“Salesian Spirituality is the heart-to-heart living of the gospel.” — Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie, VHM
I was at the monastery for prayer the day that Jamar Clark was shot and killed by the police. I remember the doorbell ringing and news of this tragedy -just four blocks away – on the lips of those knocking and seeking the Sisters. Details of his death made its way into the chapel, informing our prayer — the quiet and spoken intentions between our chanted psalms.
A half hour later, I accompanied Sr. Katherine to Plymouth Avenue and stood at the foot of the memorial tree where balloons, pictures, and magic-marker messages to Jamar were arranged. I held hands with Nekelia Sharp and Sr. Katherine, as a man – who crossed the street to join us- lead all gathered in a prayer of unity, grief and hope. I stared at Jamar’s photo at the foot of the tree, and thought of his mom, his siblings, the officer who shot him. When Sr. Katherine spoke Jamar Clark’s name three times, I followed suit with a choir of community voices around me, echoing in a refrain, lifting his life and humanity in our hearts. I remember the song “Glory” by John Legend and Common was being played on loud speakers, echoing down the Plymouth Avenue corridor, like a song of praise and lamentation for all to hear.
That experience ignited something, once again, deep within my heart, informing my call as a Visitation Companion.
The death of black and brown men has been a catalyzing force in my call to align with the Visitation Sisters; the desire for all people of all hues to have the fullness and integrity of their lives marked, has animated my vocation to the Vis Companions.
At the center of this call is a commitment to “Live Jesus!” To recognize divine life leaping in all beings, to receive and nurture our figurative cousins bearing love –just as a pregnant Mary and Elizabeth received and celebrated one another carrying their sons, Jesus and John.
Before Jamar Clark was shot and killed by police, I had four students die from gun violence. Chris Dozier. Quincy Brown. Toua Xiong. Marcus White. Each of their lost lives awakened a deep sorrow for our brown sons and daughters, and expanded the call for me to be in deeper relationship, to grow more conscious in recognizing that our mutual liberation is bound up in one another’s lives.
Teacher. Student. Citizen. Nun. Neighbor. Police officer. Criminal. Family. All one in God’s eyes.
When my own son was born and died, on September 13, 2012, the space to grieve and be open to the premature death of a black boy enlarged in me in the most personal and profound manner. Xavi didn’t die a violent death at the hands of anyone wielding a weapon, but he did leave his father, sisters and me with a legacy of grief that opened up our mourning hearts to others who, too, knew life cut short in their families.
Death, and a desire for greater life, opened us.
When Philando Castile was shot and killed by the police, he wasn’t just another scary, dreadlocked man with a wide nose that was murdered. He was “Mr. Phil” to our St. Paul Lex-Ham neighborhood children. The friendly face and nurturing spirit who fed the students at JJ Hill– three blocks from our home.
What is it that the Sisters have that speaks to me? What do the Companions espouse that beckons? Why am I called to align with this northside community as a resident in St Paul, MN?
For me, it’s as simple as relationship. I’m called to be in kindred, heart-to-heart relationships that affirm and nurture new life. Like the Vis Sisters, I am drawn to a life of prayer, contemplating the mystery of Love in its fullness. I’m called to see birth, death, new life, as it is revealed in the gospels and occurring in all of creation. In all communities. In my former classrooms at North High in Minneapolis, to my congregations at Ascension in north Minneapolis and Nativity in St. Paul. To my community of fellow gardeners and food preparers in the Lex-Ham neighborhood. To circles of seekers in my spiritual direction world. To my families in Nebraska and Burkina Faso.
In this season of my commitment as a Companion, I recognize an organic expansion of my network affiliations, my call to be in relationship to advocate for greater life in the face of so much cruel death. I have been participating in racial justice conversations with members of the The Rye House – Catholic Worker Community in south Minneapolis; with my old and new friends at Celeste’s Dream and the Justice Commission of the Sisters of St Joseph. With new Jewish friends at Jewish Community Action, steeped in spiritually-anchored social teaching. With other parents at Nativity School. With my pastor and fellow parishioner’s at Church of the Ascension. With an online and geographically aligned community in the Real Housewives of St. Paul – Political Chat group on Facebook.
My call as a companion takes me far and wide, bringing me back to center on the mystery of divine love pouring out in these many varied Visitation relationships.
Perhaps this call speaks to you?
As Saints Jane and Francis exclaimed in their written messages, I exclaim: “Live Jesus!”