By Sr. Patty Johnson
Newer and younger sisters, as well as candidates, of the U.S. and Canadian Sisters of St. Joseph gathered in Kansas City for the second annual CSSJ Into the Future Collaborative gathering. Two presenters — who are members of the collaborative — shared challenging presentations, featuring time for small group discussion to digest and integrate the material, centered around the theme "Claiming the Now of Religious Life."
Sr. Linda Buck (Orange) offered a comparison of what the destruction of the temple meant to the Jewish people with our current times. Just as the Jewish people developed new ways to pray and new practices for their faith as they sojourned in the desert, we also are in a time of change and wandering with new possibilities open to us. Several sisters noted the call to deeper relationships among this peer group.
The Collaborative also expressed the importance of extending these relationships to newer and younger members in our global family of St. Joseph. They noted an urgent need to respond to our times and to hold the creative tensions that our diversity and society present. There is an urgency to respond but a need to do it in a deeply prayerful and reflective way that breaks down silos and polarities.
Sr. Amy Hereford (Carondelet-St. Louis) presented a fascinating look at paradigm shifts. She engaged the sisters' imagination by explaining what a pilot needs to do when recovering from a "stall" in an airplane. She shared that when an airplane stalls, one might think that a pilot would have to make many maneuvers and actions to ensure the plane's safety. Actually, pilots are trained to fight their basic instinct to act — and instead — do nothing. She said flying requires a pilot to think differently, to act against instinct, and to "let go" so that the plane can self-correct as it falls. It requires going against deeply established habits of mind and body.
For me, after returning from 14 years in Hawaii, I had a similar experience with learning to drive in icy conditions. While I was gone, anti-lock brakes became more available on cars. So not only did I need to remember to turn into a skid but also not to pump the breaks. I realized that in order to avoid my instincts taking over in a skid, I had to focus and imagine myself addressing the skid as I headed to the car and several times while I was driving so that I could act in a conscious way.
During the process related to this presentation, the group pondered not doing the instinctual and relying on the habitual ways of reacting. The group emphasized the importance of our relationships, not giving up on the mission, and being willing to respond in new ways, with new ministries, projects, and different ways of doing things. We need to name our realities and accept them but not let them hold us back.
On Saturday morning, Sr. Celeste Mokrzycki (Philadelphia) led the group in a creative process. This artistic effort helped sisters generate creative ways to respond. Once the responses are pulled together into a coherent whole and sent out the group, potential for new movements may emerge. There was a tangible feeling of the group wanting to ignite the divine spark and live with radical availability.
[Sr. Patty Johnson is executive director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph]