Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Catching up

I need to catch up on my blog! Over a month has passed since my last entry. (This appears to be a habit…) So much has been going on that I intend to write about soon – I’m back into theology studies, involved in several exciting and rewarding ministries, and I’m starting to prepare for my first profession of vows with the IBVM.

But first things first. The discernment retreat! I haven’t shared about it yet.

To some extent the retreat is a bit hard to describe. It was very unlike the first 8-Day Ignatian retreat I made 4 years ago (when I was discerning to become a candidate with the IBVM) and nothing like the 30-Day Spiritual Exercises I made in the Philippines in 2016. It didn’t feel like work at all, it felt like a vacation.

At Loyola House, the grounds beckon.

I arrived at Loyola House at the end of August fully armed with what I thought I needed to make a good retreat – a stack of the journals I’d kept for the past three years, a bible, and a book on Mary Ward’s spirituality. To me, they seemed like the perfect resources for a discernment retreat. What a great decision I was sure to make if I consulted these books. Naturally, I spent the first day of my retreat taking full advantage of them – praying, reading, reflecting, and making notes to share with my retreat director. I was happy because I thought I was doing good work.

When I met with my retreat director the next day, however, we both realized that I was going about the retreat all wrong, despite my good intentions. I had embarked on the retreat prepared to wrestle with God, to work hard at making a decision about first vows. But I discovered that I had, in fact, already made the decision about vows (after all, I have been discerning for the past three years). Instead, God was inviting me to play. I was totally surprised. I was unsure whether it would be a real retreat if I didn’t follow a structured schedule of prayer. After much reassurance from my retreat director that I wouldn’t be goofing off, I spent my remaining retreat days marveling at God’s creation and delighting in each day’s new discovery.

The first thought that came to mind when I saw this bench was: ‘it’s Tardis blue!’ What a great place to sit and wait to meet The Doctor…or maybe God will turn up instead.

I walked a lot. Two or three hours a day, all around the property. One day I was captivated by texture. I stopped to caress, to really touch and feel the different textures and composition of the flowers, stones, tree trunks and bark, wild grasses, and leaves that I came across. Another day I was captivated by the sunlight and how it played off of the hills and valleys, the trees and fields. And on another day, I was drawn to hidden places – the light behind a grove of trees, a tiny flower nestled in amongst a tangle of grass, the sun peeking out from behind a cloud. I felt that God was beckoning me to explore hidden places within myself.

I also played in the arts and crafts room with the paint, pastels, and collage materials. I tapped into my childhood joy of creating with bright colours, without worrying whether the final products were any good. It was spontaneous and fun and made me wonder why I don’t play like this more often.

The entire retreat was suffused with a sense of peace and contentment and fun – a real joy at just being with God rather than being caught up in doing. It was more contemplative than active, and such a different experience than I had expected. My retreat was a confirmation of my vocation to religious life and a confirmation of my desire to become a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I can’t deny the sense of rightness and happiness I feel when I think about life as a Loretto Sister. The retreat also confirmed that God is always with me and I don’t have to constantly work at the relationship; God wants me to enjoy it.

And now here I am, a month later, and life is very busy again – filled with studies and prayer and meetings and friends and celebrations and more. All the bits and pieces of ordinary life that God makes so extraordinary. I feel God’s invitation to enjoy it all, the ordinary and the extraordinary, and to continue to live in gratitude and awe as I eagerly anticipate my first profession of vows.

 

 


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Summer days

A month and a bit have passed since I left New York City. (The withdrawal pains have subsided.) It has been a busy time with lots of activity and travel and not much time to tend to this blog. It has been a relaxing time as well, like an extended summer holiday.

I left New York for Saskatoon and made a five-day retreat with twenty-one other young religious from across Canada, facilitated by the wise and insightful Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI (more to come on the talks from the retreat in a future blog post). It was an energizing experience and consoling to meet other religious who share similar concerns, hopes, and dreams for the future of religious life in Canada.

The view of the South Saskatchewan River from Queen’s House Retreat Centre in Saskatoon

After the retreat, I spent time with family in Rosthern, SK and then in Calgary, AB. It was so good to be reunited with family and friends again, most of whom I hadn’t seen in about two years, before I went to the Philippines for the canonical year of my novitiate. Naturally, there was lots to share and to catch up on. It felt a bit strange at times relating my experiences of the Philippines because my year there seemed like a year out of time. There was an odd feeling of time displacement; I couldn’t keep track of the time I’d been away. Regardless, it was so good to see everyone and to feel connected again. Being with my family reminds me of who I am and where I have come from, and I am grateful for that. My family is very much a part of my spiritual journey even though I don’t get to see them very often.

The statue of Our Lady of the Prairies at Queen’s House

After a week or so back in Toronto, I made a trip to Ottawa. I hadn’t been to Ottawa for nearly two years so again there was that sense of time displacement. It was coupled initially with a feeling of nostalgia for my old life. I visited my old house (even did a bit of yard work there), met with friends and colleagues, and visited my old parish (I happened to be there just in time to celebrate the installation of its two new pastors). I had time to catch up with good friends and to glimpse again the life that I have missed off and on these past few years. As the visit progressed, I noticed that the feeling of nostalgia lessened and was replaced by a feeling of deep gratitude for all that I had experienced in Ottawa during the 10 years I lived there. I came to recognize that that part of my life is truly over now and I do not desire to go back and resume it. It was a beautiful and life-giving season in my life but now I am called to something else and to be somewhere else and I desire with all of my being to give myself to this new life and new path that I am walking along.

I think this is a good place to be – mentally, spiritually, etc., – as I prepare to make a discernment retreat next week that will lead up to making my first vows (potentially in December). I am not caught up in false feelings about the past and I am not bound by expectations for the future. I feel that I am calmly in the present, ready to be with God in a sacred space, and to talk about all that has gone on in my life over the past few years and all of the graces, gifts, and opportunities that God has been giving me as I move closer to making my first vows.

Please keep me in your prayers starting Monday as I make an eight-day silent retreat at Loyola House in Guelph. I will keep you in my prayers as well. Love and blessings to all!


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A Litany of Thanks

It’s my final day in New York City. At least for now. I hope to come back someday soon.

The past three months have been a dream come true. Even more than a dream come true, really, because I had no idea what these three months could hold. I’ve titled this post A Litany of Thanks because the overwhelming emotion that I feel right now is gratitude. I thank the IBVM for recognizing my personal and professional interests and for letting me explore them at the UN in such a meaningful way. I thank Cecilia, our IBVM representative at the UN, for hosting me and for giving me freedom to engage in the UN system and to contribute to the work of our NGO and other NGO committees. I thank Libby for bringing a bit of Australia to New York City and for sharing her wisdom and humour and making us all laugh at the right moment.

I thank God for guiding me along the way and for being with me here in New York and at the UN in a way that I had not yet experienced in my life. For the first time, I have felt a total unity between what I would consider my professional life and my private life – I have truly experienced God in all things. In all places and people and in all moments. I haven’t experienced this kind of unity before. Previously, I had felt a huge divide between my work life and my private life, especially my involvement in my parish. A big gap between the secular and spiritual. But now everything is spiritual, everything belongs to God and is of God. Divine life is everywhere!

I thank the UN (inasmuch as I can thank an institution) for the spaces and opportunities to join with other people to dialogue and debate, to learn and to grow, to listen and to be moved. It is a great privilege to be here and to be exposed to so many of the world’s struggles and achievements and, most of all, to witness incredible resiliency and determination to make the world a better place for all. At times, I have been caught up in a swell of optimism and idealism, and other times I have been brought low by realism or even pessimism. But it’s all part and parcel of the onward movement of humanity. In a moment of frustration, I once joked to Cecilia and Libby that we are at the intersection of dysfunction here at the UN. We experience the dysfunction of the various NGO committees, the dysfunction of Member States, and the dysfunction of the UN system itself. Not to mention our own personal dysfunction and NGO dysfunction. We’re in the middle of a vortex. So no wonder things are tediously slow and disorganized at times! But even in the midst of all kinds of dysfunction, I know that I love this work and I believe in it with all of my being.

And last, but definitely not least, I thank New York City for giving me a home and a playground to explore for the past three months. The first week I was here, I was bit shocked by the noise and wondered if I would ever find a quiet space. But then all of a sudden, I didn’t hear the noise and it didn’t bother me again (except for the occasional late night siren or slamming door in the hall that disturbed my sleep!). The noise became the hum of life. The energy of the city gave me energy and really brought me to life. I’ve gone out to do and see so much.

I’ve volunteered on weekends at the 91st Street Community Garden and with Franciscans Deliver, a food pantry outreach at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Midtown. I’ve traversed the length and width of this island many times, discovering its neighbourhoods, parks, museums, and churches. I’ve been to concerts and plays, a comedy club, a late show taping, and taken a tour of the NBC studios at Rockefeller Centre. I’ve hunted down landmarks that have special meaning for me, places that Madeleine L’Engle, Helene Hanff, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day brought life to. I’ve encountered the most unusual people walking down the street (an old man in pink lingerie riding a scooter, as one example) and of course, I have also witnessed the most shocking poverty and neglect in the homeless people I’ve encountered on every street. With visiting friends, I’ve laughed until my stomach has ached and I’ve cried desperate tears. I’ve celebrated Canada Day and the Fourth of July with equal gusto. I’ve gotten to taste an amazing slice of life in this city and I devoured it with great delight.

For the past three months and all they have contained, I say: thank you.


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From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome

Celebrating two nations

 

‘The New Colossus’

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus, American poet, 1849-1887

It’s Independence Weekend in the U.S.  At Mass this evening the pastor read the poem, ‘The New Colossus’, to us during the homily and he asked us to reflect on its imagery. He asked us if we could see ourselves among the tired and the poor and the huddled masses. He asked if we could see ourselves among the exiles, the homeless. Although I know the pastor was asking for deeper introspection, what first struck me was that I’ve felt more at home in this city than I have in any other I have visited. Even Toronto, where I have lived for a couple of years now, still doesn’t feel like home to me the way this city has in such a short time. I can’t really explain it. I feel embraced by the city. Perhaps New York City has a special kind of magic. What I have experienced here is a strong sense of interconnection and belonging. People have each other’s backs here.

When I first arrived in April, I was unsure what to expect. The political climate in the U.S. was (and still is) somewhat volatile. I wasn’t even sure that I would be allowed across the border since so many people were being turned back at the time. I anticipated that I would encounter xenophobic and discriminatory attitudes to match the political rhetoric. Instead, what I found was the complete opposite. Not only did I immediately feel welcome in this city but even more so, I witnessed a city that welcomes everyone.

On my first subway ride, I was surprised by how many posters I saw advertising services for immigrants. There were posters from the governor’s office offering assistance to any immigrants who found themselves in trouble. I’ve encountered every ethnic group and race walking along the city streets and I have heard diverse languages everywhere I have been – European, Asian, African, South American languages. The world lives in New York City. My experiences at the UN have only confirmed that. The UN welcomes the world to the city in its own bureaucratic and institutional way and gives space for dialogue and meeting.

This is not to say that New York City is a kind of utopia. It’s not. There is tremendous inequality and there are many social problems. But there is a philanthropic spirit and tradition that encourages giving for the good of all, and I have encountered people who are working hard to ensure that everyone belongs and that everyone is welcome.

As a Canadian with American roots on my mother’s side, I feel privileged to celebrate the Fourth of July in the U.S., and in this city. I celebrated Canada Day yesterday with great enthusiasm at an event hosted by the Canadian Consulate. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation and to be reminded of the values we Canadians hold dear. On the Fourth of July, I will celebrate and give thanks for my ancestral roots in the U.S., for the warm welcome I have felt, and for the American values and ideals I have come to so deeply admire.


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NYC on the Inside

This immersion had been incredible for so many reasons. Already on my blog I’ve written about some of my experiences at the UN and out in the city – sightseeing, volunteering, and getting a sense of community life here. But since this immersion is part of my novitiate, there has also been a lot of other stuff going on too, stuff that isn’t so visible. Living in New York and being at the UN has really stirred up my spiritual life and has given a depth and richness to my discernment. I feel a very strong sense of mission and identity forming within me, and perhaps even a fledgling understanding of a personal theology. I’ve been trying to think for a little while how to share this on my blog but I struggled to find words that were adequate. Going through my prayer journal, I realized that I already had the words. Below, then, are some excerpts from my prayer journal to give you a sense of how I am experiencing God during this time.

May 9

This time in New York is a mystery to me. I had only been kind of looking forward to it (even as I was excited about the immersion in theory) but since I have been here, I have felt so full of life, so happy, and like I am truly on an adventure. I am learning and growing, I feel like a flower blossoming in the springtime sun. I am happy here even though I am more alone than I was in Toronto. Somehow, I feel more connected and alive. Your hand is on all of this, on me, in this moment, at all moments. You give so much beauty. I am so grateful to you. You give me so much. I receive it all with gratitude, knowing that I am undeserving. I receive it and I give you my love.

May 14

I think of the resurrection this morning and I can only smile and refer to the resurrection I feel within myself. Being here in this city, the renewed contact with the policy world of international relations, having the freedom to go out and explore and try new things, I feel so happy and renewed in my being. I feel alive and so grateful.
      I know it is the grace of God that gives me these daily gifts. There is nothing I did or can do to compel this joy. It just is. And it is from God. The newness opens me, I don’t feel frightened. It feels good and right to be here now and to be doing all of the things I am doing.
     I think the disciples must have felt a dramatic renewal after the resurrection. They lived as witnesses to you. My joy is my witness to you, my gratitude is my witness to you, my freedom is my witness to you, my love is my witness to you.

May 24

These days are packed. I am surprised by how much I am enjoying the Forum on Financing on Development. It brings me back to my days studying international relations and learning about development economics. I am delighted to be here.
       More and more, I feel certain that this work, whether at the UN, or through the IBVM network, or through an NGO – however it works out – is what I am called to do, is what I deeply desire to do. To work for the common good, to proclaim the common good, and to work for justice (your justice, not retribution). This is manifested in many ways – advocacy, raising awareness, listening to those particularly affected by injustice, and helping to make space for those voices, standing together with love, in solidarity. It’s manifested in writing and speaking, in opening myself up and making myself as vulnerable as the ones I love and desire to fight for.
      And all of this comes from my life, has its roots there deep below – even from the pain of Mom’s alcoholism and my own healing and growth. But I see it more clearly from my experiences in Dubai, from working at the Inn from the Cold and at Shepherds of Good Hope, from my ministry in parishes, undoubtedly from my time with my boys at Sarnelli, and of course, from my professional life. All of it reaching out, listening, and connecting with those in need of something, some kind of justice.
       This desire was there, too, in the seed of the call to religious life I received when I saw on television the church gathered for John Paul II’s funeral – the world was gathered there. And it was there when the call to religious life was burning within me when I watched the Catholicism series and I saw how beautiful the church is in its diversity – I love the world represented in the church – but I feel sure that my mission goes beyond the confines of the institutional church.
        I see this incredible gift you’ve given me, Lord, in the path of my life, the journey that has felt so haphazard and unclear so often. And yet it is working for a purpose beyond me, I am sure of it. In my limitedness I see so little of it, and I struggle to see how it’s not all about me, but I know that it’s about so much more even if I can’t see it. My life is a gift beyond compare. My God, you must love me so much to give me a gift such as this.
        I turn the gem and I see its 70 faces – all the experiences of my life – all these gifts – all this making me who I am and giving me the mission I am embarking on. It’s all here, Lord, inside my life, inside of me. Let me live it for you and with you.

May 26

“As you go about your day and you face the usual sorts of annoyances and grievances, pay attention to what it’s doing to you. Remind yourself that all things are yours. [reference to 1 Cor 3:21-23] Imagine yourself rooted and established in love. When you find yourself engaging with people who come from vastly different background and perspectives, be the first to celebrate whatever is good and true and beautiful in your midst, regardless of where it comes from or who says it or how it arrived there.”
– Rob Bell, “What is the Bible?”

May 30

“The creative operation of God
does not simply mold us like soft clay.
It is a Fire that animates all it touches,
a spirit that gives life.
So it is in living
that we should give ourselves to that creative action,
imitate it, and
identify with it.”
–   Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I come back to the desire to express something about the way I feel  – my sense of vocation is wrapped up in this – it is not merely a profession or way of looking at the world.
        It’s the participation in the world order, a sense of moving, working with the Spirit at a global level (because I cannot seem to go higher than that). It’s a sense of the sacred in this work, in the relationships, in the principles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, in the sense of cooperation that is fostered and encouraged, in the dramatic struggles, in the unified sense of humanity that I find here. It’s in the history, in the present moment, and in the hope we have for the future. It’s expressed (even in the dullest and driest terms) in resolutions, declarations, convenants, conventions. It’s in the language that is spoken at the UN and other multilateral organizations. It may not sound at all religious, it may not align with all religious beliefs or practices, but it is still spiritual. It is the essence of humanity – what we need to live well and fully – expressed in words written and spoken.
        It is God present, whether invoked or not, in all of the minutiae of details and all of the global planning and perspective.
       I am so drawn to it. It gives me life and it fascinates me. I am drawn to the beauty of cooperation, the idealistic workings, as well as the deeply flawed workings. Humanity, at its best and at its worst, is present and represented here. It is not perfect but it is beautiful and it will be what we make it.
      It is not a replacement for church or faith – I do not have faith in it as I do in God – but it is a way for humanity to work together, to struggle together, to stumble along together towards common good, towards full life for all.

“The sense of the Earth
opening and exploding upwards into God;
and the sense of God taking root
and finding nourishment downwards into Earth.”
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

May 31

It gives me great joy, Lord, to discuss social justice/development/international relations – whatever we want to call it. I love it. It fills me with energy – it has for a long time – it’s a recurring passion. I desire to fuse it with faith, not so much as a moral theology, but as a way to view the world with fullness/wholeness that comes from you and is expressed in how we live in the world and how we interact with one another at the global level. Part of it is a fascination with the diversity of humanity, of creation, that is easier to see at a higher level. It instills in me an awe and a reverence for creation – all of creation – and especially the Creator. I love you more and more, my God, as I do this work and live in New York and spend time at the UN. I love you in the complexity of all of the different issues we grapple with in the world and the complexity of all of the voices that need to share their stories. My God, I love you in the simplicity of a quiet moment (rarely found) and in your presence in the jumble of the city.
          We are together in the small actions of each day – the meetings, the emails, the conversations, the walks to and from the office and to and from the UN. We are together walking the streets of New York, loving each other and loving creation.


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Inspired by Nature

Deep down in my inbox today I discovered an email entitled Inspired by Nature – Celebrating Biodiversity with Haikus. Intrigued, I opened it and found a treasure. Beautiful imagery paired with evocative poetry.

All to celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22nd (I’m a bit late). Here are some of the poems I enjoyed most.

Blue jay flairs its grace
Just swift visit at a time
How it stays surprise
– Midori Paxton

New Guinea
Sing sing. Kina shells
Flowers, feathers, fur adorn
Bilums draped. Wantoks.
– Penny Stock

Liquid gold beats down
Tawny tigress bathes herself
In puddles of light
– Erin Charles

Chameleon vision
One eye on what is to come
The other looks back
– Julie Larsen Maher

 


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What happened at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues?

As we wrapped up this week at the UN at the Forum on Financing for Development, I realized that I hadn’t posted anything about the forum I attended when I arrived in New York in April: the Permanent Forum in Indigenous Issues.

The Forum was a powerful experience. It was a great privilege to listen to the voices of indigenous people from around the world, gathered together to share their common struggles, hopes, and dreams. One of the things that struck me again and again throughout the Forum was the resiliency embodied by these groups of people. For many of the indigenous groups, including those from Canada, it was not their first visit to the UN. Many have been coming, year after year, to share the same grievances and to demand change in the same areas, perhaps making tiny steps forward each year, perhaps not. It was truly an inspiring and humbling experience to participate in dialogues and conversations with these diverse groups and to reflect on my own attitudes and actions towards indigenous peoples.

I would like to share some of the reflections of our IBVM NGO. Please take a look at the recent UN UPDATE 26.

You can read about Indigenous-Peoples-and-Climate-Change or listen to the reflection.

You can also read Libby’s reflection on the The-Great-Silence or watch her video. Enjoy!