ADVENT: TIME OF VIGILING AND WAITING

starry-nightby Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Our Advent theme at the monastery is Vigiling.

As I began my personal Advent journey this year I realized some of my ways of preparing for this time were marked with the familiar,  such as a place for an Advent wreath in my personal prayer space and gathering a myriad of Scripture guides and seasonal prayer books and photos. Some of these were also different, or new this year. I am using electric candles with my wreath because sometimes in the very early morning hours or late night time I forget to extinguish them before I leave my room and I insist on REAL evergreen boughs because I need the smell to remind me of the season and also of the north woods of the Upper Peninsula where my father was raised. The connection goes deep here because my Dad and his brother and Sister used to cut trees from their property and bring them to Chicago to help the family survive when they were young adults. Since the tradition has continued and my Aunt and her children did the same as I was growing up. As a city cousin, I was overjoyed when they visited us around Thanksgiving to bring their handiwork to my part of the world. Those wreaths funded my cousins’ educations. Memories associated with Advent smells. These are the same and new ones are often added….

It is a time of waiting for the deepest, darkest time of solstice when the light begins to come again. I wait for that time, as many humans have for ages before me.

Many years I have spent the first week of Advent noticing and praising God for the beauty of the early morning and late afternoon skies. What a wonderful contrast of light and dark broken with deep hues of purple, pink, indigo and orange! It is a time of waiting for the deepest, darkest time of solstice when the light begins to come again. I wait for that time, as many humans have for ages before me.

Our Advent theme at the monastery is Vigiling, particularly with our Sister Mary Margaret as she gains strength daily since her September stroke. I wondered on the first day of Advent if Vigiling was just another word for Waiting…

Vigiling is living the present moment with hope and faith.

dromedaries-carawane-sunset_source-nosadeAs I contemplated these two terms I realized that waiting for the Winter Solstice was very different from vigiling with Mary Margaret. Waiting is something that we do with expectation. It is looking/working toward a specific end. Children wait for Christmas. I wait for a doctor’s appointment or the opening of the drive through window at the bank. Vigiling is something more immediate. It is living the present moment with hope and faith. I am with Sister Mary Margaret as she stands at the parallel bars at physical therapy for the first time; I have faith that the speech therapist will help her understand that swallowing takes daily practice. I pray with her and for her and sometimes with her in the present moments of each of our days. Living the present moments, joyful, sad, filled with laughter or tears is the type of Vigil I am doing this year. A vigil of Presence with Hope. Christmas will be a time to celebrate the incarnation. Camels, sheep, shepherds and kings will adorn my Advent wreath. Reindeer and Santa will be packed away with other decorations but the Hope of Vigiling will remain.

Door Ministry and the Mystery of the Visitation

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

Tattoo removal, housing crises, food shortages, gunshots wounds, popsicles, physical therapy and God were all topics of conversation for me between 11am and 1pm at the Girard House last Tuesday morning. I was at the monastery doing door ministry.

Following Centering Prayer each week, I make my way from St. Jane House to one of the Visitation Sisters’ locations. Sr. Katherine and I routinely connect for spiritual conversation and “Vocation Partner talk.” I look forward each Tuesday morning to the  spoonfuls of peanut butter and slices of banana that accompany these precious conversations with my dear friend and mentor,  “SK2.” We sit on the front porch, or head into the living room, or sometimes descend to her office in the basement, and we have our chats. In the process, I always feel the mystery of the Visitation at work.

"Windsock Visitation" by Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

"Windsock Visitation" by Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

Older woman. Younger woman. Each full of life. Something growing. Something trying to be born. There’s a prophetic and redemptive quality to all of our encounters, as we claim, consciously or not, our roles as Mary and Elizabeth and celebrate the divine life within — and the mutuality of our relationship.

On this particular Tuesday, however, when Sr. Katherine wasn’t available,  I found myself at 1619 Girard Avenue North, answering the door and experiencing the mystery of the Visitation in a whole new way.

“D” was from Tennessee. He was dressed in jeans and a white tee, rolled up over his shoulders, and excited to come onto the porch for a cool couple of moments. With a heat index of over 100 degrees, offering a glass of ice water was not only courteous, but a necessary consideration in this climate. He was full of smiles and an energetic spirit, shaking my hand, and repeating his 12 syllable name. “Tell the sisters ‘D’ says, ‘hi’!”

From the hallway, Sr. Mary Margaret appeared,  poking her head out, “Is that my “D”? she asked. She came out and the two embraced. Sr. Mary Marg looked intently at me and relayed their last encounter. “‘D’ was here the day I got home from the hospital. He helped move me back in!”

Sister and “D” reflected on their respective health situations, the challenges of physical therapy and the way our bodily injuries catch up with us over time.

When Mary Marg left to resume her tasks inside,  “D” and I were left to talk.

With two lightening bolt like tattoos marking his cheeks, his disclosed survival of being shot up down south, and the role of adult mentors – for good and ill – in our lives, we turned our conversation to surviving here. Now.

And we prayed.

“D” offered to read to me from the placard that is often handed out to anyone coming to the door of the monastery. The peace prayer of St. Francis de Sales:

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and everyday. He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

I handed “D” his requested bus token, and he gave me a hug. And my heart was full.

The encounter rejuvenated and reminded me of how precious little moments in our day can be. While I wasn’t able to connect with Sr. Katherine that day, I did connect with another human being, and in the process felt God’s loving hand in my life.

I hope it was the same for “D.”