By Sister Pat Bergen
What are those women doing? Don’t they know the whole world is suffering from a pandemic? People all over are staying at home, ridden by fear, isolated from one another. Every system in the world is turned upside down and inside out, evoking chaos on every front. Domestic workers, Certified Nursing Assistants and grocers are applauded as “essential.” Healthcare workers, witnessing a suffering unlike anything they have ever seen before, set out every day to put their own lives on the line to save lives. Riots break out in the streets and beaches. Where are the Sisters? What are they doing?
Isolation, chaos and fear have been arenas ripe for Sisters of St. Joseph and their associates throughout history. Sisters of St. Joseph carry a dream that cannot be thwarted. Within that dream is a spiritual practice, simple and subversive, to bring about the dream. Yes, our sisters and associates are inviting people across the globe into a practice that has been bringing about a union of neighbors with one another and God since their founding in 1650 France. Once again this practice is changing the atmosphere!
What is happening in the world today is very reminiscent of 1650 Le Puy, France. In Le Puy, different armies marched through the streets for 100 years of war, drafting recruits, ransacking, raping, and killing. Fear marked the people who isolated themselves from one another, not knowing for sure who was aligned with whom.
This environment is what gave birth to the Sisters of St. Joseph. Six women had a dream of transforming a world of fear, disconnect and isolation into a world of communion, connection and love, where every neighbor was considered as dear and precious to each other. So what did they do to bring this dream to fruition? They used a very subversive movement, familiar to every sports team and used by women throughout history. They gathered women into circles (huddles) under the guise of teaching them a trade –lace making–which they could then sell to buy food for the families.
To learn to make lace, one must bend in around a pillow, gently moving dozens of bobbins holding delicate threads around pins to see how those bobbins make designs. Here in the huddles these dreaming women would ask, “What is happening in your heart?” As women shared what was breaking their hearts, what was elating their hearts, what was stirring in their hearts, each of the others listened and noticed their hearts stirring and breaking open with grief, compassion, care. . . As they shared what was happening in their hearts and listened to each other, oneness, community, and love for each other was born. And they recognized this as the Spirit of God. Then they asked, “What is it that this Love is inviting of us together as a small community?” The spiritual practice of “Sharing the State of the Heart and the Order of the House” was born. These women discovered an invitation that gave direction to their lives.
So what are these Sisters and Associates of St. Joseph doing today in the midst of the suffering, isolation, and chaos of this pandemic? They are gathering people in the subversive movement of circle keeping. Sometimes these circles are “Sharing the Heart and Order of the House” circles. Sometimes they are called “Restorative Justice Circles.” From Wichita, Kansas to Washington DC, Sisters, Associates and Co-ministers are gathering people, not on street corners or meeting halls, but on zoom, in sharing circles!For example, the Sisters and Associates at the Well Spirituality Center, our spirituality center in La Grange Park, have been meeting with people from four continents in the morning for a short prayer, centering participants in the depth of their hearts in union with God’s heart, the heart of the human race and the planet breathing love, courage and healing. They meet again in the afternoon to share their hearts, listening deeply and discovering the invitation of Love for the next step their online community is called to take. In this practice, they are uniting with the Spirit of the Living God to participate in the evolution of the human race and the evolution of the whole universe!
As a result of this pandemic, the compassion and goodness of the human heart is being seen everywhere. At the same time, economic loss and loss of power over our lives is evoking latent rage, hatred and power struggles that are also hidden in the human heart. At this moment, we must ask, “What will we as human beings choose? What is the Spirit inviting us to? What are we doing?” As sisters and associates of St. Joseph, we are gathering others to listen, pray and contemplate this question. We are all responsible for shaping the future of humanity. We must all be midwives of the communion of love that is laboring to be born.
About the Author
Sister Pat Bergen, CSJ, educator, spiritual directress, retreat facilitator has a doctorate in theology and eco-spirituality. Having completed her term on the leadership team of the Congregation, Sister Pat continues her ministry of formation and transformation in light of the evolving, sacred, interconnected universe.