Not a new word, but a word with a whole new embodiment of meaning. “The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance. Our data shows that, along with a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on oxforddictionaries.com, over the last year the word toxic has been used in an array of contexts, both in its literal and more metaphorical senses.”
Among the top collocates to toxic in 2018 … toxic masculinity, toxic relationship, toxic culture. As I said in a recent interview, “We all know that toxicity is not good for us.” And yet it spreads, oozing out and choking our happiness like the fog of a group of looming dementors.
But we have a choice my friends. We can be kind, in our relationships, our words, our interactions, our ways of living. Every moment presents a choice. Let’s choose to be kind! Our very democracy and social fabric may depend upon our choices.
Sounds simple, but sometimes the most answers to the most complicated problems are the kind ones.
When I was a novice, we participated each week in an intercommunity program with novices from other religious communities–men’s and women’s communities across the entire spectrum. We gathered each week to learn about the various aspects of religious life. When it came time to learn about the vows, the presenter shared unique perspectives present in the Constitutions of each community. That is when I realized that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace “recognize the value of leisure as contributing to restorating and wholeness.”
Now, of course, this is both common sense and good self care. But we put it in our Constitutions! Not only that, we placed it in the section on the vow of poverty and in the context of work.
In solidarity with our sisters and brothers
we engage in human labor
as a means of service and sustencance.
We recognize the value of leisure
as contributing to restoration and wholeness.
In these ways we come to share
in the creative power of God.
(CSJP Constitution No. 54)
For Apostolic religious women, leisure is not the aim or the goal or the norm, but it is critical, so critical that it enables us to live our vow of poverty and be about the mission of peace with joy, and from a place of wholeness. I write these words a few days into my annual summer vacation, this year a solo adventure to a spot that’s been on my bucket list for years … Prince Edward Island.
Yesterday when I was driving around a part of the Island where one of our CSJP Sisters was born, this view caught my eye and so I pulled over to take this picture:
The perfect juxtaposition of the value of human labor, leisure, and the creative power of God.
Work is the norm, but sometimes we just need to stop and soak in the beauty to remind us that in the end it’s not up to us, but to the creative power of God. And besides, we all need to stop and take some time to just soak in the sheer beauty and wonder of the world God has created, including us!
Things can seem to be spinning out of control these days
From the news cycle to the general frenetic pace of life
(and from meeting upon meeting in my own life)
To the growing inequality, systemic racism, uncivil discourse and general status quo which seems to inch farther away from the benefit of ordinary folks, especially those on the margins who Jesus loved so much.
How do we/I stay centered in the midst of it all?
To do lists, crisis management and holding the powers that be (and each other) accountable, to be sure.
There is so much in the world we do not control. Most of it actually, from whether the sun shines or the rain falls to the political and economic forces that impact our lives to pretty much everything in between.
But my friends we can choose …
We can choose how we choose to act in this crazy mixed up world.
We can choose to smile at a stranger, hug a loved one, or hold that unkind thought without speaking it into the world.
We can choose to add our creative energy to the mix, choose to do what we do best, choose to learn something we don’t know.
We can choose to share and to laugh. We can choose to ask the impertinent questions about unjust structures. We can choose to show up where and when it matters.
Each day, a fresh opportunity to choose to live and to love, no matter how messy it all seems.
What if we all lived as if are already part of the beloved community?
I have been asking myself that question lately. When I am frustrated or disappointed, angry or just plaim grumpy, can I nevertheless respond with love?
I have been experimenting with this through my daily tweets to the president. It has not been easy, but it has helped me stay sane amd engaged over the past year.
What if I could apply this desire to my daily interactions? Annoyed by a neverending customer service loop? What if I attend to the business and seek resolution of the problem, but could do so as if the person on the other end of the phone were also part of the beloved community?
What if I approached the challenging daily intersections of life this way? Friend, family, stranger, community … all beloved by God and doing their best. Can I be gentle with them, and gentle with myself? Can I try again and again when I find it too hard to respond with agape love, so that in the end I am helping to create the beloved community?
What if my response were first and foremost love?
We are almost a week into the New Year, but I think I have stumbled upon my resolution.
Advent begins on Sunday, and with it the season of waiting. This year, it feels like we are waiting at the edge. I reflected on this theme in my latest column on Global Sisters Report: Advent Waiting at the Edge.
Advent is not a time to despair or become overwhelmed by all the turmoil and woe, but rather, watchful and alert, to prepare God’s way joyfully. In the midst of it all, the surprising call we hear on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is to rejoice: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks … Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” We are invited to rejoice, even as we stand on the edge, recognizing that life itself is gift in all circumstances and that our actions, no matter how small, can make a difference.
On the one hand, this message is so simple, and yet life can seem so very complicated even on the best of days. We know the promise of the good news, yet like Mary, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we find ourselves pondering, “How can this be?”
Mary’s question to the surprising news of the angel Gabriel always comforts me. I find myself with lots of questions; the biggest one these days is how to be the presence of love in such a mixed-up world.
Advent gives us the much-needed opportunity to pause, step back from the chaos, and wait on the edge during these in-between times.
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.