Fall 2003

Mindfulness

Dedicated or committed – what am I?

Sitting at the edge of the Mighty Mississippi, mesmerized by the ebb and flow of its waves, reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s words of wisdom in his book Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers* – absolutely content and in harmony with nature. Tĥay (nickname for teacher) uses the wave and the water to make his point about a person’s interconnectedness with, and interdependence of one another, as well as our ground of being in our Source of Energy, God. The waves co-exist with cause and effect energy, yet they do not stand alone.

Another level of relationship is between the wave and the water. In Christian tradition there are two levels of relationships: first level is relationship between us and other beings (horizontal theology), which helps us to see and touch what is around us and helps us establish links with them.

Getting in touch with God is symbolized by a vertical line (vertical theology). If we do not succeed in getting in touch with the horizontal dimension, we will not be able to get in touch with the vertical dimension.

There is a relationship between the horizontal and the vertical, an interbeing between the two. If one cannot love humanity, animals and plants, Tĥay doubts that one can love God. The capacity for loving God depends on one’s capacity for loving God’s creation, as Saint Francis of Assisi lived and preached.

Mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha, Tĥay writes, and the Holy Spirit is the energy of God. Both allow us to see more deeply into our interconnectedness with all creation and that we are of the “ground of being, God.” The practice of touching things deeply on the horizontal level gives us the capacity to touch God.

And so, back to the question … what am I? Dedicated or committed?

In my mindful manner, I realize that I am hungry, in need of relieving my bladder, and hard up for a pair of sunglasses. I walk very mindfully/intentionally up the excessive amount of wooden steps to Clare’s Cottage and take care of my needs. I fix a turkey and cheese sandwich and return to my spot on the riverside. Eating mindfully, I look at the sandwich and see in it the turkey that sacrificed its life for our hunger. If I continue eating mindfully, I may become a vegan.

A past conversation with one of the Sisters comes to mind. Her equation of breakfast food and the difference between being dedicated or committed goes like this: an egg means the hen who laid it was dedicated, but the bacon shows that the pig was committed.

So, what are my reasons for being where I am and wrestling with vowed life? Am I dedicated to vowed life or committed to it? One more approach to discernment adds to the mix.

Discernment of religious life

Decision making is developing into a mean tug of war. Although I believe I’m on the right track and I say I’m ready to make a decision, it backfires, pulling the rug out from under me. Sadly, the confidence I relied upon was only temporary. However, due to an open-mind temperament, I should expect variations to slide in. Yet, these setbacks pack a big punch. I’d much rather sew up loose ends and move forward.

I remind myself that discernment is not an individual task; one cannot fly solo and expect to gain wisdom on one’s own. We need others to help us along the way. For instance, how many of us often resonate with an idea spoken out of the blue by a friend or a stranger? Often I feel enlightened by such a concept and wonder why I never thought of it. Others teach us, if we remain open and listen.

Prayer also helps. For several years I was blessed to have a Jesuit priest as my spiritual director. He helped many of us find our way through various means. One of his discernment exercises was to sit alone in an empty church. When settled into silence, pop the question you wish to ask. For example, “You do want me to do this, don’t you?” Again, sit in silence and let your feelings show up. Then pop the opposite question: “You don’t want me to do this, do you?” Sit in silence again and examine your feelings. You and your spiritual director can then discuss the outcome.

A Novice wanting to enter a religious order has several people who serve as spiritual directors. Each Novice is assigned to a Mentoring Circle to help her with the journey. My circle includes both women and men, such as, Sisters, lay people, college administrators, and community staff members. We meet each month when I stay at Clare’s Cottage. Many thoughts and ideas surface from all six of us in the circle. I always come back filled with new possibilities.

On the other hand, a word came up in last night’s Mentoring Circle that shook the ground beneath my feet. A Sister spoke of her decades-old Novitiate experience wherein “self-deprivation” was a big part of her formation. I was rendered speechless. Self-deprivation accompanies other unpleasant words that stir up the dust of my resistance, such as, self-denial, submission, obedience – all fighting words to my heart and ego.

My insecurity as a child grew into anxiety, shyness, and uncertainty, which molded me into a timid, nervous, unresponsive child who swallowed many comments from adults regarding her silence. It took decades for me to feel secure and self-confident. Why would I now want to reverse and re-live the deprivation with which I grew up? That was my immediate reaction. Language is key and capable of influencing us; words make a difference and impact us for better or for worse.

Another Sister gave an offbeat translation of those comfortless words, such as, “chipping away at the sculpture” and “facing the leper” as did Francis. Suddenly, I felt the fire of transformation lift my spirits and received a glimpse of the light of Truth. Words do matter.

Having kept my thoughts and feelings to myself for so many years, I am now capable of letting them out and speaking my truth, thanks to the encouragement and support of the Franciscans.

Endnotes:

*Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

Product Details

**Kathleen Warren, Daring to Cross the Threshold: Francis of Assisi Encounters Sultan Malek Al-Kamil

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Compliments of Eileen

Fall 2003

Clare’s Cottage Cordova, Illinois

Did you know that rivers were America’s first transportation highways, and that the Mississippi River was one of its major arteries?  It transported goods long before the towboats and barges of today. The barge era began with the coming of the steamboats in the mid 19th century.*  Indeed, I will ponder and enjoy this river as I reside here a few days each month during my second discernment year in the Novitiate.

The Mighty Mississippi River just keeps rolling along at my preferred clip. During the day, I see occasional speed boats and jet skiers mirroring the bulk speed of our society — fast. A vast majority of our civilization is in a hurry. Perhaps a secret contest is in the mix for those who can walk and talk the fastest, or for those who gab the longest or walk the furthest. If so, I missed the boat.

On the other hand, barges and their towboats huddle along the edges, moving at a speed of five miles an hour. At night, a methodical, full-toned beat of the towboat’s diesel engines, pushing from behind the double row of ten or more barges, is heard long before seen. The barges have little, if any light, in direct contrast to their well-lit towboats that have powerful flood lights used to scan the river’s boundaries. Their slow passage, accompanied by a deep-seated, almost palpable sound of drumming, emulates the atmosphere of a retreat. My thoughts echo my current stance in life — a slowing down, a reflective nature … seeking wisdom.

F&Cillustration

Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi**

Saint Clare of Assisi

Clare’s Cottage is owned by the Franciscan Sisters of Clinton, Iowa (just across the river), used as a place of retreat for the Sisters and their families, plus friends and associates of their order, such as myself. The community dubbed it Saint Clare who was one of the first followers of Saint Francis. Inspired by his words, Clare fled her affluent home and joined Francis, establishing her own contemplative religious order. The group became known for its austere and devout lifestyle and for the power of their prayer, which is credited with twice saving Assisi from invaders.

Fear

Be that as it may, tethered to this serene atmosphere is my fear of the dark. Residing alone at Clare Cottage brings forth those terrors. Such trauma accompanied me throughout my childhood. I grew into a very sensitive person as my older brother scared me for fun. I buried these fears inside, withdrawing from family, living alone. Today, when I find myself alone and a bit apprehensive, those feelings rear their heads.

Although this space is peaceful, my fantasy runs the gambit of scary “what-ifs” during the night. I feared most basements as a child, and this one lends a fear of its own. Several of us slept in it once, despite the mildew smell and lack of lighting.  I at once canvased it upon arriving this time, with the hope that facing it would alleviate my restlessness. Instead, such angst generated a dream.

Dream

… stopped in the kitchen at the top of the basement steps and peering down, I observe a bright light deep into the bowels of the boundless space where previously it had been dark … I rivet myself there and call loudly for Sister LaVern to come quickly … I say “WE NEED TO CHECK THIS PLACE OUT NOW!!” … I call several times before she comes … I couldn’t go down without her … once she showed up, we slowly made our way inward … 

The dream was hopeful in that I called for help and was accompanied into the great abyss, and even into the deepest crevice that now glows. The emotions of my reverie moved from fear, to urgency, to apprehension, to astonishment when I “saw the light!” I gain new insights, and perhaps now I’ll have a newfound trust in going “deeper” into myself because I am accompanied by a new strength of luminous energy.

Peace

Once again, I am at peace having faced my fears, and having decided to stay where I am another year.  In sharing this with my counselor, she repeats the word “trauma” often — trauma of being frightened as a child, having no one to tell or who would listen to me. Currently, I am aware of another energy in me — self-assurance.

Future

I continue to teeter-totter on my perception of religious vows. I can almost feel a power holding me back, pulling on my reigns. I’d prefer not having doubts about moving forward because I believe this is my destiny, my call. Still, I must pay attention to these feelings of restraint, bless them, and give them freedom to speak.

On the other hand, gaining this time and space to do interior work is perhaps where God is calling me. I continue to learn to live in the present, to let go of future ambiguity, and to trust in the journey.

Endnotes
* http://greatriverroad.com/all/towboats.htm
**Illustration by Beth Ettensohn

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Brookfield Zoo Chicago, Sophia & Joshua

Spring 2003

When my first year as a Novice with the Franciscan Community ends, the logical next step in pursuit of vowed membership is that of requesting entry into the Canonical year. During such time, I am required to live in the Common Franciscan Novitiate house in Joliet, Illinois. As a Canonical Novice, I am not to pursue secular academic programs nor take part in the works of charity. Rather, my main concern is to focus on a deepening of prayer life, and an understanding of the Rules and Directives of the Congregation.

Upon reflection, it becomes evident that this would not be a good transition for me. I understand the logic of bonding with a group of like-minded Franciscan Novices. On the other hand, limiting my ability to visit family to a few days that second year is discouraging. The other option offered is for my family to visit me at the Novitiate house anytime. That is easier said than done. I have a family who would miss Mom and Grandma, and vice versa.

Sadly, I pass up the opportunity to go forward. Even so, instead of dropping out of the process, leadership graciously offers an extension of my second year, which I accept. This means staying at the same residence, and living with the same people. Relief is my companion now. A second go-round sounds wonderful.

Family

From the very onset of this thoughtful undertaking, I consider my children’s thoughts and expressed feelings toward vowed life. They know this is not a spur-of-the-moment decision and are pumped up with questions as well as support when I embark. Their visits are very helpful, for all of us, and they enjoy seeing Chicago. However, my adult children admit that more concerns and fears surface the further I go into the process.

My two-year old grandson and four-year old granddaughter (pictured above) love to visit Grandma. On their first visit, they think this is Grandma’s new house because of my donated furniture. Everyone camps out in different locations and my two “families” co-exist. I feel blessed.

The challenge of vowed life (for a mother like me) is that of merging family with community. I love them all. Saint Francis preached equality, inclusivity, and love for all life. I would have a hard time making choices that exclude one over the other when both are good.

Grief

It becomes apparent that my transitional move to Chicago and entrance into the first Novitiate year generates unfinished business in the area of grief. The onset of panic attacks, intense dreams, and escalating emotions that cry for attention are indicators of the need for counseling. As a consequence, I begin the inner investigation of my world more closely with counselor Pat.

At my first appointment, I anticipate we will work well together. An “ah-hah” moment arrives when she names my bevy of emotions as being “sat upon” (by me), and that instead of anger as the main issue to be explored, perhaps it is grief. Yes!

Quickly, I review my life during and after my husband Joe’s lengthy illness and death. The reality of my busyness—in raising our children and in my own spiritual journey—took precedence over examining my grief. However, when my children needed guidance and comfort with their grief, I immediately offered assistance. Moving forward and staying occupied was my way of coping.

Mayo Clinic

As a result of the revelations I receive through counseling and the support from my community regarding my neglected grief, I arrange an eight-day retreat in Rochester, Minnesota. I choose this place for several reasons: Joe and I had a pleasant experience in Rochester and at the Mayo Clinic, even though the diagnosis brought us to our knees; the town is geared towards patients and their families who seek expert medical attention; and, the hospital in which Joe stayed treats all people with dignity and openness.

On my solo return to this marvelous little town, I retrace the steps Joe and I took twenty years ago. Here is where we received the diagnosis that no doctor could claim back home—pancreatic cancer. Here is where we called home to relay the devastating news. Here is where I walked the hospital floors when Joe needed to be alone. And, here is where Joe established acceptance by saying, Why me? Why not me? My tears pour forth like a flood, my body shakes, the grief that I avoided all these years regurgitates. I feel purged of the deep-seated sorrow I avoided all these years.

My retreat offers a surprise invitation, that of writing a book of my life and its challenges with unmet grief. It is a book that has been writing itself through the years and I willingly accept the task. This opportunity falls nicely into my second year of prayerful discernment.

 

65b5e049e3dec536c3f8c18434e9adea--beach-wallpaper-landscape-wallpaperInterns at work

September 24, 2002

“From the Indiana Dunes on the southern shore of Lake Michigan last week, to this side of Lake Michigan today, we interns meet again in Hyde Park. It is fitting to reunite so soon after sharing our life stories at an intense opening retreat. The calmness of the Lake and beauty of the Dunes in Michigan City, IN, helped the in-depth process move smoothly. We are learning by doing spiritual direction with one another, and we will do so each Tuesday.  Lunch time finds some of us meditating by the lake or soaking up the shimmering sun glistening on the water …

“I spend my first evening with the women tenants at Brand New Beginnings (BNB) in a support-group setting. I tune in to their past struggles (most revolving around drugs) and take notice as they share their positive energy in turning their lives around, not only for themselves but for their children as well. Their faith in God is their salvation and deliverance, and they want to give their children the love and attention that they themselves lacked.  I offer my service of one-on-one spiritual companionship with the intent of getting to know them better.  They accept me  as they do Della (the director) and Sally (the social worker) without hesitation … “

Prayer Walk for Change

The tenants of BNB help organize a phenomenal walk around their neighborhood. We invite surrounding churches to join us, and we hand out the following invitation.

>>>>>

Prayer Walk for Change   

Washington Park Neighborhood, 45th  to 60th Street

Join us on April 18, 2003, Good Friday, Noon until 3 p.m.

WALK IN SILENT PRAYER BETWEEN PRAYER STATIONS

We walk around our neighborhood in faith and silent prayer for…

  • our children, threatened by gangs or are members of gangs…
  • our brothers and sisters who are bound by drugs, dealings, addictions, and violence…
  • our family members who are victims and  perpetrators of domestic violence…
  • our children who are subject to abuse…
  • the lack of affordable housing.

We pray for elimination of these problems and for a safe and peaceful environment in which to live.

We are the Tenant Council at Brand New Beginnings who built a solid foundation for a positive future and are taking necessary steps to achieve our goals.

We are willing to redirect our energy and intellect to create safe and positive homes for our children, and to be good neighbors in the restoration of peace and harmony in our neighborhood.

Our vision and our true foundation is God.

We invite you to join us in our first of seven prayer-vigil-walks around the neighborhood, patterned after the fall of the walls of Jericho as God so instructed Joshua (Joshua 6:1-5).

<<<<<

Each walk is unique in that different people show up. The neighborhood has over fifty churches. Some ministers choose to follow while others choose to lead, until Della makes it clear that BNB is in charge. Children like to walk the walk; the Franciscan Sisters with whom I live join us, plus a van full of Clinton, Iowa Franciscans show up. The oldest Sister insists on walking the walk and refuses the police officer’s offer to ride in her cruiser. However, near the end of the walk, we hear a siren and see lights flashing as the officer pulls up with the Sister waiving out the front window!

Social Analysis

At the end of my first year pre-novitiate educational goals, I am asked to put together a social analysis of Brand New Beginnings. It allows me the opportunity to take a step back and look at the overall picture in order to receive the insights of the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) group. I admit that the surrounding neighborhood, as it is, makes me realize the need for a Prayer Walk for Change that was born out of both my social analysis project and Della’s vision for BNB. Such a cooperative venture offers BNB tenants, the neighborhood families, and the surrounding churches support one another and work together.

Key Growth Areas

A primary key growth area for me throughout my ministry site experience is recognizing when and how to be flexible.  I learn repeatedly that relaxing into the flow of what is happening lends to greater awareness of the situation than trying to “figure out” what is going on and trying to “fix” things according to my norms. It is yet another image, that of giving birth:  in knowing when to push and when to breathe during the birthing process; in allowing the body to adapt to the baby’s movements; to be “out of control” and into the rhythm of nature.

Great Lakes and Internships

chicago_skyline_and_lake_michigan-640x357September 3, 2002

“Ahhhh … finally I lay eyes on beautiful Lake Michigan. Its average depth of 279 feet determines it the second deepest of the five Great Lakes. On the other hand, Lake Erie’s average depth of 62 feet predisposes it to be the shallowest. Lake Michigan’s water varies day by day from light blue to dark blue to bluish green, while Lake Erie’s limited depth remains a steady gray.

“Once again Hyde Park is my destination for another interview, and it just so happens to be within walking distance of the Lake. The walkway in front of the circa 1933 Science and Industry Museum beckons me to come over. My eyes are instantly fixed on a sandy beach and a park with many pathways; I feel like Alice in Wonderland sliding down a tunnel into a magical place. Huge concrete blocks surround the shoreline and are identical to those at Cleveland’s Wildwood Beach on Lake Erie.

“Memories of my teenage summers in Cleveland promptly pop up. We teens in the East 185th Street neighborhood traversed these monster blocks on a dare. They were irregular, uneven masses of material that formed the fishing pier. We dare devils needed balance not only for the massive rocks, but most of all for the steel ‘one-foot-at-a-time’ beam that led to the end of the pier. Believe it or not, the return trip was the hardest trek!”

Internships

As a Novice living in Chicago and in formation for vowed membership with the Franciscan Sisters, I am expected to either work or to study in an outreach ministry program. My interests and experiences are spiritual direction and Hospice care. Lucky me finds one of each and signs up for both!

My Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program does not work with Hospice. Although I am disappointed not working with those who are terminally ill, I am enthused to work with formerly homeless women with children. Therefore, my Spiritual Direction Internship helps me learn how to help others as well as myself. Both internships require regular meetings that include soul searching, letter writing, and self evaluations.

The women’s group consists of several women with children who are living in a supportive low-income apartment complex.  Some of these mothers lost custody of their children; some regained custody; others had relatives who helped with the children; others had no help.  There are two fathers living with their families. Most of the women work outside the home and/or attend school; some are drawing disability insurance due to physical disabilities or injuries received from accidents.

The majority of the women are recovering from addictions and some are mandated by law to undergo recovery treatment.  Therefore, the focus of the semimonthly support group meeting I lead is the workbook entitled The Twelve Steps – A Spiritual Journey to Healing Damaged Emotions.  The common belief of the group is that through God, and especially God as revealed in Scripture, all things are possible, and it is through prayer that addictions can be overcome and conquered.

My ministry of presence with the women moves in various directions throughout the year. At one point I consider my role to be that of midwife, the one who helps new life into being and protects it, who does things “with,” not “to” the person giving birth, who helps the birth giver toward ever greater self knowledge. It is helpful to have a midwife to accompany us in any birthing process.

A primary key growth area for me throughout my ministry site experience is recognizing when to be flexible.  I learn repeatedly that relaxing into the flow of what is happening lends to greater awareness of the situation

Discernment is a way of life.  I attempt to actively listen to people as well as to my inner being as I travel on the road to vowed life.

By the way, Hyde Park is the center of my education; Lake Michigan, my haven.

Big City travels …

Hyde Park pic

Compliments of the free encyclopedia … Wikipedia

August 22, 2002

“Today Paula and I do a dry run, via the Chicago Transit Authority, to Hyde Park, situated on the shore of Lake Michigan and located seven miles south of the Chicago Loop. The trek requires two buses — the first one stops on our street corner, and the second at Midway Airport. From door-to-door, the trip takes one hour and forty-five minutes.

On our return trip we manage to catch an express bus back to Midway, hoping it will be quicker. The lady driver reminds everyone who boards that it is an express bus, which means it doesn’t stop at every side street. She also blows her horn frequently, reminding me of New York City. Paula and I are eventually the only passengers, and the driver shares her frustrations and struggles with us.

‘People just don’t listen when I remind them that stops are more infrequent… and I feel bad when they get mad at me.’

As we listen and converse with her, she reveals several of her difficulties. Her mood becomes much brighter. She says we are the best thing that happened to her today; we return that she is good for us, too, because this is our first ride on public transportation since we moved here a month ago. Her response, ‘You mean you aren’t from Chicago? NO WONDER YOU ARE SO NICE!’

We chalk that experience up to bus ministry. Our street ministry consists of meeting the neighbors on our daily walks. Needless to say, this close-knit Polish neighborhood knows much about us and asks questions, like, ‘Who has the small bedroom?’ Paula immediately responds, ‘That would be me!’ Most of the neighbors lived here forty-plus years and knew the lady who lived in our house until she died. One even asks how we like the Jacuzzi (another story coming down the road)!”

Let me step back in time to share some of my history.

My roots sprouted in the International land of Northern Ohio and thrived over the next sixteen years. Each set of my grandparents originated from European countries. Great Lake Erie was my playground, as was the Metropolitan Park system in that it preserved the land’s natural beauty. Euclid Beach Amusement Park provided fun for all ages, from amazing rides to homemade taffy, candy kisses, and their famous popcorn balls.

Accessing downtown Cleveland was an adventure: we traveled by bus or by the Rapid Transit that dipped underground in spots and ended underneath the Terminal Tower, a 52-story “skyscraper” built in 1930. Shopping experiences encountered huge buildings with revolving doors, elevators, escalators, and crowds of fast-walking people. As a child, I found the blustery winters difficult to maneuver. Mother taught me how to angle our backs against the wind and snow as we turned each corner,  then lay into the fury an inch at a time, and walk backward until we reached the next store.

More than fifty years later, Chicago becomes home. Its well-known nickname, “Windy City,” does not speak of the wind off Lake Michigan. In fact, it was coined in reference to Chicago’s braggart politicians who were deemed to be “full of hot air.” Since I was raised in a big city, my enthusiasm is high, and I feel secure knowing how to battle the forces. The truth be told, Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States while Cleveland ranks forty-fifth.

Regardless of the largeness of Chicago, I navigate the city without a problem, love riding the “El” above ground, and treasure my two-year stay. Navigating my old Toyota Corolla around town is a cinch; however, parking is not and the car incurred several indentations.

And, at no time do I ride another bus.