Religious Life 2
Revisiting Original Fire
AS I ready myself for a trip to Ireland in a few days, which will include a visit with Diarmuid O'Murchu, who mentored me through the writing of Original Fire and recently published his own book on religious life, I find that I am finally ready to re-read
Original Fire. It has been ten years since its publication.I have begun it again and it is daunting even to me, and it is also prophetic, a phrase I shrink away from.
It would do us all some good if we stepped up to ask the questions burning
through Original Fire. What is happening now? How are we coming to completion, or fulfillment, or any other word we wish to use about this way of life that we have all lived so long?
Contemplation is drawing us...through there is a long way to go to
live that daily - to me that attraction is one important sign of the health of women's religious communities in an appropriate stage of letting go and letting be.
Contemplative Leadership in Conscious Evolving
Communal Discernment in Contemplation
(Brenda Peddigrew, RSM(NL), 17-1-17)
As religious congregations diminish in numbers, buildings, and the physical abilities to continue the good works that characterized us so well over many decades, an emerging
emphasis on contemplation can be heard in our conversations, and especially in how we plan our Chapters. For me, this is a source of unease on two counts: firstly, that it is arising so quickly as we face the urgency of selling buildings and land, and as we
release ministries that can no longer be sustained – are we falling back on “contemplation” as something else we can “do” when we can’t keep doing what we used to? And secondly, I fear an assumption that we actually “know”
what contemplation is and that we know how to do it.
The emergence of contemplation in the whole spiritual “field” has been intensifying radically during the past ten to
fifteen years, and – engaging it as a practice, individually and in groups, is becoming widespread in the developed countries. This is not only in a Christian context. It includes a wide variety of practices, but they all come from a similar teaching;
i.e., worshipped since Descartes’ statement “I think, therefore I am,” is no longer adequate for creating a world that can be inhabited fully. We have only to look at our whole world today – the destruction of the planet, wars and religious
wars, prejudices, hunger, poverty, capitalism leading to increasingly uneven distribution of wealth – on goes the list – to know that a different path is not only necessary but urgent.
A new consciousness is emerging, one that includes nature as our home in all its expressions – a world that not only welcomes the stranger but respects them; one that recognizes the intellect as only one element in a panoply of gifts for good that every
person holds in potential.
We are far from this vision; indeed, most are just awakening to it. It is dawning, but there is much to be released before a new way of perceiving, being
and acting begins to evidence a new world. Most of us will never see it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin it now.
The first thing to release is assuming that we
know. We cannot assume that we are in contemplation, approaching things “from a contemplative stance”, unless as individuals we are in some way actually practising moving into this new way of seeing and valuing –
willing to learn rather than think we know – choosing contemplative practice over endless pressured activity until a balance begins to come into our lives. That is, until someday we glimpse that our very seeing, our very activity is contemplative, and
we are aware of it, intending it.
Out of individual contemplative practice comes the possibility of engaging in communal contemplative discernment. Those participating would already
be practising/learning individual contemplation in a way of their choice, and a short teaching on how to bring their practice into communal discernment would suffice.
of Communal Discernment
1. A deep desire to be open to God’s will in the group, even if it isn’t what I might favor;
2. A trust that God is leading the group;
3. A willingness to share
and to listen with openness to differing opinions;
4. Praying for the grace to lay aside personal fears, desires, prejudices, hearsay or group
5. Readiness to let go of the desire for
a particular outcome, or to somehow control the
In order to engage these elements in a group, an interior
personal practice helps you to know if you are in true discernment. Around issues that are contentious, or something around which you have a strong and clear opinion, are you willing to ask yourself these questions:
1. What if what
I think or say is only partly true?
2. What if what I think or say isn’t true at all?
3. What if the very opposite of what I think or say is true?
4. What if what I think or say is true only for me? (and
I hold my own conviction but
accept that others in good faith cannot see it that way.)
Two Questions to Help You Know if You are in Discernment
What does God want for us at this time?
How open am I to the results of the discernment
being who/what I want?
When a Spirit of Discernment is Present…
information and questions arise out of a genuine desire to know the facts on which decisions can be based.
There is no intention to canvass or control, to criticize or blame. Information is given with a spirit of honesty with no agenda attached.
When a Spirit of Discernment is Absent…
what we call “Politicking” arises. “Politicking” is attachment to a particular outcome and is closed to discernment. Questions are asked and information is given in an effort to bring about a particular outcome or to persuade others
to your point of view.
A Time for the Heart…
Knowing the difference between these two is in the heart. Not the emotional heart, but in the way the whole heart holds the deeper
knowing of respect, honesty, confidentiality, inner presence.
Contemplative Discernment then, is a way of listening both to one’s own heart and to the heart of the whole Chapter. Small
and large listening, happening at the same time, gives the best chance for coming close to God’s vision for this moment in history. It is not always clear when to let go of one’s opinion, or when to hold it, or whether acceptance or resistance
is the path in a given situation. But holding the Whole rather than one’s own small seeing gives us the best chance.
Reclaiming Inner Life for Mission
(Brenda Peddigrew, RSM) ©winter2016/17
“The soul grows by subtraction, not by addition.” (Meister Eckhart)
The word “contemplative” has been re-emerging in the life and meetings of active religious for perhaps only eight or nine years. It’s as if – in our emphasis on Mission
and Ministry since Vatican II - our foundations began to shift, and the foundation of it all – interior relationship with the Divine – fell more into individual practice and assumption. This was neither avoidable nor anyone’s fault; in fact,
it was needed for the deepening of a communal contemplation that is calling us now. We have been and are part of a global shift in awareness of the Oneness of the whole cosmos.
Perhaps one of the reasons contemplation is re-emerging as our numbers and structures decline is that it never went away. Like the presence of God, it is always there, and just needs turning towards, and giving daily time, and – this is the newer development
– brought into communal practice as well as a personal one. Certainly, LCWR has been inviting a communal contemplative practice as part of its gatherings for the last few years. I believe that this has made possible the steady, integral
response that LCWR leaders have been able to make consistently to the Vatican investigations. We have been living in a time of “subtraction” longer than we realize, for God’s interior work develops before we become aware of it.
At a two-week meeting of one Congregation’s international leaders five years ago, I invited all to sit together for twenty minutes every morning before breakfast,
and to practice whatever form of meditation or contemplation that was theirs. Towards the end of the meeting, several came independently to tell me how different this meeting was from others before, that decisions were made without rancour, argument, or disdain.
When I asked why they thought this was, every single one said “it was the praying silently together in the mornings.” I have invited every group for the past five years to engage in this practice before a meeting or a Chapter, no matter what length
of time the meeting takes. This communal silence draws us closer on a level that words cannot.
But Contemplative Chapters (indeed – contemplation
itself) cannot be communal alone. It is the individual commitment to interior prayer that contributes to and increases the power of communal contemplation. One of the unfortunate and unintended effects of Vatican II renewal was that interior prayer
and meditation became de-emphasized, and it was each one for herself on that front. Liturgical Renewal and involvement on our part for the first time in history escalated our engagement in extraverted prayer expressions. Neither was interior prayer a common
topic of conversation among religious. All our gatherings became occasions for spoken words and singing and sometimes dancing…all forms of an extraverted expression of prayer. All good…but the inner connection, needing significant exterior
and interior silence, began to recede somewhat, and for some, was lost altogether. Some of us have become slaves of our culture’s most common cry “Not enough time!” If we hear ourselves say that, it is a wakeup call.
So when I am asked now, as a Chapter facilitator, “if we can have a contemplative Chapter,” I am having to stop and ask what it is that is being asked, and
why. I sense in the communities I facilitate, and others I hear about, a deep longing for something, a presence that is more than words. I sense a longing for silence and quiet – but not simply external silence and quiet. We have had that and it still
leaves many feeling empty and disconnected. In fact, external silence alone allows us to encounter our interior lack of silence! Then the work of silence really begins. In silence we are seeking a connection, a listening within that is not possible in the
time-starved schedules of our culture into which many have fallen, and we are seeking a connection with God that is to the soul what food or oxygen is to the body. Only individuals can develop the practices that cultivate contemplation, and when that is the
case, a gathering of such individuals to engage collectively affects both processes and outcomes of a gathering such as a Chapter.
There is no shortage
of contemplative practices available for individuals and groups in our world. Indeed, our shifting of emphasis towards contemplation could be part of the deeper arising described in Contemplation Nation: How Ancient
Practices are Changing the Way We Live (Papers from the State of Contemplative Practices in America), a five-year study of all the different ways that many different faiths, workplaces and groups are following contemplative ways to change the face
of their country. Nevertheless, as Catholic Christians, we are rich in contemplative traditions and practices. What is needed now, as Thomas Keating so succinctly suggests, is “fidelity to the old and openness to the new.” He goes on to say
unfortunately those of little faith tend to identify the values of the
Gospel with particular structures and symbols. We have to grow
beyond that identification.(Reawakenings, 55)
So, our first challenge in planning for a contemplative Chapter is to know what we are really asking. Many members of religious communities
are seeing the evolution of consciousness and the emergence of new realizations as part of that contemplative stance. This is openness to the new and what might be emerging “beyond”, as Keating says, an identification of the Gospel with particular
structures and symbols. Can we go there?
Meister Eckhart’s words at the beginning of this paper “the soul grows by subtraction” invites us to look without filters at our present reality. Our works, our buildings and properties, our numbers and our visible presence in the world –
all have been diminishing for some time, as I said above. No attempts at vocation promotion seem able to get us back to the old ways of attracting members. Many have been – and are - in some denial of this reality, implying that “if we only found
the right way…said the right words…did the right things…” then people would join us. This is a very narrow view, as it presupposes that this is in our hands, not God’s. And God inhabits the whole world, of which we are
a very miniscule part, though very effective in the part we have played. When I use the word “diminishment,” some become defensive, denying visible reality, refusing to open to what God might be bringing about, or assuming that God will continue
to work in the way we think things should happen.
Our work now is to foster the openness needed to live and breathe
contemplation, the kind of contemplation that leads us outward in more opening towards the world. And that is the first level of invitation to contemplation: opening one’s heart. For contemplation, unlike many forms of meditation, is about surrendering
and consenting to the work of God. It is about allowing, not planning, fixing and doing. Listening to inner resonances and knowing how to change and trust the moment is the first movement of contemplation. External silence doesn’t help if internal
silence is not being cultivated. From that place, prayer arises.
How can contemplation be a flavor then, of Chapter, if not its
essential character? Here are some beginning ways to prepare:
encourage members to read, talk about and find ways to bring the reality of contemplation into their personal and communal
conversations long before the Chapter Gathering;
Begin to bring active listening and “automatic talking” into self-awareness.
provide sources of material for contemplative
have conversations about what is meant by communal contemplation;
Suggest a book study on one of the resources listed at the end of this article;
talking piece circles in small groups, where members wait and listen rather than converse in the usual give and take;
encourage and practice speaking from the heart rather than responding to someone else;
keep affirming that discomfort is a good sign that something new is being learned; that transformation is taking place;
offer teachings on interior silence (see suggested reading list)
search out ways together to encourage the study, practice and conversation about these topics.
One last way to practicalize a contemplative approach to every day and especially in community conversations is the personal practice of empathic listening. This practice helps to loosen one’s own tight attachment to “the way I think about it”
and opens a way for all manner of wider viewpoints to have a place. Empathic listening involves a few simple questions:
“what if the way I think about it is only half right?
What if it isn’t right at all?
What if it’s only me who thinks that way?
What are my assumptions in holding this opinion?”
“How can I loosen my attachment to the way I see things?
This exercise is not about letting go of your own opinion, but because the effect of seriously considering
these questions allow a space to arise inside where not only God, but other people may offer insights and possibilities.
A Contemplative Chapter is as receptive as it is active. It includes a personal habit of inner listening and empathic listening to others as described above. Each personal contemplative practice contributes to the communal morphogenic field that is the whole
gathering at this moment in the history of the community, and only for this moment.
If we are not listening to our own
hearts, if we go into Chapters of Affairs and Elections with fixed ideas and opinions, there cannot be a contemplative Chapter. God can break through at any time, but God cannot be pre-programmed by us. So listening to our inner resonances and knowing how
to change and trust the moment is the skill of contemplation.
Chapter of Affairs
There is no one way to design a Contemplative Chapter
of Affairs, but it will include some of the following qualities:
a schedule that includes significant times for communal silence and prayer;
for interior listening before speaking; directions for the “how”;
learning to recognize what the whole is sitting with and not just staying with my own personal opinion; (empathic listening)
inviting creativity and trying out new ways of doing what is necessary in a Chapter;
slowing the pace of work; spaciousness in schedule;
emphasizing inner practices and heart
speaking from the heart of what one is hearing within; holding what each one says without judgment or criticism.
For many years now, most religious communities have been making long preparations
to elect leaders. The preparation – personal discerning, nominating, discernment retreat for nominees – all these steps take place previous to the Chapter itself. Even in small communities where members know each over throughout many years,
this practice has continued. Discernment for leaders begins even without the formal process, however, in the months prior to the Chapter itself. One possibility for a Contemplative Chapter is to hold the entire process during the Chapter itself, following
the Chapter of Affairs. During the Chapter of Affairs, the emerging focus and direction for the community is agreed upon, be it vision statement, directional statement, wisdom statement. Adding this element to the election invites another opportunity for congruence
with Chapter outcomes, when the question becomes “who can best lead us to actualizing this agreement, and what qualities of leadership are most important to us now?” Thus leaders are chosen not only for personal qualities and experience, but for
what is resonant with this time in history, with this chosen direction.
The longer, pre-Chapter nomination process could
be helpful in large Congregations whose members don’t know each other. But even in those situations it has sometimes caused more confusion than clarity. In smaller groups, it seems redundant now.
In a Contemplative Chapter, listening to self, others, and Spirit with a willingness to be surprised - with an open heart and mind- all follow the Chapter of Affairs. After silent communal prayer, nominations are made from the floor, following canonical procedure.
This is followed by quiet discernment time, the nominees coming together with the facilitator while the rest of the community prays in silence. A session of open questioning of nominees by the whole community follows, so that leanings can be openly identified.
Then follows the formal election according to Constitutions. Thus a leadership team congruent with this moment in the community’s history is created.
Conclusion: This Contemplative Moment
in this era of “subtraction”, the call to contemplation is drawing us now. It is important to bring ourselves daily to the awareness that our primary relationship with God is an interior one, and all our good works flow from this mystical
relationship. Too much attention to outer structures, plans, and predictions slowly and unknowingly create a wall around that relationship with God, and until we deliberately remove those layers we will not access that interior place where God not only speaks,
but works through us. This is the Great Unfolding that God is bringing about, and many are now seeing their way to interior surrendering and consenting, the two great and necessary movements for God to work through us in a new time, much of which we will never
comprehend with our minds. The gift of being willing to recognize our discomfort and resistance with the messy and unfamiliar “new” and then see the grace to step beyond it that is also present – these are the important spiritual gifts in
Jesus encourages his followers to be deliberate about searching and
requesting. He promises they will find what they are
seeking. But this
is more about the internal world than the external one…[Perhaps] we
are to ask for what matures and strengthens our relationship with
the Divine…request what will transform us into our best gladness, our
foremost faithfulness, our strongest fire….what will prepare us to be
for goodness in our world. (Rupp, Open the Door, p. 49)
To live from the inner
depth of love, as persons in evolution, is to live
with purpose and direction not as an “I” but as a “we”, a collective whole.
To know God
as the wholeness of Love is to enter into oneness at the heart
of all life. That is why prayer and contemplation are essential for the next
stage of evolution.
Without the eye of the heart or the inner space to welcome
the new ways love shows itself in others, we cannot love towards greater
unity. (Delio,The UnbearableWholeness of Being, p. 112.)
(in order of recommendation)
Sardello, Robert Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness (2008)
Rupp, Joyce, Open the Door (2008)
Cynthia. The Wisdom Jesus
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening
Rohr, Richard. Immortal
The Naked Now
The Divine Dance
Delio, Ilia The Emergent Christ(2011)
The Unbearable Wholeness of Being(2013)
Keating, Thomas: Reawakenings
Bush, Miribai (ed) Contemplation Nation: How Ancient Practices Are Changing
the Way We Live. (2011)
Occasional Papers, 2014-16
Who Are We Now and Who Leads Us?
Daring a New Language:
Are We Now and Who Leads Us?
of a General Chapter Facilitator)
The question of leadership in religious congregations is bending into a dangerous time. With diminishing numbers and potential leaders, completion of the way of life as we know it is nearer
than we can comprehend. Along with this realization rises a kind of shock, disbelief, denial and resistance - all natural, all predictable, and all even necessary - and often unaddressed, wrapped in the grief that is natural and to be expected. All of it gives
even more importance to moving deeper within, personally, and communally, to dwell with what is happening and to face it together as the natural unfolding that it is. To both grieve and release is the work now; to let go and even to rejoice at being part of
the natural unfolding of living and dying. Only in the past few years are we hearing words such as "emergent consciousness" and "evolutionary awareness" coming into our common language. And for many of us, it is still not "common" as much as it is an invitation
to a new understanding. As with all invitations, it need not be accepted, or only partially.
This current dilemma for religious Congregations and communities evokes some urgent possibilities. A kind of escalated fear and anxiety can take over daily life as we see our historical
buildings being sold, the places where all our spiritual and physical resources were poured into service for decades upon decades. When the fear and anxiety is not addressed, when community becomes functional and prayer automatic - all lost in the overdoing
and constant going that some call "ministry" - then we can be sure that the next visitors are negativity, dissatisfaction, criticism and blame, and generally feeling lost. These take up residence subtly and quickly, and automatic talking* is often a result.
Contemplative practice and receptive presence have no place in this scenario because there is no time to give to them.
Leadership is a dilemma for many communities now, since ages and members seldom match requirements for the times ahead. This bears a deeper and slower reflection, a slowing of our
days for a greater listening. If we have forgotten, we can learn it again. If we have never reached those depths of contemplative listening, they are not far. It only takes the time, the choice, and the movement into inner deepening for the opening to appear.
Leading in These Times: Multiple Approaches
1. Administrators as Leaders
Emerging from the swirl of urgency growing in many religious congregations is an often automatic assumption that leadership needs administrators most of all - to deal with buildings and adjustments to diminishing numbers of members; to attend meetings with
lawyers and real estate agents; to initiate and follow through actuarial studies; to travel to meeting after meeting after meeting for consulting with other leaders. The travel requirements alone for leaders has escalated during the past few years to alarming
proportions. Given the rapidity of so many communities moving towards completion in Canada, is it time to question this assumed necessity for leadership qualities and requirements? Cannot others carry out these tasks, with accountability to leadership? Administration
is a function, not a leadership quality. It is learned, practiced, and a valuable and necessary service for all religious communities today. Just as administrators are hired for their special and important training and experience, so they can be appointed
by leadership to perform urgent and necessary administrative services on behalf of the community, answerable to leadership teams and working with them for the necessities of these times. But to assume that leaders must be administrators is to dangerously narrow
leadership possibilities in these times when numbers of members are diminishing rapidly, and to diminish the role of spiritual leadership needed now; i.e., to call members to the meaning and spiritual presence most needed in the world and with one another
in our time.
2. Corporate Leaders
When religious congregations became incorporated and we started using the language of corporations, an even more subtle shift began to invade religious communities. I remember being invited
to a meeting of my own leadership team about 15 years ago to explain a workshop I had given that was questionable because other than Catholic women were in attendance. After much give-and-take, I asked why this was causing such difficulty. Immediately the
leader spoke that "we are a corporation now and we have to follow certain rules and be watchful for anything that might threaten those rules." I was shocked at that moment and her response has arisen in my memory many times since. What changed when we became
corporations? And how did becoming corporate affect and subtly influence our way of being together in community and service? How did it shift our understanding of and relationship to leadership? It is well known in the world that corporate culture has a life
of its own, and not always a helpful, meaningful one.
Corporate leaders are business women who stand toe to toe with lay board members, and other authorities, all for the good of the mission and the ministry, and can challenge and argue and push for what they need, or how they interpret what the Congregation
needs from that point of view. They are certainly great gifts in these times to those community needs. The difficulty arises when that approach becomes equated with community leadership roles. All of us can ask ourselves: “have we fallen into the
assumption that "being corporate" has so come to define us that our leaders must be so defined also?
3. Pastoral Leaders
It was about 12-14 years ago that
I began to notice a change in what members of women's religious communities named when they reflected on some qualities needed in leaders. I began to notice the word "pastoral" coming into the mix. And - since "pastoral care" was an already defined ministry
among the communities, assumptions were made that the sisters were asking for pastoral care in their leaders. That was not the case, even as I heard it then.
What I heard being asked for was pastoral presence. In at least three different Chapters I facilitated during those years, the sisters even asked for the
leader(s) not to travel so much! What community members began to unconsciously realize was the desire for leaders to be among them, not as caretakers, but as sisters, although hierarchical authority was always (and mostly still is) part of that mix. While
many dismissed this request as a sign of dependence on leaders, including myself at the time, a different realization has emerged for me recently. Of course there would need to be work around examining the hierarchical relationship of sisters with community
leaders as they have evolved in our time, but that would be the very work of pastoral presence - the "being with" sisters in these shifting and diminishing times, inspiring us all to be with each other in new ways.
Pastoral Leadership would include calling members to be present to the many layers of realities and
meaning for religious women in these times, not just in terms of properties and buildings and meetings, but what it means for the history of our lives, both individual and communal. It would provide a context for what is happening to our way of life. It would
mean encouraging the telling of personal histories and stories of our early community lives, of helping sisters find the meanings of their own lives, even as we approach completion of the life of the community or Congregation. It would attempt to balance "doing"
with being together in meaningful ways, with time given to interpersonal support and community and prayer, to stories and laughter and the wonder of our lives. It would contextualize and give meaning to the letting go that is asked of us now, both personally
and communally, with peace and appropriate presence. Most of all, it would encourage the sisters to see the deep values we have brought and still bring to the world as long as we are in it - values that have little or nothing to do with monuments and memorials
to who we were. And there is so much more about Pastoral Leadership that needs exploring, that would only emerge in a deliberate allowing to unfold.
4. Contemplative Leadership
The newest leadership focus we are seeing only in the last few years is
"Contemplative Leadership". We owe this phrase and this emphasis to our U.S. Sisters who were the focus of a Vatican Investigation for a very recent five years. The extreme demands upon them during these times led to many re-focusing their leadership approach
to what is now being called Contemplative Leadership. It is new, and yet it is also ancient. Through their way of being present through those difficult times, emerging from Contemplative Practice, they provide leadership to all of us in the significant necessity
of re-learning and practicing anew the evolving meaning of what it means to be contemplative in our times. Contemplation is no longer separate from action but contemplation is to be present in our speaking and in our action. Realizing this truth takes
new and deliberate learning, a significant shifting of a way of life. As the world is turning, and increasingly quickly, so are we being called to turn with it, as members and as leaders. Only the deepening of our connection with the Divine Mystery enables
the embrace of that calling. For these times, these changes, these surprising and disconcerting realizations, can only be lived in the daily deep Mystery of God, to which contemplation calls us. Contemplative Leadership gives priority to engaging all of us
in this call, and journeys with members in the practice and unfolding of that reality.
And perhaps this phrase too; i.e., “Contemplative Leadership” is one that is already too familiar; that we think we know what it means, since contemplation is an ancient word with many meanings, almost
too familiar a word. I believe we need an entirely new phrase for the approach to leadership we must consider in these times. Words related to “presence”, “heart,” (not in an emotional sense); “being together in unknown ways;”
“exploring together what we mean in our languaging.” This could go on, but it is the willingness to explore, not to discover, that is most important in these times. I believe we will know it when we discover it.
Only a Beginning
This initiatory reflection is not meant to choose one approach over another; rather it is to become more aware of possibilities that could be woven together, or seeing all the strands of leadership in new ways. It is intended to open a few shafts of
light in a sometimes tightly sealed, taken-for-granted box. If we keep doing what we always did, there is no possibility for light and growth. If we won't step through the discomfort of exploring the new, nothing different will come about. Perhaps there are
ways of doing leadership that are nothing at all like what we assume to be necessary now! I don't know what they are, but I do know that if we open and explore possibilities without the fear and anxiety, the attachment to outcome and the resignation that often
characterizes election processes now, (and these are guaranteed to bring about repetitive, narrow results), something new will happen if we are willing to step out of the past and into God's good unfolding. God is always the God of the new, not of clinging
to the old or of rigid positions on any belief.
So - what is our God asking of us in these years, as we enter into times of completion and of releasing all that we thought was permanent, all that we held dear? How do we learn to listen - to God and one another? And what can we ask of someone willing to
lead us in that asking?
Brenda Peddigrew RSM (NL)
*automatic talking is a term used in training to listen. It is how most people talk without really listening to another person. (more information can be found in Group Dynamics and Community Building writings.)
Diarmuid O'Murchu's latest book was released by Orbis a few weeks ago: Religious Life in the 21st Century: the Prospect of Refounding.
I cannot recommend this well-researched and visionary work highly enough. It is a book for group reading, with questions for focusing at the end of each Chapter.
Anyone who is at all interested in the completion
of the form of religious life we are all accustomed to, and the implications of this reality, will be heartened by the broad vision of Diarmuid's work.
Time to refine a quality of leadership?
In my many years of facilitating Chapters for many different communities, I have come to see how a certain syle of leadership choice has become almost unconcious. There is an assumption that our current leaders need to be administrators. I
am finding that sad. Administration is a skill, a learning, and a certain approach to corporate work.
But as our religious communities diminish in numbers and capacities, a different kind of leader is being called for, sometimes by community members
themselves. We are living a different quality of religious life, one that is facing diminishment in numbers and capacities, and the change of life-focus called "aging." While administrative tasks can be done by members with the skill and experience to do them,
having leaders that are pastoral and present with the grief, loss, facing transformative stages of life and other qualities of this diminishing time now seems more important than having leaders who are so wrapped in the administrative tasks that they literally
have no time for presence and attending to these realities for their members. The number of meetings amd trips requiring travel has so increased that many leaders are hardly encountered by their sisters except in the most passing of ways.
is both sad and disheartening. I wonder what it will take to transform leadership expectations in our time?
Is it time?
Strands of aging and grieving losses are waving through religious communities as we have known them, and while a few new communities are arising, and a few younger women are joining traditional religious communities, it is clear to anyone who courageously
looks around and ahead that we are living in a different world than ten years ago at the very least.
While some will admit this, the reality is still to be faced and felt to any significant degree. We see this in the constant meetings and travel of
leaders; we see it in actuarial studies of selling of properties; we see it in the busyness of members, struggling to keep going in "ministry".
What we don't see is a depth of living the reality of our times and situations. And while
"contemplation" is a word coming back into usage and even longed for - perhaps as a counter-balance to the busyness, a new understanding is not often being sought. Rather a general attitude of "we know what that is" prevails, and we don't. Like everything
else in our rapidly evolving world, "contemplation's" meaning and practice has also greatly evolved and is now comprehended and practised very differently from twenty years ago. And is very widespread - outside of traditional religious communities. It would
be great if we could also explore what we are called to in contemplation in these present times and present realities. And in our own lives, first of all.
moving into future: Adrienne Rich
If the imagination is to transcend and transform
it has to question
to conceive of an alternative
perhaps to the very life you are living
at that moment.
"Out of Darkness"
Recommending an article called "Out of Darkness" by Philip Pinto, CFC - really a talk he gave to the religious of Ireland in 2011. He was then Congregational Leader of the Christian Brothers of Ireland. Some relevant words :
And so, in a time when our numbers are rapidly decreasing, when our ministries are being taken over by lay people who (hopefully) are giving them new shape and spirit, when our presence is almost invisiable in society, what are we being called to be and
do? It is as if God is saying to us that in our present state we are irrelevant to our world. Are we then the equivalent of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? Must we die so that something else can be born?
Philip's entire article is worth not
only a read, but a deep reflection, and several readings. In the frantic flurries of many religious communities making sure that they are seen and remembered forever, his is a refreshing encounter with reality.
Opening Eyes to the Whole of Who We Are
W need to see ourselves - not as ending - but as part of the great evolutionary unfolding that is escalating now in speed and breadth and depth. We need to acknowledge that we cannot comprehend this with the mind, but only with the heart, the soul -
the whole of who we are. We need to let go, stop preserving, stop fight, stop denying - and release ourselves into the One God - who will bring forth what is needed with or without us.
New Book Alert
I have just finished reading the entire text of a new book on religious life by Diarmuid O'Murchu, and sending him comments at his request. I don't know when this will be available in its published form but I will announce it here when I do.
This is the most extensive history of religious life - in all faiths - that I have ever seen. In that large historical context, contemporary Catholic religious life is seen in its evolutionary dying and rising in ways that both expand and focus contemporary
realities more clearly than I have ever seen written before.
When this book IS published - and I will announce it here when it is - it will be an invaluable resource for reading and study and contemplation - it definitely fires the contemplative realm
-and I hope to encourage exchanges on it in whatever form arises.