Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Discernment Story: Listening to Dreams and Preachers

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I did not want the job I was invited to interview for. I’d been teaching at this particular Twin Cities public high school for almost two years — student teaching one fall,  long-term subbing in the spring, interning full time the following year. It was great. But I was tired. I was all over the map in preparing different curriculum for the different subjects I was asked to teach, and getting burnt out from the late nights and weekends I was at the school stage managing or directing after-school speech and musical productions. It was invigorating and overwhelming. I knew my limits, and while I was happy the administrators wanted me, I knew that no one would benefit from a “not breathing” me. In my humble opinion, whoever took the job that the administrative team had posted was on the fast track for a nervous break down, or a very early retirement.

I had a long weekend to discern my application — my “yes” or “no” to interview. I was en route to Chicago when the invite came to apply and interview. I had just dropped off “Ayana” at her mother’s house. (Ayana, who had just qualified for State Speech and was the first student in the school’s history to make it that far in Speech competitions.) As her speech coach, I was ecstatic, but I was also very ready for a break and enthusiastic to hit the road and enjoy a long weekend away from my job and home. I wanted to relax. I was going to spend time with my cousin in the Windy City, maybe drink a beer or two, unwind in her downtown warehouse loft, and revel in the energy of another space and set of human stories. This is what I wanted to do. But then the call came.

For the next 48 hours, I basically breathed questions around my calling to teach at this school. I inhaled pros, exhaled cons. Details of my last two years in the classroom flooded my brain as information; images of joy and mental exhaustion filled my mind and informed my spirit.

I arrived in Chicago, after 6 hours of road trip weariness in thought and contemplation, with a resounding “NO” on my lips. I shared all of this with my cousin Jill.

She, the elder, wiser, more learned and seasoned English and theater teacher, advised me otherwise. “Just interview for the job, Melis. Get the position before you turn it down, or ask them to change the position.” I appreciated Jill’s advice, I took it in as wise counsel and went to bed for two nights with a greater sense of peace. On my third day, I rose in the morning unnerved by a vivid dream.

It was Sunday morning, and as my cousin and I were getting ready for mass, I relayed the dream.
“I was stuck in a closet. It was dark. I couldn’t find my way out. I didn’t know why I was there. I was searching for a door.

My cousin responded, laughing, “Well, it’s not about this place! We have no closets in our condo.”

She was right. But it occurred to me: “What if it isn’t about my physical space, but where I am professionally? I feel trapped, and I’m looking for a way out?”

We laughed; we dressed and went to church.

I’ll never forget that Sunday. My cousin and I walked into Old St. Pat’s in Chicago, to a packed house, looking for a place to sit, feeling we must be very late. Was it the homily we walked into, or just a long pre-amble to the service, I wondered. The priest was on fire.

“You have to ask yourself why you are here!” Father exclaimed. He invited us to to tune into the gospel and apply its lessons to our current life situations. When you go into work on Monday morning, you are going to ask yourself why you are there. Some of you may recognize it’s not a fit for you, and you are seeking a way out. You have to trust that God will open a door.”

I got goosebumps. Jill nudged me. “I think God is talking to you.”

Indeed.

Can you imagine what happens next?

***

Stay tuned for part two!

Theology of Vocation: Five Characteristics

Professor Kathleen Cahalan, Director of Collegeville Institute Seminars

by Kathleen A. Cahalan, Director, Collegeville Institute Seminars

“Vocation encompasses a multiplicity of callings:  who I am, what I do, and how I live. It is dynamic and changing, not static or linear, not fully determined or preset at the outset of life.”

Through our research and reflection on vocation, we have identified five common themes in popular and academic literature that serve as a foundation for the theology of vocation developing in the project.

First, vocation is a call from God that is relational and dialogical.  God is the source of vocation, but human persons must hear and respond to that call through dialogue with God. God’s call is experienced commonly in four ways through:

  • an inner voice, often defined as conscience;
  • the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
  • divine providence, the way God cares and guides creation and history;
  • other people such as family and friends as well as strangers, the poor and those in need—all who call us to service.

Second, vocation relates to a Christian’s whole life. It does not refer to a part of life (work) or one type of work (ministry) or one type of life (religious community and celibacy). Vocation encompasses a multiplicity of callings:  who I am, what I do, and how I live. It is dynamic and changing, not static or linear, not fully determined or preset at the outset of life.

Third, vocation is a call both general and specific.  The general call is shared by all Christians to follow in the way of Christ, described through categories of service, discipleship, love, the gospel, and the commandments.  But vocation also refers to the specific ways in which we live out God’s call in marriage or single life, service and work.  The particularity of our callings is also determined by contextual factors such as gender, class, history, opportunities, and social location.  These specific aspects of vocation are the least developed by authors today (e.g., marriage, grandparent, woodworker, economist, dean).

Fourth, vocation relates to my whole life, my whole life long.  It is not just an issue for young adults but for every age:  children, teens, young adults, adults, those facing retirement, and the elderly all face vocational questions particular to their life’s journey.  There needs to be further reflection on vocation across the life span, especially as it relates to human experiences of suffering, sin, and loss, as well as discovery, change, creativity, joy, and relationships.

Finally, vocation relates to service and self-giving in community.  It is social and communal, not an individual experience or issue. It is mediated and discerned within community, and it is given by God for the sake of community.  Vocation also requires sacrifice, obedience, and the demand to listen to the needs of others and the world.

In contemporary theologies of vocation we see a movement away from specific denominational definitions toward approaches that speak to the broader Christian community. We see a rejection of vocation understood as a MapQuest search, a divine microchip, a hidden secret, or a blueprint, though many people may still carry these notions of vocation. While theologies of vocation understand God’s call to be more nuanced, complex, and contextual, many people have not been given the opportunity to reflect on vocation through new theological lenses.

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Thank you to the Collegeville Institute Seminar’s “Called to Life” discernment series staff for permission to re-post this article — and for all the other online curricular support. For more info: http://collegevilleinstitute.org/calledtolife


“Books with Jane:” Sparknotes on “The Screwtape Letters”

Anna Dourgarian, 2012 -2013 VIP

Anna Dourgarian, 2012 -2013 VIP

by Guest Blogger, Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer

Next Thursday, January 31, at 7pm, we host another session of “Books with Jane” featuring C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters at St. Jane House. This event is open to the public. Doors open at 6:30pm!

For those of you who will not have time to read The Screwtape Letters before then, I’ve written up an abridged version with a chapter-by-chapter summary. I hope that reading it will encourage you to come and possibly to even read the book!

Briefly, The Screwtape Letters is a devil’s advice to his nephew on how to tempt to a human. It is C. S. Lewis’s satirical advice on how not to get to Heaven. You may recognize C. S. Lewis from his brilliant work on Chronicles of Narnia. Find a pdf file below to download for more information!

Thank you, and I hope to see you at 7 PM on Thursday, January 31, at St. Jane House!

Screwtape Letter Notes by Anna Dourgarian

St. Jane House
1403 Emerson Avenue north


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On Silence: Thoughts from VIP Anna D. on one of the seven Essentials of Monastic Life

Anna Dourgarian, VIP 2012-2013

Anna Dourgarian, VIP 2012-2013

by Guest blogger Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer

The 2012-2013 Salesian Monday Night series focuses on the 7 Essentials of Monastic Life that the Vis Sisters have outlined for their community. The following post is part one of VIP Anna Dourgarian’s co-presentation with Sr. Karen on Silence.

I am really new to the concept of silence, but in the short time that I have known about it, I have fallen in love with it. As a Vis Intern volunteering on North Side, one of my main goals has been to serve my community, and silence has helped me do it.

“Silence is not a goal in and of itself; it is a process, a stepping stone—but for what? For me, it’s about being more useful in this world. It forces me to be attentive. I want to serve my community according to its needs, so I need to be attentive to and aware of its needs.”

I was first introduced to silence last February, at a winter campout hosted by REI. There, I met a man named Donnie who was very knowledgeable about the outdoors: he knew about medicinal herbs, tracking, and respecting nature. I wanted to know about the outdoors, so I asked if he could take me for a hike. Hikes for me were about getting outside and ambling about and getting away from electronics—exercising and chatting. But within minutes of hitting the trail, Donnie said, “Anna, you’re walking too fast, and you need to stop talking.” In other words, “Slow down and shut up.” Hikes for Donnie were about being attentive to the wilderness. On that slow, silent hike, we saw two red-winged black birds get into a territorial fight, we heard a robin get surprised by a hawk, and we spied two chickadees building a secret nest.

Over the summer I learned that the most productive hike is one where I sat still, for a whole hour, watching my surroundings. It was PAINFUL. I got restless, I got weird looks from hikers who walked by me, and I could never focus—my brain was always thinking really hard about something else. But the effect was wondrous. I got to know the birds in my area: white-breasted nuthatches in this tree, and these are the songs of a cardinal and a catbird. I noticed that the ground was just crawling with bugs. One time a coyote walked right past me. A few minutes later, a few talkative hikers walked past too and had no idea what they had just missed.

At the end of the summer, I became a VIP and stopped doing my silent sitting hikes. The skills I learned from them were not applicable to my normal life. No one wanted me to slow down; I was supposed to speed up, show enthusiasm, and make a difference in the world! Until Sr. Suzanne asked me one day, “Anna, could you please be quiet?” And I said, “Oh, is someone sleeping?” And she said, “No, you’re LOUD!”

Apparently the skills for spotting a coyote in the woods are still relevant in a monastery.

Silence is not a goal in and of itself; it is a process, a stepping stone—but for what? For me, it’s about being more useful in this world. It forces me to be attentive. I want to serve my community according to its needs, so I need to be attentive to and aware of its needs. In the case of hiking with Donnie, I wanted to serve the environment, so first I had to observe the environment.

What is our baptismal call? Reflections and Invitations

Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ

Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Priest! Prophet! King!

Can you hear these sacred words spoken by the priest as he anoints a babe in baptism? The child writhes as water is poured, oil is placed, and a candle is lit. We are all witness to this ritual as we proclaim: “You are a child of God. We call you by name. You are beloved.”

But holy hannah! What does it mean to be a “priest, prophet and king”? I giggle to myself thinking of the response to this question for a three month old. Every infant is a “ruler” of sorts in his or her new home, right?  But I gasp a bit contemplating what these words of anointing mean when say, you turn 18 or 25 or 40. Priest? Prophet? King? *gulp*

How do we want to honor our baptismal calls? What do they even sound like as we grow, and perhaps feel even further removed from our small, wriggling, wet, baptized-baby selves? Who are we in this church? How are we really called to live? What name has God given us this day? What do our prophetic, kingly, priestly actions look like in this present context?

I can hear Fr. O’Connell’s translation of these three words: “Priest, or model of love for the people. Prophet, or a speaker of truth and justice. King, or humble, servant leader. ” Okay. But what does it mean to live into these words, or up to their fulfillment? This is the rub for me as a Christian and Catholic.

This Sunday, as we celebrate Christ’s baptism, we are reminded of our own baptisms and invited to reflect on our calls to live and love and be on this earth. How do we want to honor our baptismal calls? What do they even sound like as we grow, and perhaps feel even further removed from our small, wriggling, wet, baptized-baby selves? Who are we in this church? How are we really called to live? What name has God given us this day? What do our prophetic, kingly, priestly actions look like in this present context?

HELP!

On Monday, January 28, 2013, Sr. Katherine Mullin, Vis alumna Meagan McLaughlin and I start our spring semester offering of the “Following the Spirit: Leading a Discerning Life” series at St. Jane House. In this discernment course, we create the opportunity for women and men of all ages and walks of life to reflect on how they are called by God — and we offer space to unpack our baptismal blessings within the context of a small group of fellow discerners.

Does this discernment opportunity speak to you this weekend of baptismal celebration and reflection? Perhaps you have a friend really struggling with their next best step? We invite you to join us – literally, by signing up — and more figuratively,  by holding our cohort in prayer as we journey together  over the next five months.

Will you join us in this process?

Baptismal Blessings! Live + Jesus!

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For more information on the Following the Spirit discernment series, click here.

“How does prayer work for you?” Some New Year’s Musings…

Photo by Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

Photo by Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“How does prayer work for you?”

It’s New Year’s eve. I’m sitting in front of a hot fire in a log cabin tucked inside the Snake River Forest outside Isle, MN. It’s cold out — 14 below cold.  Three of my friend’s four dogs are afoot. We have just finished a lovely grilled salmon and veggie meal, (truth-be-told: despite the fact that a crucial part of our dish was consumed in flames prior to consumption.)  My friend rests, we reflect on our 2012’s, and the conversation turns toward the theological.

“How does prayer work for you?”

We have just completed a ritual of sorts, she and I: writing out on tiny slips of paper responses to the following prompts:
“Things to release.”
“Things to embrace.”
“Things to invite in.”

We have been quiet, contemplative, and giggly as we engaged in this made up marking of our year, tossing our 2013 intentions into the fire and blowing kisses. I bowed before the flames, and said, “Amen!” as I surrendered these scraps of thought and extended this gesture as, indeed, a prayerful one.

“How does prayer work for you?” she asked again.

I am taken aback. A professed Athiest, with profound and inspiring regard for all of Creation, my girlfriend’s query gives me pause. When was the last time someone asked me this question? When was the last time I really thought about an answer? How often do I engage in spiritual or theological inquiry and debate with someone outside my faith?

My heart was on fire. I loved the moment and my dear friend’s fervor for the topic.

“How does prayer work for me?” I repeated, mulling over the largeness of the question, and the opportunity to respond.

As I paused, my girlfriend jumped back in.
“Do you really believe that God hears each one of your thoughts and prayers and answers? I mean, don’t you think he’s a little busy with the Universe, with everyone asking for help, to say nothing of who and what ever else might exist beyond?”

“Of course! I think God has the most exhausting job,” I respond, laughing — and then added: “but I think God can handle it.” Just like God can handle my beseeching, my anger, my sorrow, my joy, my praise.

At that moment, I wanted to quote my friend Zac Willette, whose theological writing always moves me. “The deal is, I don’t think we pray to change God’s mind about anything: I think we pray to change ourselves. To align our hearts with whatever God’s will or desire is, and to invite compassion, and ultimately, some action on our own parts around what, or whomever, we are praying for.”

I liked my answer. Driving home and reflecting now, I still do.

***

One of the greatest gifts of the Visitation Sisters — and any monastic, contemplative community– is this gift of prayer. When you request prayers, these women religious take it seriously; it’s the life blood of their community, so-to-speak. It fuels the sisters in their daily interactions — in their ways of being in the world. And, by extension — as a Visitation Companion, prayer is an ongoing activity of my own that informs my journey to live and love faithfully all who are around me, all who I encounter in this world.

On this New Year’s Day, as we journey again around the sun, how do you respond to this question: “How does prayer work for you?” And, might I add, “How might it better your life and animate your limbs in the coming year?”

Happy 2013!