In her book The Radical Christian Life, Benedictine sister Joan Chittister writes,
Death is indeed a necessary part of life but everything that looks dead is not and, in fact, may really be the beginning of new life in us. (page 110)
This is one of those truths that makes complete sense to me on a good day. But in the middle of a "it sure looks dead” circumstance facing me head on, I am tempted to believe that this one particular moment on this one day is the one exception to the truth.
November 1 is when some faith traditions honor those who have fought the good fight and died in faith. I want to remember what I have read about the saints' lives - their struggles, their perseverance, and (very importantly) their humanness that we sometimes forget because we call them "saint." It is also vital that I remember all that I know about my ancestors and close friends who have passed on. Because of the saints' faith stories shared through time, the biological DNA of ancestors streaming through my own biology, and the physical human touch of close friends upon my life, I sense the presence of others cheering me on. The cloud of witnesses that surrounds each of us (Hebrews 12:1) waits to provide the inspiration to continue forward when life seems particularly difficult with an unclear path before us.
Are there places in your life that appear to be without life and without redemption? Is it possible there is a seed of new life on the verge of coming forth if you can persevere in the waiting? Who in your cloud of witnesses comes to mind with encouragement to stand your ground with hope in that thin space that waits between death and resurrection?
This picture was taken during my retreat in June 2008 at Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center as the AWBA vision was deepening within me. It is the onsite cemetery for the Sisters of Mercy who once made their home in the current retreat center building and now, along with other faithful servants, operate the retreat center as a sanctuary for others. This has been a special place for me as I have discerned God’s call to develop this new ministry, to believe that life would come from the necessary losses that precede such a major life change, and to find the courage to persevere in the waiting time as details were revealed. There were many reasons why I thought AWBA impossible and too hard to accomplish. While on this particular retreat, I received word that a close friend with whom I had walked alongside through her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in her early 50's had passed away. That afternoon, I made my way to the stoop at the base of this resurrected Christ figure in the middle of the cemetery. I sat with my head bowed down into folded arms grieving my dear friend, unsure about the future, and feeling very isolated in a decision I knew had to be made for myself. I looked up to see these grave markers - all stones honoring the life of a Sister of Mercy - and realized I was surrounded by women who had lived lives of deep compassion and finished their race just as my friend had. I felt buoyed and supported by the witness of these lives. Each time I have returned to the Pines since that moment, I visit “the Sisters” and remember my friend who taught me so much about compassion. I walk amongst these memorials trusting I am receiving what I need for the next step of the journey.
We (I) want things to move more quickly than they do. And, by the way, wouldn't a smooth path be wonderful as well? AWBA exists to provide a community of support in the long, winding and often uneven journey of your particular story. May you find inspiration as you bring to mind the memory of one soul who offers you encouragement to seek the beginnings of new life in all the dark moments of uncertainty.