When then-LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell gave her profound address on "Navigating the Shifts," the context was huge. LCWR was meeting in Assembly to consider how to respond to the Vatican mandate that seemed to challenge the fundamentals of active ministerial religious life. This challenge forced shifts that were way beyond normal.
As I scurry around to figure out, in a final way, what to keep from the house where I grew up, and how to dispose of its thousands of objects, and how to dispose of the house itself -- and how to have Christmas amid deadlines for all of that -- I'm aware that I, too, am navigating shifts. Normal shifts.
Family members die. Houses and their contents and their emotional histories are dealt with. Seasons come and go. Jobs change. Schools change.... and more.
Even normal changes re-channel the tides of our lives. Even normal changes ask us to handle new variables. They challenge accustomed priorities. Even normal changes require new thinking. They burrow into our emotions. Many changes tug at or reconfigure relationships.
When I close the door each day at my childhood home, I sometimes think of how religious life holds a built-in assumption of normal changes. When they choose this life, most women and men religious enter a life that expects change.
Most women and men religious expect that mission will call them to live in different locations and different communities, doing varied kinds of ministries. Other community members will come and go in response to their own missions and ministries. (This isn't true of "enclosed" religious orders, where members often take vows of stability and live in one convent or monastery for the rest of their lives.)
The women religious who build their lives around the assumption of change -- How do they learn to navigate "normal" shifts? How do they let go of routine rootedness in order to let shifts (not stability) be "normal"?
Sister Pat Farrell's address flows out of a lifetime of shifts. She had to navigate dramatic and, indeed, horrific challenges as she worked in Chile and El Salvador during times of oppression and persecution. Her ministries and leadership roles in the USA led her into quite different situations.
Her insights are relevant to both dramatic and normal changes. Her ways of navigating help me to navigate these weeks and months. She proposes contemplation, community, solidarity with people on the margins, nonviolence, prophetic voice, and joyful hope.
Contemplation and community are no-brainers. Most stress-management courses suggest them, in some form.
But solidarity with people on the margins? Not so much. Yet it helps a lot as one criterion in my current decisions about so many objects, and about gifts.
Nonviolence? Well, nobody is attacking, so it's not a physical issue for me. But these years of solidarity with LCWR have taught me that nonviolence is, first, an attitude of respectful listening and engagement that creates spaciousness for God's lively, surprising presence. So I ask myself who should be part of this process with me, and I try to listen and engage with nonviolent grace.
For me, prophetic voice is the capacity to let myself stay open to possibilities even when there are established assumptions about what I should do. It's the willingness to let divine surprise affect my choices.
And joyful hope? That's easy. If I'm in solidarity with the women of LCWR and with other women religious throughout my life, then I inevitably notice that they DO navigate shifts like these with grace and often with ease. They have perspective on what's important. They're ready to forgive both self and others for misjudgments in good faith. All of that creates a sense of freedom and inner space for joy and hope.
Happy Advent, as we navigate our normal shifts.