Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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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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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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Immersed in the UN

United Nations Headquarters in New York City

After a busy two weeks of finishing up papers and wrapping up my first semester at Regis College, and celebrating Holy Week and Easter with the IBVM community, I’ve now embarked on the next stage of my formation of my second year of novitiate. This time from New York City.

I am here for the next three months on an immersion experience to learn about the work of our IBVM non-governmental organization at the United Nations (IBVM UN NGO). I’m working with our UN representative to find out how the IBVM engages the world at the UN and contributes to its aims.

The past few days have been eye-opening and so enjoyable. I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the activities of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN, and how NGOs work with this body. I’ve attended a couple of NGO committee meetings – one on social development/social protection and the other on global citizenship. It has been incredible to meet people of different backgrounds who are coming together to work on a shared cause.

Quite a bit of the UN system is familiar to me, having worked for several years on the children’s rights file (including National Child Day) for the Canadian federal government. I know a lot of the lingo and the mechanisms for achieving the work. But a big difference I’ve noticed already is the challenge of working together as a collective of different organizations as a coalition rather than departments of one federal government (though there were times it was challenging to work together as diverse departments!). To me, it seems much harder as a group of NGOs to come together to determine a mandate, a direction, and steps for taking action. In the government, generally the mandate and direction is set for you in some way – usually determined by the Minister or the Cabinet, informed by the directives set by international organizations (in the case of children’s rights). But in this instance, the international organization (the UN) provides directives for engaging in its processes but the specific mandate of each group is determined by that group, which is informed by a number of factors, including the work of other groups/coalitions (there are over 5000 NGOs at the UN!). Although it can be overwhelmingly bureaucratic, I find the process fascinating.

The results are important too, of course. But oftentimes, in an institutional setting, focusing on the results isn’t always the best way to go. Institutions work slowly. They take two steps forward then one step back. There is a lot of waiting and frustration involved. I got a taste of that on Wednesday at a meeting I attended: we were talking about how to get a particular concept on the social development agenda and it seemed that the best strategy was an incremental approach of inserting basic wording into a resolution, and then feeding that resolution into various meetings and assemblies over the next year or so. And then the real work could be built up from there. There are very few issues that advance quickly in large institutions and I was reminded of the patience and dedication required when trying to make changes at the systems level. It’s definitely not as fulfilling or as gratifying as changes that take place on local levels.

After only a few days, I can feel my policy instincts revving up again after laying dormant for the past year and half. The adrenaline is starting to surge through my bloodstream. I’m excited to be here and to contribute to the aims of our NGO in any way that I can. I’m also approaching this time here with all of the treasures I accumulated from my time in Manila and all of the experiences and encounters I had there.

I come now with a firsthand perspective of the poverty, environmental degradation, political corruption, and social stagnation that hinders developing countries. And I come with personal stories that fuel my desire to move this work forward. I come with the stories of my boys at the center for street children, and the stories of the caregivers and the children of the Virlanie Foundation, and the stories of the men and women I met in the neighbourhood where I lived. In the work I did prior to entering the IBVM, I didn’t have that personal experience to drive my work. I loved it and I did it with a love for the theoretical people in need. Now I will do it with a deep and profound love for the real people I have met who are in need and who will benefit so much from systemic change.

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You