I have been coming to Oldenburg Franciscan Center for about 5 years now. The first time I came, it was at the invitation of S. Olga to attend a workshop on “spiritual tasks” for our journey with God. I learned so much that weekend, and the experience was powerful enough that it broke loose something inside of me that wanted to be freed. So I came back, again and again, seeking that wholeness, that liberty.
So much happens in five years, as any of us might know. After several months of absence here, I returned last night to make a ‘silent retreat’ of my own. It was a brief visit – just a moment I stole for myself to repeat a journey I’ve taken many times here at Oldenburg – an evening walk through the Sisters’ cemetery under a starlit sky. I love the dark, peaceful expanse of the cemetery, so far from city lights, so warm with prayer, and so populous with stars at night.
It was pretty cold outside, so I didn’t stay out as long as I might have liked. But it was a nice night for a stroll in the cemetery, and for all the walks I have taken there, I found myself pausing to do something I had never done before. I sat in front of the large crucifix in the middle of the cemetery and quietly pondered the image. It struck me that I’ve carried many a prayer through this cemetery, whispering prayers under the stars. So much of my life has changed since the first time I did that… and yet, I have new doubts. So, sitting under the crucifix, I placed my lenten confession: I don’t know whether I’m finding my faith or losing it. Where am I with God?
I recognized all the life-giving graces that have come into my life since the first time I walked this cemetery under the night sky… it’s been an amazing journey, full of God’s presence. So I just prayed for the grace to know what I need now to calm and direct my uncertainties. What’s next?
And, oh, for a moment my blurry eyes worked a spiritual blessing – as it seemed Jesus leaned forward and his arms came down from where they were pinned to the cross. What a true and beautiful prayer – to feel like I could be there to help Jesus down from the cross – to imagine how exhausting and deathly it is to remain there.
Suddenly, I imagined myself walking up, letting his arms fall around me to finally come down off that cross. What it really said to me is that it’s time to come down from the cross. Jesus, and me. And I relaxed into a dream of comforting rest, with that role reversed. The crucifixion has passed. I’m coming off my self-imposed cross into the arms of a comforting Jesus. It is time for life after death.
As for the question of finding or losing my faith, that seemed so simply answered with a thought of John 12:24. “Unless a grain of wheat falls upon the ground and dies, it remains a single grain with no life.” Belief as I have known it may have died. But my faith hasn’t departed. It’s just sprouting up through a new seed, a new gift of God’s love and incarnation.
With new peace, my life continues forward – and with such gratitude for the presence and ministries of the Sisters in Oldenburg. What a gift they have to bring new life to others through the living of their Franciscan values and the sharing of that through Oldenburg Franciscan Center. Here I have truly learned: God is Good, God is Love, God Gives Life.
The following story was written by Kelly Quirino about her experience with the Oldenburg Sisters of St. Francis while on retreat at Oldenburg Franciscan Center. The full article was published by Atlantic magazine. Permission has been granted by the author for reproduction here. Thank you, Kelly, for this beautiful reflection!
…My mom had already given me my birthday present. The week before, we had set out into a blizzard, aimed for a Franciscan convent about an hour away from where we live. The roads were bad and it got dark early, but we made our way slowly, on slick, wind-whipped roads. The headlights illuminated the snow in front of us, the sky was the same color as the ground around us, and to pass the time I tried to convince my mom that this road was some sort of Miyazakian segue into the underworld. She countered with C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe, and for a while we amused each other with what we thought this Other reality would be, what it would do, how we would interact with it.
We thought we were being funny and clever, but as we drove through Oldenburg, Indiana (population 674) looking for the spires of the Franciscan convent, we realized that what we were imagining together had more or less come true. This was an Other reality, one completely foreign to us, and—viewed through the snow illuminated by the streetlights—probably magic.
We pulled into the convent’s retreat center, separate from the church itself, and were greeted by a tiny and smiling woman. She let us in, she showed us around. The retreat center was three floors of rooms that used to belong to the sisters before they had all moved into the convent itself. Each room was almost identical: cinder block walls, single beds, a sink, a mirror, a closet, a single window. There were stairs, but the sister led us from floor to floor with the aid of an ancient, sea foam green elevator with flickering lights and creaking cables.
She showed us the kitchen, a room as simple as any of the others we had seen, but with a gleaming, automated coffee machine in the center. She was so proud of and grateful for this coffee machine. She grinned and showed me with pointed arthritic fingers how to operate it, how to coax dozens of specialized drinks out of the humming electric machine. She made herself some hot chocolate as an example, and took my mom and me to our room.
Everything about the building was simple, functional, and old. Our sheets were worn but freshly ironed. The blankets were small and thin, but they were thoughtfully placed everywhere, on the backs of chairs, draped over the arms of couches, in almost every cabinet I opened. There were soft chairs arranged in small circles around tables of books and tables in nearly every available space: places to stop, to sit, to think, to talk. In contrast with the cinder block walls and the cemetery just outside the windows, these small comforts did feel luxurious, and important. The place felt whole and large; bigger than the building that contained it.
I spent almost my entire first night in the library, the sister had led me through the dark, long room, and ended with their selection of feminist and mystic texts, which she pointed out to me and winked. So this is how I came to spend an evening, while a blizzard swirled around me, in the dark, silent library of a convent reading about the shadow-feminine and Jungian mother-archetypes. It was one of the most quietly exhilarating nights I have ever had.
My mom and I had signed up for a silent, private retreat. The idea was that we would spend a quiet weekend at the convent reading, writing, thinking. We had free run of everything, could take our meals with the sisters (or not), we had a full weekend to be free of any obligation. The silence did not last long, because the sisters treated us like a miracle: We had come to them in the storm, a mother and daughter. To them we seemed impossibly young, and they doted on us and told us stories.
I am still not sure how, but in the beginning I was introduced to everyone as “Shirley.” The sisters fussed over me, asked how I felt, if I needed anything, told me the history of everything in the room. I missed my chance to correct them, and they were so sweet and friendly that after a while I just couldn’t bear to. At lunch on our first full day at the convent, sitting at a table full of beaming sisters, another approached and I had to introduce myself as “Shirley,” so as not to let the others down. I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good. I was more than ready to spend the weekend being someone else.
Every sister I met made me guess how old she was. Grinning and gleeful, each time they would tell me how much older they were than what I had guessed. They told me stories about when they were novices, the traveling they had done, the sisters they had studied under. Some of them had grown up in Oldenburg, had gone to the high school attached to the convent.
One sister took me to the chapel she was sitting in at 16 years old, when she received the call to serve. I spent a lot of time in that chapel; it was small, all blue and cream and gold, with swans in the stained glass windows and an angel who looked like Frida Kahlo on the ceiling.
It was hot and sometimes filled with the hissing and banging of the radiators that lined the walls. The pews were dark and the corners were dark and shadowy. On Sunday, when all the sisters were at mass, I could hear them singing far off, somewhere else in the convent, while I sat in this hot, tiny, beautiful chapel. I looked at Frida on the ceiling and listened to the sisters sing and was struck by what mothers all these childless, unmarried women were. Mother-archetypes, straight out of Jungian psychology.
The sisters’ stories were not quite like mine. The stories I save and share are adventures of some sort: things I’ve done wrong, wrong things that have been done to me, dangerous situations that have ended hilariously (I hope). One sister sat me down and told me a story about the sink in her room. The story was that her drain was slow; that was the whole thing. But she smiled at me, as she explained that she was worried that her slow drain might be indicative of a larger problem that might eventually lead to a problem for someone else (or even worse: everyone else). She smiled and touched my hand lightly with hers and said to me, with an air of self-deprecation, “I can’t imagine ever not having the time to just wait for the sink to drain.”
I had taken books, music, and journals. I had given myself assignments, things to think about. I wanted to solve things. I wanted to solve the issue of humility for myself, the issue of faith. I wanted to think about my own shadows and unknown parts, to reconcile them with my mother-ness, with my love for everything. I wanted to learn how to apply the kindness I try so hard to give to the world to myself, as well (and I wanted to know why this is such a hard thing to do).
The morning of the day we left, as I was sitting in that blue and cream and gold chapel with Frida Kahlo on the ceiling, I thought about all the sweet and kind mother-women around me and scrawled onto a scrap piece of paper, ‘I don’t know if I’m trying to get empty or full.’ Everywhere I looked in the convent, I saw an acceptance of that shadow, a comfort with that unknown. From the dark library full of religious, subversive, feminist, and mystic books, to the snake wound around the feet of the statue of Mary who stood at the entrance of the building where we slept. I kept being reminded of these lines, from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita:
Surely most people are vulnerable for the longing to be happy. I get a glimpse of this and understand the willingness to look all over the place for this treasure. But I so catch myself in my own life too –forgetting that the last place most folks look is right under their feet, in their everyday activities, accidents, and encounters. What possible significance could there be in a trip to the post office? How could something as common as shoveling snow or washing your dishes, walking your dog, or having a tooth filled be a door to greater happiness? I think it can and I think ‘thankfulness’ is the X that marks the spot and one I often cannot see because I am standing right on it. When that’s the case, this kind of happiness requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special companions; just the willingness to imagine I have everything I need and offer the consent to be right where I am, thankfully. So easy, so simple, but can be so hard.
Perhaps the Kingdom of God shares some similar qualities of the X marks the spot, thankfulness, and ‘simplicity’ but also similarly challenging to embrace and appreciate. I think of it this way, when people asked Jesus, really questioned Him about what was God’s realm really like, He told them stories about their own lives. When people asked Him to tell them God’s truth about something, He asked them what they thought. With all kinds of opportunities to tell them how to think, He often told them what to do instead. Wash feet. Love your neighbor. Give your stuff away. Pray for those who are out to get you. Be thankful for what you have. In essence be God’s love where you are and be that to whatever is right in front of you. Stop where your feet are for a moment, look around. What can you be thankful for? What can you do from right there? It’s there happiness will reveal itself, it always has.
Jennifer Profitt is a visiting retreat leader at Oldenburg Franciscan Center. She will facilitate Fear and Moving Forward on Saturday, January 25th. 9:30 – 2:30. $45 includes program & lunch. CEUs are available for counselors for an additional $20. Visit our website to register online, or call 812-833-6437, or write to email@example.com.
Are you experiencing change and transition in your life? To be in “liminal space” means to be in a time of transition, like a doorway between two places. If this describes how you feel right now, join us for our next workshop!
Liminal Space & Transformation*
with S. Olga Wittekind, OSF, PhD (Jungian Analyst)
& Claire Sherman, PhD (Clinical Psychologist) Saturday, April 20th, 2013
9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
$45 includes lunch
We go through many transitions in our lives. Come learn how changes can bring about growth and new life. We will be inspired by a poem written by Pam Breau, which describes the Liminal experience: “I live in unfamiliar places; the unknowing of empty spaces between what was and what is yet to be; I offer up what was to mourn in empty spaces, let go, so what is yet to be may somehow birth in me.”
*This workshop is CEU Eligible for LSW, LCSW, LMHC, LMFT, LAC, and LCAC in Indiana. $20 additional fee.
“Through Him all things came to be.” This retreat will use the extraordinary findings of modern physics and cosmology to reflect on God’s Word and our place in creation. We will examine revelation and how Christ’s actions bring all things to fulfillment in God. Presentations will include non-technical descriptions of modern cosmology, understandings of human freedom, grace, and above all the place of Christ in our world and lives.
Fr. Ed is a Jesuit priest, Director of the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Denver, former president of Rockhurst University, and has a passion for physics and spirituality.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-933-6437!
Oldenburg Franciscan Centerwww.oldenburgfranciscancenter.org
The Navajo blessing, “May you walk in beauty,” captures the essence of the spiritual journey we are all experiencing as we move toward becoming all that we are called to be. Beauty is the lens through which we understand the world, ourselves, and God. Beauty can be another name for God, as St. Augustine so prayerfully says, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new.” The presentations will focus on our vocation to imitate God in action by recognizing and bringing forth beauty in our lives, in the world around us, in many, sometimes surprising ways.
On Saturday, March 9th, we will be holding our annual Women’s Day Conference on this theme of Beauty. $45 includes a delicious lunch, an inspiring keynote presentation by Sister Norma Rocklage, OSF, and breakout sessions offered by Sister Patty Campbell, OSF, dietician Kathy Cooley, and artist Lois Jansen. This is one of our most beautiful days of the year! RSVP to email@example.com or 812-933-6437. Multigenerational participation is encouraged! Invite your best friend, mom, daughter, granddaughter…!
Sessions will include:
Keynote: S. Norma Rocklage, OSF, will show how we can find beauty inside ourselves and in the world and peopel around us. Using poetry, stories, and images, S. Norma will help us become more Beauty Conscious — God Conscious — in our ordinary lives.
S. Patty Campbell, OSF, will share the beauty of self-discovery through the process of creating mandala art. Participants will create mandalas!
Kathy Cooley is a dietitian at Margaret Mary Hospital. She will share how our food choices have a far reaching effect on our health and beauty!
Lois Jansen is an artist at http://www.smallsmallacts.com. Through photography she will engage our visual sense and help us see to the heart of our spiritual journey through the beauty we attend to within & without!
RSVPs must be received by Tuesday, March 5th! Reserve your spot soon!
Thank you to all of you who supported our 2012 fundraiser: Italian Night Under the Stars. We had such a wonderful time with our guests on one of the most beautiful, cool nights of the summer! S. Norma Rocklage entertained and inspired us all with her portrayal of St. Clare, and our raffle winners were thrilled with their prizes!