On Service: Q & A with Vis Companion Heidi Akpaette

The following is the first in a series of interviews with Visitation Companions -- a lay 
community committed to the ministry of the Visitation through prayer, Salesian study and service.

The Call to Companionship

Heidi Akpaette, Vis Companion

Heidi Akpaette, Vis Companion

Q: In a few words, what inspired your call to become a Companion to the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis? 

Heidi: I love the vision and mission of the Visitation Sisters and wanted
a tangible way to be involved.

Being a Companion offered me a way
to
invest in the community of North Minneapolis, grow in Salesian Spirituality, and be mentored
by the Visitation Sisters’ life.

Q: What is your favorite saying or teaching of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal?

Heidi: I am inspired by the concept of gentleness-gentleness towards self and gentleness towards others.

On Service

Q: What does the word, “service” mean to you?

Heidi: Service is giving of myself to other people, causes, and missions. It is intentionally moving beyond my own agenda into the agenda of others.

Q: What images of your service come to mind?

Heidi: Learning from the Sister’s wisdom and being in their presence. Advocating for North Minneapolis and the Visitation’s vision of presence to the neighborhood. Bringing ideas and a listening to others on the St Jane House committee. Celebrating Mass with the Sister’s. Planting sunflower seeds. Really seeing people who have their lives on the Northside.

Q: What is the setting for a recent experience of your service?

Heidi: I am at the St Jane house with two other Vis Companions and one of the sisters, we are sitting around a table. We are relaxed in the shared knowledge of the Salesian charisms and our ideas for the St Jane house and it’s mission.

Gifts, Challenges, and Salesian Aspects of Service.

Q: What gifts do you bring to your service?

Heidi: A different generation of experience, a wide variety of connections, networking abilities, and joy in meeting together.

Q: What challenges have you encountered while serving?

Heidi: Not always having the energy to bring more the table and not always having enough space in my personal life from which to give.

Q: What gifts do you receive from serving?

Heidi: Relationships with people that I would otherwise not encounter-hands down that is the best gift.

Q: Where have you found God in your experience of serving?

Heidi: In others-I encounter the living God working and breathing in other people’s lives, sometimes by their actions and sometimes by their words.

Q: What aspects of Salesian spirituality were reflected or manifested in this service experience?

Heidi: Humility in learning from others, seeing the innate dignity in other people, being present with who I am with others doing the same, enjoying a sense of humor with others, and having grace for self in judgment-and challenging myself to grow in my weakness.

On Contemplative Listening: A Doorway into a Deeper Encounter With God

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice centering prayer

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice contemplative listening

by Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion

God invites. Are we willing to listen?

Be still and know that I am God.

That’s what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46.

Like many of the psalms, the context of the lyrics refers to a powerful God in whom humanity is urged to find strength in the face of distress. But, there is another facet of messaging in those words that I find I prefer. Indeed, it’s one I find I can’t live without.

It is a message of comfort; of confidence; of connection. And, as a recent spiritual retreat hosted by the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis reminded us, it is one of openness and hospitality. Those who are willing to immerse themselves in the implication of the message are being offered a doorway into deeper encounter with God.

The sisters and those great spiritual guides who have long gone before call the practice of being still in order to know God, contemplative listening.  What one may hear is never a certainty. But what becomes apparent in undertaking the practice is that it’s very easy to lose God’s signal for all the noises that surround us in our daily lives.

Convened in a circle

Convened in a circle

That the sisters should be particularly skilled in contemplative listening is no surprise. It is, after all, something of a staple of the monastic community they form. That they are so solid in their commitment to its practice where they happen to live is something that impresses me deeply. And that they extend that grace and invite us into their company so we can also be still and perhaps come to know God better, is a privilege.

That sense of privilege is one I know that is shared by the rest of the Visitation Companions who participated on this special day. As one of our group observed afterward, the experience of the retreat left her feeling like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. This companion admits that she is more often like Martha, planning, preparing, serving.

“I can and do read lots of books and articles on Salesian spirituality,” she says. “But nothing can compare to sitting at the feet of these wise women who share their knowledge, their lived experience and their love with all.”

She goes on to say that, “On this day, I am glad that I decided to be a Mary and leave my inner Martha behind.

I would offer that so say we all who were able to partake.

Be still and know that I am God.