Archives for posts with tag: memoir

Fall 2003


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.


*Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

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



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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.


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.


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.


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!”


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.

Orangeville, Ontario Canada, May 2013

DSCN2037_bA tradition Master Moy incorporated into the Taoist Tai Chi Society is celebrating certain occasions with a Chinese Banquet. Tonight we board school buses and travel to Toronto to celebrate Mother’s Day at Dim Sum King Seafood Restaurant in the heart of Chinatown, Master Moy’s favorite place. This is one of three Chinese banquets the International Society hosts each year; the others are on Thanksgiving and the Chinese New Year. …

fresh_catch_bThe Toronto banquet consists of a twelve-course meal lasting five hours. We are entertained by musicians and singers, introductions of dignitaries who say a few (or more) words, and table talk. Several people at my table are French-speaking. My rusty French is tested; we nod and smile a lot. … There are approximately three hundred people in attendance; service is unhurried, hence the length of time. it is a wonderful introduction to the Chinese culture, as well as a testimony to the merits that the Taoist Tai Chi Society has bestowed upon Toronto, thanks to Master Moy. (p247-248)

In his youth, when he was suffering from poor health, Master Moy made a vow to Kuan Yin (Guanyin), the bodhisattva (Deity) of compassion, that if his health improved, he would devote his life to helping others. Master Moy Lin Shin made good on his vow. (p249)


Pat & Lisa


cropped-2015-8-8-spider-webb-on-ridge-005_b.jpgLisa Miller of Lexington Community Radio

Interviews Patricia A Griffin

author of Gypsy Journey

Live stream radio access from this link on Saturday September 24, 2016 at 1 pm EDT:

If you miss the aired show, the recording will be available on these websites afterward  (find the Radio Show tab under the first one)