By Sister Carleen Maly, OP
As we reflect on God’s call in our lives, there seem to be some common characteristics:
I like to call these the “had it not been for…” moments. These people or events can be the instruments of God’s invitation, messengers, if you will, who are filled with God’s presence and understand what it means to be used as disciples.
As followers of Jesus we have all had our “had it not been for…” moments when we have heard God’s call. These are stories of trust in our ever-faithful God who continues to call us. What are some of your “had it not been for…” stories? What is happening in your life right now that seems to have God written all over it? May you listen and be attentive to the promptings of your hearts.
I would like to share a reflection written by Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP, a Dominican Sister of Adrian who lives and ministers in the Philippines.
Surrounded by violent political upheaval and cataclysmic natural disasters around the world, now, more than ever, I feel grateful for the gift of my Dominican vocation. Being Dominican nurtures my sense of hope while confronted with the daunting present. It gives me the lens to view what's happening in the world, good or bad, with deeper faith in the transcendent One whose love for all goes beyond what is imaginable.
To live in hope means getting up each morning ready to face what today brings. It is looking at our problems square in the face, to search for the truth that could ultimately lead to the answers we have been praying for. One Dominican motto is "to contemplate and give to others the fruit of our contemplation.” Somehow, it encapsulates neatly the flow of our life which relies heavily on prayer, our personal connection with God, that permeates our relationships with our neighbors and the rest of the world. As Dominicans, our contemplation is enriched by the daily experiences of our encounter with the people. What we bring to God in prayer are real stories of struggles, frustrations, and joys. In return, though unrecognizable at times, prayer gives us strength, reassurance and renewed hope for a more promising future.
"Prayer" is not isolated to the divine realm, it is a strong link to the life of the people who are largely responsible for what actually happens in the society. Our prayer moves us to act with kindness, respond in love, facilitate healing, be just in our dealings and raise our voices against injustices. As Dominicans, we do not subscribe to prayer being used as a recourse to inaction. Rather, it directs us to remain involved and be strong advocates of justice, love, and peace in our respective realities.
To be a Dominican is a gift but at the same time a challenge. The challenge is to emulate our founder, Brother Dominic, a preacher of truth, in this present age. Today, much of that truth is shrouded with politicking, selfish accumulation of profit, and the pursuit of vainglory. I realized that the first task is always to seek the truth to be preached. And this is no mean feat. Speaking the truth today entails tedious study beyond the pages of books to reading the signs of the times. It calls for discernment, setting aside personal prejudices, and finally, finding the courage to "speak your mind even when your voice shakes" (Maggie Kuhn). It can mean raising your voice against the deafening stillness of passivity and indifference. For some of us, it is going against a wrong masquerading as right due to majority support. At times, speaking truth is having the humility to admit your mistake when it dawns that you arrived at a wrong conclusion. Whichever it may be, our prayer at the start and end of each day is that through it all, we let the Spirit guide and unite us with Jesus – our way, truth, and life.
By Arlene Bachanov, Adrian Dominican Associate
Sister Sara’s recent post regarding tools for discernment, in which she shares some creative ways to access our thoughts, feelings, and intuitions when making a decision reminded me a bit of the at-first-glance wacky advice my college roommate once gave a friend. It involved flipping a coin – sort of.
Here’s the story: one afternoon my roommate and I met with a friend who worked at our college. She confided in us that she had a dilemma. Another staff person, who was an eligible bachelor (I’ll call him Dave), had invited her to go to a dinner meeting with him that night. However, she already had a date planned with her current boyfriend (let’s call him Tom).
“If I go to the dinner, I’ll be bored silly. If I keep my date with Tom, honestly I’ll have a lot more fun,” she said. “But I really like Dave and I’d like to see if maybe this could turn into something. If I cancel on Tom, however, that’s the end of that relationship. So… do I go out with Tom and maybe Dave never asks me out again, or do I go out with Dave, thereby blowing up my relationship with Tom, and run the risk that maybe it won’t work out between Dave and me, in which case I’m left having neither one of them.”
My roommate said, “Here’s what you do. You flip a coin.”
Our friend said, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna decide my future on a coin flip!”
“No, it’s not that you actually DO what the coin flip says,” my roommate told her. “But if you flip the coin and look at the result and your immediate gut reaction is “SHOOT!!!!,” then you know that’s not the right choice. The coin doesn’t make the decision for you. It makes you focus on one thing and see how you feel about it.”
Well, long story short, my roommate and I went off to dinner and left our friend to think about whether or not to take Dave up on his invitation. Afterward, on our way back to our dorm, as we walked past our friend’s office, there she was, coming out the door … with Dave.
“Hey, you two!” she called out. “I flipped the coin!”
Eventually, she and Dave got married, and the last time I saw her, they were still happily so.
So, what’s the lesson here when it comes to discernment? Find creative ways, like flipping a coin, to key into your true feelings and deeper intuitions about the decision before you. May your decision lead you to the fullness of life that God so desires for you.
Whether you do as Cathy Arnold suggests and live “as if” for a time, or whether you flip that coin to force a focus on one side of the issue over the other side, do it, see how it feels … and then trust your gut.
I said “yes” – Dije “si” – that is what Sister Xiomara put on her Facebook post after her final profession, and say “yes” she did! She was filled with joy and reverence and grace as she gave her whole life to God through the Adrian Dominican Congregation.
We live in a culture that discourages long commitments. We get the message that commitments take away our freedom, but the opposite is really true. In fully committing to something we are able to give our whole selves and be who God calls us to be.
“I want to keep all my options open,” some say. But for how long? While it’s true that we do not want to rush into poor decisions and make drastic life choices at a young age, we can sometimes wait so long that we lose the chance to do that which would give us life. For someone called to marriage, it would be a shame to turn eighty and still be waiting for someone better to come along!
At this time of year, we celebrate Mary’s “yes” that brought forth Jesus – God among us. Imagine if Mary had said to Gabriel, “Well, I don’t know. This isn’t the best time and I’d like some alone time with Joseph before we start on a family. Can you come back in a few years?”
Sometimes we take that leap and say “yes” even when everything is not sure – because it never is. We cannot know the future, but we can be sure that Emmanuel – God with us – is always there on this journey of life.
Christmas blessings to all!
More than simply making a decision, spiritual discernment is decision-making that is rooted in self-knowledge as well as a deep awareness of God’s loving presence and action in our lives. Because we know God as our creator and redeemer, we lean on that graced friendship with God to help us make a good and life-giving decision.
There are many tried-and-true tools that help us prepare the soil for a fruitful discernment process. First, we need to define prayerfully the issue for discernment. It is helpful to focus our issue carefully enough to be able to state it in the form of a question that can be answered yes or no. So for example, rather than ask a more general question like, “What shall I do with my life?” we can fine-tune the question to ask something more specific like, “Will I apply to become a sister with the Adrian Dominicans?” Once the decision before us is well defined, we need to apply the tool of fact-finding. What kinds of relevant data do we need in order to make an informed decision? Once all of the facts are gathered, we can begin to assess and evaluate the data. In this process, we stay attentive to all of the thoughts and feelings that arise as we consider the different dimensions of our decision. The tool of journal keeping is helpful here.
Another handy tool in the toolbox of discernment is dialogue with others. We need to share the different aspects of our decision with the wisdom figures in our life, those who know us well and care deeply about our well-being. Equally important is the tool of solitude, where we invite God into our decision-making process. We need to confide in God our hopes, dreams, expectations, doubts, and fears. We then listen carefully to how God responds to us. A good spiritual director can help us in this discernment process.
Dominican Sister Cathy Arnold shared a useful tool of imagination that she used in discerning her call to religious life. Her spiritual director advised her to imagine herself in each choice for two weeks. So for two weeks, she lived as if she had made the decision to become a Dominican Sister. She reflected on how she felt when she woke up in the morning. What were her thoughts and feelings throughout the two weeks? Then she reversed the process and lived as if she had made the opposite decision. How did she feel? Was she relieved or devastated by the change? Click on the following link to hear Sister Cathy’s discussion on discernment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwWPM4QtGwY.
Finally, how do we know that our choice represents God’s deepest desires for us? Signs of validation include feelings of inner peace and joy with our decision, as well as the confirmation of the others who have shared in our discernment process.
Are you discerning an important life decision? What are your tools for the discernment process?
The hidden assumptions we hold when we begin to discern an important decision can easily derail a healthy life choice. If we automatically assume that certain options are undesirable, unthinkable, or impossible to attain, we will rule them out before we even consider our course of action. Detecting and assessing our hidden assumptions can open the way to finding God’s call in our lives through our concrete decisions.
When I was in my early twenties, I assumed that following God’s will for my life had to involve doing something explicitly religious. I wanted to pursue doctoral studies in European history with the hopes of becoming a college professor. In prayer, I shared my doubts with God; how could studying history possibly draw me closer to Christ or be an expression of discipleship? God, however, seemed to be affirming my desire for studies. I earned a scholarship that paid for my education, and although I never became a historian, I gained a wealth of research and writing skills. These newly acquired skills served me well as I later earned my doctoral degree in theology and became a university professor. I learned through this experience that following God’s will has a diversity of forms and need not only occur in a religious context.
Often our hidden assumptions show up in what surprises us or make us resistant or defensive. When I was a member of the Covenant House lay community in New York City, again in my twenties, I was asked to consider going to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to help open a Covenant House there. At first, I was totally against the idea. As a Vermonter, who loves the four seasons, my thought was, “I won’t be caught dead in Florida.” Dare I say that I warmed up to the idea, and took the assignment? In the end, I loved my time there. In fact, had I not gone to Florida, I probably would not have met the Adrian Dominican Sisters and become a Dominican sister. Only by letting go of my hidden assumption that God’s will must unfold in my preferred climate and geographic location, was I able to embrace God’s deepest desire for me.
What have been some of your hidden assumptions when discerning God’s call? Where have you not wanted to listen? How has God surprised you?
In this week between Thanksgiving and Advent, I thought I would share with you part of a Thanksgiving reflection given by our Sister Maria Goretti Browne, OP, that focuses on the sometimes hard work of practicing gratitude. Suffering is an unavoidable part of life and at times we need to lament and share our grief with others and with God. By embracing suffering in this way we can grow in our ability to love life unconditionally.
Sometimes, however, we may choose to intensify the difficulties of life by incessant complaining, stirring up resentments, nursing grudges and basically being a walking wet blanket. There is another more healthy option: gratitude. Research tells us that if we learn how to appreciate life in all its dimensions, we will feel better, be less prone to stress and sickness, sleep better, and live longer and healthier lives.
Sister Maria Goretti challenges us to give thanks in all circumstances of life. She recounts a rather extreme response of giving gratitude in the unbearable circumstances of war. She writes:
I read one time that during the war in Southeast Asia, there was a young Vietnamese boy who would sing as he worked in the rice fields, even as the bombs burst all around him. He explained that he could not stop the war, but he could keep the fear of death from overtaking his heart; he had to fight to be peaceful and happy inside while the horror and sadness of war swirled around him.
Maybe gratitude is an attitude. Most of us take very good care of our bodies, even try to walk – what is it – 10,000 steps? We practice each day, and eventually we will get to the 10,000 number. How about us practicing gratitude – Each day being more grateful than the day before, being more and more conscious of the blessings in our lives. Just look around. Thank God for our vocation, be it religious life, or married life, or single life; we are blessed with wonderful spouses or companions, wonderful co-workers, blessed with beautiful families, blessed with talents too many to enumerate, blessed with the ability to spread God’s love. Everywhere we look we see where we can spread that love and gratitude.
We know the account in Scripture of the three young men who were thrown into a fiery furnace. What’s the first thing they did? They broke into a song of praise and thanksgiving for all that God had made. Theirs was such an attitude of gratitude that their suffering was secondary. They danced among the flames unharmed (Daniel 3).
What about us? Do we find ways to give thanks to God in all circumstances?
The feast of Thanksgiving with family and friends ushers in the Advent season when Christians begin our preparations for the celebration of Christ’s birth in our world. This spirited season proclaims the awesome mystery that, in Jesus Christ, God became one of us and found a home in our midst.
Jesus, who in his very being houses divinity, calls us to do the same: to be the presence and action of God for our world. In fact, Jesus tells us that if we follow God’s love commands, God will dwell in our hearts in intimate communion. God’s loving presence actually takes up residence in the inner recesses of our being.
Can you imagine what God’s home in us would look like? God’s home would have walls of welcome, solid floors of fidelity with plush carpets of compassion. There would be high ceilings of inclusivity and wide windows letting in nature’s beauty and the multi-faceted light of wisdom. The furniture would circle around a fireplace of forgiving warmth. There would be chairs of charity, couches of consolation, sofas of serenity, and tables of tender togetherness. And, like in every godly home, there would be bookcases full of challenge, new learning, and adventurous opportunities.
In our world so wracked by ruinous hatred, violence, and despair, we must do everything in our power to safeguard God’s home in our hearts. As Thanksgiving gives way to Advent’s approach, what actions do you need to take to nurture God’s dwelling place within you?
Centering prayer is an ancient prayer of inner awakening to divine presence in the silence of our being. In this prayer we gently let go of our thoughts, feelings, and anxious planning, and sink into that open space within ourselves where God dwells in hidden closeness. When I practice this prayer I feel somehow free from my personal story. I sense a joy in knowing that God’s presence extends far beyond my thoughts, feelings, and achievements, and resides in the depths of my soul soaring into eternity. This awareness of union with God is at the heart of the spiritual life.
How can sitting in the silence of centering prayer help us to respond effectively to various life situations? Clearly, we are not deliberating on our problems and searching for solid solutions during this prayer of silence. Centering prayer, however, trains us to separate from our thoughts and feelings and to wait for God’s wisdom and guidance rather than jumping to easy answers prematurely. As Albert Einstein once said, “no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” By learning to orient ourselves toward God in centering prayer, we learn to see our life situations from a new divine perspective. The direction we need to go becomes clear and we are emboldened to take loving action for the betterment of those around us.
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!