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.)

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.

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?

HWJL: How Would Jesus Lead?

Art by Michal Splho

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

We all know the expression “What would Jesus do?” abbreviated to “WWJD?” and made infamous through a rubber bracelet campaign. On Monday night at the Girard House monastery, Sr. Karen Mohan and northside resident Bianca Franks, a graduate of the first season of the Salesian Leadership program, took this phrase and creatively tweaked it for their Salesian Spirituality presentation: “How would Jesus lead?” With this query abbreviated to “HWJL?” and printed on a slip of paper for our wrists, our room of 25 plus participants set out to reflect on Christ at the center of our lives and service work as leaders.

The question has had me spinning ever since: How would Jesus lead? (How do I lead?)

In the spirit of our co-founders Sts. Francis and Jane, who embodied a simple, gentle manner of leadership in and through their faith lives, we can all find little ways that we, too, exemplify leadership traits.

In order to respond to this, I first have to embrace the notion that I am called to lead, right?   (This can be a daunting prospect, right off the bat, you know? Oh, the responsibility inherent in embracing a title or role as a “leader”!) In the spirit of our co-founders Sts. Francis and Jane, who embodied a simple, gentle manner of leadership in and through their faith lives, we can all find little ways that we, too, exemplify leadership traits.

For Marion, my partner in this reflective exercise, leadership was modeled through her simple act of driving two older parishioners to and from their appointments;  in providing transportation, she takes time to be with these elderly neighbors and model a kind of gentle Christian presence. This kind of leadership is aligned completely with our foot-washing leader named “Jesus” don’t you think?

I turn to ways that I might exemplify such traits. I am praying for my own role as a leader – specifically within my family and larger community. I am praying for the grace and guidance especially as I hold larger issues that compel me to act or think –or  lead? — in a new way.

***

I have been reading over a recent article in the Catholic Spirit about the theology of immigration conference that was held October 2 at St. Catherine’s University. This topic of immigrants -and how we frame the conversation using language that honors our common humanity — has me slowing down to consider the many facets of leadership in the US and reflect on the “HWJL” question.

Rev. Daniel Groody, C.S.C.

Rev. Daniel Groody, C.S.C.

In Julie Carroll’s article she writes:

“According to Catholic teaching, a community should distribute its resources with consideration for the needs of its vulnerable members — including immigrants, regardless of legal status. This is called distributive justice, Father Groody explained. At the same time, individuals are charged with contributing to the common good to the best of their ability.”

I have no answers at the end of the day, but a lot of questions around this important issue of our time, and the way we are all called to lead. In this particular case, I choose to lead by consciously engaging in the conversation and holding compassionate space for others to join with me. I close with the following HWJL questions, in the spirit of Salesian Monday’s presentation:

  • How would Jesus lead on this topic of immigration?
  • How would Christ refer to a person who has crossed a border without documentation? What would He say or do to embrace the border patrol agents?
  • What laws would our Lord of “forgive seventy times seven” enact or support?
  • What am I called to read or study or engage in learning as a Catholic?
  • Where are you in this litany of prayerful questions?