Monthly Archives: April 2013

On Suffering: Finding Comfort in Community

Visionary, abstract, digital, and fractal art by Jack Haas.

Visionary, abstract, digital, and fractal art by Jack Haas.

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I hurt my eye. After thirty years of wearing contacts, it got dry. It turned red. It really started to ache — so I went in to the eye doctor and she informed me that the surface looked like the equivalent of a “dry, cracked and bleeding hand.” She immediately instructed me to quit wearing my contact lenses, gave me some drops and an antibiotic gel to put in  twice a day. A week later, things were worse. When I returned to the doctor, she told me how glad she was that I had come back. Turns out, it was much more serious than she initially thought: I had a herniated cornea.

For eighteen days, I was in a lot of pain. I mean a lot. My entire eye socket throbbed. I couldn’t bear to have the lights on, window shades open, or be in the sun. I wore dark glasses – I had five different pairs of varying shades to protect my eye and the non-stop headache that accompanied my blurry vision. I cried a lot and craved daily naps and early bedtime hours. I was prescribed a much more potent antibiotic to apply hourly. And I was told to just wait.

How do we conduct ourselves in any kind of prayerful manner when we are physically suffering? (Are we called to be polite patients of injury? Or our authentic “ouchy” selves?) What does our state of mind/ heart/ spirit reveal about us in our most vulnerable states? Where do we put our trust? How do we wield our anger or rage? What do we make of our most wanting selves?

These are some of the questions that have come to me in my reflections on this past month’s experience. My eye is on the mend, but now I’m inviting my heart to catch up with what I’m learning about such physically uncomfortable journeys.

In the Visitation community this past month we have had four of our six sisters endure physical challenges: starting on Easter Sunday, when Sr. Karen slipped on a slice of remaining sidewalk ice and shattered her ankle. Following the spill, and subsequent surgery requiring new pins put into her body, were two planned surgeries that likewise addressed the repair of body parts. Sr. Mary Virginia got a new knee and Sr. Mary Margaret had heart surgery. In the space of these medical procedure navigations there was another slip on some unseasonal sidewalk snow that left Sr. Suzanne with a sprained ankle. (And this doesn’t even count the two brain surgeries that Sr. Mary Frances had last Fall!)

In the midst of all this physical discomfort, I have found radiant spirits. I have witnessed faithful, joyful women with confidence in their recoveries, who have sought solace in a resurrected Christ who carries all of our wounds and helps us trust in transcendence.

While I have been weeping and wining in my process of healing, the sisters have been praying for me. When I believed myself to be possibly forever disabled, or unable to endure another hour of watery eyes, excruciating headache and bright light, the sisters invited me into a space of comfort and alliance with their knowing and faithful community anchored in the Living Jesus. I wasn’t alone.

This kind of comfort, community, is priceless. I invite you today to reflect with me on where you find such alliance in love.

“Woman, why are you crying?” Easter Season Contemplations

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

Woman, why are you crying? - John 20:15

"Woman, why are you crying?" - John 20:15

I was sitting on the steps of my almost-three-year-old’s daycare provider’s house. I thought I had planned enough time for this transition in our day. I had risen early for my once-a-month- massage appointment. I had left the house early and snuck back in, all peace and relaxation and joy oozing through my muscles, in order to collect my drowsy preschooler from her dad’s arms and drop her at the daycare before my late-morning meeting. Forty five minutes surely had to be enough time to travel less than a mile and then back — right?

The two-year-ten-month-old child, however, was not having it. This Monday she wanted nothing but mommy or daddy. The supposed ten-minute-max drop off went terribly wrong. There were tears and screams and pleas for home — for her blanket, for her father, for me! — coupled with clinging. After all negotiations and requests and attempts at soothing were offered, I headed back out the door with said child still attached to me. Plan B to return her to her resting father was in line.

I was anxious. I was now late. My clock read fifteen minutes passed my meeting time. How had all those extra minutes ticked away? Tears and tantrums (of both children and their parents) are truly the pressure cooker of a time-suck.

Can you imagine the thoughts racing through my mind? Can you hear your own in such a chaotic, late-running-Monday-morning?

I hadn’t planned well. I was clearly a bad mother. I was clearly a poor professional. I couldn’t even make a meeting on time. If I had only thought or prepared a little bit better, then I wouldn’t be in this jam.

I wanted to reach out to the person waiting for me, communicate my dilemma or tardiness, but I didn’t have her phone number. And there was the sniffling kid on my arm – and her bag over my other shoulder – that kept me feeling unable to properly, calmly reach out  and communicate my whereabouts.  At that minute, my cell phone rang. It was the woman waiting for me. Taking a deep breathe, I tried to relay that I was delayed, but would be there, if she could wait. (We had been trying to schedule this meeting for six plus weeks.) I exhaled, and she responded:

“Do not worry. I get it. Take your time. I’ll be here.” It was her compassion, her generosity, her own knowing as a mother, that inspired my tears. I sat down on the steps, next to my hand-holding daughter, and started weeping.

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

***

I told this story recently on Salesian Monday Night as part of Sr. Mary Margaret and my co-presenation on Contemplative Presence. “How do we live in the present moment? How do we encounter the resurrected Christ in our midst every day? How do we find him in ourselves?” As one of the seven essentials of Monastic life for the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis, contemplative presence requires a gentle and loving practice of tuning into the fullness of each moment. In sharing my own story, I offered the question, “How do we live a contemplative presence when we are anxious, haven’t seemingly planned well, or aren’t in a perfect state of peace?” — Or, as Sr. Mary Margaret re-framed it in our post-presentation reflection,  “a little pissed off?”

“Your daughter’s question,” reflected Sr. Mary Margaret, is not unlike Christ’s question to Mary Magdalene outside his tomb: “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:15)

***

I offer you these thoughts for your own Easter season contemplations. Where are you stuck? Why are you sobbing – in any literal or figurative way? What do your eyes or mind need to turn to in order to see the resurrected Christ in our midst? What joy is hidden behind that veil of tears?

He is Risen! He is you!
EASTER BLESSINGS!