Friday, August 17, 2012

A Life Uncommon

In her 1999 song “Life Uncommon,” Jewel says, “Set down your chains until only faith remains/…Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom/…fill your lives with love and bravery/ and we shall lead a life uncommon.”

What constitutes leading a life uncommon?  And why would anyone care to do such a thing?  Lives uncommon in our world today are not limited to certain jobs, locations, or chosen life vocations.  They happen when we give time and energy to seek the unique call that God places in each of our hearts.  The search could lead anywhere - marriage, law school, international mission work, motherhood, a teaching career, or in my case, discerning the religious life on the Mexican border.  Our lives become uncommon when we invite God to make them God’s own. And when our lives are God’s, they are full, meaningful, and impactful.

One of the greatest gifts of becoming a Sister, I am learning, is the fabulous company gained at no extra charge.   It is living a life uncommon, in common.  When Andrea and I looked out into the congregation during our Affiliation ceremony in June, we were humbled by the joyful, welcoming faces of the 150 Sisters in attendance. By entering the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, we are becoming part of a wonderful family of women whose single driving force is a love for Christ and His mission.  They certainly lend their voices to sounds of freedom and fill their days with love and bravery.  Oh – and they really know how to have fun.  Joining up with this group, I feel like a light bulb that’s just been twisted into a lamp. Suddenly, I’m doing what I was born to do, and I’m connected to an energy source that makes everyone plugged into it shine brighter.

Entrance to the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati
 Motherhouse cemetery

This energy is what religious communities call a charism – the founding grace that unites a congregation.  This charism runs deep through history with its roots in the spirit of our foundress, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  While at the Motherhouse, we walked through the cemetery where over 1,800 Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati are buried.  I knelt down in the grass there and touched the earth, imagining the life of each one.  So many uncommon lives given in love and service.  I feel grateful to be inheriting such a rich legacy.

The feeling of connection to this larger community began to blossom when I returned home from Ecuador two years ago and moved into the Casa Caridad (Charity House) in Anthony, New Mexico.  Right outside of El Paso, Texas, and just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the Casa was dreamed up by three Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati - Carol, Janet, and Peggy.   Simply speaking, it is their place of residence.  But their commitment to offering a welcoming space for others, especially for young women in discernment, has transformed it into a home for many.  Here, community, spirituality, and hospitality abound.   It is in this home that I found the freedom to take an honest look at God's call for me and the support to respond to that call.  Andrea and I will spend our Affiliate year here, as Casa Caridad has been named the Affiliate community.

You can imagine that living under the same roof with a group of women all seeking to be “urged by the charity of Christ” is a powerful experience.  I didn’t say easy – because community is not easy – but it is certainly powerful.  Each night, we gather at our long, wooden kitchen table and share our lives over a home-cooked meal.  The conversation is rich, filled with our experiences of service, our encounters with poverty, and our ponderings about faith and justice.  We pray together in our chapel at the start of each new day.  We meet to discuss what it means to be intentional community. We try to educate ourselves on issues of justice and strive together for an ever-growing faith.  We do, read, and watch things that help us to live our mission more fully.

Casa Caridad, December 2011
Back L to R: Tracey, Sr. Carol, Sr. Janet, Sr. Peggy
Front L to R: Me, Andrea, and Romina
Let me say this, too:   Our lives are commonplace in lots of ways.  Of course, we laugh – a lot!  And we play, travel, walk the dogs, have friends over, clean, have bad days, enjoy nature, try new recipes, watch funny movies, talk on the phone, get annoyed with each other, exercise, make excuses for not exercising, read, get excited about Gabby Douglas' Olympic gold, and drink the occasional margarita (we do live at the border!).

 But, our life together is framed by that one singular desire - God.  It colors conversations in our pajamas on weekend mornings; it colors every decision we make; it colors our thoughts and dreams.

Our commitment to living this single-hearted desire in community fuels our ability to serve in various ministries.  As a community, we share the experience of working at Proyecto Santo Nino, a community center for children with special needs and their families.  Carol, Peggy, and Janet founded the little clinic in Anapra, Mexico, on the west side of Ciudad Juarez, about 10 years ago.  We cross the international border two to three times a week to be with and support these families who have very difficult lives but teach us daily.  I also volunteer as a Pastoral Minister at Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart), a Jesuit parish in downtown El Paso.  Just blocks from the Paso del Norte port of entry into Juarez, the Spanish-speaking church serves a low-income, largely immigrant population.  Both of these ministries put me in close relationship with those affected by the reality of poverty.

This year, I’m also “in formation” – read: this does not mean I am being brainwashed and forced into a desired shape like a ball of clay in the collective Sisters of Charity hand.  It is a continued discernment involving prayer, reading, writing, and learning more about the congregation.  I’ll meet monthly with both a counselor and a spiritual director.  Andrea and I will have regular conversation with our Director (and housemate), Sr. Janet.  All of this will help me to grow in my understanding of my unique vocation.  Eventually, if I discover this to be my call, I’ll freely choose to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience with the Sisters of Charity – whew!

As I go about my daily life, it feels pretty darn normal to me.  It’s easy for me to forget that not everybody’s doing this, because God has created me to live this way, and because I’m surrounded by people created to live this way.  Embracing the God-given call that I initially resisted so much actually FREES me.  While not always a walk in the park, my unique life suits me and fills me with that deep kind of joy that lingers.

It is my joyful experience of God in this particular life uncommon that impels me to lend you my voice and ponderings.  Thanks for reading!