The blog for this week comes from Sara Fairbanks, OP. Originally from Vermont, Sister Sara is a professor of theology at Barry University, an Adrian Dominican Institution in Miami, Florida. Here is her story:
As a college student I had stopped going to church. I did, however, want a relationship with God. I was a history major. In my junior year my advisor wanted me to take a religion course on the Reformation because that particular split in Christendom had powerful political ramifications for all of Europe.
In taking the course, I learned that one of the great themes of the Reformation was the right of every Christian to read the Bible in his/her own language. At the time, the bible was mostly available in Latin, which most people could not read. At the end of the discussion, our professor, who was also a Presbyterian minister, challenged each one of you to pick up the Bible and read one of the gospels all the way through.
I did not even own a Bible! So I borrowed a Bible, and began to read the gospel of Matthew. When I got to the passage in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you,” for the first time I sensed the presence of God with me, speaking these words directly to my heart, awakening me to a divine love that I had never known before, a love unsurpassed. I was in tears. This experience was totally unexpected. God’s love was real!
This awakening to God’s unconditional love was the foundation of my religious vocation. With the help of other faithful Christians, I gradually learned how to share my life with God through praying with scripture. In time, I began to see God everywhere in my life and to find God at the core of my very self.
“To take a long loving look at the real.” You may have heard this line before. It’s a famous definition of contemplation by William McNamara.
It’s hard to go forward well unless you know honestly where you are now. To look at our own lives from a contemplative stance requires humility. First, we choose to look. Then we take our time. It’s not just a cursory glance. We stop and truly notice. The challenge is to see our lives and our world with love. We tend to look with eyes of judgment and criticism, but at this moment we strive to see what is with love. And then we look at the real, at this moment – not at what we wish were reality, not at what we think should be, but at what actually is.
In some mysterious way, by taking a “long loving look at the real” of our l life at this moment, we can find a new freedom and we may just be able to discern more clearly the next step in our path. Today take a long loving look at yourself and your life.
Photo: “Eye C U” by Michael Gil on Flickr, creative commons license.
How do over three hundred people make big decisions in one weekend? Over three hundred of us had quite an intense experience this weekend. We attended part 1 of our General Chapter, a large meeting where we vote on recommendations and make decisions about the future .
At times we try and make decisions on our own, or in private prayer, or by talking with a few others. But sometimes decisions require more wisdom. At our table of 5 we discussed our thoughts and some of us changed our opinions as we listened to each other. Then two tables came together to form groups of ten people. To our own amazement, we completely changed out minds sometimes. The wisdom of the group - we learn more by opening ourselves up to the other, hearing different opinions and perspectives, and contemplating all we have received to try and truly hear the will of God. It was a sacred experience.
Are there other voices you need to hear from in your discernment?
Sometimes we undertake big plans for self-improvement, quite often at New Year’s. Gyms love this time of year since they get so many new members signing up. As we know, a lot of these efforts fail. Why would that be? Mostly it’s because we try to change our outer practices, but neglect to change what is inside. Our actions stem from what is inside us – our beliefs, our values, and even our subconscious.
And yet, to live out who we are truly called to be we do often need to makes changes. Discernment entails figuring out who we are, what we think, what we value, and what is happening in the deepest part of ourselves. It can feel like a waste of time, like nothing is happening. But when we spend time really looking inside, asking Jesus to help us see, then we can have insights that free us and enable us to make the changes we need and want to make.
Take some time today to get to know yourself.
“The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge.” Pope Francis.
Pope Francis accomplishes the challenging task of raising both our awareness of how serious the problems of our world are and, at the same time, giving us hope. In his marvelous encyclical, Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, he shows how care of creation, care of each other and care of ourselves are all interwoven. The above quote is meant to give us hope that we can find a new way forward that will enable us to be truly good stewards.
The quote can also speak to each of us in our struggles. Sometimes we think too small or limit ourselves more than we need to. Pope Francis calls on us to recognize the infinite newness of God, whose creation is still unfolding. We are part of that creation, and we too are in an act of becoming. What is the “new” that God is calling forth from you?
This week we have a guest post from Sister Mary Keefe, OP. Mary currently serves in the Siena House of Discernment where she lives with two other sisters, our candidate, and three young women from Siena Heights University. She recently received the Good Samaritan award from the National Catholic Development Conference for her work in establishing Nun’s Build in New Orleans, where she facilitated many sisters and their friends in helping to rebuild that city. Originally from Oakland, California, Mary has served in Michigan, Nevada, and California. She is an avid crocheter and belongs to the Crochet Ole group, which makes items for sale at the Motherhouse Christmas bazaar. The proceeds from the sales are given to local charities.
I have had the blessing of knowing when it was time to move from one ministry to another, although I have rarely had a good idea of where I was going as I turned in my resignation. At those times I have wondered if I would ever find a new ministry that excited me, a place where I knew I could make a difference.
In early 2007 I decided that it was time to move on. I knew that in response to the devastation of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, our sisters in leadership invited sisters who were retired or between jobs to go to New Orleans and help in any way they could. During this time the sisters from New Orleans invited our sisters to move there on a more permanent basis and establish a house.
One of our leadership councilors called and said she had heard I was leaving my current ministry and asked if I would be interested in checking out New Orleans. I have learned that when one is looking for a position one checks out all possibilities.
Soon after receiving the phone call I was at a retreat center and met my spiritual director. Because I was looking at the possibility of making a radical change in my life I asked her, “How do you know when you are doing the will of God?” She said, “Oh Mary, that’s the easiest question to answer. What do you want to do?”
I understood what she meant. Finding the answer to that question may take time or it may come in a flash. The answer may be, “Go for it,” or it may be, “This is not for you.” I have had both experiences. What this means for me is that, after praying, talking with people, expressing my thoughts, feelings, hopes, and desires; listening carefully to others and trusting them, an answer will come. If not right away then eventually. I think that most importantly we need to trust ourselves and be completely honest with ourselves, then, I believe, the answer will come. My answer was, “Go to New Orleans,” and it was the right choice.
I love that I am part of a religious family that dates back over 800 years. One of the things that delights me about being Dominican is that we have so many forms of committed life spread out over so many places in our world. I am heading out tomorrow to spend the weekend with over 400 other sisters and associates at the Dominican Sisters Conference. Dominicans are “People of the Holy Preaching” so we are always mindful of how we are preaching the word of God with our words and with our lives. We are coming together these days to discern how God is calling us to be the Holy Preaching in our world at this time. You can’t preach until you first immerse yourself in God’s word, spend time in silent contemplation, and receive wisdom from those around you. We intend to open ourselves to do so these special days.
When you are discerning where you are called, a sense of excitement is a good sign and shows you what speaks to your soul. Some are more drawn to a smaller and stable group of religious, some are drawn because a group is newer, some because of a particular ministry focus, and some because of long term personal connections. Pay attention to what gives you energy and also to what others notice in you. Sometimes I am amazed when someone says to me, “I can see this job/activity/gathering is something that really energizes you.” I don’t even realize it myself but others see it in my and that, too, helps me to know where God is calling.
What do you love? What delights you?
There is a famous question, “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In other words, does the way you live your life really reflect what you claim you believe and value? Most of us fall short, but in general, we can recognize if we are muddling along in the direction toward what we hold sacred and true or away from it.
For Dominicans, we might come at it in a slightly different way. How does your life preach? What does the way you live proclaim to the world? We are members of the Order of Preachers, after all. Dominican houses were and are called “Houses of the Holy Preaching.” That doesn’t mean we sit around listening to homilies and reflections. It means we strive to recognize that what we do – how we treat each other, how we live together, how we reach out to others – is a way of preaching Christ’s Gospel.
How do I preach with my life? What do I preach with my life? Does my life say what I want it to be saying? Does my life align with God’s desires for me? Asking these questions can help us figure out if we are on the right path and can help us discern the forks in the road.
Ultimately God’s desire for our lives and our deepest desires are united. But it takes a while to understand and accept those deepest desires within us.
Take some time this week to ask God to show you how you do already preach with your life and, perhaps, to show you new ways you may be called!
A line from Scripture jumped out at me today: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Once in a while, people come to explore a vocation with an unhealthy spirit of sacrifice. They may think, “I’ve sinned so much; I have to make it up by giving my life to God” or “I made a promise to God that if he got me out of a situation I would become a nun.” The thing is, there is no joy or freedom in this approach. God always invites, and does not demand. Of course any life commitment involves sacrifice, but it’s not supposed to be a resentful, begrudging sacrifice. It’s a willing sacrifice that is also graced by mercy, by compassion, and by love.
That’s an important piece for discernment. Are you free? Could the decision go either way and you could still trust that God is walking with you and guiding your life? If you say, “I just have to be accepted by this congregation” or “I’ll just die if he doesn’t marry me” you aren’t free. God wants our love, not our sense of obligation. In whatever you are discerning in your life, where do you find yourself most drawn to make a healthy sacrifice in a spirit of love?
If you are exploring religious life, you have probably come across the term discernment. Discernment is really deciding between two or more goods. If you are making a choice between one thing that is clearly good and one thing that is clearly wrong, choose the good. No discernment required.
But life often presents us with many options that are good. There are the big life decisions: Do I choose marriage, religious life, or a committed single life? There are the ministry discernments – what job should I do that best uses the talents God gave me and best serves the world?
But even when we have these aspects of our life figured out, discernment comes up daily. Of the many things I have to do, which is a priority? Should I bring up a difficult issue with someone or let it go? Should I get out of bed and exercise or sleep thirty more minutes? Of course, the more serious and major the discernment the more time we put into it. But becoming a discerning person will help you every day of your life. You will learn to assess with God what is the most life-giving path for you, in the big and small pieces of your life.
If you are making a big decision, a great book is The Way of Discernment by Elizabeth Liebert. It gives you a whole variety of prayer exercises to use to help you come to clarity.
Remember God promise to Jeremiah is God’s promise to you: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
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Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!