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Grilling, chilling and discernment

Thursday, July 28th 2016 12:30 pm
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA


Image by Sister Amy Taylor

When I think of summer I revel in the possibilities of beautiful weather and time to slow down, relax and reconnect in person (not through Facebook) with family and friends. And with record high temperatures across the upper Midwest the media advises moving at a snail’s pace to save energy and stay coolanother change in our tempo.

Letting go of the urge to hurry in every moment—when the time comes to stop working and get to a gathering, when we can't rush around in the heat doing what we think we have to do quickly—can be difficult. After all, American culture demands instant results. I came face-to-face with this reality while vacationing for a week with my FSPA sisters. One day we decided to grill hamburgers for our evening meal. Typically, after a full day of ministry, we run home to quickly cook and put dinner on the table. Charcoal grills, however, can have cooking minds of their own: run hot and cold in the wind and placement of the coals; temperamental to the skill level of the one flipping the food. Grilling is not an instantaneous process but when you're on vacation, why rush? Why not enjoy the experience?

If you dig deeper into the coals, grilling can offer wisdom for the discernment process. Controlling an open flame takes a careful eye. Too much oxygen and the flames might jump wildly, too little and the coals can suffocate. Smoke can obscure vision and make breathing difficult. Multitasking or walking away can result in a seriously overdone dinner. In a matter of a few moments burgers can go from perfection to charred hockey pucks.

Just like grilling, rushing discernment can spark out-of-control flames, become all consuming, or stifle it out completely. Smoke in discernment can cloud vision; can surface in the form of anything that encourages distraction from the very personal and mindful process. The same holds true of too much trepidation thatlike putting the lid on the grillcan snuff out gifts and talents, slowly suffocate bright flames. 

Yet if we take the time to be attentive to the process we will discover our unique discernment temperature. Letting the coals of discernment provide the necessary inspiration can lead to sweet success, just like the enjoyment of roasting marshmallows in the dusk of a summertime barbeque.

Are you taking time this summer to nurture the coals and fan the flames in your life?

Threshold moments

Thursday, May 12th 2016 9:49 am
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA

Photo credit:

This week I had the honor of attending a college graduation. With joy-filled hearts that could not be diminished by darkening clouds, wind, and the threat of lighting, we all proudly claimed our section of the outdoor stadium bleachers. The moment the band started playing the familiar graduation tune we all stood up and started cheering so loud it became difficult to hear the music. The roar of the crowd increased each time a family recognized their soon-to-be graduate in the sea of processing black gowns.

Reading the sky, the university’s president went up to the microphone and changed the course of the ceremony by skipping all customary formalities and proceeding to the heart of our attendance—the conferring of degrees. As he invited the first row to rise he reassessed the increasing rain, wind and lightening, asked the 1,100 graduates to stand en masse, quickly conferred all degrees and urged everyone to run.

Although the process was less than ideal, all 1,100 students did officially graduate. After the storm passed, families found their way back to the field to take pictures with their graduates. Laughter and congratulations and pride filled the air--the storm did not dampen the spirit of the day. With soaking wet clothes, gowns, and hair, smiles could not have been brighter in each photo. Together graduates, families and friends discovered humor, resilience, a good story to tell and the freedom of a few extra hours to spend together. And graduates left the stadium field with one more life lesson: sometimes the signs we read around us will lead us to change plans.

Discernment requires flexibility and an openness to read the signs along the way. Midcourse adjustments may even lead to new discoveries.

How are you dealing with the storms of life that can be part of discernment?

Imagination inspires vision in discernment

Thursday, September 7th 2017 3:05 pm
Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA


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

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

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