S. Karen Reflects: An Irish Nun in this Month of March

S Karen Mohan, VHM

S Karen Mohan, VHM

by Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

March, once primarily known to this Irish “lass” as the “month of St. Patrick,” now includes an awareness of “Women’s History Month“, “National Catholic Sisters’ Week” (March 8-14), and even “Nutrition Month.” These themes: being Irish, being a woman, and a religious Sister who values the “balance” of healthy eating and living, come together in a unique way for me as I reflect on being a Visitation Sister for 50 years.

On my bookcase, I keep a hand-crafted card with a quote attributed to St. Patrick, which reads,

“I am certain in my heart that all that I am I have received from God.“ I love that message. It reminds me that each of us is born with a heritage, a history, and choices to make which will contribute –or not – to the building up of our global community in the reign of God.

imageWomen in my family and beyond my family helped me to understand how God’s love and the Gospel can be lived in a variety of ways. One of those “beyond”, my teacher, and eventually community member and friend, Sister Marie Therese Ruthmann from the Visitation Monastery of St. Louis, is one of those influential women in my life. I’m writing this on March 4, the 64th anniversary of her religious vows. Sr. M.Therese was the first person I told that I was considering religious life. At that time I was not really considering the Sisters of the Visitation. They were always there for me, and I was seeking a vocational call that was further from my immediate view.  What was “certain in my heart” was that the invitation to dedicate my life entirely to God was there, and that before I went on to college I needed and wanted to give that invitation some attention.

S. Marie Therese

Joyful Sisters: S. Karen next to S. Marie Therese

Sr. M. Therese listened. She prayed with me. She let me be, never saying, “What about the Visitation?” She was wise enough even then at her young age in the community, that if the Holy Spirit was at work, that was good enough!   Gradually I became aware that the Visitation Sisters, real people who could identify with the needs and concerns of others, had the components of the balanced life I could see myself espousing: they had a genuine prayer life; they had a strong community; they had a meaningful ministry; they were happy women. In those days there was little talk about “Salesian spirituality” as such, but those around the Sisters imbibed it just by being with them.

During this “Irish” month of women, Sisters, and nutrition, in our Church’s “Jubilee Year of Mercy”, take time to consider the spirituality that nourishes you, the women and Sisters who support your faith journey, and what adjustments you might be called to make so that prayer, community and service may lead you to a joyful “ balance” as the Holy Spirit leads.

Once I came to the realization that the Visitation Sisters’ way of life was one that I might be called to try, I started down that path, enriched by many women who became my “Sisters” and mentors and co-workers, and friends. And in the spirit of this “Women’s month”, the rest is history!

 

Looking Back at Vis Neighbors: Our First Lay Community

First Vis Neighbors Commissioning Ceremony,  Winter, 1994 Newsletter

Introducing VISITATION NEIGHBORS…the Seeds of Tomorrow’s Flowers (from News From the Northside, Fall 1994 — lead story)

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

This blog is indeed a ‘back story.’  All any of us have to do when we want to see where we are today is to look back and see God’s presence along the way.  Some call it Providence…some prefer the term serendipity and others just coincidence.  This is the back story on the Visitation Companions…it is mainly the history of the beginnings of Visitation Neighbors and the current news of the presence of Salesian Spirituality alive and well-lived for over 20 years in the lives of Trish Kloeckl and Lorilee Lambrecht, the founding mothers of our monastery’s first lay community.

“My own formation in the order took place alongside the formation and spiritual growth (and stretching of consciousness) of the Visitation Neighbors.” – S. Suzanne Homeyer, vhm

When I arrived at the monastery in 1995, the Visitation Neighbors were already established and part of the on-going ministry and presence of the Sisters here on the North Side. How did they come to be? My own formation in the order took place alongside the formation and spiritual growth (and stretching of consciousness) of the Neighbors. Over the years there have been 19 or 20 adult members and 4 youngsters that were Neighbors.

“It all began with…”  as Trish tells the history, her “time on the north side… living with friends and volunteering many places working with neighborhood residents.” Trish shared her idea of a lay community with Sr. Jean of the Cookie Cart and together they “walked the idea/vision over to the Vis Sisters and invited them (the Sisters) to become the ‘new stewards of the vision’….Shortly after that time, I moved in with the Sisters for 9 months and the idea/vision continued to unfold.”

An Invitation to Vis Neighbors copy

An Invitation to Vis Neighbors from Community Newsletter, 1994

The Sisters agreed to explore a new expression of the Salesian charism and the following invitation was issued in the community’s newsletter:

Lorilee Lambrecht had attended Mendota Visitation High School. Non scholae, sed vitae (not for school but for life) was etched on the keychain she still used from her Vis High years…I know it isn’t just a slogan to the Sisters.”

“After traveling extensively through the United States and living overseas… I was discerning about living in a base-Christian community to help support the lifestyle changes that were occurring in my life as a result of my mission experiences in Guatemala,” Lorilee reminisced. “Three words began to draw me to the Visitation Order and the North side: community, spiritual formation and family…I asked God to be obvious in showing me His will…within days the Vis Minneapolis newsletter was in my mail box….When the invitation came from the Sisters regarding their new lay group, my heart joyfully responded in an instant…I knew. We met, we knew this was it…we began the journey of faith.”

“I am so grateful for how Divine Providence moved and graced my story with the presence of the Sisters and their spirituality that has assisted me through many stages of my life as I move toward deeper integration and living in the Presence of God.” –Lorilee Lambrecht, Vis Neighbor

Vis Neighbors today:  Lorilee, S. Suzanne, Trish

Vis Neighbors “Selfie”  today:
Lorilee, S. Suzanne, Trish

Some 20 years later Lorilee, Trish and I gathered to share a simple meal in Trish’s southside Minneapolis home.  In anticipation of that sharing Lorilee wrote, “We have been through so much life together and we are still best friends.” As we prepared supper, ate and prayed together I saw the truth in that statement .  The three of us recalled fond memories of Vis Neighbor days, my time as a novice, their many ministry activities in the ‘hood and so much more.

Trish is now living just down the street from another community seeker she had first come to know on the north side.  She is still blessed to have her professional calling as an Occupational Therapist as well as her love of nature and inviting others to do wilderness challenges. She continues to encourage family, friends and neighbors to commit to community; to struggle to build community; to live community and to call others to the joy of life lived in community AND she still knows it is the Holy Spirit that breathes it all into being.

Lorilee lived in the inner city for nine years and when she moved out of North Minneapolis to Mendota Heights where she grew up she feels she “was fortunate to be situated very near Visitation Monastery Mendota. I am so grateful for how Divine Providence moved and graced my story with the presence of the Sisters and their spirituality that has assisted me through many stages of my life as I move toward deeper integration and living in the Presence of God.  Thomas Merton says that ‘every moment plants a seed in a person’s soul.  I had many beautiful experiences that were planted in my spirit during my time as a Vis Neighbor.  The seeds of those experiences continue to flower within my life.” She was inspired to establish Grace Center in Guatemala, a community for women and children needing supportive community, medical and spiritual services. She also finds herself a very busy mother who is involved in a variety of “callings” and interests as a wife and as a parent to three children Sophia (16); Annalisa (13) and Moses 12.”

“All the Flowers of All the Tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”
News From the Northside, Fall of 1994.

Click here to read the original Newsletter article: News From the Northside, Fall of 1994

Open the Door: An Invitation to Join Others for Prayer and Discernment

Are you considering your next step in life? A new job? A change in your relationship? A call to religious life? Volunteering? A creative shift in your day-to-day existence?

Join us for a day-long discernment retreat at the St. Paul Monastery on January 25, 2014, from 9am-5pm.

Details: 

2014_Open-the-Door_VHM

The Visitation Community proudly co-sponsors this event with their religious and lay counterparts in Minnesota.

FLYER: 2014_Open-the-Door_VHM

“How can we hear and respond to God’s call for our lives?”

Laura Kelly Fanucci

Laura Kelly Fanucci

by Laura Kelly Fanucci, Project Researcher, Collegeville Institute

From the time we are children and teenagers, people ask us questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What are you going to do with your life?” Sometimes such questions seem exciting and full of possibility. Other times they feel oppressive and overwhelming. Yet at every stage of life’s journey-at mid-career or at retirement, for example-we are full of questions about what to do, where to go, who to be.

How can we learn to see where God is leading us through our journey? How can we become aware of how God speaks to us, often in “tiny whispering sounds”? How do we understand what God wants for and from our lives? These are questions of vocation that call for careful discernment.

Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities?

The process of discernment is a centuries-old Christian practice of personal prayer and reflection with others that examines our lives in light of what we know about God’s hopes, dreams, and love for us. Discernment involves paying attention to our experiences in order to recognize God’s presence. Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities? What other voices around us are competing with God’s voice or leading us towards selfish, even evil, inclinations instead of the good God wants for us? What patterns do we notice about how we make decisions: are we careful planners or do we simply fall into situations without much thought? How do we choose? Through discernment we consider our inner thoughts as well as our outward actions; we listen to ourselves, to others, to our community and our context.

Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life.

The Christian tradition offers many formal practices of discernment. Ignatian spirituality uses a review of where God’s presence is felt throughout the day (called the examen). Quakers gather “clearness committees” where a group helps an individual to discern God’s voice within them and find clarity about a question or dilemma. The practice of lectio divina that you are learning from the Rule of Saint Benedict is another discernment process with a long history of helping Christians sort out God’s voice from the many other voices that call to us.

But many people already have informal habits of discernment. Perhaps you have a trusted friend that you talk to about big decisions. Maybe you journal or pray or take long walks when you are wrestling with important questions. Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life:

“Vocation…comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about-quite apart from what I would like it to be about-or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

…Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live-but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.

–From Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

We often think of God’s call as a voice that is heard. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which means “to call,” and “calling” has traditionally been another term for “vocation.” And people often talk about discernment as “listening for God’s call” or “hearing God’s voice,” as in the stories in Scripture when God speaks from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17) or wakes someone with a voice in the night (1 Samuel 3:1-18). Yet it seems that most of us do not experience God’s call through a booming voice from heaven that tells us where to go or what to do. Instead, we are called by God through the people and places, the events and the encounters, the challenges and the changes of our everyday lives. God communicates with us through conversations and questions, through friends and family, through our own hopes and thoughts. Maybe we feel “pulled” or “drawn” towards one decision instead of another. Perhaps we see signs or feel led down a certain path. These can all be ways that God reveals our vocation to us.

And vocation is not just God’s call to us; it is also our response to God. We call on God in turn as we struggle to figure out where and how to live out our vocations. Discernment practices are valuable for questions of vocation because they help us develop habits for exploring our relationship with God. While it takes effort and patience to learn how to look and listen for God, such habits of discernment can help us during times of doubt, fear or anxiety about our vocations. Making time and space for discernment can open our ears and our hearts to find God in the “tiny whispering sounds” of our lives.

************************************************************************************************************************

Excerpted from “Called to Life: Reflecting on Vocation” a curriculum we are using as part of the Following the Spirit discernment series. We are happy to be able to share this as a resource from the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. –Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion; Co-Facilitator, “Following the Spirit” Discernment Series

“The Calling of Delight:” Fr. Greg Boyle talking to Krista Tippett

Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ

Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I found the following interview between Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ and Krista Tippett  to be filled with deeply resonant tales akin to those experienced inside the Visitation Community of north Minneapolis.  The charism lived by Fr. Greg Boyle – as a Jesuit who ministers to those on the margins – reminds me of that lived by the Sisters on the northside. Perhaps you’ll find something true and inspiring for your own heart, mind and spirit this Lenten day?

Father Greg Boyle on the Calling of Delight: Gangs, Service, Kinship

listen: » stream online | » download mp3
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A Jesuit priest famous for his gang intervention programs in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg Boyle makes winsome connections between service and delight, and compassion and awe. He heads Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members in a constellation of businesses. This is not work of helping, he says, but of finding kinship.

(photo: Homeboy Industries)

(photo: Homeboy Industries)

The point of Christian service, as he lives it, is about “our common calling to delight in one another.”

“I’m not the great healer and that gang member over there is in need of my exquisite healing. The truth is, it’s mutual and that, as much as we are called to bridge the distance that exists between us, we have to acknowledge that there’s a distance even in service. You know, a service provider, you’re the service recipient and you want to bridge even that so that you can get to this place of utter mutuality. And I think that’s where the place of delight is.”

A Discernment Story: Part II

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

When I walked into work that Monday morning, the assistant principal at the school approached me about interviewing for the newly posted teaching position. There were two of us in the Professional Practice School who had been asked to apply — one position. In my heart, I knew I didn’t want the job.

The course load was too much; the job, as posted, was inappropriate for any one educator.   Pre-IB English 9, Comprehensive English 10, and Stage Management were the subjects the teacher was being asked to teach. In my two years at the school, I’d covered all of these courses. Individually, I loved them; combined, they were deadly, in my estimation — or again: a recipe for burnout.

The Stage management course alone meant supervising productions and student work on evenings and weekends at the school. Stage Management was a full time job in a school with an active student body and thriving performance arts classes.  The course spilled over from its allotted time into after school hours involving moving vehicles, rental equipment, construction personnel, and collaboration with other faculty, parents and empowered student leaders.  (In my one year of teaching stage management and taking on this role in after school hours,  I recalled being at the school every day straight for the month of March. I still have vivid memories of looking at my watch at 1am  in the auditorium, while wearing an insulation mask and student graffiti artists painted the back wall of the stage for a rock concert production. It was fun. I was tired. It was late. I didn’t need to sign on for more hours than there were in the day to be a good teacher.) I’d happily teach the  English classes. But these two courses to prep for – combined with the stage management responsibilities, were a no go. I knew my limits.

My cousin Jill’s sage counsel still rang in my ears: “Just interview for the job, Melis. Get the position, before you ask to change it.”  The advice from my elder English and theater teaching cousin, coupled with the priest’s prophetic words at mass at Old Saint Pat’s the day before, (“Ask why you are there. If it’s a not a fit, God will show you an open door.“) gave me a kind of peace in my decision: Yes, I would interview. Yes, I would draw on my experience teaching all the courses. Yes, I would trust that God would show me a way out.

We were building a 17 foot volcano out of chicken wire and paper mache’ that day in the stage management class. I came to school dressed for paint and paper and glue mess, not for interviewing with the faculty and administrative team. I still remember wiping green paint off my jeans when I sat down before my colleagues. I smiled. I was already doing the job they were interviewing me for; the irony and humor were not lost on any of us.

***

My colleague accepted the position about two hours later. I felt relief and a kind of holy gratitude and awe. “What next, God?” I wondered. Surely, I wouldn’t have been given such a strong sign and direct words as that from my dream and the priest, that God would leave me flailing.

Within a week, my full time position at North High for summer school was solidified. I left the seeming  beauty and pristine of a more resourced area of the Twin Cities for north Minneapolis. And my life changed. (The Northside was where I would meet the Vis Sisters after all!)

Epilogue:
I was offered a full time job for the regular school year on my last day teaching summer school at North High. My colleague, who accepted the post we had both interviewed for,  resigned two months into the following school year citing mental health issues. I learned this from our mentor at the Professional Practice School. “Does an ‘I told you so” make you feel better, Melis?” she asked.
“Perhaps vindicated,” I think now.

I thank God for the directions my life has taken,  my journey to north Minneapolis, and the way Spirit has lead me.

Invitation to reflect:
What is your story? How have you arrived in your own particular perch or area of the world? What has inspired your course of action or decision making? How has your heart, mind, and prayer lead you? What sage counsel have you sought in discerning your next best step? How have dreams influenced your journey ? What wise, inspired, pastoral presence or mentorship has influenced, or affirmed your discernment process?

I welcome your words.

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!

Answering the Door: Some Thoughts on Planning and the Present Moment…

Mary Marg and Demetrius

Who is showing up in our lives? How are we embracing each being at the door?

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“‘And when the door bell rings, you will get your agenda,’ says the Lord.” — Sr. Mary Frances Reis, vhm on the doorbell ministry at the Visitation Monastery north Minneapolis

I’m a planner. I like to plan things. Maybe you are like me? You take stock in naming dates and times and creating agendas that spell out tasks and goals. Perhaps you take comfort in plugging information into your smart phone calendars that informs your next step in the day?  In this world and life that seems so out of our control, perhaps planning provides a bit of security?  As a classroom teacher, we had protocols for such planning where we would think ahead in time and work backwards — identifying outcomes and naming “what success will look like” or “sound like” — and again, planning accordingly for it all.

You know the old adage, though: “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” I think, “Indeed!”

I’m reflecting on this compulsion or desire to plan in the face of all that I have been navigating, personally, in the recent months.  I am committed to honoring the lessons that have shown up in birthing our son Xavi, experiencing his brief life, and looking for ways that God has been present in and through it all.  I find the lessons of letting go (of outcomes/ agendas/ life itself) — such a gift — and I recognize that this is part of what the dear Visitation Sisters have been teaching me, us, the world, day in and out for years…(centuries, even, right?)

It’s a lesson about living in the present moment.

The sisters pray the divine office four times a day, and they answer the door.  In and through it all, is their ministry. They are an urban monastery of prayer and presence.

***

When Jane, the ultrasound technician, was moving her sonographic wand over my expanded mid-section at our 21 week ultrasound, I couldn’t go anywhere but that room. When she reported that Xavi’s cerebellum wasn’t intact, that he had fluid around his kidneys, stomach and heart, and that there were several holes in this central blood-pumping organ, I didn’t think I could continue breathing.  I wanted nothing more but to disappear from that room, to dissolve into the air, seep out of that space and avoid the shattering news that my son was not going to live a long life. But in that room were a whole host of prayerful beings, a communion of holy men and women convened in my heart and present in the touch of my husband’s hand.  I kept hearing, “Be still and know that I am God….Be still and know.” Those words were balm as I tried to catch my breathe and be present to life as it was –and is– unfolding.

Life is not all neat and pretty and according to how we want it, eh? It’s not how we plan for it. Enter the embrace of the present moment.

***

Sr. Katherine and MoWhen the Visitation Sisters came up from St. Louis and over from Mendota to found the Minneapolis monastery, they were given this directive about their daily life: to answer the door. Sr. Mary Frances explains this in the following words, “when the door bell rings, you will get your agenda,’ says the Lord.” The sisters pray the divine office four times a day, and they answer the door.  In and through it all, is their ministry. They are an urban monastery of prayer and presence. They, like their co-founders Jane and Francis, are “Living Jesus!” in the ways they are each called to respond to the divine life in their midst. And we are all invited to do the same.

How do we answer our doors? Who is showing up in our lives? How are we embracing the being on the other side of that front-porch-knocking in all of his or her fullness? How do we receive the news born out by each messenger? How do we say, “yes” to the incredible uncertainties that life presents us with from moment to moment? What happens when the present moment makes us want to run and hide?

On this day, I hold these questions prayerfully in my heart. I pray, along with the Visitation Sisters, for the courage to answer the door, to rest in the present moment and be okay with the plans that God has for my life — and for all of ours’. I am glad you are here with me.

“Daughters of Prayer” — On the Anniversary of the Founding of Visitation Monastery north Minneapolis

Video by Sr. Katherine Mullin, VHM

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 marks the start of the 24th year of the Visitation Sisters in north Minneapolis. On this day, the Sisters marked the occasion with mass at the Girard Avenue monastery.

In this informal video of Sr. Mary Frances Reis, she shares part of the founding stories of both the Visitation communities in Minnesota. Sr. Mary Frances tells about the four Visitation Sisters from St. Louis, MO, who got on a steamboat in 1873 to come up the Mississippi to St. Paul to found the monastic community and school  — at the request of railroad businessman James Jay Hill. (“He wanted a good school for his daughters.”)

Sr. Mary Frances goes on to describe the second monastic founding in Minneapolis in 1989 after a ten year discernment period lead again by three sisters in St. Louis: Sr. Mary Margaret, Sr. Mary Virginia and Sr. Karen. In their prayer, these nuns heard their call to “take the Visitation to the poor.”

Discernment: Tuning into God’s Voice (when others are speaking?)

How do we tune in joyfully to God's voice?

How do we tune in to God's voice?

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“How do we tune in and hear God’s voice when others are simultaneously having conversations that are within ear shot?”

This question came up in a recent exchange with a young woman discerning her life’s calling. I found it resonant then, and now — especially as our community turns toward the start of our Fall discernment series, entitled, “Following the Spirit.”

The question makes me giggle. (Read: I imagine trying to hear God speaking over the dull roar of a cocktail party;  or,  being at a family reunion and trying to share an ear of corn-on-the-cob with Jesus, only to have the butter and salt passers and burger consumers shove in on our space — and I miss Christ’s message.)

I return to the heart to of the question, and consider a litany of supporting queries for discerners: How do we hear? How do we tune in? What do we tune out? How do we know what is genuinely from God? How do we receive messages that perhaps aren’t all so life-giving or divinely-inspired and gently put them aside? Ah, the blessed process that listening is, eh!?

“I imagine trying to hear God speaking over the dull roar of a cocktail party;  or,  being at a family reunion and trying to share an ear of corn-on-the-cob with Jesus, only to have the butter and salt passers and burger consumers shove in on our space — and I miss Christ’s message.”

****

I am remembering sitting in English class at Norfolk Catholic my senior year of high school. It was early Fall and Ms. Burkink, our guidance counselor, was making rounds to quiz us about our next steps academically-speaking. We were often pulled from this Senior Writing class for such interviews. Anne Dostal sat next to me, nudging me with questions, on the heels of Ms. Burkink’s loud-speaker pages bidding the next student to come to her office (at least those she thought were college bound).

Tuning in...

Tuning in...

“Where will you go to college?” Anne whispered. “I’m getting all of this information from St. Kate’s in St. Paul, MN; if I could go out of a state, to a private school, it would be there.”

Of course, when my own parents asked a similar question at the dinner table later that week, I said, “I’d like to check out St. Kate’s in St. Paul, MN.”

Yes, I was getting the same information that Anne Dostal was in the mail (we were targeted based on our grades and ACT/SAT scores, right?) But her clarity in looking elsewhere — beyond the borders of our state, or our full-ride offers from the U, gave me permission to do so as well. It was like a gift from God, her voice — an affirmation that my own college-seeking self so truly needed.

(Background: I’m the firstborn in our family of six children, and while my father got a 4-year degree — he ran away from home to do so;  my mom left Mount Marty College after three semesters to marry her high school sweetheart. Translation: college discernment processes were not uber-familiar ones for my mom and dad, and so my search was rather hap-hazard at first.)

I think back on that process of early academic and life discernment, and think of Anne’s voice as a gift to me in my own process of tuning in to the Spirit and next steps. “What is next? How will I know what’s right? Is what is right for her, also okay for me?”

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In today’s world, we have so many opportunities, resources, information, “voices,” if you will, at our fingertips — or drowning out our ears (not unlike the dull roar of voices at a cocktail party, or people nudging in on your sacred time tuning into Christ’s message for you). Just opening up your lap top, or turning on your phone or glancing toward the TV can bombard you with info that you need to process — pay attention to, or tune out. There are a billion messages for any one person looking for an indication on where to turn next in life….

So: how do we genuinely hear God’s call? What voices do we turn the volume up or down on? Who do we trust to process our deepest questions with? How do we hear God?

I close out this post today with nothing but a sincere prayer for each and every discerning individual out there. May you be anchored by the joy and love of God in your soul, may you have quiet space to tune in to Love’s voice; may you be shepherded by a wise, or kindred presence who will affirm and nurture you on your path. This is my prayer for you this day.

PEACE and BLESSINGS!

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For those craving more on the process of Listening, Silence, and Prayer in the discernment process, I highly recommend Fr. Richard Rohr’s current meditations under the title of “Silence” found at the Center for Action and Contemplation.