Leaven’s intentional process of learning leads to new energy
Debra Murray, Sister Lucy Ann Meyer, Emily Dykman, Rosalie Hooper Thomas, Karen Hellman, Peggy Johnson and Glena Temple. Not pictured, Kitty Howells.
By Peggy Johnson, affiliate
There we were, members of Leaven Companion Community (pictured above), huddled around the table matching candy squares that Monday night in December. Perhaps the most hilariously exasperating part of the evening took place while we played this game. It was pure joy. Christmas music set the mood; favorite foods filled us. We took time to reflect on a year of deepened friendships that enriched our souls and shaped us into more loving and gracious beings.
This is our story of how a year of focused discussion on FSPA’s provocative movement, building bridges of relationships, changed us from a group that had become stale to a reinvigorated community of loving presence. Our study of encounter transformed us into more relational people who realize that not only are we connected to each person we meet through ties both visible and invisible, but that we also experience the grace of the living God through those connections.
In the year-long process of learning to become people of encounter, we first had to encounter ourselves. That meant facing the suffering that had been caused by the scattering and, at times, the lack of engagement among our group. The process wasn’t easy. It required honesty and vulnerability, sharing and listening. Mostly it required us to commit to being present to one another and as a group to examine our challenging past and imagine a more intentional future.
We recalled a group meeting two years ago when we voiced our feelings of disconnection. How could we continue after the huge losses of our dear Sister Margaret Wagner’s passing and a longtime, devoted member’s move to New Mexico? Years of monthly meetings in which our sharing focused on our daily lives and events had left us stuck and lacking creativity. Our losses led us to devise a different path, one focused on spiritual study and contemplation. Our goals were to share short spiritual readings and videos that were interesting but that didn’t further overburden the busy lives of the group; to reflect on what we were learning; and to gain insight into our process of becoming more whole. Our vision was to be completely inclusive: we desired all members to play a role in facilitating monthly discussions so that we could honor, affirm, and learn from each member’s contributions. This dynamic process of learning and sharing began to mend and fortify our group’s foundation. We began to re-engage and thrive.
We learned from Pope Francis that encounter is an immediate experience of presence. Becoming present to another, however, requires us to be vulnerable so that each meeting is an intuitive soul response. In our discovery of authenticity as the root, we learned that we must be willing to allow others access to our own fragility in order to authentically suffer with others. As we learned from Rosa Parks, whose life’s work taught us that every authentic engagement is an action of the soul, encounter is no easy task.
Insight came when we realized that our deepest relationships, most especially among our affiliation group, prepare our souls for these very encounters. Richard Rohr tells us that soul friends allow us to bare our truth and to receive that truth with unconditional love. In the process, our souls are changed; we become merciful, and we deepen our understanding of another’s experience.
Our study of the first provocative movement came full circle: it reminded us of the wisdom of our Franciscan call to be a loving presence to the other. As we move out into the world, we bring an awareness of the depth and richness of encounter and the mystery of grace.