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Presence: UN-Frozen by the Encouragement of Others

JFelton-submittedBy Jerilyn E. Felton, D.Min., Associate, Lay Consecrated

The author completed her Doctor of Ministry degree in 2012, promoting a program approach for integrating canine companions into ministry. She has been an avid ice skater for the past 50 years and in retirement she continues to develop her skating and judging skills.

I think it can be argued that one of the most popular recent movies is the animated feature “Frozen.” It is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s marvelous tale of becoming the best you can be within a supportive community of love and encouragement. Hidden in the wonderful story is this kernel of wisdom that calls to individuals to see things differently.

Seeing others’ gifts and encouraging them to use their talents can take skating to a level of care that I would term “spirit-ual.” Within the various populations that make up the skating community, this can be clearly seen if one looks through the right lens.

Competitive skaters often train apart from recreational skaters, but it’s not unusual for them to encounter one another in a public session. More often than not, recreational skaters have ventured onto the ice because of the grace, flow and fun they’ve witnessed on televised skating programs. When they find skating is not as easy as it looks, they may approach a proficient skater with a request for tips on, for example, skating backwards. The result may be suggestions and encouragement that spark a desire on the newbie’s part to keep going – a form of “spirit-ual” care for another.

Even among those at the highest skill level, random acts of support and encouragement occur when one competitive skater helps another by accurately assessing a skating problem and offering a suggestion. The advice may be identical to what a coach has already said, but it makes more sense coming from a fellow member of the skating community, and it’s often a key factor that helps the one experiencing difficulty to overcome an obstacle. This is especially important when skaters have suffered a setback, such as failing a test despite giving their best efforts. At that moment, an encouraging word can translate into true “spirit-ual” care.

Individuals of all ages are drawn to skating and ice dancing because of their love for a challenge. In particular, the older members of this community – the “super seniors” who begin after the age of 60 – appreciate encouragement from younger adult skaters who know from personal experience how difficult learning the sport can be. These beginning adult skaters may have the goals of improving their health and well-being. They often do become excellent skaters. But there are no dreams of Olympic medals in the “super senior” ranks. These skaters (yours truly included) seek the joy of moving in time to music, and the chance to belong to a supportive and active community where random acts of encouragement tend to be commonplace.

“Believing is seeing” is a twist on a common adage – one has only to believe in the potential of another to see the possibilities that person can actualize. This is how something like skating can become “un-frozen,” transformed into an experience far beyond what was expected.

Presence: Presence and Justice, Too

Ries.Carol-040108Every month, there’s a special gathering of women in the Washington, D.C. area. They pray together, socialize, and listen carefully to one another. The gathering, which may seem at first glance to be commonplace, is evidence of an uncommon commitment to people who live on the margins of society.

Carol Ries, SNJM participates in this ministry of presence for women residing in shelters and going through substance recovery programs. In addition to the monthly gatherings, she accompanies participants on a three-day spiritual retreat that’s offered four times a year.

About seven years ago, Sr. Carol found a way to introduce her students in the spiritual direction program at Washington Theological Union to the experience of helping people who lack the financial resources to hire a spiritual director. “I observed that those in the academic arena may have a lot of book knowledge, but not so much experience outside of that arena,” she says. “I wanted my students to have both knowledge and service to women on the margins.”

Sr. Carol’s approach had two goals: to let her students become more aware of people on the margins, and to allow people who would otherwise be unlikely to seek spiritual direction to receive it. Her students began working alongside her in a Jesuit-run program with shelter residents. “It must have worked, because several students are still involved in the prayer and retreats,” she says. Abundant evidence that the approach is fulfilling a genuine spiritual hunger also comes from those who attend: “The women say again and again they are so grateful for it.”

Presence is a theme in other aspects of Sr. Carol’s life as well. Her regular ministry is spiritual direction with women and men who are seeking a deeper relationship to their God. A key part of her work is “to hear their stories with supportive listening. Sometimes a listening presence is all they seek.” No one is turned away because of inability to pay.

In a 2007 book review published by the New Theology Review, Sr. Carol wrote, “During these fearful times of natural disasters, global challenges and injustices, and unleashed evil in the form of violence, we ache for hope and wonder how to encourage our directees to be hopeful as well.” Her ministry among women who have few other sources of hope is a response to that need. “It’s presence,” she says, “and justice, too.”

Presence: The Forgotten Can Be So Close By

Courtman.Mary-0696-07.10.2015By Mary Courtman, SNJM

Pope Francis, in his message of mercy, says “Let us make our whole existence a sign of love especially for the weakest and the poorest so they will encounter Jesus in us.”

The large and ever-growing population of the marginalized and poor can never financially qualify for assisted living. Too often they are alone, abandoned, forgotten. And yet they can be so close by.

For me, I was so blessed by Marion, my delightful neighbor. After a fall, surgeries and eventually a leg amputation, she was in a nursing home. The only person who knew and cared about her was her older sister in their hometown of Louisville, KY. I felt drawn to commit myself to a weekly visit – sometimes decorating, bringing flowers from the farmers’ market or fall leaves, or connecting the two sisters by telephone.

Gradually it dawned on me as I walked the long halls to her room… “How many here have no one to visit them, care or even know their name?” How true, perhaps, in all these “homes” – month after month, year after year.

Marion died last year. As I reflect, keeping my promised commitment has made me a better person (“the giver has been given!”) and hopefully, Jesus and His love have been given in those nine years.

To find a person (or several) in a “home” with absolutely no one to visit, ask the nursing home social services person.

Give the gift of Presence.

Presence: The Creative Energy of Community

By Jennifer Brandlon
Director of Communications & Administrative Services

"Presence" is our theme for the month of March, so it's been in my thoughts this week. It came to mind as I arrived at work and looked at the whiteboard near the Province Administrative Office entrance, where we still use good old-fashioned round colored magnets to show who's in and who's out.

Both employees and the PLT use the same board to show when we are physically present for one another, and all of us write notes to alert the others when we'll be out for an extended time. When people in my work circle are absent, I've noticed how much I look forward to when they will return.

Technology is an indispensable tool for getting our work done, but being together face-to-face results in conversations that don't seem to happen by phone and email. Even when everyone is busy, the hum of purposeful community surrounds me and fills me with a sense of shared mission.

It makes me think about the creative energy that flows from the experience of togetherness. In what ways does the presence of others inspire you? How do you see the gift of your presence affecting them?

Membership: Empowering Others Called to SNJM Life

Ryan.Judy-071113By Judy Ryan, SNJM

Membership is a high priority for me as one way we can continue to "give away" as gift our SNJM Charism to others who may be called to keep it alive with us. When I entered our community in 1958, it was the witness and relationships with SNJMs at St. Anne's School and Holy Names Academy, Seattle that moved me to recognize a vocation to religious life and to SNJMS. What a gift that has been all my life! Today's world is such a contrast, in that women religious are almost "invisible" and fewer are available to assist children, youth and young adults in formal education.

It is my hope and dream that our Mission Centres will come up with creative ways to make ourselves available to youth, high school students and young adults: through our parishes, ministries or "sites that offer hospitality of the heart," etc. (See the SNJM Congregational website for Sr. Crystal Clark's "vision" for us: "At the heart is hospitality...") We have been given so much!

Regardless of our age or limitations, we do have gifts of prayer, time and energy to be present as witnesses to the joy of the Gospel! In my ministry with Associates, I see the hope in others to find viable community, faith and prayer, ministry and service that match their heart's desire. Let's put our heads and hearts together to create opportunities to invite folks to get to know us and our charism:  as volunteers, colleagues, Associates, Lay Consecrated or vowed religious. (These aren't limited to "young people"!) To carry on our mission and charism, we need to empower others who are called to SNJM life in whatever ways God moves them.