Let’s say it was a Thursday, noon, during my lunch hour in the fall of 2002 that I first came to the monastery to pray the liturgy of the hours. Or perhaps it was a Monday after school that I poked my head into the Fremont House chapel and joined the Visitation Sisters for evening prayer at 4:45pm.
I know I was weary. I brought all of my day’s experiences into the chapel, closed my eyes and extended my palms up and out.
“I give you my life. I give you my suffering. I give you the stories and circumstances of my students’ lives that I cannot fix.”
Six years into my teaching profession; four classroom moves; 720 students later; countless hours of curriculum writing and paper-correcting under my belt; and one-too-many mandated reports completed for social services, I was a wobbly 32 year old woman in need of sanctuary and stability. I was hungry for a safe, spiritual home and community — and the Visitation Sisters were God’s answer to my prayers.
As a young woman, I had a profound calling to teach — to be present to young people wrestling with life’s biggest questions and seeking ways to respond intellectually, artistically, and from their greatest knowing. But on this particular day, I was tired. I needed to be held upright — or simply find rest within a community that “got” my deepest longings to love and serve God.
The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis was that community for me.
Maybe it was Shaina that drove me there. I read too many of her journal entries connecting Maya Angelou’s autobiographical account of abuse with my student’s lived experience. Maybe Anthony put me over the edge that day — the senior in my 12th grade English class who hadn’t passed a writing or reading test since middle school, but was on my roster and wanting to graduate. Or maybe it was the young Laotian boy – sent by the seasoned guidance counselor — who showed up in my basic standards test prep class not speaking any English. “Can you just take him, Melissa? We have no other place for him to go.”
It was one of those days; I didn’t feel up to any of the challenges. I had no answers, no solutions, but a deep desire to help, and a professional charge to enter in and provide some strategic and data-driven response.
For those who have known professional burnout, the circumstances I describe are nothing new. For others, this tale may register as unfortunate. For all of us, however, there is a universal human experience that connects my story with yours and inspires the following kinds of spiritual questions:
“Where do we go when we are hungry? Where do we find sanctuary? Where is our beloved community?”
As I chanted the psalms that day flanked by two choirs of catholic, inner-city sisters convening in a chapel at the intersection of 16th and Fremont Avenue North, I joined a community of contemplative, religious people who have been singing together for centuries. I joined David, the beseeching and praising Jewish author of this liturgical prayer – who lived a thousand years before Christ, singing now a stone’s throw from my Minneapolis Public School classroom in the year 2002. I entered into a monastic rhythm that offered a kind of peace, quiet, and balm for my entire being. While my hunger for community persists, I have a profound comfort in knowing where I belong and how to re-fill and fuel my soul.
How do you hunger for community? Where does your soul find rest?