Thresholds: On the Theology of Letting Go

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Whew, talk about thresholds, nothing seems so cyclical as the start of the school year to give a gentle and stunning reminder of the sacred walk of liminal space. When you are no longer on one side of the bridge and are yet to reach the other end, you my friend are indeed in the glorious and troublesome in-between space of becoming. Some argue this is a constant if you are to truly live out your vocation of being authentically human and real.

NNOP2012.lChildren in north Minneapolis mark this threshold by attending the back to school party the Sisters host where supplies are given to prepare them for the doorways they are about to cross. We give children not only school supplies, but also we hope, coping supplies to handle the nervouseness, the anxiety, the anticipation, the excitement, the dread, the unknown of what will this next year at this school hold for me? Will I be loved? Will I be recognized? Will I have friends? Will I find familiar faces in my classroom? On my playground? In my neighborhood? Will my teacher like me? Can I go from getting into trouble a lot to no longer? Will people recognize the change, the growth, the maturity that the bounty of summer has graced me with as green leaves give way to fall colors? Will my reputation proceed me? Or my brother or sister’s reputation light the path for me or cause me to work extra hard to change perceptions laid? Will my mom and dad be ok without me? What will after school feel like when I have worked hard all day to hold it together for my new teacher? My new classmates? My new environment? Will my gifts of bug catching, noticing colors, recognizing faces, making friends, be honored and encouraged? Will my teacher, my principal, my school be a nice place to spend a lot of my time? Will I feel safe and loved enough to be authentically myself?

St. Francis de Sales instructs how to calm the anxious nervous energies of our little ones by role modeling inner peace for them, we invite them into the calm:

Finding Inner Peace

“Do not anticipate the events of this life with anxiety, but await them with a sure hope that as they occur, God to whom we belong will deliver you from them. God has protected you up to now, just hold on securely to the hands of Divine Providence which will help you in every circumstances, carrying you when you cannot walk. So do not think what would happen tomorrow, for the same eternal Father who takes care of you today will look out for you tomorrow and every day, either protecting you from evil or giving you invincible courage to bear it. Remain at peace then, and remove from your imagination whatever could trouble you.

Belong totally to God, think of God who will be thinking of you. God has drawn you to Himself so that you may belong to Him and God will take care of you. Do not be afraid, for as little chicks feel perfectly safe when they are under their mother’s wings, how secure should the children of God feel under His maternal protection, so be at peace, since you are one of His little children, and let your weary restless heart rest against this sacred loving breast of your Savior, who by His providence is a Father to His children and by gentle tender love is a Mother to them.

First thing in the morning, prepare your heart to be at peace and take great care throughout the day to call it back to that peace frequently, so to speak to take your heart back in your hand. If you happen to do something that you regret, you need not be astonished nor upset, but having acknowledge to your failing, humble yourself gently before God and try to regain your composure. Say to yourself, “there we have made a mistake, but let’s go on now and be more careful”. Every time you fall do the same.

When you innerly peaceful, don’t miss the opportunity to act as gently as you can and as frequently as you can, no matter how insignificant the occassion may be, for as our Lord says: “To the person who is faithflul in little things, greater one will be given”.Often says in the midst trials: This is the way to heaven, I see the port ahead and I’m sure that storms cannot prevent me from reaching it.

“My eyes are always on the Lord who frees my feet from the trap”. If you’ve been caught in the trap of life’s difficulties, well, you must not look at your own situation nor the trap that holds you, look at God, let God act and take care of you, cast your burden on the Lord who will nurse you. Why get involved in the pros and cons of things that happening in your life that is out of your control? You don’t really know what is ultimately the best. And God will manage quite well without You putting yourself to a trouble. SO with your mind at peace, await whatever happens. Let the Divine Will be enough for you, since it is always very good.

As God directed St. Catherine of Siena: “Think of me, and I will think of you”.

So as our children begin school, assure them that our bonds defy distance. That God’s love for them shown through our love ofNNOP2012.m them protects and surrounds them with light, love and the courage to learn and grow. That sharing their gifts makes them authentically who they are called to be on earth. That the thread attached to our hearts unravels outward with them as they join their wider community where they share what makes them shine with others. We can watch in amazement, gratitude, and excitement that what was once will never be again. And trust with inner peace that what they are becoming will become again even more beautiful, fiercely dear, and wildly wonderful. We walk in faith with our children’s growth of becoming. It is a walk into the holy liminal space of inner peace. Cultivate inner peace. Pray for it. Share it with our children.

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?

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.

More Beauty

How will you make the world more beautiful?

A stunning question really, isn’t it? As today’s rains and last night’s thunderstorms soak into our spring soil promising the bounty of summer around the corner? How am I called to make the world more beautiful? You must see the origins of this question from one of my favorite bloggers Karen Maezen Miller.

Inner Beauty

Inner Beauty

Beauty is a value as an artist I treasure, both inside, and out, aesthetic and the intangible aspects of beauty. I have struggled with beauty since my alopecia has gone full throttle. Having hair or not having hair can be a profound impact on how I perceive myself and on how others encounter me. Shedding more traditional views of beauty has enlivened my spirit, emboldened me to be brave in situations where I might be tempted to shy away from a person’s gaze or unspoken question.

As my hair follicles begin to awaken, I hold hope. I have an awakened heart that has the capacity for beauty, I have open eyes that search for beauty, and I have hands willing to create beauty where one might not think there is any.

How are you making the world more beautiful today? Please share with us here.

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!

Visitation Has Style

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Last Monday I went back to Visitation Mendota to witness another alumna, Liz Edwards Hewitt, tell the Visitation students her story of surviving breast cancer. A story which led to her deep conviction that it is imperative to advocate for your health. She wanted to catch their attention and decided a good way to do so was to cut her hair on stage for Locks of Love and Beautiful Lengths. As she planned this all-school convocation she invited others to participate. One hair cut on stage led to 33 haircuts of students, faculty, staff, and even parents contributing their hair for people who need wigs due to cancer, alopecia or other medical reasons.

I sat on the steps of the auditorium with my three younger boys and watched as my former teacher and basketball coach, Connie Colon Parsley, cut Liz’s pony tail, and listened to Liz say, “Look around you, the relationships you make here are important. They will carry you through your life. Take care of them.” As I sat in that auditorium, my coat still on, and a hat on my head because of my own alopecia my spirit swelled to be part of this community. To still be in relationship with Visitation through my own friends, through the sisters, and through the school in Mendota Heights and the Monastery in north Minneapolis.

Sr. Mary Paula, stood and shared how she is a breast cancer survivor and what it meant to be able to get a wig when she lost her hair so many years ago. As my boys and I took in the morning, I wanted to say to the students there:

Liz is right it is the relationships that carry you through the joyous and difficult moments of life. While I do not have cancer, but alopecia, I never realized how much hair, having it, losing it, giving it away can define you. But it doesn’t have to define you. You do not have to shrink away from the spot light because of an illness. Nor do you have to explain it. Your beauty comes from that deep reservoir of beauty inside of yourself, your spirit. My spirit is brighter having known the Visitation Sisters, having been steeped in the Salesian tradition, and having been sent out in the world to share the Visitation spirit and tradition with others.

My heart swelled that morning as I watched 33 women donate their hair and 33 stylists dedicate their time to cut and style them. At one point a friend of mine, who was on stage, held her cut locks in a bag and looked in my direction, and winked. Tears brimmed as I basked in her act of sweet solidarity.

I invite you into relationship with the Sisters of the Visitation, like so many of their relationships in north Minneapolis it can start by simply ringing their doorbell.

“God is in Everything…”

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

This was the invitation at this past Sunday’s mass to find our beloved God in everything. The priest giving the homily was quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola, but St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales also firmly believed that God was in the ordinary doings of our lives and to seek God no further than there.

Isn’t this lovely and refreshing? Isn’t this what we hope to imprint on the hearts of our little ones, our friends, our family? That God is in everything! Isn’t this what we hope for when things seem apparently bleak that God will still show up, still be present, still give us hearts to see the graces of our lives at hand? Or in the mundane or the joyous that there too we find God. It is like an ongoing love note.



I remember being taught this, but it was not until I understood at the heart level that God is love and to find God we channel and find love that I really grasped God being in everything. I remember the day it really clicked for me, I was a sophomore at Boston College. It was a glorious sunny spring day and by that afternoon puddles revealed themselves everywhere on campus. I paused by one that earlier had been covered in ice, and remember thinking how miraculous it was that what was hardened had melted. Then my mind made the leap to God melts hearts that are hardened, and I just stared and stared at that puddle. My Jesuit Professors voice echoed in my ear, “God is in everything,” and the Sisters Salesian lessons from my years at Visitation came soaring back, and graces washed over me because I began to see how God was within me and within others and even in the landscape.

In this new year, with another fresh, fine layer of snow outside how is God that fine dusting on your life? How is God outlining your life, tracing your every mark with love? How is God in everything for you?

Prepare, prepare for Christmas!

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

O What a Morn! Christmas brings out the child in each of us. May you know its wonder, feel its warmth, and share its love. Christmas Blessings! By Brother Mickey McGrath

O What a Morn! Christmas brings out the child in each of us. May you know it's wonder, feel it's warmth, and share it's love. Christmas Blessings! By Brother Mickey McGrath

Each Christmas it becomes more clear to me that this holiday is all about relationship, much like Elizabeth and mary’s Visitation!

Christmas is about remembering, about thinking, about preparing for those we love near and far, those known to us, our neighbors, our families. The “stuff” that surrounds Christmas, if done at all, is about saying “I know what you like and because I love you I have taken time to think about what you might derive joy from and prepare it for you to receive.”

So Christmas is both about giving, and in giving, we empty our hands to receive what others prepare with us in their minds and hearts. Therefore Christmas becomes a true discernment of our relationships with others. And whether or not material gifts are given, when we approach Christmas with the Visitation Spirit of relationship the joy and spirit of the holiday leaps from our hearts much like Mary and Elizabeth felt their babies leap in joy at the recognition of one another! May we approach the Christ child with such recognition, such relationship and such joy as we wait in excited anticipation of his birth this week!

  • What relationships are you cradling in your arms this Chirtsmas?
  • Who are you preparing for?
  • How does this prepare your own heart for the Christ Child?

Back to School calls for Salesian Virtue: Humility


"Humility is true knowledge." --St. Francis de Sales

Written by Visitation Alumna, Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan

These last few weeks have been marked by back to school rituals and a flurry of fall activities. With learners young and old returning to the classroom, I am reminded of St. Francis de Sales wisdom on the Salesian virtue, humility. He says, that “humility is true knowledge.” If humility is true knowledge then we need to immerse ourselves in learning about the world, our communities and ourselves to clothe ourselves in humility, which will bring us closer to God and others.

Just think if each of us employed this attitude of humility with our neighbors in the classroom and next door — what a gentler, kinder world this would be on our playgrounds, lunchrooms, and on our streets! — Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan

The Visitation Sisters say that the Visitation Spirit can best be found in St. Francis de Sales quote: “Great humility before God and great generosity with our neighbor.” Just think if each of us employed this attitude with our neighbors in the classroom and next door — what a gentler, kinder world this would be on our playgrounds, lunchrooms, and on our streets. So may the Visitation spirit of humility send you forth to seek further knowledge for greater humility and gentleness toward yourself and others bringing you closer to our loving God this school year. Blessings on your learnings wherever it may bring you.