Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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The garden at the UN

During my internship last year with our IBVM NGO at the UN, the gardens at the UN headquarters were closed to the public due to maintenance and landscaping. I was delighted to discover that they are open now. What a fantastic place to sit and contemplate the day’s discussions and actually enjoy some silence (or relative silence) amid the usual commotion.

Here are a selection of photos from the gardens, including some of the statues and works of art that have been given to the UN by various Member States.

The rose garden was pretty much past its prime but I couldn’t resist taking a few photos!

 


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High Level Political Forum 2018 – Week 1

The first week of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development wrapped up last Friday. It was an intensive week of investigation and discussion on Sustainable Development Goals 6 (clean water), 7 (clean energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (sustainable production and consumption), 15 (sustainable ecosystems), and 17 (international partnerships).

The CJ/IBVM delegation took in as many of the sessions and side events we had the stamina for. During the HLPF there is enough to keep one going 12 hours a day! There were many highlights during the week for me.


There were some thoughtful discussions of the SDGs during the main sessions, guided by presentations from expert panels, and featuring lively debate among Member States and civil society organizations.

A side event to showcase the intersection of the arts with the SDGs. Our delegation attended the SDG Film Fest. One of the films shown was “The Box” – see the trailer below.

Another interesting side event was hosted by the NGO Major Group on creating a toolkit for NGOs. The side event consisted of keynote and endnote presentations with thematic discussions in between on the topics of policy development, interlinkages of the SDGs, and sustainable financing.

We had the luck to attend a side event on the Peace Boat, an international NGO dedicated to global citizenship education. We heard from many speakers about opportunities for youth to become engaged in achieving the SDGs as well as options for youth to attend various educational tours aboard the Peace Boat itself as it visits different regions of the world. A great way to learn about other cultures and the impact of globalization.

*****

At the end of the busy week, I was more than ready for a bit of time in the community garden!

And took time to check out the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibit at the Met.

We finished off the weekend with a birthday dinner for Sr. Cecilia O’Dwyer, our IBVM UN representative!

 

 


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Back in the Big Apple!

 

Three of the IBVM UN NGO delegates: Nancy Murray, Sarah Rudolph, Adam Prado

I am back in New York City for three weeks with our IBVM non-governmental organization to the United Nations. It is a joy to be here again. I am joining our main representatives, Sr. Cecilia O’Dwyer, IBVM and Sr. Cynthia Mathew, CJ (accompanied by two Loretto Associates from Canada, Veronica Ward and Nancy Murray, and Sr. Mary Mallany, IBVM) at the High Level Political Forum, a dynamic meeting of UN representatives, Member States, and members of civil society to review and discuss progress made so far on achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals make up the most ambitious global development framework yet agreed to by members of the United Nations. These goals aim to improve the quality of life for all people and to improve the health and sustainability of the planet.

We are two days into the HLPF and already there have been discussions on SDG 6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all)and SDG 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all) and dozens of side events on these and related issues.

We’ve heard a mix of bureaucratic speak and frank discussion on the urgency of the world’s problems and proposed solutions. (Dr. Jeffrey Sachs boldly addressed the problems of greed and deliberate obstruction of progress and called upon the world’s richest to fund at least part of these goals out of their own pockets – as a tax for the privilege of accessing and using our data!)

There are many lessons to be learned and voices to be heard over the next several days. Next week we will participate in the Voluntary National Reviews of a number of countries. We will pay special attention to the countries where the IBVM and CJ are present (Albania, Australia, Canada, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Vietnam) and reflect on ways we can assist in achieving the SDGs going forward.

Major Group and Other Stakeholders side event on civil society engagement at the UN

Day 2 morning session of the HLPF proceedings

More to come later in the week!


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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