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October 12, 2020, Detroit – At a time of harvest in the northern United States, Sister Janet Schaeffler, OP, has written a bumper crop of spiritual material: her 2020 booklet of Advent reflections, Miracles Abound, and a book on spiritual reflections and practices on aging, Let This Be the Time: Spiritual Essentials for Life’s Second Act.
Both works are meant to help people on their spiritual journeys. Miracles Abound offers short reflections based on the Scripture readings for each day of Advent, as well as suggested practices and short prayers. It is the latest of several Advent booklets that Sister Janet has written through the years.
A retreat leader and a consultant for catechists and adult faith formation leaders, Sister Janet also once served as Director of Adult Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Detroit. A recipient of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) Distinguished Service Award, she has written numerous books and resources for catechists.
“A lot of people will use the booklet because it’s short,” Sister Janet said. “I think this method of a short reflection book for Advent is a way of helping people in that whole busy-ness to reflect on what it really means.”
Sister Janet noted that Advent is a challenging time for Christians who want to prepare spiritually for Christmas. In our culture, she said, the emphasis is on getting ready for Christmas by buying the best gifts or putting up the best decorations. The message from our culture mitigates the spirit of Advent and draws away the time and attention of Christians, she said.
Over the years, Sister Janet has heard from people who appreciated her Advent booklets. “What I hear most from people is that it connects their faith with their everyday life in a way that they can understand,” she said.
A prolific writer, Sister Janet said that she has always written books at the request of publishers. Twenty-Third Publications asked her to write a book on the spirituality of aging – a topic she had covered already in workshops and retreats. She said she was glad to be asked to write on the topic because of the way society refers to aging – “as if it’s about diminishing and frailty and not being productive anymore.” Ageism, she said, is “the greatest bias in our country – the way we dismiss older people, their wisdom, their experience.”
Sister Janet, on the other hand, believes that aging is an important part of the spiritual journey of human beings. “Spirituality touches on every part of our life,” she said. “Our journey is a spiritual journey, a journey of holiness, a journey of wholeness and deepened relationship with God and other people.”
In the area of aging, Sister Janet said, Christians need to be counter-cultural. “We have to come to our own healthy, wholesome outlook on life,” she said. “Yes, there will be limitations as we grow older, but how do we approach those losses? How do we look at these years of life?”
Let This Be the Time focuses on 12 needs adults have in the second half of their lives. Each chapter concludes with questions that could lead to personal or group reflection, as well as a list of suggested actions. “My hope is it will help people to think more reflectively and deeply about what’s happening at this point in their lives, so that the real meaning and the vibrancy of life can be lived,” Sister Janet said.
Both Miracles Abound and Let This Be the Time are available through Twenty-Third Publications or the Weber Center Shop at Weber Retreat and Conference Center in Adrian. To order copies from the Weber Center Shop, call or email: 517-266-4035 or email@example.com.
September 17, 2020, Ann Arbor, Michigan – The COVID-19 pandemic has famously inspired creativity and resourcefulness in people around the planet as they strive to organize daily life in the face of the coronavirus. But the pandemic has also inspired a group of artists – Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and friends – to create art that marks and reflects on this unique time and to share it with each other monthly through Zoom. The group first gathered in early March.
The artists are also discussing ways in which their art can be displayed for the public after the pandemic, when people are again allowed to assemble.
Members of the group were invited and convened by Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP. “It’s a way not to let these times go by without some way of thinking about them artistically,” Sister Barbara explained. “We’re all doing something to pay attention to this time and…take our ideas to make [our experiences] into something concrete.”
Sister Barbara began by exploring the headlines of each week and creating an artwork that deals with the headline and her personal experience. She adds a drawing symbolizing the events, personal reflection, and poetry that relates to the theme. She also spent the time creating mandalas of flowers. The artwork “gave me a focus for the days,” she said.
Along with Sister Barbara, members of the group are Sisters Mary James “Fran” Hickey, OP, whose water colors deal with confusion and the compression of time; Aneesah McNamee, OP, who creates mandalas; Suzanne Schreiber, OP, a photographer who taught herself during the pandemic to create movies out of video clips and still photos; and Nancyann Turner, OP, who first created a series of collages with poetry and photographs to express her reflections on this time. She is now creating a memory garden for her sister who recently died.
Associate Judi Engel has been working with paintings and poetry. Mame Jackson – co-founder and director with Sister Barbara of Con/Vida, a nonprofit organization which promotes the popular arts in the Americas – is creating a series of bookmarks with imagery and haikus. Mame’s friend, Debra Henning, an art educator, is working on a series of geometrical drawings and drawings of cocoons, reflecting the isolation of this time.
Group members appreciated the challenge to focus their time on art – during a time when so many people have been asked to stay at home for their safety, when so many other outside activities were canceled – and when the planet and the United States seemed to be surrounded by turmoil.
“I think for each of us, it’s the whole process of trying to give meaning to this time,” Judi said. “When you have the pandemic, the concern for racism and ecology all coming together like a perfect storm, it can be overwhelming to people. As an artist, you try to find meaning by finding some kind of image or metaphor that can communicate meaning to other people.”
Sister Barbara said her project has evolved as the virus and other situations evolved. “The first work dealt with what was going on with the virus, and suddenly we had the death of George Floyd and all the reactions to that, what was happening in the larger world,” she said. “All of these are also the story of this time, so I have to find every week a symbol that also reflected that.”
Sister Fran spoke of learning to paint “from the inside” – in contrast to still life and flowers, which depict external objects. Before the pandemic, she created paintings that expressed her own experiences of dealing with a broken wrist or cataract surgery. “A lot of times I let the viewers decide how [the paintings] speak to them, but it’s not a representation. It has layers of meaning.”
During the pandemic, in her series of watercolor paintings on clocks, Sister Fran tried to convey the confusion of time brought out by the pandemic. “The small paintings are representative of most of us.” The initial painting includes a real clock, “and then [throughout the series] the hands begin to go backwards and then they become months – and then they fall off into the air,” she said. “That’s how my experience has been. Without a set schedule, sometimes I have to ask, ‘What day is it?’”
Group members also saw meaning in their shared time together – in the community they formed during their Zoom calls. Sister Aneesah recalled sharing one of her mandalas in which she expressed her frustration at not being able to come into the closed Motherhouse – or her own studio. “I shared it with my mandala and I thought this was very personal, but everyone was so supportive,” she said. “To have that support group has been so wonderful. There was no judgment or critique.”
The artists are also coming away from their ongoing experience with inspiration, lessons from the times, and hopes for the future.
“Both the beauty of the world and the suffering bring inspiration because I want to be out there interacting with the world – contemplation on the spot, so to speak,” Sister Suzanne said. “I think that’s why I became a photographer. Life itself gives me inspiration, especially in the land, trees, plants, and natural environments.” In her movie, she said, she tried to “find the beauty of spring, yet capture the feelings of sadness and care, while at the same time bringing comfort in image, word, and music.”
“I wish and I hope and I pray that everyone could have …some kind of center or inner life – meditation, art, prayer – to give them calm and focus in the midst of all this suffering and worrying,” Sister Nancyann said. “Art can stretch people’s hearts and imaginations so they can see things differently.”
Feature photo: In the Beginning, the first of Sister Fran Hickey’s series of pandemic watercolor paintings, depicts the beginning of the pandemic, when she looked forward to having more time for meditating, praying, studying, and painting.