A Sister Reflects - Reflexión de una Hermana

By Sister Maureen Barzantni, OP

I went to Standing Rock, North Dakota, with a delegation of Dominican Sisters, to be in solidarity with the Native American Sioux Tribe, which has taken on the role of protecting the water and their sacred places from the Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The Sioux fear that the pipeline will leak crude oil into the Missouri River and poison the water supply of downstream communities such as Fort Yates, the tribal center of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. 

What makes this even more troubling is that the pipeline was originally set to run north of the mostly white town of Bismarck, but the route was changed when the Army Corp of Engineers decided that was a “high consequence area.” The Sioux Tribe spoke out against the obvious implications that their community is an area of low consequence for an oil spill. The non-violent actions taken by the activists, who call themselves “water protectors,” have at times met with police in riot gear who have fired water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades to disperse the activists.

To stand with the Sioux Nation was not a difficult decision to make. I wanted to go because I value the traditions of the Native American communities and hope to learn to live in a way that reveres Mother Earth. The people at Standing Rock have a great sense of leaving Earth in conditions that will benefit the future generations. I heard repeatedly, “We have no choice. It is for our children.” Their choice, however, comes with pain. They are living in teepees, yurts, tents, and campers among thousands of strangers who have come to support them. The Dakota winter is severe. Some have suffered injury from police action against them. Could I do that?

I do not know how this will play out. My guess is that the pipeline will win, but the decision each “protector” made to engage in the struggle to value life over profit is not in vain. The Standing Rock Community is a beacon of hope, hope that we can get our priorities in order even while faced with the power of greed. As I finish this reflection, the lyrics of Trevor Hall’s song, “If You Are a Rock, Stand up Like a Mountain” are running through my mind.

Would you like to attend a nine day meeting with 200 people during which you have to discuss, come to agreement, and make decisions that affect your life for the next six years and beyond? Not only that, you want to do it in a spirit of prayer and with a desire to follow God’s will. On top of it, the people you are with aren’t simply colleagues, but the very people you have committed to share you life with. 

We just did it. We just had a General Chapter, which is pretty much what I describe above. And we are still here, possibly more united, having taken time for silence, for prayer, for deep listening, for heartfelt discussion, for putting the common good ahead of our individual agendas, and for fun and laughter. That’s how you discern God’s will with 200 people. You have to invest yourself and let go at the same time. You have to listen for the voice of God in your sister, in small groups, in large groups, and in the words of prayer and scripture. You have to care deeply and let go in freedom. 

A gathering like this is an act of trust in God and in your sisters.

Have you lived an experience of this type of large group discernment and trust? 

This week's blog comes to us from Sister Anele Heiges, OP, Vice President of the International Public Policy Institute, NGO at United Nations, NY/ Professor of Global and Universe Education and Mentor of Young World Leaders.

"Weaving hands" by Hans Splinter, Flickr creative commons.

As a young woman in late teens growing up in Santa Cruz, California on the Pacific Coast, dating interesting young men and thinking of the future, my inner self was asking, “Why was I born?” Happy childhood memories of riding ocean waves on my doctor-father’s shoulders rode quietly at anchor. While bobbing in the ocean he and I conversed about how it joined other big and little pieces of water and touched the lands of many people on earth. He inspired me to find ways as a service person to relate with those people and also respectfully learn from them. A global soul was softly being nurtured by God. 

After Holy Cross High School, the question of, “Why was I born?” finally yearned for a global service response, but how could that happen? God’s Holy Spirit kept luring insistently at hours of day or night. I dialogued with good people of different nationalities, life-callings, and various groups of Catholic Sisters. The consistent openness of Adrian Dominicans and their expansive worldview that came from prayerful spirits stole my heart. They were mostly happy people. Finally some of them kindly invited me to give their way of life a try. After prayerful thoughtful times in a deep inner place of listening, I accepted God’s call extended through exquisite Dominican women.

After going to Adrian, Michigan, I learned with other new Dominicans about our life, mission and the worldwide beauty of living in community to work toward bringing more justice, peace and integrity of creation into our world. Wise people tell us that God creates ways to ease people onto their life path and engage them in that process. Early assignments with indigenous peoples in Arizona schools taught me about how humans and all life share in universe and earth consciousness. Then years of college and university ministry were mingled with visitors from the United Nations. They extended invitation to New York to engage there in creative world service. The Adrian Dominicans lovingly helped me accept that invitation after prayerfully discerning God’s true call to global service that had been nurtured years before.

Life’s learnings from Dominicans and other groups, including indigenous peoples, have taught me the following: “Weave beautifully your small thread in the grand tapestry pattern which was laid out for us by the God of heaven.” (Turtle Island Grandmothers Council)

With heart overflowing with gratitude, I thank our Sisters for loving companionship in community living and service to the world. Likewise Dominican women did for me years ago in Santa Cruz, California; I here invite interested readers to give this life a try. It can be wonderfully surprising. I am praying for you.

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