A Sister recently asked me, how would you sum up 2018 with one word. My brain clogs chugged forward like an old paddleboat in thick water. I pondered and found the word “growth”project from my mouth like a spring releasing. Thinking back to January, 2018 started with my First Profession, followed by a very quick trip to New Zealand, back to Sydney, moving, new community, NSW regional days, starting a new role full time in high school and the rest rolled from there.
On my first day at school a staff member asked me “So, tell me - What is your role? Where are you working? How many days per week are you here?” I could not answer any of her questions. My shoulders shrugged, I smiled while letting go of expectations and said “I have absolutely no idea but in time I’m sure things will work out.”
In my post profession haze I felt overwhelmed and overjoyed while having a strong belief that if I trust deeply in the spirit that all will be well. Releasing expectations opened the door for me to walk the hallway we call life with freedom. It seems to me that the key for each door on my journey this year has been released by listening with no expectations. Relationship and growth has followed. Many times I have rushed attempting to force open doors while forgetting to listen and to pray first; in-turn doors have often flung back and smacked me in the face! When I choose to expect, to rush then relationships suffer; with God, others, self, the environment – you name it - If I don’t openly listen I loose relationship (aka God).
The gift of having no initial role description enabled me to listen to the needs of the community. What do they need from a Sister in 2018? What are my skills? How can I serve God, what are my motivations?
It turns out that our community was seeking relationship through communication. With my background in design and digital communication paired with a need for pastoral support I quickly found myself overwhelmed. While these are two polar opposite tasks, it has been a year full of new development. Digital media can also be a springboard to initiate real person-to-person connection. We have seen relationships increase in 2018, and we have some exciting ideas in the works for 2019. School is a wild merry-go-round ride; my challenge is to remember to listen, to trust and ride with it while not fooling myself into thinking I am the merry-go-round operator!
Many people also said to me “O it’s your first full time year in school – that’s the hardest”. And yes it has not been all smooth sailing, pretty much every day I find myself thinking “What am I doing God?... really?”
Attempting to find a balance between ministry, study, community, personal commitments, sport, art, and pastoral surprises while doing my best to retain some shred of sanity on the merry-go-round has lead to some steep learning curves. Regular Spiritual direction and supervision has been crucial. Reaching out, being vulnerable and having open and supportive mentors at school and in congregation has been empowering - I’m beyond grateful for your trust and love. Conversation by conversation, prayer by prayer, we do not journey alone.
This makes me think of an old joke…
You are on a horse galloping at a constant speed.
On your right side is a sharp drop-off.
On your left side is an elephant travelling at the same speed as you.
Directly in front of you is a galloping kangaroo and your horse is unable to overtake.
Behind you is a lion running at the same speed as you and the kangaroo.
What must you do to get out of this highly dangerous situation?...
Get off the merry-go-round and go home.
You've had enough for one day!
Sometimes listening in prayer means that I have felt pulled to do things that scare me. As an example I was asked to give a speech on St Joseph’s day to the entire school community (about 1000 people). When I was asked I turned to prayer; through the many forehead wrinkling ‘O God, I don’t know’ moments I discerned my motivations - how would this serve God? Although terrified I felt pulled to say yes. A quote that I used in my speech was “True listening means that we are changed in the listening.” And I was certainly changed: Growth in self, growth in relationship with our community, the reactions from people, the messages, the tears, the hugs – all were true gift. I spoke from the heart, and really I guess that is all that God wants from us.
I followed this same approach when recently speaking to 150 principals, and also launching large banner artwork (see speech here). The process to create the artwork and the speech came through a kangaroo like approach - taking one hop at a time, one prayer at a time, one conversation at a time and as I said in my speech “brick by brick, prayer by prayer.”
A door that I did not expect also opened this year. For my profession booklet I created several sketches, one in particular has been very popular and the feedback received really took me by surprise. I imagined a modern day Jesus dancing on the feet of Joseph, emphasising the joy they shared. This positive response and desire I heard from people inspired me to create more modern interpretations.
Later in the year I was also asked to run two sessions at our staff spirituality day focused around my artwork; how it relates to us and to scripture today. Initially my reaction must have looked somewhat like a frozen meerkat. But, I turned to prayer, thawed, said yes (even though terrified) and walked down that hallway we call life. Those who believe in me and saw my potential empowered me to say yes. I was certainly further changed, further grateful, further able to see the work of the spirit alive in us when we are able like Mary (even though terrified) to say ‘yes’ - AMDG
As my artwork has developed people have started asking, “How can I buy some of your artwork, and buy some saint cards?”
Through this listening I felt pulled to create a little experiment on my website in the form of a Shop. The funds on the Shop go to the charitable works of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and help people to see our all-inclusive God in our lives today. Within 3 days my first print run of nativity cards sold out. Wow. I am now continuing to listen, to discern and to discuss this and all ministry with our congregation / leadership. Being part of a congregation means that I must discern and discuss, trusting congregational wisdom and guidance as we walk the hallway of life together (for which I am very grateful).
I have continued to explore my new local area, spending time in nature, finding local running and walking tracks, and maintaining my Yoga practice. Also finding a parish has been hugely nourishing. I’m grateful to those who have embraced this wondering Kiwi, you are my brothers and sisters, locals, fellow foreigners, weird Australian bugs one and all!
Ultimately my growth and growth in community have come through vulnerable listening, releasing expectations while trusting in the spirit that guides. Moving into 2019 I feel in many ways that I have no idea what is to come and there is freedom in that. I am certain that no matter what comes God is with us, and if I listen the spirit will guide me on the path to life.
I am incredibly grateful to be able to continue to listen, to ride the merry-go-round, to pray “brick by brick, prayer by prayer.” I have no idea where it will take me today, tomorrow or into the future, but moving with the spirit in vulnerability will help me // us to take flight. I would like to send much aroha, gratitude and joy for your Christmas and into 2019. Hold on, there might be some bumps on the way, but I do wish us all a spirit filled ride...
“The soul that is attached to anything however much good there may be in it,will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for, until the cord be broken the bird cannot fly.”
~ John of the Cross