By Sister Judith Minear
Writing this blog is the last bit of work I need to do before I take a day of vacation. That is quite a juicy carrot dangling before me! And yet my fingers falter. I have hit a wall. One of the attractions of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s spirituality for me when I was discerning my vocation is a teaching we adopted from Ignatian Spirituality: as sisters, we are called to be contemplatives in action. My conversation about this with a sister friend last night along with my deep fatigue led me (where else) to Google to study more about this.
In a blogpost by writer Andy Otto, I learned that the anchor scripture in which Jesus models contemplative action for us is Mark 6:30-34. Here it is, from The Message:
“The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. Someone saw them going and the word got around. From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.” This pattern for contemplative action is exactly what I needed to remember. The Ignatian way says, “Being a ‘contemplative in action’ means that your active life feeds your contemplative life and your contemplative life feeds your active life.”
In case you’re wondering, being “nuns” does not pre-empt us from struggling to honor this balance between work and prayer. Our culture seems to increase the speed of the “rat race” daily, and it is very easy for all of us to get pulled into the vortex of busy-ness, which often ends in exhaustion and self defeat. Certainly, it can create a sense of dis-ease and emptiness, wondering both “am I doing enough?” and “does anything I do actually make a difference.”
Like you, we sisters have to consciously and intentionally step away from work, rest, reflect on what we have been doing, and then, once refreshed, step back into our work with renewed zeal. These are the steps I often take, and the questions I ask, as I aim to be contemplative in action.
1. STOP: In order to begin the cycle of balance, we first need to step away from our work. When we are fatigued, our work becomes just that: work. We need to restore wholeheartedness.
2. REST: It is almost impossible to move from periods of overwork directly into peaceful prayer and reflection. What does your mind, body and spirit need? Sleep? Play? Connections with family and friends? A retreat? Find what you need, and do that.
3. REFLECT AND LEARN: When I reflect on my life and ministry, I ask myself a few questions. Where have I been seeing God in my work? Where might I have been avoiding God? What do I need to do to help myself find quiet, reflective time in the midst of my busy life? What did I learn from my reflection that will help me in the future?
4. WORK: When I am rested and have renewed my energies through reflection, I can allow this to inform my ministry when I step back into an active life. I am a better reflection of God’s image and carry a brighter light to the dear neighbor.
Each of these steps – work, rest, reflection, repeat – informs the other. What I, and each of us, needs to remember is that for this restorative cycle to begin, we have to STOP. Which is what I am doing now. Next time, I won’t wait so long!
About the Author
Sister Judith Minear currently serves as part of a 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration. CSJ Ministries is the umbrella organization that works with our 25 sponsored ministries. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.