Over my lifetime as a reader I have devoured many genres from literary fiction to historical novels, sci-fi and speculative fiction, young ault and the classics to name a few.
Ever since I began my role in elected leadership of my religious community seven plus years ago, I have found myself drawn to the cozy mystery.
Light, simple and enjoyable, the well written cozy is also clever and gives you a sense of immersion into a particular community. Open the pages and you step into your sleuth’s world and follow her as she peels back the layers of disruption and deception that are threatening the coziness of her beloved community.
They also have a beginning and an end. And by the end, the problems are solved. Truth be told that is probably the main appeal for me at this time in my life, when the problems I attend to in my own ministry tend to be more of the lingering and unsolvable kind. Not to mention the problems in our wider community.
All this to say I have had a cozy mystery living inside my head for the past year. My sleuth? Sister Izzie, a youngish nun living on the Jersey Shore.
This week I was blessed with a week away for a writing retreat. The biggest unsolved mystery– would the characters living in my head translate to the written word–has been solved. They now exist in my cozy mystery in progress. And what fun the whole process of writing a cozy mystery turns out to be!
I am only beginning this writing adventure, but so far it has been very enjoyable and a little surprising, in a very good way. These past few years I have discovered great joy in writing, but fiction writing is new to me.
I can’t wait to see how the story turns out. I have an idea of course, but have learned this week that the characters sometimes have ideas of their own when my fingers hit the keyboard.
I celebrated Pentecost Sunday this morning with my sisters at liturgy in our community chapel. On my way out, I picked a card from a basket at the exit. Each card was labeled with one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I got Fortitude.
My sister housemate gave me a knowing look. The perfect gift at this time.
I realized this morning that I have not written on this blog since March! So much has happened in these months.
We held our Chapter of Elections in April where I was elected to the new Leadership Team of my community. My current term in leadership ends June 30. I start this community ministry with a whole new group of sisters the next day on July 1. A new chapter in my adventure at the corner of Susan and St. Joseph. I need strength and courage for these next adventures.
Most of my loved ones have been vaccinated and life is slowly moving to a new normal here in the US, even as the virus rages in other parts of the globe. Here at home some are still denying the reality of the virus and need for vaccines. Vaccine equity is an issue, particularly in less affluent communities and nations. We need strength for the journey and courage for what lies ahead.
The guilty verdict in the trial of George Floyd’s killer allowed many to finally breathe (I wrote about this last month on Global Sisters Report). And yet there is so much work ahead for all of us to address the sin of racism and our own complicity. We need strength and courage for the long haul.
The crisis in the fraught relationship between the Israeli and Palestinian people has once again been brought to the attention of the world. It is a complex and multi layered reality affecting human lives and livelihoods. We need strength and courage as an international community to commit our attention, resources and creativity to help find a path forward to peace through justice.
In the northern hemisphere, as spring bursts into summer we are tired. We are ready for a break. We have all been through so much this past year, even longer. Change and challenge seem to be the constants.
I for one am grateful and ready to draw upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the journey ahead: especially wisdom, understanding, counsel, and FORTITUDE. A little knowledge, piety, and fear of the lord wouldn’t hurt either.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
I made my way to an anticiated appointment today, only to find that the other person got her days mixed up and was otherwise occupied. This was after a day of suprprises, and not the kind you look forward to or enjoy.
But it was also a beautiful day. I had free time in my schedule, and I had already driven out to a beautiful rural area of central New Jersey for my appointment.
So I asked google where I might go for a nice walk in the woods and did just that.
Exactly what the doctor ordered this autumn day!
Sometimes the unexpected moments are the ones we really need.
When I was in middle school and high school, my mother encouraged me to apply to attend summer programs for kids like me, or, as I liked to call it, summer camp for nerds. Generally held on college campuses, these were residential weeks on a college campus with other kids with similar interests.
These talented and gifted summer programs were organized by the State of Maryland Department of Education, and apparently they still happen. One year I attend history camp in at St. Mary’s University in Southern, Maryland, where we participated in an archaeological dig. The next year I attended a creative writing camp at Washington College on the Eastern Shore. And another year I attended a public service camp at the University of Maryland.
Flash forward 30 some years. I am back on a college campus this week with folks with similar interests, learning about interesting and important things. Only this time, I’m here with a bunch of other elected leaders of religious congregations learning about aspects of civil and canon law which are particularly relevant to our ministry of leadership.
I lived the first 18 years of my life in the same house on Seabury Lane in Bowie, Maryland. First the house was painted green, later yellow. We were a family of five children and two parents, later adding grandparents to the residential mix even as sibling after sibling went off to college, sometimes returning for a stint after graduation. (I’m the youngest.)
When I went away to college on the left coast in Portland, the Seabury Lane house was still home. As a young adult, I began to create my own home in Portland where I lived for 16 years until I entered community. But I still spent many holidays back in Bowie with the family. During the years when my mom was sick, the visits home were more and more frequent as my siblings and I provided a tag team support system. My Dad sold the family house about a year after my Mom died. I remember the last day I was there. I had a little ritual of thanksgiving, thanking God for everything the house had represented as home.
So where is home now? I’m often perplexed when people ask me where I’m from, or where is home. I no longer have family in Maryland. I have moved quite a bit since I entered community. My home CSJP Western region is Seattle, but I’m also at home in our Eastern region where I’m now living or in our UK region where I just had the pleasure of visiting. I just spent a few days in Portland for a meeting and visiting with friends. I have so much history there that it is also a place where I am at home. I just spent 2 1/2 years in Chicago for grad school and my sister and dad now live there, so that place also is special to me.
I have literally been all over the map the past month, travelling for community meetings and leadership/vocation related meetings and a conference and graduation and visiting family and friends and CSJP community. I’ve been in Seattle, Leicestershire and London, Chicago, and Portland. Each stop on the journey held elements of home — roots, connection, relationships, past, present, and future. This afternoon as I was on the last flight of this long trip, I found myself once again offering prayers of gratitude for the many places that are home to me, even as my understanding of home continues to shift and evolve.
And now I am sitting in my chair in my room in the place I currently call home. And it is good to be here, to stop moving and breathe deeply and sink into the present and presence of the people and place that right now make this community house my home.
Two and a half years ago I packed up my room at Grace House (the CSJP community house in Seattle where I lived with two other Sisters) and moved to Chicago to study at Catholic Theological Union. While it was hard to move to a city without any other CSJP Sisters, I was excited about the opportunity to study theology full time. I was also excited that my big sister Monica lived in Chicago with her family, and that I had a ready made group of “young nun” friends in town.
About a year later my Dad moved to Chicago as well, so I’ve had the unexpected opportunity to see him every week since then. I will miss those regular father/daughter bonding moments, as well as the regular kid time with my 4 1/2 year old nephew and the opportunity to get to know my sister better as an adult (we’ve never really lived in the same city before).
I’ve also made some great friends at school, mostly younger than me, who have made this time special. I know we will stay in touch thanks to the wonders of social media, and I’ve offered guest rooms for any who find themselves in the New Jersey/New York City area, but it’s never the same after you say that initial goodbye.
Of course, new adventures await! I am in the final stages of sorting, purging, and packing. Tuesday morning my friend and housemate Sarah will drive me and my many bags to the airport. When I get to New Jersey, I will be met by one of the Sisters with whom I will have the pleasure of serving on community leadership for the next six years. I’m actually moving back into a familiar space. Believe it or not, the house that was my novitiate house is now where I will be living with two other members of the leadership team. God has a funny sense of humor in my experience.
God is also faithful. I find myself praying with these words from our CSJP Constitutions during this time of transition:
“Confident of God’s faithful love and collaborating with others who work for justice and peace, we face the future with gratitude and hope.”
My immediate future involves another move, this time back to east coast groovy sister hq as I embark upon my new adventure as a member of our congregation leadership team starting in January. Truth be told, I’m a wee bit nervous but very excited about what lies ahead. Except for one small detail, that is, and that would be the actual process of moving.
Because, you see, as the title of this post implies, embarking on this new adventure means yet another chapter in the neverending story of my journey on the path to simplicity. Put quite simply … I STILL HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF.
Granted, I do have less than when I entered. For example, the picture is of a small sample of my many belongings which I sold at my parish rummage sale when I entered community after living alone in a two bedroom apartment for ten years. Since then I’ve moved across the country twice and to the middle of the country once (plus a short sojourn across the pond). I’ve also moved locally more than a few times. Each time, I embark upon what I like to call project “sort, purge, pack.”
If I am being generous and nice to myself, I can recognize and celebrate that I have decreased my belongings over time. But I am still a long way from embodying the simplicity I aspire to in my life. This always becomes clear to me, of course, when it’s time to pack!
And so, now that I’ve finished with my thesis and my comprehensive exams, and in between celebrating Christmas with my Dad, it’s time to sort through my belongings in my dorm room here at CTU and begin (again) the project of purging my pereptually expanding belongings and packing those which are essential (plus, I’m sure, some which are not). It’s a process and a journey after all!
She was a prolific writer in her time and used the power of the written word astutely to spread the Gospel, challenge unjust structures, and advocate for people who were poor. She wrote letters, letters to the editor, and many, many books. By 1870, more than 200,000 copies of her works (most published under the names M.F. Cusack or Mary Francis Cusack) had circulated throughout the world. Profits from the sale of her books were used for the Sisters’ work with the poor.
In one of her autobiographies, she tells the story of her audience with Pope Leo XIII, when she was seeking approval for our new congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
“My audience was entirely private … Mgr. Macchi brought in the whole set of my books to his holiness, who looked at them, I think somewhat surprised at the number. Some of them were duplicated, having been translated into German, French, and Italian. … His holiness specially commended the plan of my new order, and encouraged me in every way to continue writing. He gave his blessing to all the sisters present and to come, and to all those who would contribute to my work.”
Our original 1884 Constitutions, written by Mother Francis Clare, described our mission as being “to promote the peace of the Church both by word and work. The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire the desire of peace and a love for it.” Word and work. I love that!
I can’t help but think that if she lived in today’s era of social networking, Mother Francis Clare would be tweeting for peace, spreading the good news of the Gospel and be on the forefront of the new evangelization. When our new community Twitter account (@SistersofPeace) went live earlier this year , I imagined her smiling in heaven at this new endeavor by her daughters in the 21st Century.
As someone who has been growing into her own identity as both a Catholic Sister and a writer, I find great inspiration in Mother Francis Clare. This month marks ten years that I’ve been blogging my journey into religious life and experience as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, first at Musings of a Discerning Woman and now here. It’s also why I jumped at the opportunity to be a regular columnist on the Global Sisters Report. I am very grateful for the gift of writing, and I feel called to share that gift in the hopes that my words can touch hearts and minds in service of the Gospel.
I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit can work through any medium, even the Internet! Actually, I first discovered my religious community online when I was discerning religious life. That’s also why I’ve decided to join a group of younger Catholic Sisters in live tweeting during episodes of Lifetime’s new “reality” show The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns. It’s actually been a fun experience, offering some of my own experience and “#realnun facts” as I watch the show. (You can join the conversation at #TheSisterhood.)
A younger Catholic Sister friend alerted me today that the folks over at the Huffington Post have noticed our live tweeting of the show.
“Social media savvy sisters have been doggedly following — and even live-tweeting — the show. They’ve been paying close attention to any potential misrepresentations, while remaining excited that the topic of religious vocation is getting national attention.”
I appreciated that description, because I think it aptly describes the spirit we’ve tried to embody as we’ve been live tweeting the show. Again, the Holy Spirit can work with anything! Even reality TV and Twitter!
It’s a far cry from Mother Francis Clare’s in person discussion of her writings with Pope Leo XIII, often considered the founder of Catholic Social Teaching. But nonetheless, I feel it is important to be part of the discussion where people are.
And, ok, I’ll admit it …. it’s kind of cool that the Huffington Post article includes a screen shot of one of my live tweets from last week’s show!
In the end, I have to think that Mother Francis Clare would use the media of the day to communicate for mission. Would she be on twitter, blogging, and on instagram? I have to think the answer would be yes!
By the way, be sure to check twitter when #callthemidwife returns to PBS …. a group of us have been live tweeting that as well!