freedom - Related Content
Happy 4th of July!
Today, may we reach out to one another in peace and unity that spans beyond physical distance and continue to pray for the safety and health of all during this time of global crisis.
Are you discerning religious life? Walking with someone who is? We invite you to share this link, fspa.org/showmeasign, and join the conversation.
Memories of science class came to mind as I prayed with Sunday’s first reading from Exodus. I remember using a balance scale and learning to weigh different objects; placing a rock on one side and carefully adding small weights to the other in order to find the balance point and calculate the item’s weight correctly. Odds were that I’d add too much and find, instead, a tipping point; causing the scale to clank and me to recalculate my strategy.
In Exodus 17: 3-7 the Israelites, having fled slavery and captivity in Egypt, are in the desert. They complain to Moses about thirst and longing for water. The Israelites have encountered their tipping point. They feel out of balance. Their complaints clanked across the dry earth.
In the desert of Scottsdale, Arizona, by Sister Amy Taylor
The people are safe from their captors yet, desperate for water, ache to go back. Forgotten are the heavy hardships of their lives in captivity. I imagine their minds clamored for the mundane and whatever small amount of comfort and control routine afforded in their lives. Constantly facing the unknown has made them weary.
It is difficult to have nothing to show for your efforts. Thrust is grueling in the desert. With every rocky, sandy step forward your foot feels like it will never come to rest.
This Scripture passage highlights the transitional energy of discerning religious life. It leads each person down a new path, leaving behind their own Egypt experiences. Grace shines light and awareness of the new freedoms gained by exiting Egypt. Often, as from the Israelites, complaints arise. I remember a few that escaped me in my initial discernment: “I feel like I don’t fit in with my friends like I used to … If my family is asking me questions that I don’t know how to answer for myself, how can I respond?” I felt too, at the same time, like I didn’t yet fully belong with the religious community I was discerning with. The relationship was just too new to calculate the gravity that was building.
Another great question that surfaced for me was “God, why have You called me to discern? … My life before this invitation was so much easier.” But if I was really honest I knew in my heart that I was carrying the internal tension of the almost, but not yet. The transformation of my life and relationships was already in process. It just took a few more months to see the results. I needed the time in the desert to learn the lesson of depending on God. Even to complain. It is only years later that I’m thankful for each of my desert experiences. As in most cases, time helps with perspective.
In discernment, we thirst for God to provide the cool waters of continual reassurance and direction. God hears our grumblings and often provides consolation. We are given the waters of friendship, understanding and companionship with others on the journey. Whether or not we understand these gifts as points of oasis is another story.
What is the "water" you thirst for in discernment?
How do your complaints shine light on the longings in your heart?
I appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to plan new experiences in my life. Preparation, for me, sparks imagination to envision what each new season as a religious sister — like the shift from summer to fall that we are living in right now — may bring. I trust that God will be with me each day (as we know from Jeremiah 29: 11-13), whether my plans come to fruition or unexpected events put me on a completely different route.
Image courtesy freeimages.com
Such imagination, in fact, reflected light upon a particularly uncertain time in my life — during my discernment. I was in graduate school at the time and had spent my spring break visiting FSPA in La Crosse, Wisconsin. While spring was in full bloom at home it was definitely still winter 500 miles north at St. Rose Convent. The windows of the train I was riding frosted up and, wishing for a warm blanket, I tightened my jacket closer around my shoulders. How do people survive with so much cold and snow and ice?
St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, Wisconsin
Later, while sharing my positive experiences with FSPA with my spiritual director, I also launched into my seemingly ordinary yet significant concern (to me) about the weather. She challenged me to engage my imagination. In addition to her ministry as a spiritual director she was also an artist and knew that imagination can be an essential tool. “What would it be like to live in a colder climate, where winters are longer and more severe? What would you need to live there?” She then asked me to reflect on my visit: was there heat in the building? Would I be warm and comfortable should I choose to discern there? Well … of course.
Her questions helped me envision navigating a big change which surfaced as weather but, in reality, was also about experiencing a cultural change. That transition (which I wasn’t sure I really wanted) became a gift of God’s grace.
I’ve now survived several Wisconsin winters. I’m still not a huge fan of the cold and the snow but weather conditions have faded into the background of life (not at the forefront). And I now also know, in addition to visiting and learning about each community you consider, how important imagination can be in discerning religious life. It allows us to ponder life choices in a variety of contexts and consider exploring the invitation from God. Imagination is a tool that can help move us from fear to freedom.
Who do you imagine you will be tomorrow, next week, next year? Who will you live and work with? What would it be like to move across the country, or internationally, to pursue your vision? What is the adventure stirring right now in your heart?
How is your imagination a tool in your discernment?
*Do you know someone experiencing discernment of religious life? We invite you to share this link and join the conversation at www.fspa.org/showmeasign.