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Sounds of Silence

By Sister Marcella Clancy

One of my special memories while camping in Colorado National Monument Park occurred when I was sitting alone on one of the towering rock’s rim. It was so absolutely quiet I was startled by the almost noiseless flapping of a bird’s wings. I don’t ordinarily find that kind of stillness in my life. Yet I wonder if we are the poorer without such silence, without such depth of quiet. Genesis speaks of Adam and Eve hearing “the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day”. But because they had sinned they hid from God. I question if today noise helps me hide from God and perhaps even from myself.

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Years ago when I first entered religious life we incorporate some of the practices of monasticism into our daily lives. We held “Grand Silence” from after night prayer until after breakfast the following morning. We had hours during the day of “Sacred Silence”. As a novice in religious life, my focus was on not speaking but that was not the point. The point was not about “not talking” but rather about listening more deeply. Listening to the Sounds of Silence.

After Vatican II and the renewal of religious life, we no longer held those practices in common. The living out our relationship with God is unique and personal and each woman is responsible for integrating in her life those practices which will best help her on this journey. However, there are still remnants of the value of silence. When a sister is in retreat, we reverence that time and do not engage her in conversation. During retreats we offer a “silent” dining room where meals can be consumed in reflective quiet. The unspoken assumption is that silence enables one to be better available to God. “Sounds of Silence.”

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I am fascinated by the enormous silence of nature. Seeds sprout in the earth, flowers bud, bloom, and blossom outward, the sun rises and sets sometimes with astounding beauty, the moon glows softly in the night, stars glimmer, puffy clouds glide overhead — all soundlessly. There is the roaring of the ocean, the boom of thunder, the patter of rain, the whispering of the wind, chirping of sparrows and calls of the loon, but even these sounds need from us a certain silence to be heard and more to be understood and reverenced. We need a quiet mind and heart to really appreciate them. “Sounds of Silence.”

astronomy-black-building-746111There is no magic about silence. In fact to give someone “the silent treatment” can be cruel and carry its own kind of violence. Yet, I think for most of us, our experience of God is Silence. Even though Christians refer to God as Word and define Scripture as the “Word of God”, those who desire to plumb the depths of any holy writings admit theology, study, and research are inadequate. Eventually one needs to sit in silence until the word becomes broken open within the inner lining of one’s being. “Sounds of Silence.”

I believe that in creating us, God deposited in each of us a capacity to be contemplative, to gaze in silence and in stillness and recognize the sacred everywhere and in everything, even within ourselves, to experience the Divine Presence flowing gently yet determinedly evolving all into union, into fullness. God has given us God’s own Joyfulness and Gladness in the midst of our suffering and pain. “Sounds of Silence.”

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The lyrics of the 1963 song, The Sound of Silence, written by Paul Simon, are rather haunting. You can find them, and listen to the song, here. A 2016 insightful address on Contemplation and Transformation given by Pat Farrell OSF, available on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) website, challenges us to contemplative silence as what is most needed in our day. She transparently tells of the experience of resistance and avoidance, the usual non-dramatic and emptiness felt, the inner demons that arise with the possibility for healing, if not rejected, and yet the occasional but certain depth knowing of God and the barely perceptible but assuredly slow transformation that occurs in silence. “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.”

Silence is not a vacuum. Silence is not a void. Silence is Sound. A sound of deeper awareness; a sound of my own inmost being; the sound of God walking in the garden of my own soul.

About the Author

marcellaSister Marcella Clancy currently lives in the Detroit area. She offers spiritual direction, serves on Congregational committees, and companions one of our newer members. She loves long walks, good movies, and leisurely lunches with friends.

 

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Letting the “Stuff” Go

By Sister Jean McGrath

I have always been a fan of books and articles about organizational skills. Key word here is FAN, not proponent since my efforts to have an organized desk, an efficient filing system, or color coded closet fall far short of feng shui or the popular best seller, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Condo.

Never has this been more true than in the last few months since I left my long time ministry as principal of a Catholic Elementary School in Chicago.  Thirty one years of accumulated “memorabilia” had to be sorted, prioritized, and PURGED.

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The supplies I started with…

I was thrilled to go to Office Depot and find colorful new file folders and fine line markers to support the task.  I should have gone to the local camping outlet store to learn how to set a campfire in the backyard and safely ignite years of saved articles, newsletters, budget worksheets, and “to be read later” or “important to save” documents stuffed in bulging file drawers.

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The supplies I should have bought…

I prayed for detachment, simplicity and a powerful paper shredder.

Tough as the task has been, I have had some wonderful reflective moments during the purge.  On a yellowed piece of paper, I found the hand-written payroll from 1986 when a gifted kindergarten teacher with thirty years of experience at the time made an annual salary of $19,000.  (I should add that she taught for an additional fifteen years and never complained.) She was then and remains for me now a model of dedication, commitment, and true believer in the potential of each child whom she taught.blur-calligraphy-data-51191I desperately wanted to save the theological reflection of a first grader on his St. Patrick’s Day reflection on the meaning of the Trinity or the very tender letter I saved from a three-year old pre-schooler who told me I was the best principal she had ever had. Her limited experience of other principals did not diminish my gratitude.elementary-school-1332472_1920In the “legal issues” file there was the police report we needed to make when one of our fifth graders DROVE to school as a reward his mother gave him for passing a science test.

The prayer service folder was especially poignant. Funeral booklets for a graduate killed in Afghanistan, another for a father and police officer shot and killed in the line of duty, a third for a young mother who months before her death asked me to “keep an eye on the kids” if the chemotherapy did not work.

The prayer service files also held wonderful reminders of beautiful celebrations for First Reconciliations, First Communions, Confirmations and Graduations. How privileged I was to be part of those key moments in the faith development of so many children. How privileged I was to watch so many children grow in “age, wisdom, and grace”.files-1614223_1920One of the gifted “organizational experts” I have consulted suggests taking a picture of those things which you need to remember. He does not mention how to organize the scores of pictures that result.  Obviously this is not the solution for me.

Two months after officially leaving my ministry, I am still purging.  The piles are definitely diminishing, but there is much yet to be done.  I am comforted with the thought that perhaps the purge is a metaphor for all of life’s transitions; I am aware that I must “let go”, but also need to know there is yet much to be accomplished.

Meanwhile, I am going to read the sequel to Condi’s book aptly titled, Spark Joy, and hope the inexpensive shredder I purchased for the task continues to hum.shredder-779850_1920

 

About the Author

JeanMcGrath

Sister Jean McGrath recently retired as the principal at St. John Fisher School in Chicago and enjoys a good book, a good conversation, and a great bargain.

 

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Celebrating Life

By Sister Carol Crepeau

Today is my birthday. My Italian friends tell me that if I had been born in Rome I could very well been named Assumpta, since I share my birthday with the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. As life and geography would have it, I was born in Chicago and am named Carol.

When I was five years old my grandfather swept me, his oldest grandchild, into his arm and heart and took it upon himself to start me on the “path of life.”active-adolescent-affection-167300 His recurring words, spoken often and clearly, of who I am and who I am invited to become stay with me today.

When you were little, how did you celebrate your birthday? Well my mom was a great cook and for birthdays in my family, we had the special “privilege” of cooking our favorite meal, all courses, side by side with her in our kitchen. My dad did not have this privilege. This practice started when I was six and somehow the cooking and entertaining on special days is imbedded in my genes. In fact, my housemate, Sister Jackie, and I have an active, unofficial ministry of wining and dining. Thanks, Mom.food-3230799_1920

Today, when I celebrate my birthday, it is quieter, though no less evocative of childhood cooking and gathering with family and friends and making wishes for the whole world. I still sit with my Grandfather’s advice of who I am, though some of his descriptors have been adjusted a bit.

Two pieces of wisdom are active in my spirit these days – the first a Chinese proverb:

If I keep a green bough in my heart the singing bird will come.

The second a Cherokee expression:

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.

So on this day I invite you to cook a meal, invite friends, gather a green bough for your heart and rejoice – wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyday, not only on our birthday, we would birth life?

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About the Author

Sr. Carol photo edited
Sister Carol Crepeau, CSJ ministers as a facilitator and leader of group dynamics for non-profits. Guiding the annual Congregation of St Joseph Pilgrimage to LePuy and Lyon, France is one of the most wonderful activities of her life. She also enjoys a good book and gathering with friends for prayer and conversation.

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To Be a Leader

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

Having recently been elected to the leadership team of the Congregation of St. Joseph, I have been thinking a lot about leadership. When I search “leadership” on Amazon.com, there are 60,000 entries! That’s not a typo: 60,000!!!

It seems there is a blur between the understandings of leadership, administration, and management. And, indeed, there are some blurry edges, where leaders do exercise administration and management. But, my own reflecting has been about the role of the leader. And, I keep coming back to who a leader IS, rather than what a leader DOES.

Thus, I share the fruit of my reflection: a leader is. . .

. . .a team player. When a child first enters into preschool or kindergarten, one of the evaluations is: “plays nice with others.” I once knew a parish music director who encouraged his choir members to “play nice together.” The more sophisticated word is that a leader is collaborative: shares responsibility for consensus building with others and among those who are led.

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. . . a model. I have long been an observer of leaders in various domains. I once had a student who did a research paper on pastoral leadership in various denominations and came to the conclusion that “as the leader was, so the congregation was.” If the pastoral leader was present, engaged, and joyful, so was the congregation. The opposite was also true: if the pastoral leader was withdrawn, unavailable, and crabby, so was the congregation. Thus, the model of leadership sets the tone for those who are led.

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. . .person of wisdom/life experience. When I have taught courses on the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, I ask the students to describe a wise person. Their responses always come down to “someone who has integrated their life experience.” Thus, a wise leader is one who has life experience and evokes and respects the wisdom of those who are led.directory-229117_1920. . .person of vision. In the Gospels, the healing of blindness may be a metaphor for coming to believe. As such, a person of vision is rooted in a strong belief system which allows them to envision a future full of hope. Such vision is the motivation for actions in the present.alphabet-creativity-cube-462353. . .”leads” the dance of life. It seems that every culture has a particular dance for life celebrations. And, when people are dancing, they are usually smiling. I’d suggest that a good leader actually leads the dance of life enjoyed by those who are led. Whether or not they are physically able to dance, one can still dance in heart and spirit. In times of life when there is loss and sadness, it is also important to express grief, in the dance of mourning.people-2588899_1920So, these are some suggestions of the “is-ness” of leadership. Rooted in these qualities, the leader can approach various tasks that they must accomplish. I see these qualities in the members of the team with whom I am privileged and happy to serve. I look forward to teaming together in these qualities.
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About the Author

sallie-sized-for-useAfter nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph. The new team takes office on August 6.

 

 

 

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Gardening, Like Life, Can Be Messy

 By Sister Christine Parks

I’ve been sitting with my morning coffee, looking out the window and thinking about gardens—in particular my gardens—which are gasping dryly in this un-seasonal heat. It’s the middle of July which brings us close to the middle of another summer—another summer that is flying by much faster than I like.

My gardens have suffered this year from heat (we’ve already had way more 90 degree days than is “normal” for Michigan), lack of rain, and from neglect. I’ve been gone more than usual, or so it seems, with little time to tend them, and thus my garden beds are a mess! True my gardens were never quite up to the standard of Better Homes & Gardens, but they did start out a bit more orderly and contained than they are today. An apt metaphor for a goodly portion of my life some days.

MaycroftGarden CLParks photoGrass and weeds abound in the perennial bed. And, in the deep shade out back, wild things are creeping up into the bed and threatening a take-over. I’m trying to believe that they are a valued part of the creation I know I am “one with”; but it’s not easy when the wild vines begin to strangle the tame perennials I’ve been trying to nurture. Can’t help believing there’s a lot of that going on in our nation and world too.FairyLilies 2016-06I really want to believe what I say to others: weed is just a pejorative word for a plant growing where we don’t want it. But it’s not so easy as I look out at the tangled mass of vegetation, that seems too far gone to redeem this summer. In the world around us too, it seems that it is often easier to label or name-call something or someone than it is to see the potential value or beauty in something or someone who doesn’t conform to our/my notion of value or beauty.Butterfly on bushBut it’s too hot to get preachy today…and I really need another cup of coffee before I head out with the hose and weed digger. One of the best ways I know to get centered for the work ahead.

About the Author

Christine Parks
Sister Christine Parks currently serves as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.

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Lean on Us!

By Sister Jacqueline Goodin and Shirelle Boyd

We have so many ways to enjoy the Fourth of July, the day we remember the history of our independence and rejoice that we live in a democratic nation (despite past and current flaws and struggles). Whether we celebrate this national holiday with a picnic, at a family gathering, in the local parade, or with brilliant, booming fireworks, the theme of the day is “INDEPENDENCE”!

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What if we turned this theme a tad up-side-down? What if we become more aware of our “interdependence”—in our neighborhoods, in our complex, diverse nation, and in our one global community? This takes us to a different place, doesn’t it?

It reminds me of the Bill Withers song, Lean On Me.

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on”

Working together to accomplish small tasks of everyday life can affect positive change in our lives and most importantly, the lives of others. We can become more intentional in our practice of living interdependently. Even with small, conscious acts of interdependence, our sphere of influence can be significant because we all live somewhere, we all worship in a community of faith, we all engage in the civic and economic arenas of modern society.

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One way to practice interdependence is to appreciate the many, often nameless, persons with whom we come in contact on a daily basis. What would happen if we paid attention to the grocery store check-out clerk, the TSA official, the letter carrier, the library aide, the school crossing guard, the telephone customer service rep? Simple, sincere words such as “How is your day going? Busy today? Thanks so much for your help today. I appreciate how hard your job is” and so forth can help us realize that we are all in this together.

It just takes two minutes or less to look someone in the eye and express a real, sincere, brief greeting or inquiry as to his/her well-being. Can it be so hard to remember, or teach our children, a mantra of interdependence? “It costs us nothing to be nice to people.”

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Initiating a warm smile as you pass a stranger on the street, going out of your way to give someone directions (or not being timid about asking for directions from someone after Siri leads you to a dead-end) and going above and beyond to help someone out of a desperate situation are all different ways we can dip our big toe into the pool of interdependence.

The belief that we are all one—the heart of Jesus’s Gospel and the heart of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s mission, impels us to be interdependent on one another and to take risks for the betterment of others. We are created to be our sisters’ keeper, just as our brothers are to be our keepers in times of trouble.

“Lean on us” the Congregation says, as women and men called to live the Gospel through the mission of “oneness.”

“Lean on us” we say to the survivors of human trafficking.

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“Lean on us” we say to the young ones and the families who cross borders to escape violence, persecution, and poverty.

“Lean on us” we say to Mother Earth as we work to reduce the use of fossil fuels and plastic in our consumer society.

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“Lean on us” we say to those who are imprisoned and are on Death Row.

“Lean on us” we say to those persons who are marginalized or victimized because of racism which still predominates in our national hearts and minds.

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“Lean on us” we say to anyone who is “other” or “not like me.”

“Lean on us” we say our global sisters and brothers who live in poverty because we live with so much abundance.

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“Lean on us” we say to you when you need hope or encouragement.

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We are in this one Life together!

About the Authors

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Sister Jacqueline (left) and Shirelle (right) were excited to work together!

Shirelle Boyd is a wife and mother of two who enjoys teaching children and adults how to eat healthier. She fashions herself as a “food activist,” a supporter of growing and sustainability when it comes to the area of food.

Sister Jacqueline Goodin is a Clinical Social Worker who has traveled to Thailand, Tanzania (2010-14), and most recently Japan. She is an avid reader of mystery and detective stories. She will begin service in elected leadership to the Congregation in August.

Shirelle and Sister Jacqueline enjoyed intermingling their creativity and writing this blog in a spirit and practice of interdependence!

 

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Welcome to the Family

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

One of my fav witticisms of Mark Twain is this:

“There are two kinds of people in the world:
the kind who put people into categories,
and the kind who don’t.”

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I think that Jesus would chuckle along with Twain’s clever phrasing, and say something like “That’s what I’m talkin’ about…Be the kind who don’t categorize and exclude!”

Yet even though we might believe that the human family is one, we humans have to keep practicing the virtue of including others who aren’t in our family or don’t seem to fit in our circle of friends. Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky frames it more starkly, arguing that we are “wired” to behave from an “us vs. them” perspective (from his book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst). This means that we really have to consciously work at becoming our best, inclusive selves.

Four things happened last week that gave me a chance to practice. I’ll just name them all, then try to sort them out for you. 1) I went “home” to South Carolina for a visit with my friends and relatives; 2) I heard the gospel proclaimed in which Jesus clarifies “family”(Mark 3:20-35); 3) I watched the film The Greatest Showman; and 4) I joined in meals breaking the Ramadan fast with Muslims of the InnerCity Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago, on two Wednesdays.

1) My friends Mary Ann and Mike Fey (and their two daughters, sons-in-law, and grandkids) are family to me. I longed to see them again, after a two-year gap. But my sister Trish and niece Ella (13) have since moved three hours upstate from the Feys. I wanted to visit them too, but time was short.

An unprecedented thing happened: The Feys welcomed Trish and Ella to their home for part of my visit. My family met my family, and became family.

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Now, you might say this wasn’t much of a stretch. Look at us, we all even kind of look alike. Yet it took considerable effort and hospitable good will to bring about these smiles.

2) On Sunday we went to Eucharist together. My friend, Fr. Sandy McDonald, preached about Jesus revamping our cultural concept of family: Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. Aha. Many circle God and behave in the ways that God wants them to, and they don’t necessarily look like me or us at all.

3) Sunday night, Trish and Ella drove home, Mike passed on the opportunity to snooze during a musical, and Mary Ann and I delightedly dug in to enjoy The Greatest Showman, a depiction of P.T. Barnum’s launch of what we know as the circus.

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At the outset I wasn’t expecting inclusion. I’ve actually become more than a little suspicious of entrepreneurs who bill themselves as “the greatest” or “showmen,” who sing “This Is Me,” and who turn things into a circus.

But I have to hand it to Phineas T. Barnum, at least as he was depicted here. Business-minded as he was, he remembered what it was to struggle to survive. The love he shared with his wife and children opened him to a solidarity with others, who had been cruelly rejected by kin and society.

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See the film and decide for yourself. Did Phineas invite the marginalized to be accepted for whom they were? Or did he exploit these others for his personal gain? Whatever the historical Barnum might have done, the film functions sacramentally for me in portraying the human struggle to be true to an ethic of loving inclusion.

4) How do I fit this in with my mini-experiences celebrating Ramadan with Muslims? First, I felt like I was truly received as sister, especially by Um-Gemali, who I just met last year. Her son—who works at IMAN—took our picture there.
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I find lots of relatives of Jesus in the Muslim community, i.e., I detect a lot of hearing the word of God and keeping it. I’m amazed by their generous hospitality, unrelenting prayer, and works for justice.

But check out IMAN’s website and decide for yourself. Maybe by next Ramadan, we will have met many new sisters and brothers, as we keep practicing our best human behavior. Insh’Allah. (God willing.)

About the Author

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Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min. completed the Doctor of Ministry degree last month from Catholic Theological Union at Chicago,with her thesis-project entitled:
Truly Sisters: Catholic and Muslim Women Walking Together on the Path of Interfaith Leadership. She enjoys walking, movies, and laughing with friends.