Wednesday, August 29, 2018

My Summer in Photographs

In this entry, I want to share photos of my summer wanderings. 

I joined some of our sisters at our vacation house in Goshen, Massachusetts for a long weekend. The house is on Hammond Pond and is a lovely, tranquil spot. Here is the pond at different times of the day.

While we were in Goshen, we took a day trip to Shelburn Falls, MA. Here are the falls!
The town also boasts the Bridge of Flowers. This photo shows it from a distance.

Here is the Bridge.
Me enjoying the Bridge of Flowers. 

I also spent a week with my family in New Jersey. It was lovely to see family and friends. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Poems from my time on Retreat

In July, I went for my annual retreat. During this time of prayer, rest, and reflection, I was inspired by the beautiful grounds of our Chicago central convent. Looking at the trees and flowers moved me to deeper rumination, and I wrote poetry about it. I tried to capture my underlying thoughts under the surface of words about nature. In this blog entry I'm sharing two such poems that I wrote. For each, I've included an explanation of the message that I was trying to express.

Poem #1: Reverence 
As I looked out at the landscape of the different trees on the property, I thought of how beautiful it was because of the diversity that it represented. There were different kinds of trees that varied in many ways. It led to reflection upon the value that each individual person has. 

A tree.
As youth we learn to take up the standard crayon,
adding the green cloud shape to a brown rectangle.
The adult eye sees it that way, too,
each tree a slight variation on the stock photo,
until all blur together as one.

But each declares itself differently,
through pigment and contour, stature and girth--
Beauty taking various forms.
With lush foliage casting a blanket over every branch and twig
or modest leaf decorating a frame.
In unrelieved monochrome
or rainbowed layers, subtly changing.
Marked by towering ambition that stretches beyond
or squatly sitting in the foreground.
Dressing themselves in verdant shades:
pine or forest, spring or yellow-green, even blue-green.
Casting shadows as individual:
the traditional puff, or sparse, dappled with sunlight,
or providing generous shade.

Animals know the difference,
instinctively finding cover in one,
nourishment in another, or a home.
Finding value in each for what they are.
This is a common call:
stereotyped images replaced by
awareness, appreciation,

Poem #2: Abundant Life 
I was drawn to a garden of wildflowers for several days before being able to think of the words to describe it. It reminded me that God's abundant love is like this garden: healthy, fruitful, and more overflowing than controlled. 

A patch of wildflowers,
with bursts of color and arrangement of genus and species.
In fact, this uncultivated garden
of natural growth
defies classification.
It's messy landscape is its own beauty.

Unhindered dandelions sway on tall, gnarled stems,
surrounded by thick clumps of black-eyed susans.
Hearty bushes with ample leaves
neighbor magenta zinnia.
Fertile soil dwarfed
by abundant life,
each competing for a fertile foothold.
Here is no delicate petal
or hesitantly-opening bud,
only boisterous wildlife asserting itself.

Honeybees buzz over sweet nectar,
lingering in focused hunger.
Hummingbirds rapidly beat their wings
to stay in place as they feed.
The king of butterflies
folds his wings as he partakes.
Insistent breezes  tug at the thin paper,
but he clings until satisfied.
His more humble cousins
flutter over the dense patch,
fascinated by one bloom after another,
before skittering away,
soon to return.
Drawn by the fresh boldness of the source of life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Unexpected

I've spent most of the last month in quarantine and seclusion. I had plans: a retreat, then I intended to spend most of July in the Chicago/Wisconsin area. There were two community events to attend there, a discernment weekend about the future of our community and a gathering for young final professed Felician sisters. Then I was going to a younger sisters gathering at a retreat center in northern Wisconsin. I was looking forward to my summer travels, but those plans changed when I got shingles.

I was one day into my retreat during the last week of June when I broke out in welts and they started to hurt with a sharp pain. It felt like I was being stabbed with needles. Thankfully, I was on retreat where I live, and one of the sisters took me to the local Urgent Care. There, I was diagnosed with shingles and prescribed medication for the condition and pain management. I spent the rest of what would have been my retreat convalescing. That stretched into a second and then a third week, as my sensitive nerves couldn't tolerate the least stimuli and I spent most of my time alone in my room.

I'm writing this at the end of the third week. The shingles have passed and I'm preparing to travel. I was able to salvage a part of my trip. The younger sisters week could have been a retreat, but it's being held in rural Wisconsin and included hiking, kayaking, and much outdoor beauty. I do feel better, but am not yet hearty enough to enjoy such an experience. Instead, I'm going to our convent in Chicago for a quieter retreat. I'm looking forward to finally having my yearly retreat, and am glad that I'm well enough to travel. I've definitely had cabin fever here!

During the last three weeks, I've been asked by people in their varying ways why I would have gotten shingles. Many of them were looking for a medical explanation, but some sought insight into how God's will was at work-- or they were encouraging me to. I couldn't answer either question, but I'm having more luck with the second one. I'm able to see how this time has been blessed.

The Support and Love of Others: The people in my life could not have been more helpful or caring during this time. They took care of my physical and spiritual needs, as well as giving generous emotional support. Between my family, sisters in community, friends, and the nursing staff here at the central convent, I was surrounded by the goodness of others!

Empathy for the Infirm and Elderly: I live with mostly elderly and sickly people, and at times am blinded by the frustration that comes from being a young person living in a convent that is a lot like a nursing home. This time of personal infirmity has helped me to grow in empathy for what the chronically ill live with all the time. I have a greater understanding now of what it must be like for many of the sisters and friars that I live with.

Convenient Timing and Location: More than once, I reflected in my journal about how the timing for my illness made it much easier to deal with than it could have been. As I mentioned before, I didn't go away for retreat, and it's always preferable to be sick at home. I actually was staying in the guest house of our neighbors, which had comfortable accommodations and privacy while I went through the worst of my symptoms. Also, I had been travelling right before I got sick, and am grateful that I didn't come down with shingles then! Too, since it's summer, most of my obligations are either flexible or on hold, so I have the extra time and space to get better.

Knowledge of Myself: The last three weeks were solitary ones, and a good opportunity to learn something about me. I did a lot of journaling and praying. The most telling part of the experience, though, was that to a certain degree, I didn't mind the time spent alone. Eventually (and at times) it was too much for comfort, but it's also true that I often found it relaxing to have time to truly be alone. I can't remember the last time that I was able to. There were definitely times that I enjoyed it!

We Plan, God Laughs: This time was a strong reminder that no matter how many plans I make or how detailed they are, I'm not in control. In fact, the best thing that I did during the past three weeks was to put my situation into God's hands. There was a time when I wasn't sure that I'd be well enough to travel at the end of July, but by giving the reins to God, I felt peaceful about the outcome. That helped me to know that I had to change where my retreat was.

So was all this God's will? I'm still praying about it. I do know that being open to how He was at work during my illness has shown me that the time had as many blessings as trials!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

St. Casimir School Closing

My first ministry assignment after making my first vows was to St. Casimir School in Manchester, New Hampshire. There, I lived with Sisters Frances and Thomas. The three of us all worked in the school; Sister Frances was principal, Sister Thomas taught religion to the 7th and 8th grades, and I was the 4th grade teacher. I lived there for two years.

Recently we found out that due to low registration, the school was closing. This was a sad occasion. The school had been open 112 years, and had been staffed by Felician Sisters from the beginning, first by sisters from the Buffalo province, then by sisters from the Lodi province, and finally by sisters of the Enfield province. I had fond memories of ministering and living there, and when we were invited to attend the closing Mass and reception, I signed up to go. 

There were families, teachers, and students from the school at the reception. It was a blessing to see them again! It was nice to remember the school, and the long-time pastor who had died. It meant a lot to me to honor my time at St. Casimir's and the people that I knew there. 
Sister Laureann with a former student and her daughter
The Felician Sisters with Father, cutting the cake

Sister Thomas, who graduated from St. Casimir's, with three other members of her graduating class
Me with Maddox, from one of my fourth grade classes

Me with the computer teacher from St. Casimir's