Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Intentional Community for the Future (and Present)!

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Growing up, I can assure you: I never imagined that I would spend my adult years living with inter-generational groups of women.  So how did it come to be?

Ecuador 2008

Ten years ago this summer, I traveled to Ecuador as an international volunteer with Rostro de Cristo.  I knew that part of the experience would be living in what they called “intentional community,” but it honestly wasn’t the component that attracted me.   I wanted to serve others, practice Spanish, and grow in my faith, and doing that while rooming with other young people seemed like a good idea.  I quickly discovered that intentional community is more than sharing a roof and a bathroom.  It was a commitment to each other that transformed all of our other commitments.

In the early stages of building life together, community was easy, exciting, and joyful.    Of course, the honeymoon period ended eventually.  Sometimes, intentional community drained me.  After a long day of ministry, the last thing I wanted to do was sit around the dinner table for a long time and talk.  Sometimes, it broke me.  Sharing life in such an intimate way showed us our rawest selves; this vulnerability could be freeing and painful.  But once I felt the rhythm of intentional community for several months, and then years, I began to see its power.

Through the high points (celebrations and laughter), the low points (disagreements and tears), and all the mundane in between (peeling potatoes and brushing teeth), God was able to build something beautiful among us.  Communal prayer and sheer, stubborn fidelity sustained us.  When our time together in Ecuador came to an end, we knew we had become part of each other.  Intentional community was not for the faint of heart, but in the struggle was salvation.

After Ecuador, I moved into Casa de Caridad on the U.S.-Mexico border with Sisters of Charity Carol, Janet, and Peggy, who had been cultivating their intentional community for almost twenty years.  I was the recipient of their warm hospitality, a value central to their common life.  It was a new challenge, living with women of different ages, backgrounds, and levels of commitment.  But again, I found that the difficulties on any given day were part of a mysterious process of collective growth and transformation and that our commitment to one another bore more than enough laughter, joy, fun, mutual support, and love to go around.  

Three years later, Sisters Carol, Maureen, Nancy and Terry welcomed me just as generously into their community in Cincinnati.  They even moved to a new home with extra space to be able to do so!  With them, too, I found a treasure.  Their long commitment to one another had yielded love and deep wisdom that filled our home.


These relationships were what ultimately allowed me to say, “Yes!” to religious life.  I could serve and minister in a myriad of ways as a married or single woman, but I knew God was calling me to do life as a woman religious with other women religious in intentional community.

Current intentional community
Now, I can hardly believe it, but I’ve lived in intentional community for ten consecutive years.  I can’t picture my life as a sister without it.  It is the place where I grow into the best version of myself and know that I am loved even on the days when I fall short.  It’s the place where I learn how to love others just as they are.  We have a built-in, in-home support system and a bond that runs deep no matter how much we like each other on any particular day.

We share our spiritual lives, enriching each other with insights and ways of praying we’d never come to on our own.  We reflect together on the world and on our call to be agents of justice, and we show up together at Mass, marches, vigils, and other community events.  We encourage one another in ministry, and we walk together in continual discernment.  We become extended members of each other’s friends and families.  And, of course, we celebrate, play, get silly, and make memories we’ll still be laughing about years from now.

Intentional community takes extra work but it bears wondrous blessings over time, like a delectable homemade pasta sauce that requires lots of initial elbow grease and hours of simmering to yield rich flavor.  For the future of religious life, this kind of community is essential.  Which means that it is essential now.

My current community has made it part of our covenant to be a house of hospitality and discernment.  We recognize the gift we have found and want to share it with others, whether a young woman seeking God’s call, a partner in ministry, or a refugee in need of shelter.  And so, we are faithful to our commitment, as God is unfathomably faithful to us.

For your reflection:

An important part of intentional community is a commitment to growth and renewal.  A few Sundays ago, our intentional community gathered to reflect on our life together for 2018 using Jean Vanier's writing as inspiration.  I offer you the quotes for your pondering:

*It is when the members of a community realize that they are not there simply for themselves or their own sanctification, but to welcome the gift of God, to hasten God’s Kingdom, and to quench the thirst of others, that they truly live as community.

*We shouldn’t seek the ideal community. It is a question of loving those whom God has set beside us today. They are signs from God. We might have chosen different people…But these are the ones God has given us, the ones He has chosen for us. It is with them that we are called to create unity and live in covenant.

*Perhaps the most essential quality for anyone who lives in community is patience: a recognition that we, others and the whole community, take time to grow. If we are to live in community, we have to be friends of time.

*The process of becoming a community happens when the majority of its members make the transition from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community.’

*Community is established by the simple, gentle concern that people show each other every day. It is made of the small gestures, all the services and sacrifices which say ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m happy to be with you.’

*Community is the place of forgiveness. There are always words that wound, self-promoting attitudes, situations where susceptibilities clash. That is why living together implies a certain cross, a constant effort and an acceptance that comes from daily and mutual forgiveness.

*The gift of community, of unity, will come only when all members of the community are truly themselves, living as expression of God’s love within them in the exercise of the gifts He has given them. The community becomes one because it is fully under the influence of the Holy Spirit who unites it.

*When it begins, a community is like a seed which must grow to become a tree. As it matures, and becomes a tree that bears fruit, it also must be a place where birds of the air can come to make their nests.

*A community which prays together, which enters into silence and adoration, is bound together by the action of the Holy Spirit. God listens in a special way to the cry which rises from a community.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hope Incarnated

By Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Annie

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Thirty-two young women religious gathered in a circle.  At times, the room vibrated with roaring laughter, at other times we held sacred silence.  Whether laughing or in silence, the energy and the Spirit were palpable.
2018 Giving Voice 20's and 30's Retreat (provided photo)
I was at the Giving Voice annual 20’s and 30’s retreat.  Giving Voice is a national, peer-led organization for women religious under the age of 50 years.  Every year, the youngest members of this cohort – those in their 20’s and 30’s – gather for a weekend to share dreams, stories, laughter, tears and prayer.  This year, particularly, we came together to share hope. 

Our retreat planners chose the theme ‘Cultivating Courageous Hope’.  For our opening session, we were asked to bring a symbol which represented our own sense of hope.  As I packed my bag the night before retreat I pondered what I should bring.  With the prayers of the Christmas season still fresh in my heart, I went down to our basement and dug into a box with our recently-packed-away nativity scene.  I pull out the baby Jesus.  For me, the Incarnation is one of the greatest signs of hope.  God could have chosen to remain separate from us, guiding us and loving us from a distance, and communicating with us through prophets and angelic messengers.  But God chose to be in solidarity with us, as humans, in the flesh. 

And because of this, everything changed. 

If God could break the divide between heaven and earth and enter into the messiness of human existence over 2000 years ago, then there is no situation too dismal that God cannot enter into today – war, poverty, racism, the desperation of immigrants and refugees, environmental degradation, divided families and nations.  God can break into any of these situations, and that gives me great hope.  The Incarnation was not a one-time event.  It happens every day when we choose to act as Christ’s hands and feet in the world today.  I felt God incarnated in that circle with 31 other young Sisters.  I see these peers and know there is hope for the future of religious life. 

During the retreat, we reflected on passages that spoke of hope.  A quote from John Paul Lederach’s The Mortal Imagination caught my attention.  Lederach describes vocation as finding one’s voice.  He states:

“To deeply understand vocation as voice, we must go beyond what is initially visible and audible, to that which has rhythm, movement and feeling.  Voice is not the externalization of sound and words.  Literally and metaphorically, voice in not located in the mouth or on the tongue where words are formed.  Voice is deeper…Where you find that meeting place, the home where heart and lungs gather, where breath meets blood, there you will find voice.  When you find your way to that home, there you will find yourself, the unique gift that God has placed on this earth.”

Lederach’s words took me again to the Incarnation – “where breath meets blood”, where
spirit meets flesh.  A question came to me, ‘Did God find God’s voice more fully by becoming human?’.  As I think about my own voice, my vocation as a woman religious, I know it most fully when I allow God to enter into the ordinary parts of my life: ministry, community living, relationships with friends and family.  God incarnated is accessible at all time and in all places.  This gives me hope.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Essence of Risk

By Sr. Laura Coughlin, SC Federation Under Ten Years Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Laura

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Our community divides itself into conferences according to the Vincentian model. Conferences in the early history of the Daughters of Charity were meetings whereby Saints Vincent and Louise could accomplish two goals. The first was to instruct the sisters, and the second was to listen to their hearts by inviting them to lift up their concerns so that these concerns could be treated through a dialogue.

The conference to which I belong recently read and discussed an article written for Global Sisters Report, “Metaphors for the Future,” by Sister Janet Gildea (http://globalsistersreport.org/column/spirituality-trends/metaphors-future-50026). There, Sister Janet talks about the famous Duomo added in the fifteenth century to the great cathedral in Florence, Italy. When the dome was begun, the main body of the cathedral had been finished for about forty years. A huge gaping hole in the church’s ceiling reminded the city’s leaders that they had, to paraphrase Jesus, built a tower without first counting the cost, without first knowing whether they could finish it, and without first considering how painful it would be to be mocked for the embarrassment of an incomplete temple of worship. In other words, the city’s venerable had taken a risk even Jesus suggested as imprudent.

To confront their shame, Florence’s wool merchants hosted a competition between architects for the work of the dome. Filippo Brunelleschi, known to be a difficult and aggressive person, won the competition by a trick he performed with an egg, and by a commitment to his own non-transparency! Why avoid transparency? Perhaps because this showman wasn’t too sure about how to fill in the hole either.

What Brunelleschi had was confidence in an idea inspired by the Roman Pantheon, a building which even today possesses the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The architect knew that Florence’s great embarrassment would be turned into an even greater victory if he could discover the secrets of the men who had succeeded in finishing off the Pantheon.

In her treatment of the Florence cathedral, Sister Janet likens the unfinished church to members of religious orders who have built a foundation. The gaping hole stands for the aims of younger members desiring to take risks. These unfulfilled aims are a challenge to our communities because they speak to a lack of effectiveness, perhaps owing to fear. They are, however, connected both logically and imaginatively to the dome, a hope-filled metaphor for the bringing to fruition those dreams of younger members.

What is required by the foundation builders, suggests Sister Janet, is a willingness to risk. I’d like to elaborate briefly on this particular concept since I too think we need to take more risks, and since what I know of Brunelleschi’s story connects with what I know of effective risk-taking from my former work in the technology industry. It often strikes me that the facilitators of meetings of women religious talk about risk, but avoid the precise qualities of the concept that make a mission effective. Here are some things that ought to enter into our conversations about risk:

Effective risk is not only, or primarily, about gambling, but about learning.

Large professional organizations have whole departments established to absorb the failure of experiments. These they name R&D, or Research and Development (in healthcare, Risk Management) Our way of life proscribes grand expenditures for experiments, but surely we can test the waters in small ways and cultivate what success comes of these “trial runs.” Are we willing to expand small plans into greater ones when we experience momentum and success in our efforts? Are we willing to abandon those projects that have become ineffective?

Effective risk involves speed.

Do you remember the days when Microsoft dumped one lousy OS update after another on the market? Ok, yes, they still do that! Microsoft [and Apple] taught both the world and IBM a lesson about the effectiveness of bringing a bad product to market quickly. You read that right – a bad product. They were even energetic in their efforts to unload bad product because what was bad in the buyer’s world was only imperfect in theirs. They knew that the customers’ first negative impression would be transformed by improvements that followed on the heels of the first run.

As is true of most entrepreneurs, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs understood that imperfections in both product and project can be resolved on the journey through people who are engaged, energetic, and intelligent. To those in Florence who expected a finished church, that hole in the cathedral ceiling was bad, but to those with vision it was a problem sure to be solved by the right person. A sad fact of our contemporary world is that the growth of technology has ratcheted up the speed of innovation now expected by the culture. Waiting to act on good ideas today is far more deadly than it was in Brunelleschi’s time. It is important that religious women act with patience and prudence, but these qualities must be balanced by agile risks that open up opportunities and space for younger women to imagine themselves really belonging within the futures of our communities.

Effective risk involves a thorough evaluation of existing models.

Brunelleschi looked at the Pantheon to advance both his own and the city’s aims. Thus, we must ask, ‘what successful models exist that would help us to move forward?’ Have we evaluated why such models are successful? Even the greatest minds don’t work without reference points. The rhetoric of meetings of women religious often comes across to me as too ethereal, or as operating on an expectation that God should perform another creatio ex nihilo just for us. In the service of remaining open to mystery we are perhaps too frequently asked to down-dial rationality, to stay away from problem solving, and to limit the concern we have for effectiveness. The good intentions of those who lead our meetings are directed at helping communities imagine and dream. Nevertheless, their concern to avoid an excessive pragmatism is an overreach in my opinion.

Imagination can’t be fruitful unless it is disciplined by reason, and dreams remain dreams unless we bring some technical skill to bear. God gave Brunelleschi a model that was more than a thousand years old and filled with secrets begging to be revealed. Was the Pantheon a mystery to the architect? – YES! Was it meant to remain a mystery? – NO! Brunelleschi’s vision was tightly connected to the challenging details of problem-solving, yet he didn’t just reproduce the Pantheon’s dome in copycat fashion, but built an icon of a new age from what he learned about the ancient structure. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could say of our younger members, “they are building the icon of a new age from things ancient!”

Sunday, January 7, 2018

An Epiphany in Dazzling Darkness

By Sr. Rejane Cytacki, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Rejane

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

I have spent a lot of time this past December reflecting on the healthy balance we need of darkness and light in our lives. In my current ministry at the Eco-Justice Center, we do  both equinoxes and solstices celebrations and it is wonderful to be aware of the natural  yearly rhythm of  light and dark. Winter Solstice is one of the harder ones for people because it is the longest night of the year and the shortest day.  Most people are just ready to recognize there will be more light the next day! 

We would rather focus on the light and push aside darkness because it represents fear, depression, evil, hurt, and a slew of other negative terms.  Hence all our Christmas lights, street lights, security lights etc to keep the dark away. As a society we have forgotten the importance of darkness. Several positive images come to mind: the seed in the rich dark soil, being outside gazing at the moon and stars, the need for darkness to have a restful sleep, and a baby gestating in her mother’s womb.   

As I wrote the script for Eco-Justices's  2017  Winter Solstice celebration someone recommended the book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor. She has a chapter devoted to how light and dark are portrayed in our holy scriptures.  During the Christmas season we focus primarily on  light, but Taylor has unearthed scriptures that show God is in the darkness.  One that struck me in particular was when Moses was ready to go up Mount Sinai a second time God said “I am coming to you in a dense cloud in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”  Moses was chosen  to enter the “dazzling darkness” and have a conversation with God. When I think of our Lord Jesus coming into the world, he was born in a cave in Bethlehem in the dark.  And when the Magi came to find him 12 days later, they had to travel in the dark in order to follow Jesus' star. Great things happen in the dark, let us be aware of the beauty and gifts of darkness during this winter season.