Hammocked

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93

Sacred space, when analog time holds no meaning,

life suspends itself like a hammock between two rooted trees swaying in the breeze between here and there,

between before and after,

swaying into that intimate space of the present.

When all you can do is breathe, deep breaths, shallow breaths, breaths…because no one can prepare you for the threshold you are crossing over,

they can only silently, reverently, hold a hand,

offer a gaze,

provide a subtle gesture to let you know that you do not walk alone;

the oils you were baptized with, blessed with, live in that garden of your body’s memory.

The hands that laid upon your own still lay there caressing you.

No, no one can do what your life asks of you.

They can just lay down on the tall grass next to you and sigh,

watching with you as the clouds overhead pass,

and notice as the ant climbs that blade of grass near your face and the tall strand curves under its presence,

much like the arc of God’s arms cradle our weight in his embrace as we strive to climb nearer to his heart.

And when we rise together from the summer’s green grass

and look back at the matted imprints our body’s left behind

we know we were there

in that sacred space of raw, real life that brings us to our knees

only to know what it is like to rise rooted again.

______________________

(Poem, prayer inspired by the Kiemde family.)

Surprised by Joy

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

A young woman discerning her life said, “I remember adults asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up?” She recalled a moment when her mom suggested a vocation based on her interests. This exchange set a path for her from an early age that she worked religiously toward. She had the aptitude, the success to back the endeavor, and it was not until nearly a decade later she realized she was missing a key ingredient to her pursuit; joy.

We are so concerned as a society with what we do as a means for defining who we are that we forget to be. Perhaps this concern bordering on obsession stems from the Puritan roots of Plymouth Rock that implored good deeds would earn us our grace and redemption. A modern day translation of this thought, that our actions speak louder than words. That we need to earn not only God’s grace and benevolence, but others as well can lead to what Thomas Merton poetically refers to as a “violence of the self.”

Other cultures, other places, outside of the United States view the question, “What do you do?” with disdain, bordering on rudeness. “Be who you are and be that perfectly well,” implores St. Francis de Sales–that perfection and humanness go hand in hand is inviting, even daring us to let go of our Martha-ness and bask in our Mary vibe. Or at the very least to balance the two inclinations: doing with the grace of being.

Yet is discernment a luxury? Are all invited into the conversation on equal footing based on our Baptismal calls? Or even before baptism based on being human? Are those children that grow up in poverty asked enough to dream about what they might want to become? While this question posed at an early age can be restrictive for some, could it implore others? Dare I ask, does socio-economic class matter when the question is posed?

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Fr. Michael O’Connell gave another zinger of a homily this week in reference to Prophet Amos. He started his homily recounting yet another murder of a young person on the north side, this time outside of Ascension’s Church doors. He proclaimed from the pulpit that most of the violence that occurs in north Minnepolis stems from kids under 18 who have dropped out of school. He went on to say, “That as adults guiding our young it is up to us to make sure they get an education.” He invited the congregation present to think about Ascension School, which if needed can be fully subsidized. “A place where 60 more chairs sit empty. A place where 90 percent of the graduating class goes on to pursue college. 90% people!” He was emphatic that as parents it is up to us to guide our children, and to make sure they are being guided by other trustworthy adults.

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Rumblings in my soul rose up as I reflected on our move two years ago from Santa Fe back to St. Paul largely because of education. Were we shortsighted? Had we overreacted? We gave up more organic outdoor access for a more formal education…was it really this important? According to Fr. O’Connell it was. It is.

While some relish summer, others abhor it. Long windows of unstructured time for youth with a lack of outlets in north Minneapolis leads to an increase in violence. Children are therefore at risk for being hurt, killed or being the one to hurt or kill. Is too much being and not enough doing part of the culprit? Could tightening the tension between being and doing lead to safer summers for children in north Minneapolis? One friend commented, “Money is good for education and travel, after that it only creates distance between people.” The distance right now is too grave not to respond. Education done well, at its best leads a learner toward joy. Deep joy. Let us, adults, be modern day Amos’ and rise up so that quality education invites the children of north Minnepolis to begin to dream about what they want to be, and also relax in the hammock of grace that who they are is already “perfectly well.”

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

___________________

Title “Surprised by Joy” borrowed from C.S. Lewis’ autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life

Word of Mouth-Something to Meditate On

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Sunday we attended mass at Ascension. After listening to Father Michael O’Connell’s voice read the Gospel with beauty and conviction we listened to him unpack the following scene:

Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.”

Father Michael O’Connell, paused, looked at us, and began to speak of addictions that hold us back, or that might be our “thorn,” to heal from to become whole, able to do God’s will here. Then he became quite serious. He said, “I think our country has an epidemic happening, and the epidemic is talking about people in unkind, unjust ways.” He continued, “The most dangerous weapon I know, and for me to say this in the context of north Minneapolis says something, is right here!” He pointed at his mouth. Silence filled the congregation.

How do we cease this epidemic from continuing? How do we stop it from being passed on to the next generation?

Father O’Connell then lovingly invited us to use our mouths, our voice for love, for healing, for spreading the good news about ourselves and one another. And to let go of what has become a “knee-jerk reaction” in our country of looking for people’s short comings.

I might add to this invitation to not tolerate others talking ill about others in your presence. It is each of our duties to invite one another to use our mouths for the greater good of our community. For far too often what we say becomes not only our perceptions but then our reality. Think with care, and speak with care.

How can you curb the tendency to speak ill-will in your life? How can you use your voice for beauty, for love, for healing, for justice and compassion?

Geographical Discernment

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Yesterday, I was in Collegeville, MN having a conversation about monastic vocations and young people. No sooner was I in the midst of what twenty-somethings are passionate about and who they are today, than I was thrown back into who I was then, as a twenty something myself.

I criss-crossed the country six times before I was 30, backpacked Europe, worked in Central America, held seven jobs, completed two masters degrees, and was married, and tried for a child the last four years of that decade. It was a decade filled with adventure, loaded with questions, laced with story.

I spent six of those years in Chicago living among college friends, near my brother and his family, and pursuing studies that inspired me. I pursued some work that told me what I was not supposed to do, sell real estate; and other work that gave me great joy, looking at people’s vocational calls. There in Chicago, I came to a cross roads when my vocational work beckoned me to California.

Newly married, I not only had to discern if this next step was “good for me,” but for us? We would be leaving family, and a community of friends from undergraduate work, graduate studies, volunteer work, and professional endeavors to a place we knew no one. My partner did not have work there, but did not love the work he was currently doing. We had student loans to pay off, and debt to wrestle. On paper we had more reason to stay rooted in Chicago than to leap to California, but our hearts were already gone, and our gut whispered sternly go and trust.

As St. Francis de Sales says, “Pray about it, seek wise council, make a decision and don’t look back.”

We did. We spent two years living in northern California. We paid down debt. We learned a new culture and how to make friends there. We learned to rely on one another. We learned to tell the seasons by what is in bloom not by the markings of snow or the absence of leaves. We were blessed with a child. Peter let go of work that was no longer life giving to pursue work that bought joy and addressed environmental needs. And two years later, when life called us back to the road, we learned to let go and return home.

Where we called home for two years...

Discerning a move? Leaving for college? Finishing school? Called to live intentionally? Wondering where your gifts are leading you–are calling you?

First quiet your mind by finding silence, stillness, and listen to your heart, what is it longing for? Where can you find this longing? This calling? Dream about it. Then start to explore possibilities, talk with people, ask questions, listen to their stories and see what arises. Are there any concrete options for you to further pursue? If so, go for it, apply, and see how you feel about the option once you have the details before you. (Deeper discernment can not occur fully until you have real possibilities to discern.) If it is a go, pack your bags, try it. If not return to your breath, return to your heart’s desire, and see if it’s shifted, looks different or is still revealing itself.

Sometimes geographical discernment leads you back home and other times keeps you planted where you currently stand–whichever your outcome honor it. Let your roots grow wild and fierce like a dandelion’s– a deep vertical plunge and the wingspan of an eagle.

Expectation & Intention

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

What is the difference between the two you might ask, (and I had some ask after my last post regarding attachment)?

With intentions you imagine and invite what you hope for into your life or situation, but there is room, sometimes ample room for different outcomes to present itself. In short, you are not attached to the outcome, because you trust that the outcome is what it is.

Expectations are not as fluid as intentions. Usually when we have expectations we are more married to the outcome matching what we expect and when it does not we become dissappointed, angry, or upset that it did not go our way. This often leads to our suffering. Suffering usually occurs when we can not accept our present moment because we were attached to what we wanted the present to be, and it is not the present that is before us.

The role of intention is important! If we want to become our best selves, then inviting ourselves into what we intend, what we hope, and how we envision to share our gifts with others is important. We need to set the intentions and be in dialogue with our intentions as they organically shift and come into being.

What are you intending for your life? How do you bring your intentions to prayer? How do you invite others into your intentions? Please share so we may all grow from one another’s wisdom and support your intentions into being.

Inspiration

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

I often find inspiration in poems and literature. The poem below has long been a favorite poem of mine and speaks to the rapture of being alive, and the mindfulness of finding more beauty in the world, which Sister Katherine wisely commented has the power to transform violence into love.

Sister Katherine said: “I am more and more aware of the importance of pointing out beauty to the children in our neighborhood-adults too. Like a bird song they night miss, a butterfly that flies by in our garden, one lovely flower. (I like it when people point out something to me). I invite them to listen, smell or see all kinds of things beautiful. Someone said, ‘Beauty is the biggest deterrent to violence.’ We can give peace in so many ways, can’t we?”

So in the spirit of summer coming in full force with the ritual of the last days of school upon us, and a hope that children every where stay safe especially those in north Minneapolis when summer can mean a spike in violence, may each of us point out the beauty each life makes in this one “wild and precious life.”

Summer Day

Summer Day

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays. © Beacon Press, 2008.

No thanks!

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

With our life’s discernment, it is good to take heed about what we have learned that we do not like. Instead of finding this frustrating that once again we find ourselves not loving our work, let’s flip it into an invitation of yet another thing to check off, “No thanks, this is not for me.”

These glimpses into what we find draining us of energy, or avoiding can inform what we need to prune away from our life in order to make room for what we are being called toward.

Often, without awareness, we continue in our tried patterns, our tired treads, because it is habitual and not because it is life giving. When we take the time to pause and ask ourselves why am I resisting this? Or why do I find upon waking I have little energy to attend to my job at hand, whatever that may be, we can gain insight into our discernment–that if left unquestioned we would never gain the wisdom our life is asking of us.

In short, what we dislike, or dare I say hate, is just as important to pay attention to, as to what we often are asked to consider–what gives us joy.

So give thanks for what you do not like! Say Amen, let go. And move on to what does give you joy! You and your community will be better for it in the long run! Take courage and press on!

Ash Wednesday

By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

We ready our hearts,

In the desert we swirl from dust to dust,

upon the mountain top as the sun kisses our face;

marking it like a lover.

How to look into the sun’s radiance?

God whispers on the winds of our heart’s longing to be purified, loved, whole.

The desert upon first glance is void of life and vibrancy,

but within deeper prayer the life that lives in the forsaken land is revealed.

Colors become vibrant.

What lives within each of us dying of thirst,

waiting that rare desert rain that hits hard red earth and is readily absorbed?

An invitation for our hearts forty days in the wild desert to become supple and strong, swift and tamed by love.

Community–What does it mean to discern?

by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

What does 'community' mean to you?

Often when we speak of discernment we might faultily think this is regarding individual decision making, but perhaps do not give credit to outside influences or considerations that inform and guide our heart’s true longings. For example, what is in the news today, or yesterday might catch our attention and ask us to consider how our gifts could respond to a need in our immediate or global community.

“St. Francis de Sales implores of us to ‘seek sage counsel, and once we have prayed about the decision, to not look back.'”

This morning at a weekly meeting I was asked, “What does community mean to you?” Our group responded with the following: “Community is people you know and love, people who are families; community is made up of concentric circles from those you may casually interact with to those you know more intimately; there is a virtual community and a live community; community is destined by the architecture of the place both constructed and nature-made.”

When we are asked to discern how our gifts could bless our communities needs, we need to also ask the question, “Does our community need the gifts we want to use at this time?” We can not, nor should we discern in isolation. We are prudent to follow what St. Francis de Sales implores of us to “seek sage counsel, and once we have prayed about the decision, to not look back.”

“…our holy decision-makings do not happen in isolation, nor should they happen solely in community.”

A close confident of mine, spoke to me this evening about what he heard on the news about a three month old dying in interment camp in Afghanistan, and then a subsequent story about a mother in Detroit not able to bring her older kids to school because she could not afford the bus money for all six of her kids. He said, “I feel so far removed from the daily sufferings of others, and while I work hard to improve our natural world, there has to be more I can do in our own backyard to help others who are in need.”

I was moved by what caught his heart’s attention and how God was inviting him toward action. Hearing him speak, also had an effect on me. It invited me to reflect more on how I can respond in kind. And so: a discerning community begets a discerning community.

I share these two events of my past week to further illustrate that our holy decision makings do not happen in isolation, nor should they happen solely in community, but in a delicate dance between solitary reflection and the illumination of community needs and invitations. What is your community asking of you? What is your heart’s longing wanting to give of yourself?

God is in everything part two…

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

If we are to commit to “finding God in all things,” then this informs our discernments; our holy decision making. It colors our perspective, enhances our outlook on life, makes our life feel touched by the sacred, the divine. Our marvelous ordinary life becomes extraordinary, and in its extraordinary space comes forth an expansive humility that St Jane de Chantal and St Francis de Sales speak of when they encourage the little virtues as the road to holiness.

If we really take on this cloak of finding God in all things in our life, we begin to see patterns that emerge, some we might find life giving and others we might be invited to prune in order to make room for more life. This is noted by our interior responses of our heart. that if we stay authentic to the revealing pattern it will lead us toward more life, more love, and more generosity of spirit.

I can look at the apparent chaos of my life and see it as just that chaos. A slew of requests when I am getting the littles ready to go out the door in the morning. Or I can invite myself to find God in my mornings, and breath in the littles simple dependance. With this prayer on my heart their need for me to do, assist, help, or encourage depending on their ages becomes sweet like honey that God gave me these four gifts to nurture and nudge along in their growth from getting dressed, to grasping the intimacy of their loving God. The mere fact that they can trust that I am here with them through the mundane muddle of everyday routines to the bigger questions they pose, “Is God visible?” and be just as in awe at them buttoning their pants alone for the first time as the questions they ask, means together we encounter the sacred as we clothe ourselves in God’s graces. This brings me to my knees; I am humbled by their beauty.

What patterns emerge for you when you contemplate God’s grace flowing in your life?