit lives on in the Institute. Her life was full of ups and downs and learning to trust God in all the directions life took her. She was confident, determined, deeply compassionate, and had tremendous faith. More on her soon!

How did I get here? (Part 4 – Becoming a candidate)

So then I began the application process to become a candidate with the Lorettos and I did all kinds of brave things. For one, I told my parents! And then I told other family and friends and it wasn’t so scary. I told people at work. By and large, the response has been very positive and I have been supported by so many people.

The application process required more paperwork than I had anticipated. Aside from the application form, I had to provide copies of my baptismal and confirmation certificates and university transcripts (I had to search for long forgotten student id numbers!), undergo a medical examination, and write an autobiography. The autobiography was perhaps the most challenging component of the application process. I had never written one before. I didn’t know which elements of my life should be included or how I should write about my spiritual life. In the end, it was a worthwhile experience to struggle through. It provided me with a good opportunity to reflect on the path I have taken through life and how it has prepared me for religious life.

Flickr/Creative Commons
Flickr/Creative Commons

When I received the invitation to join the community, I had a lot of work to do: I had to find a new home for dog (which was a very painful part of preparing to move), try to find a way to continue my job from Toronto or perhaps transfer to a job that was based in Toronto, and vacate my house and rent it out for a period of a year or longer. It took a number of months for it all to come together, and I admit, at times it caused me a lot of anxiety and worry and I wondered whether it was worth it. But, it all did come together, by the grace of God, and here I am.

Loretto Abbey
Loretto Abbey

 

What am I doing here?

Good question. What am I doing in Toronto with a group of women I barely know, navigating my way through a new city, when it seemed like I had everything I wanted in Ottawa?

Well, the short answer is: I am here because I was called here. (Much more on that later.) By asking to become a candidate with the Loretto Sisters, I have asked to deepen my understanding of religious life by spending a year living with the community. In essence, I am testing it out, seeing whether it is right for me. This next year will be a year of further discernment (reflection, decision-making) of the path I feel God has asked me to take.

I will find out what it means to live my life as a religious sister, to figure out if this is what God is actually calling me to do, and whether this community of sisters, the Loretto Sisters, are the community for me.

It’s a year of unknowns. While some things are the same (I continue to do the same job – albeit from a different location, still have access to my own car and resources, am free to pursue my interests, see friends and family, etc.), other things are very different. I packed up my house in Ottawa, and have gone from having a huge amount of personal space to having my own bedroom. It’s kind of like being in university residence again (although my floor mates are much tidier!), which is an odd place to be in after so many years on my own. I am also living with a group of women who are far older than I am. Many of them have been in religious life for 50, 60, or more years. I am not among my peer group, which I am sure will present its own challenges as time goes on.

But for now, I am savouring the adventure! It’s a chance to be different, to be open to newness, and to see the world from a different perspective.