Chapter Talk – New Year’s Eve – December 31, 2020
‘Here I am the servant of the Lord’, ‘let it be done to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38): all ways of saying ‘yes’. Our consent has given us seeds of new life: “Of his fullness we have all received, grace and truth” (Jn 1:16). We have been gifted with ‘grace and truth’ in and through the birth of Christ. How do we then live from this gift? What can help us to not let this gift be ignored, or not believed in, or even killed by the negativity that can assault us in myriad of ways?
If we allow the grace of Christmas to be at the forefront of our consciousness then we will see differently, we will see from a larger horizon because our hearts have been enlarged, they have become more Christ-like. This birth happened at the margins…it happened in a stable, with earthy and animal smells. This Divine birth thus invites us to the margins, to the periphery where we are able to see more clearly the new that has been manifested for each of us personally and for us as a community.
Let us ponder this for a moment: when we are in the middle of a conflict how do we come to see a way through it? By remaining in the ‘middle’ of it, we don’t see much…because it is clouded with: ‘she began it’…’she does not trust me’…’she is always putting me down’…’no one appreciates me’ and so on. And what about the times when we are called to discern a next step, whether it is a small or a larger one? Once again remaining in the middle of what we are to discern is clouded over with many options, along with fears and resistances to change, and to even face what is asking discernment. Going to the periphery, taking space, quiet space, solitude, away from the middle, to ponder what is asking change, to listen ever more deeply, to give God space, silent space to lead and guide us with the small, still voice of his Spirit.
Pope Francis said: “You have to go to the edges of existence if you want to see the world as it is” (Let Us Dream, p.11). Let me repeat this sentence, deleting just the last few words: ‘You have to go to the edges of existence if you want to see’. It is not comfortable to go to the periphery of life, the periphery of our lives in order to see, to see as God sees. Francis adds this: “You have to make for the margins to find a new future” (p.11). Jesus went to the margins often in his public ministry. Off to a lonely place to pray is what we hear repeated in the gospels. A place away from the crowds, a place away from all the demands of his ministry. Now to go to the margins is not just taking a physical step away, it is very much a descent inside, within the depths of our inner life. Pope Francis in his call to go to the periphery of our lives, then warns us as he writes about “three disastrous ways of escaping reality that block growth and the connection with reality, and especially the action of the Holy Spirit” (p.15-16). For us as a monastic community we need individual and communal growth, we need to apprehend reality, not dilute it, and we especially need the action of the Holy Spirit to guide us in the New Year that is before us. These three ‘disastrous ways’ that Pope Francis speaks about are: “narcissism, discouragement, and pessimism” (p.16). I will not quote how Pope Francis describes ‘narcissism’ and ‘discouragement’ but let us take in what he says about ‘pessimism’: “And then there’s pessimism, which is like a door you shut on the future and the new things it can hold; a door you refuse to open in case one day there’ll be something new on your doorstep” (p.16).
Dear Sisters, let us say a resounding NO to ‘narcissism, discouragement, and pessimism’. These are all old baggage that can plague us if we allow them. These are often the plague of our heart and soul. They cover over our woundedness; they flare up out of our woundedness when we are not present to that wounded, suffering, vulnerable level of our lives…And as we hear from St. Paul, that woundedness can become a strength, a powerful healing force in our lives and a gift to others IF we acknowledge it, if we are tender and loving toward that most vulnerable part of who we are. This woundedness is our poverty, and as such becomes the stable where God’s life is continually born…
Our monastic communities are faced with much to be discerned as we take our first steps into the New Year. For us, how will we meet the precariousness that is brought about by the lack of vocations? How will we continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic especially in terms of hospitality to guests, a ministry so important for a monastic witness? How can we deepen our prayer life and to live it more authentically? Taking time on the periphery will renew and revitalize our prayer. Prayer in the first instance, changes us, and it has the quiet, hidden power to change more than us, as we humbly hold in prayer the so many needs humanity is facing right now. Just reflect for a moment: why do we receive so many phone calls, letters, emails asking for prayer? What is the deeper reality behind these requests? In these persons requesting prayer, there is faith, a living faith that knows the healing and effective power of prayer.
In the Epilogue of the book, Let Us Dream, Pope Francis offers us these two words: “decenter” and “transcend” (p.135). By ‘decentering’ he means to move away from being so centered upon ourselves, to avoid getting “bogged down in the same (old) patterns of thinking and acting” (p.135). He likes the image of ‘pilgrim’ who he says “is one who decenters and so can transcend. She goes out from herself, opens herself to a new horizon, and when she comes home, she is no longer the same, and so her home won’t be the same” (p.135). What if we take this as our reality in 2021: to figuratively speaking that we go on ‘pilgrimage’? We go to the margins, to be changed, to see anew, to see more inclusively and broadly, to allow a new horizon, not disconnected from what was before, but new, to thus give us the vision and orientation we need to move forward with all that this new year will ask of us. Dear Sisters, sure we are all getting older. However, this does not mean our lived lives have to be diminished in any way…We can continue to be vital, fully alive, fully willing to give ourselves to the new that is right now lingering on the shore of our monastic lives. Pivotal to being ready to receive the new is that we put aside the old baggage that darkens the heart and soul, that of narcissism, discouragement and pessimism…If ever as a small ecclesia we need to see in new ways, while being rooted in our ancient monastic tradition, it is now. The ‘new wine, new skins’ that Jesus taught and lived, hovers at the periphery…We have the Pattern and the Way as we pilgrimage into the New Year: Jesus…We are not alone…Let his voice: ‘do not be afraid’ accompany us each step of the way.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess