We arrived early enough to check into our rooms, and figured we would have to scout around for supper before the 7 PM opening session. Nope...Pat, a sprightly older woman scooped us up at the reception desk saying, "Come on! It's five o'clock, we might just be able to beat the line!" So we trundled after her to the cafeteria.
At dinner we learned that Pat is a nun who just moved back to the mother house from Chicago where she served at a number of literacy centers. In her words, "The winter driving was getting to be a bit much. Not the roads, those are all cleared. It's those darn parking lots! That's where I slipped and broke my hip last year." Pat is 83 and doesn't act or look a day over 70. When I requested that she ask the blessing over our meal, she prayed a spontaneous, heartfelt prayer. Then she looked up with an impish grin and chuckled about her natal sister whom she said is stuck back in the days of pre-Vatican II. "If I pray like that for dinner at her house, she says 'that was nice, now pray: Bless us O Lord...."
The first session began at 7PM Friday. The room filled with women. Gray hair dominated the room, but that wasn't much of a surprise. When the conference coordinator took the podium and revealed that there were 44 nuns and 2 secular people in the room......that was the surprise. I'll have to admit my first reaction was not one of pleasant surprise. I was wrong. The entire weekend was a delight.
The presenters for the weekend are cousins. Both women teach at the university level in different institutions. One teaches scripture the other teaches communication and theater. First we had exegesis on the Hebrew texts of the woman under discussion. Her cousin followed with a dramatic presentation she had developed in the form of the character speaking to us. It was sort of a "left brain - right brain" approach. Both were superb and they complimented one another beautifully. Each presentation was followed by a time for reflection, then an opportunity for discussion among the 5 women at each table. The Bible characters covered were: Eve, Sarah, the midwives of Exodus, Miriam, and Ruth.
After the first round of discussion, I began to realize that most of these women had entered the novitiate in mid-50's to the mid-60's. As a group, they represented some of the best educated women of that generation. Most of them are still active in the community serving at literacy centers, in health care, and as community organizers. They are passionate about social justice, the environment, and peace. The minefields I anticipated were absent.
Here's what I learned:
- The power of imagining possibilities.
- The necessity of risk in realizing those possibilities.
- There's a time for strategic planning and a time for strategic waiting, particularly when resisting injustice.
- An obsession for control diminishes our capacity for compassion, listening, and yeilding our own (sometimes wrongly held) beliefs.
- My response can have the power to shape the moral response of those in power.
- Everything is created by friction and disturbance. Anything protected from disturbance is protected from change and risks becoming stagnant.
In spite of that sad note, I was surprised by joy. The only thing that would have surprised me more was if there had been a PBR in that bowl during social hour.