Friday, July 17, 2009

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is,
than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.
Pedro Arrupe, SJ

What a phenomenal few weeks it's been! Just to catch you up on where I am these days and what I'm up to...

Currently, I am back in the Beaumont/Orange area of Texas visiting friends and family. I left San Antonio the day after my class was over (Principles of Theological Method). First I stopped over night in College Station. This is where I went to college & also where I worked for 3 years post graduation. I caught up with many friends while there. Of course, not everyone I would have liked, but that's impossible, I think.

When I left College Station, I drove home to Orange. That's where my dad still lives... in house he's lived in since the 1950s. I hadn't been home since Hurricane Ike hit southeast Texas. There was quite a bit of damage, but most of it has been cleaned up and rebuilt. My dad is still working on the house... getting a new ceiling put in since the hurricane tore off part of his roof. Other than that, though, he is doing well as are my friends here in the area.

Then... it was off to my annual retreat. This year I went to the Jesuit Spirituality Center at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Perfect. Really, the retreat was exactly what my heart, soul, relationship with self and God needed. I won't go into everything here (I'm still unpacking a lot). However... I do have some insights to share. Please note... some of them are serious and others not so much, but all of them are honest insights that occurred to me while on retreat:
  • God desires intimacy with us - desires our love in all its forms. Truly meditated upon, that is very strong language...
  • Silence is good - solitude is better. They are not synonymous.
  • It would save a lot of time each day if someone would invent/create a dual purpose sunscreen/bug repellent - they could call it sun repellent or bug screen...
  • Falling in love with the person of Jesus is the beginning of joy and wisdom.
  • No matter how good it sounds in your mind, never go bike riding on a summer evening in Southern Louisiana after an afternoon rain... although, it does give one a new appreciation for a cold shower...
  • We were created in love, by Love, for love. Love is the most natural, inherent quality of being human. Sometimes it gets buried under junk, though.
  • Tchaikovsky and Chopin were geniuses.
  • If you feel like dancing - and you're able - for crying out loud, DANCE! God delights in our joy!
  • Each morning on retreat I would take an hour long walk. On these walks I often asked 5 women of the New Testament to walk with me - Mary of Nazareth, Elizabeth, Mary of Magdala, and the sisters Martha and Mary of Bethany. Each day I would chat with them (silently, of course!) about faith, intimacy with Jesus, prayer and taking risks. It is a practice I highly recommend...
  • Grace comes in unexpected places... pay attention!
  • If you're awake when the sun is rising, take some time to watch. Few things are as beautiful - and few things awaken the soul quite so well.
  • St. Cunegunda isn't a made up person... who knew?
  • Apples stain clothing. Biting into a juicy apple wearing your favorite off-white t-shirt is probably not a good idea.
  • After not typing for several days, it's difficult to do it well... but my handwriting has never looked better!

My retreat ended on Wednesday July 15. When I left I visited cousins about 10 minutes down the road from Grand Coteau and headed back to Orange. On Saturday (tomorrow) I start my way back to San Antonio - via Houston to visit my niece & her family and some good friends that live there.

Tuesday of next week starts Marianist LIFE South 2009 meetings & program. Then, it's back to Dayton! Where is summer going?? Well, regardless of its speed, it's been a pretty amazing summer.

I'll leave you this morning with the rest of the Pedro Arrupe quote:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

Many blessings to all who read this!
Sr. N

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart
Kahill Gibran

Today, I'm going to depart from my typical topics for reflection and hone in on something seemingly superficial... keeping in mind that things are not always what they seem.

When I entered religious life I knew that some of my assumptions, ways of living, and world-view would be challenged. I knew that my ideas about life would stretch and grow and be reshaped. What I didn't anticipate is a call to reflect on (of all things) my hair!

This will take some explanation...

For as far back as I can remember, the standard of beauty for women in my family was straight hair and fair skin. This is often the case for women of African descent in America. Many young black women are raised to believe that the straighter their hair and lighter their skin, the more beautiful they are. It's ingrained and is an undercurrent in many black communities.

Consequently, many (not all) black women spend 100s of dollars on chemical straighteners (relaxers) ... time avoiding the sun (which will cause them to tan)... and trying not to get their hair wet. I have always been one of these women. Since I was 10 or 12 years old I have gotten my hair relaxed every 4-6 weeks. Lately, it's been every 6 because the cost is exorbitant (relatively).

What I have started to question is... why? What's this craziness all about? AND... what does this mean in the context of the vows I professed (and renewed!)?

Why? I have always told myself that straightened hair is easier and more manageable. However, if I'm really honest with myself, that's not the reason. It's because of vanity... and because of the deep-seated notion that curly/kinky, uncontrolled hair is less desirable than the sleek, straight look.

So, what does this have to do with vows & religious life?
  • Let's take a look at the vow of poverty. On a practical level, the vow has to do with the proper use of resources - and deeper, it has to do with the proper relationship to resources. Is it desirable that I should use our resources every 6 weeks for this purpose? Could those resources be better used?
  • In relation to the vow of chastity... does vanity have any place here? True, I shouldn't go around looking like I don't take care of myself. However, at what point does it become self-serving vanity? Why should it be important to me what people think about something so unimportant as my hair?
  • Obedience to God's movement in my life/our lives... should I really be using our resources for this purpose? What is my obligation to the congregation?

And so... where does this leave me? I've decided to grow out my relaxer and "go natural." Now, this may seem like a no-brainer to some, but it's a lot more difficult than one might think. It requires that I change the way in which I view the world, myself, and what makes something/someone beautiful. It's not just physical, but psychological.

I've worn my curly/kinky/unruly hair around the house and out in public (heaven forbid!) for the past few days. Am I self-conscious? More than I can put into words! Do people look at me funny? It seems that way. And yet... there's a certain amount of freedom in letting go of a false concept of self. God has given me curly hair. It's about time I embrace it instead of denying it!

Many blessings to you all!
Sr. N