Saturday, March 31, 2018

An Easter Challenge

Every liturgical season has its own flavor — Advent with its anticipation; Christmas with its awe and wonder; Easter with its beauty and excitement — so every year we are able to enter into a rhythm as one body of Christ. Sometimes a certain liturgical season will be particularly potent for me and I will discover new insights or come to better appreciate long-lasting traditions. I did not have that experience this Lent. Instead, it was a steady and balanced season without any “aha moments” or extraordinary prayer experiences. To be honest, I was sort of disappointed. I thought, “Well this doesn’t feel like Lent. Lent is supposed to be deeply spiritual. Shouldn’t I be crying at Mass or something?” But my experience of Lent doesn’t have to be the same every year, and just because I cried at Mass before, or I’ve seen other people cry at Mass, doesn’t mean it’s a requirement. So what did I get out of Lent this year if it wasn’t tears? A very simple invitation with a very practical way to implement it. The invitation? Let go. The implementation? I’ll explain.

This September I moved from California to Pennsylvania. I sent some of my items ahead and others I took with me on a cross-country drive with my dad. Once we got to my new home, I took everything to my room and had it organized and put away within a couple of days. This January, I volunteered to move to another neighborhood, not far from my new home, in order to maintain a Felician presence in a place where the locals need a little extra love. Rather than move all my items at once, I took my time and transferred things over a period of two weeks. I spent a few final nights in my empty room before finally making the move to my new house. During those nights and days in my room where there was absolutely nothing on the walls and I had only the bare essentials in my drawers, it was as if I could focus better. My mind was clearer, I had more energy, I was not as easily distracted, and I was more attentive to my prayer life. It was like what I imagine fasting does for the body. When I made the transition and came to my new house, there was my room, full of items on the walls and on the shelves just like it had been at the other house. Now don’t get me wrong, I like my colorful room — it’s very cozy! — but I also realized just how much I could really let go of. There are a variety of areas in our lives where letting go is essential, but I have begun to focus on the material aspect first. I think it helps create the atmosphere that makes the act of letting go more possible in other areas of our lives, just as my empty room helped clear space in my mind and heart.

As I further reflected on the invitation to “let go” during Lent, I came to see that it is not just about letting go of items I have and donating them or sharing them with a loved one, but also actively working to not accumulate. In addition, it even means letting go of the familiar and of the ways in which I do things if they are harmful to others or the environment. So, I promised you a practical implementation for the invitation... Here it is! Soap containers. Yes, that’s what I’m being invited to let go of. You know those small Softsoap or Bath and Body Works hand soaps that last about a month? Well, here’s my challenge to you and to me: to decrease or eliminate the amount of plastic going into our landfills starting with soap containers. I know, I know, the smaller soap containers are easy and convenient: there’s no mess in refilling the soap container and you get a variety of scents and colors when you get to choose a different one every month. But why not let go of what’s convenient and save the planet from some of that plastic? We could buy refillable hand soap dispensers and refill them from a larger container. Or, to eliminate plastic all together, we could purchase bars of soap that come packaged in cardboard, paper, or not packaged at all. Then we can keep them in a wooden or glass dish by the sink and voila, no plastic! If you already do this, I applaud you, but perhaps there’s another way in which you can eliminate your use of plastic; maybe by pledging not to use straws, by choosing products with less plastic packaging, or by using a refillable water bottle.

It’s simple, but I believe that by letting go in this very practical way, we will find ourselves moved beyond the world of material goods. Perhaps up until now we have been like Peter, warming his hands by the fire as Jesus was being tormented and ridiculed — we have been thinking of ourselves and what’s convenient while the planet and our sisters and brothers in Christ have been crying out in pain; but it wasn’t too late for Peter, and it’s not too late for us (John 18:25). As we celebrate the great joy of the resurrection this Easter, may we let go of all that keeps us from being open to God and to one another. May our courage be strengthened and our hearts be made new. Let’s aim for increased mindfulness and decreased plastic, amen? Amen.

Sister Desiré Anne-Marie Findlay

Monday, January 8, 2018


There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein which says, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." I agree with this and I do my best to live the latter. However, I think we could also replace the word "miracle" with the word "perfect" and say, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is perfect. The other is as though everything is perfect."

I remember receiving a painting from my aunt as a child that was titled, "Everything is Perfect". It bothered me. I didn't like the title, or that it was always staring at me from underneath the small image. I didn't agree with it at all. "Some things are perfect," I thought, "but not everything." I think about that little painting's title now though, and I have actually come to agree with it.

Even the most "perfect" things - like Barbie's measurements or a beautiful Christmas snowfall - have their issues. For one, hardly any woman who has ever walked or will ever walk this earth shares Barbie's measurements. Plus, her measurements only match what a random handful of people believed to be the perfect female body. As for the "winter wonderland" of snow on Christmas, it may look beautiful, but it requires a lot of work. So which is it? Are Barbie's measurements flawed or perfect? Would we rather have snow on Christmas or not?

"Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect," reads a line from Matthew 5:48. Seems impossible, right? I always thought so. Every time I heard that reading I thought, "Seriously? How could I ever match the perfection of God?" But the more I think about it, the more curious I become about God's perfection. What is God's perfection like? My first inclination is to think about physical characteristics and personality traits, but then I stop trying to measure God by human standards. Rather than look at God in terms of height or weight or behavior, I look at God in terms of forgiveness and compassion and kindness. I think that's the type of perfection we're called to - to forgiveness, compassion, and kindness. So maybe we overeat, or maybe we're chain smokers and workaholics, but can we bring ourselves to forgive when we're hurt? Can we show compassion when it would be easier to settle for condemnation? Do we choose to be kind when we see someone in need or when we find ourselves in an argument?

This reminds me of my favorite character from the movie Silence by Martin Scorsese (I'll try not to spoil it for you in case you haven't seen it). It was about a couple of young Jesuit priests who went to Japan in search of their Jesuit mentor who seemed to have gone missing. In the process they were faced with a very harsh political, cultural, and religious clash. This caused painful tragedies and spiritual torment throughout the Christian community in Japan. Continually forced to choose between life and death, several Japanese Christians were martyred for refusing to renounce their faith. Very few Japanese Christians renounced their faith and many faced their persecution bravely, but there was one individual in particular who found it impossible to follow their example - his name was Kichijiro. A Japanese Christian and a drunk, Kichijiro renounced his faith every time he encountered this difficult decision. I couldn't stand him, especially when I compared him to the other brave Christians who clung to God and their faith despite the consequences. Kichijiro fell into despair and drunkenness throughout the entire movie, repeatedly renouncing his faith, but I began to notice something - every time he renounced his faith, he desperately sought out the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He failed constantly, but at the same time he constantly acknowledged his wrongdoing and trusted wholeheartedly in the mercy of God.

While it's true that the Japanese Christian martyrs and all who have died for their faith are worthy of admiration, I believe Kichijiro is as well. For those of us who cannot be as steadfast as martyrs in our own Christian commitment, we can choose to seek forgiveness just as Kichijiro did. We can wholly seek holiness, which can sometimes mean repeatedly failing and wholly seeking forgiveness. There is more than one way to God - and thus, more than one way to perfection.

I realized that when I stopped comparing Kichijiro to the martyrs, I was able to see him for who he was and accept his unique albeit wobbly path to holiness. It is the same for each of us; when we quit with the comparisons, we can see ourselves and our situations more fully and with greater understanding. So maybe we happen to be in great shape, with measurements even better than Barbie's; or maybe we don't take care of our health as best we should, but by acknowledging our weakness and striving to do better, we cancel out our imperfect measurements. As for the beautiful blanket of snow at Christmas, even such a masterpiece is not without its challenges. So do we start cursing the beauty of winter? We may be tempted to, but the thorn does not have to detract from the rose. So, enjoy the snow! Recall your childhood wonder at the falling flakes and take a day or two off if you can. And if you have to go to work, use shoveling the sidewalk as a good excuse for exercise and shovel the neighbor's sidewalk while you're at it. Like a line from the movie Wonder by Stephen Chbosky, "Auggie can't change the way he looks. Maybe we can change the way we see." Maybe we can change the way we see.

Try not to look at your body vs. Barbie's or Ken's, or at the snow vs. its aftermath; if we dwell on the imperfections, nothing will be perfect. Let everything be perfect in its own right. Look in the mirror less and look more at the perfection of God. Do you choose patience? Or do you frown at the sky when the snow falls? Will you choose self-control? Or will you blame your boss for the dark circles under your eyes? If we acknowledge our shortcomings for the sake of learning to better love ourselves and others, we can live more fully. If we seek to imitate God's perfection with the fervor of Kichijiro, we will be able to show God's perfection with the heart of a martyr.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Holy Land Entries

Lots of people dream about going to visit the Holy Land; to see where Jesus lived and preached and prayed, or to visit and venerate various holy Jewish and Muslim sites. Oddly enough, I never dreamed about it. I never put it on a "bucket list" or thought, "I'd love to go one day," because I figured it would never happen. I guess I just didn't want to get my hopes up, but sometimes God dreams for us. I suppose that's how I ended up traversing one of the holiest places in the world for about a week and a half.

Before I tell you how amazing the trip was, I want to tell you how I ended up going:

A very generous (and anonymous) donor decided to gift our religious community with a large sum of money. The stipulation, however, was that it be used toward the spiritual development or benefit of our Sisters. Together, our Provincial Council decided that the money would go toward pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Obviously they wouldn't be able to send everyone, so they decided to do a lottery. Our annual gathering was coming up, so it was announced that when we were gathered, those who were interested needed to put their names in a jar before the final day of the gathering. We were told, "Four Sisters will be able to go, but we will draw only two names. Each of the two Sisters who are chosen will then be able to choose a Sister companion to go with them." Why not? I thought. Might as well give it a try. I slipped my name in and then forgot about the drawing all together. When the day of judgement came around, our Provincial Minster stood on stage with the jar. Fireworks started going off in my chest while simultaneously my lungs decided to quit on me. "Calm down!" my brain said. "You're not going to win anyway, why get yourself all worked up. There are hundreds of names in that jar." In the midst of my positively negative self-talk, the first name was drawn. Hundreds of names, literally, and the first name read was mine. Yes, straight out of the Provincial Minister's mouth I hear, "Sister Desiré." There was no mistaking it. I'm the only Sister Desiré! My whole body jerked as my hands flew up to cover my gaping mouth. And then, even better than hearing my name called, half the room stood up immediately - in a room of approximately 300 Felician Sisters - and began to cheer for me. Like I said, sometimes God dreams for us.

I wish I could go into detail about everything we did and saw, but you didn't sign up to read a novel right now and I didn't sign up to write one. I'll share as much as I can, but mostly I'll share the highlights and the moments that meant the most to me.

First of all, let me just wow you by saying we spent our first three nights in Nazareth. It still baffles me to think that I can now speak personally about places I'd only ever heard of in the Bible. Staying in Nazareth brought me close to one of the most important stories Scripture has for us: the Angel Gabriel's visit to a young virgin. I have read the story of the Annunciation plenty of times in Luke's Gospel (Luke 1:26-38), and I pray with one of its passages every day during evening praise as my community recites the Magnificat. Who knew that I'd be sleeping in a hotel less than a block away from such a historically and spiritually significant spot? Since we stayed three nights there, I stopped in the Basilica of the Annunciation every night to pray just so I could be near it. Of course there's a huge church built up all around the site, but they have preserved the humble dwelling of so prominent a family. I would stare at its stone walls and wonder about all the activities that went on there. Was I looking at Mary's actual bedroom? Was I looking at the kitchen where her mother, St. Anne, would have been busy working to nourish her family? Or maybe there was no separation and every room ran into each other, just small corners making up one whole. I'll never know, but what fascinated me even more was being so physically close to the place where God began to weave Himself from the fibers of humanity.

I was reluctant to leave, but as always, the best was yet to come. We departed from Nazareth and took a bus to Palestine. The days ahead featured visits to Jericho, Bethany, Bethlehem, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea. Again, I couldn't believe it. So many of these names had once been untouchable sacred sites in a faraway world found in a miraculous Book. It was almost unreal. Our trip to Jericho was brief, but it remains one of the most profound moments during the entire pilgrimage. We had arrived at the church where we would be having Mass for the day, but the group ahead of us was not yet finished. "We still have about twenty minutes until their done," our group leader told us. "It's not on our list of things to see, but the tomb of Lazarus is just up the street. If you take a left out of here you'll see the man standing outside to collect your money. It's $2 to get in." We all looked at each other and nodded in agreement. "Two bucks, why not?" Although the raising of Lazarus is yet another powerful and prominent story from Scripture (John 11:1-44), I never really had a personal connection to it. I really just wanted to see his tomb because it was there and I could say that I went. Up the hill we walked, all 24 of us, to pay our two bucks. We stepped inside, one by one, and shuffled down some very narrow and steep stone steps. We were greeted at the bottom by a tiny doorway through which we basically had to crawl. Each one came in, took a photo or two, touched the walls, and then turned to go. It was our seventh day on the pilgrimage and we had been moving from site to site so quickly that I had been longing for some stillness and quiet. After everyone had left the small space and I was left standing alone in Lazarus's tomb, I poked my head out and told my friend I was going to stay and pray a little while longer. She made her way back up with everyone else and I stood there in the emptiness. I sat down near the small doorway and looked around, imagining the darkness that would have surrounded Lazarus there. It wasn't hard to imagine since the little light inside was fairly dim and the silence was absolute. I realized that I was in yet another place where holiness broke into our helplessness. Not only did Jesus stand in this place, but He wept here. He cried with us and for us, and then He prayed so fervently that His friend was called back to life. This was a personal miracle. This was someone Jesus knew and loved, and a moment in which He felt His humanity. If anything could show me that God is not far from us, this would be it.

Although it may seem somewhat unrelated to the religious nature of this trip, I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Dead Sea. I had been going back and forth in my mind as to whether or not I would swim in it. Finally, like my rationale with so many other decisions, I figured, "Why not?" I suited up and walked down to the water's edge. As I stood there looking over its surface, it appeared to be just like any other body of water, but underneath I knew it was different. The Dead Sea, known for its high salt content, cannot support marine life. As a result of its salt levels, it is also unique in that items which cannot usually float in water are suddenly able to - like humans! This helped me with my two very real fears of large bodies of water: the fear of creatures biting my limbs off, and the fear of drowning. I walked in slowly, watching others splash around on their backs, so when I finally had water up to my waist I decided I would give it a try. I lifted one leg, then the other, and that was all it took; with hardly any effort I was lying on my back in the shallow waters of the Dead Sea. With that one swift motion, my fears disappeared. I marveled at the fact that there was nothing to be afraid of, that I didn't have to wonder about what was below the surface or if I would be able to survive the pull of unknown currents. I drifted out as far as I could go and lifted my face to the sun while my arms and legs gave themselves to the movement of the water. Pure freedom. Even now I am drawn back into that place of calm as I re-imagine the experience. It's a gift that I will never forget, and one that I hope to recall in times of turbulence and fear. God's love is even more abundant than the salt that carried me beyond fear; if salt can keep me safe, how much more safe is the love of God - infinitely able to lift my soul beyond the fear of pain and death.

Continuing the journey, we departed from Palestine and entered the city of Jerusalem where we stayed for the remainder of the trip. While in Jerusalem, I was able to set foot and heart upon another set of holy sites, including the Basilica in which Calvary and the tomb of Jesus have been preserved. One of my favorite experiences took place at the Church of All Nations which sits over the Garden of Gethsemane and houses the stone upon which Jesus is said to have prayed during His agony. We actually visited the church twice, going there a second time for a late night Holy Hour. As the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, I knelt at the railing near the altar with the stone at its base. I tried imagining the stone in its original setting and pictured the garden that was outside the church. "This must have been a beautiful and comforting space," I thought. It brought to mind all the times I had sought out a comforting place or person when I knew I needed to cry. Perhaps Jesus came here with His closest friends because He knew He needed to cry. We see Gethsemane and the garden as a solemn and somber place, but maybe it was different then. It's somber now because we know the rest of the story - because we know that Jesus wept there and was betrayed there - but before all of that, perhaps it was a cozy place to pray and Jesus knew it would comfort Him to be there. Suddenly, I felt like I needed to cry. I couldn't understand why, so I closed my eyes and pictured myself with Jesus in the garden. Kneeling beside Him at the rock, He looked into my eyes and said, "It's okay, you can let the tears come." Then, lifting His hands to my face, He gently placed His thumbs over my eyes. I immediately began to cry real tears. I tried not to let my face fold into the sadness that had just taken over, but I couldn't help it. I felt now that I was no longer there to comfort Jesus in the garden, but that He was there to comfort me, sharing with me His sacred space. Just as He did during His agony, I cried out to my Father, not sparing the pain welling up inside me. I felt united with Jesus, as though He wept with me not only in the moment, but even when He had wept in the midst of His unfolding Passion. It made me realize just how connected Jesus's life is to ours. Jesus may have walked the earth over 2,000 years ago, shedding tears and sharing joy, but God is timeless. God's life on earth continues, and is especially real because Emmanuel - God-with-us - enfleshed and redeemed our humanity.

As Advent makes its way into our homes and our hopes this year, my prayer for us all is that we not only long for God's renewed presence among us, but that we also recall how He has been and remains present to us. Your tears are His and your joys flow from His heart; may you know during this special season and always just how present God is to you, and when you are able, may you remain present to God by being compassionately and boundlessly present to others.

Wishing you peace and all good,
Sister Desiré Anne-Marie

Fearless in the Dead Sea!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Prayer is the Master Key

My heart is all over the place. It goes from celebrating my new ministry and home with utter joy, to missing my Sisters and students in Pomona, to mourning over lives lost in catastrophe and violence. Individuals and entire countries settle in my being wherever they can find room, and usually without warning. Sometimes it hurts; sometimes it feels like I could never be happier. As I get ready to go to the Holy Land where Jesus spent His very short time on earth, I wonder if He sometimes felt the same. I bet Jesus’s ministry brought Him great joy, especially when He could see how people’s lives were changed once He healed their spiritual or physical ills. Jesus had very good friends and people He loved that I’m sure He was sad He couldn’t always spend time with. And I’m sure first-century Palestine was no stranger to natural disasters or violence either. So what did He do with all that emotion? Sometimes He wept, like when His friend Lazarus died. Sometimes He celebrated, like when He ate and drank with the disciples. One thing I noticed is consistent, though: Jesus prayed. Sometimes He prayed alone, sometimes He prayed with others, but He always prayed.

Both of my new ministries are extremely life-giving for me. My main ministry is what we call “vocation ministry”. It involves a lot of travel. I have plans to attend a lot of different youth and young adult events, but it also includes creating my own events and putting together prayer services or meaningful experiences for those who wish to grow in their relationship with God. I’ve already gotten to facilitate a Come and See weekend where three women who were interested in religious life came to pray and visit with our Sisters in Canada. I will be going to a day of discernment at Franciscan University this week to share about our Felician community with college students who may feel called to discern religious life. In the meantime, I’m also working on a camping retreat to be held next February with women between the ages of 18 to 35. It’s the best kind of busy I’ve ever been. Every day is different and every assignment that comes my way is like a Christmas present I can’t wait to unwrap. I wonder if Jesus felt the same as He moved around from place to place, responding to His Father’s love and purpose for Him. I can only imagine that Jesus loved His ministry, and so must be sharing that joy with me as I continue to respond as best I can to God’s love and purpose for my life.

Not only do I get to work on all these fun projects, but I also spend time at an after-school program in a neighborhood that struggles with poverty and substance abuse. So far I’ve been helping the kindergarten and first graders with their homework. I must admit, I was terrified when I initially received this assignment. I thought, “No way, Jesus, You’ve got to be kidding me. I work with high school kids. This is not my crowd.” He didn’t say anything of course, He just let me go in there all pale and petrified. Except, I discovered, He gave me the grace to do exactly what I thought I could never do: work with 5- and 6-year-olds. Now, don’t let me fool you into thinking they’re angels. No, no, they punch each other and run around when you ask them to sit down and quickly find ways to get out of doing their homework; BUT they are so darn lovable, and they really just want to be loved. I wish I could give each of them the one-on-one attention they deserve, but I do my best to give them attention however and whenever I can. I got called “mommy” on the first day, and now I proudly claim them all as my babies. Is this how Jesus felt about the “little ones”, the ones who probably fought for His attention, wanting to sit on His lap or curl up under His arm? No wonder He said the kingdom was made up of children and those who were like them. They’re so full of love! Their affection is so pure and so sincere, I can see why He calls us to be like them.

Enjoying my ministries as much as I do does not mean that the people I love in California have been replaced. Enjoying my new home and ministry almost makes me miss them even more, as I wish I could share all this new life and excitement with them. It helps that my students and friends still keep in touch with me, whether through Instagram, texts, or letters, but I miss them even then. I can say, however, that in a way all my Californians are still with me. I couldn’t love the kids I work with now as well as I do if I hadn’t learned such love during my time in Pomona. I’m able to be stern when I have to (which with 5- and 6-year-olds means reminding them to say “please” and “thank you”) while knowing that I do so because I know they are capable of greatness and understanding human dignity. I am also able to collaborate and share ideas with leaders and colleagues now because I had so many wonderful mentors, co-workers, and friends in California. Perhaps as Jesus travelled from home to home He felt a tinge of sadness too, not knowing when or if He’d see certain friends or families again. As each family and community welcomed Him, He was probably reminded of all those who had lovingly done the same in years past. Maybe He wondered how they were doing, maybe He asked about them from time to time. Either way, I bet He never forgot about any of them.

With this latest act of domestic terrorism, I can’t help but think of all the family members and friends whose lives were forever changed in just one night. Unless we have a family member or friend suffering with a life-threatening illness, most of us don’t wake up and think, “This might be the last time I see them.” When tragedy like this happens, I am reminded of how unpredictable life is, and of how deeply painful loss can be. I can’t say I know what any of the families and friends who lost loved ones on October 1st are going through, but I do have a certain sense of what sudden loss feels like. In my own family, we experienced a sudden loss of sorts without any kind of warning. It shocked all of us, and the lives of those involved were changed forever in an instant. We continue to grieve, even in the midst of hope, because nothing has been the same ever since, and nothing will ever be the same again. It’s made some of us question our very worth, wondering how God could let something like this happen. I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt when He cried out and asked why God had abandoned Him. I think most of us have asked that of God for some reason or another: “God, why have You abandoned me?” In other words, “Where were You when I needed You? Why didn’t You do something to keep this from happening?” It feels like a crucifixion, like the world has destroyed us and we’ve been left to suffer unbearable pain. Jesus experienced this in His very body as He suffered from an act of terrible violence. He is no stranger to our pain, physically or emotionally.

Prayer, that constant thread woven through Jesus’s life, held everything together. Prayer kept Him connected to His Father. It reminded Him Who to thank for His great joy; it strengthened His relationships; and it enabled Him to endure the darkness for the sake of the light. When I find myself between laughter and mourning, Jesus’s fidelity to prayer reminds me that this is what holds all things together. There’s a little song a priest from Africa once taught me. The words and tune are simple, which makes it all the more memorable:

Prayer is the key
Prayer is the key
Prayer is the master key
Jesus started with prayer
And ended with prayer
Prayer is the master key

Prayer can open any door. It can open the door to a deeper sense of gratitude, a call to action, to healing and forgiveness. What is it you’re looking for in life right now? Because I can guarantee you it’s behind one of those doors, and you’ve already been given the key.

With love and prayers,
Sister Desiré Anne-Marie Findlay

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On Prayer

I am going to be speaking this weekend at the National Black Catholic Congress in Orlando, Florida. I was asked to give a presentation on prayer and was given the title "Prayer: Our Greatest Weapon". My lack of self-confidence quickly led me to wonder what in the heck I could offer on this topic that would be worth sharing. I started to look up quotes and think about books that I knew could say a lot about prayer; I tried making an organized PowerPoint with images and words that would do the trick; I even thought about doing a survey in my convent of what the other sisters had to say about prayer; but then I stopped. I realized that even though I didn't believe in myself, God did. I didn't sign up to be a presenter at the congress. In fact, they had to ask me twice because I turned them down the first time. I may be stubborn, but God is persistent. For whatever reason, God chose me to speak on the topic.

The other mistake I made, aside from thinking I should use everyone else's words, was the idea that God wanted my thoughts on prayer. One of my spiritual directors once told me I was in my head too much, that I needed to let my heart move me once in a while. When I was working on writing a book with several other sisters over Christmas break this past year, that message was reiterated. We would break off into small groups every day to share our progress and provide feedback for one another. One of the sisters whom I admire very much gave me this critique: she said that I was a storyteller and that it was a unique gift. She said she was intrigued by everything I had to say until I stopped telling the story. When my part of the book became academic, she confessed that she lost interest. I realized it was because I started relying too much on my "head" and started trying to write without relying on my heart. My gift is not in academic writing I discovered, it is in sharing stories. Since this blog enables me to tell stories in my own words and through the experiences of my heart, I figured it would be the best way to prepare my talk for this weekend - so here are some stories of prayer.

This summer I was able to return to the 100-mile pilgrimage I used to walk annually before I joined the convent. (It's actually how I met the Felician Sisters.) Every year, hundreds of pilgrims walk from designated cities around New Mexico to a small Marian shrine known as the Santuario de Chimayó. There were four groups walking in total this year and I was on the women's route walking from Albuquerque. So why do I bring up pilgrimage other than the fact that we were walking to a place of prayer? While it's true that we prayed together every day, morning, noon and night, that's not even the reason I bring up my experience of pilgrimage. I bring it up because we had become prayer. Walking 100 miles is no joke. It's extremely taxing on your body, even if you train for it. The altitude can get to you because the air is thinner; the heat can get to you, especially when there is no shade for miles; dehydration is always a threat; shin splints, blisters and cramping often show up within the first day or two; and then there's just the general soreness of achy muscles because no one's body is used to walking 20 miles a day for five days straight. That's how we had become prayer - we had opened up our bodies to extreme physical discomfort, not because we thought it was a good idea, but because we welcomed whatever the journey would bring and we did it for others.

There's a quote by Arthur Ashe that says, "Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome." I want to paraphrase that in terms of the pilgrimage: Prayer is a journey, not a destination. The effort is often more important than the outcome. On the pilgrimage, it was our desire to keep on going and our fidelity to the journey that transformed us. Most importantly, everything we did, we did for others. The journey and the determination to continue was for the sake of the people who had entrusted us with their prayers as well as for each other. Sometimes prayer was ignoring our own pain so we could comfort another, giving tissue to a tearful companion, or offering our suffering for the family and friends we had promised to pray for. Because it was so physically taxing, and because we did it all out of love, we carried prayer in our very bodies. That's called sacrifice, the highest form of loving one another that Jesus Christ explained and exemplified. And what is the result? Why should sacrifice mean anything to us? It transforms us. It brings us closer to others and closer to God. So often my prayers are about what I want or what I need God's help with, but in sacrifice it becomes all about how I can be of service to others. That's what prayer is for - transformation, becoming more like the images of God we were created to be. Are we not called to be perfect like our Heavenly Father is perfect? We will likely not reach absolute beauty and truth in this lifetime, but again, it's about the journey not the destination.

Another form of prayer has been my recent interactions as I prepare to leave Pomona, California after four years here. During that time I formed many friendships and became a part of many families. It hurts to leave, but I cannot explain how grateful I am to have lived and loved here. The "goodbyes" started at the end of the school year, but they continue as I go out to lunch with a colleague or grab some ice cream with a former student. The other night I was invited to dinner at the home of a family I got to know through teaching. I arrived at 5 p.m. and was greeted with smiles and kindness before I even rang the doorbell. Along with the conversation and company, I enjoyed a wonderful homemade meal, dessert, and several glasses of water. Everyone was so gracious and genuine. We talked and laughed like we could go on all evening, but I eventually confessed that it was probably time for me to go. They walked me to my car and we hugged goodbye, but we promised it wouldn't be the last time we saw each other. As I turned the key in the ignition, I looked at the clock and almost started laughing. It was 2:23 in the morning! I had been there for nine hours and the conversation might have even continued had I not decided to go home. I almost couldn't believe it, and yet I could. The whole time I was at their house I had not been worried about what time it was. I wasn't repeatedly looking at my watch to check the time, or wondering when there would be a break in the action so I could leave. It was like I had experienced time the way God does.

Our time together that night became a prayer because each of us was living in the present - each of us was content to simply be there with one another. We weren't thinking about where else we could be or what else we could be doing; we were simply being. That's not easy. I know I often find myself thinking about ministry or community needs even when I am visiting with people. Questions pop into my head like, "Did I send that email?" or "What was I going to pick up from the store today?" However, none of us allowed any distractions that night. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have experienced timelessness like that, and that was one of them. Jesus spent a lot of time with His disciples. Sometimes He was preaching and teaching, but often times we read about Him eating with people. He spent a lot of time just being with them, and why? Why do we spend time with anyone? We spend time with people to show we care. It's part of how we love each other. Sometimes we visit our family and friends because they're sick; sometimes we visit for special occasions and holidays; other times we visit because we are saying goodbye. No matter the reason, our desire to be with that person or those people comes from our love for them and thus we are able to give them a glimpse of God's love for them. Any time God's love is involved, it's a prayer.

Prayer sometimes involves teaching. It is one of the spiritual works of mercy after all, not to mention one of Jesus's greatest gifts, so it should come as no surprise that I also encountered prayer when I was teaching. One of my most powerful experiences of prayer actually came when I was watching my students pray. I taught Theology 12 for four years in a row, so I had the opportunity to introduce different forms of prayer when the curriculum allowed it. On this particular day, I had introduced lectio divina as a way to pray with Scripture. I had never heard of it before entering religious life, but when I became a novice in community, we would pray lectio divina together every Friday and I came to really enjoy it. It's a prayer typically done in small groups, but for the sake of time, I had my students do their practice run using a journal. Rather than sharing their findings aloud, they wrote them down. It was a very quiet activity, but I had a lot of introverts in the class so I knew it would work out just fine. At one point, while they were jotting down their personal messages from Scripture, it was like everything in me stopped and focused on one simple truth: this was a holy moment. I must admit that I have a terrible memory and have forgotten many special moments throughout my life, but this one hasn't left me. As I watched them journal I knew that it was a spiritually decisive moment - like some of their souls were choosing God right then and would never be the same.

Just like we don't receive all of our nutrients from one type of fruit or vegetable, the prayer of sacrifice and the prayer we find in relationships are not the only types of prayer that bring sustenance to our souls. There are various types of formal prayer that also have the power to transform us and therefore the world around us. Getting to know God and ourselves better has the potential to again remind us of who we are called to be - perfect, like our Heavenly Father. Scripture is one of the best ways we can do this, but lectio divina is not the only way to pray with Scripture. Mass and the rosary are two other excellent examples of formal prayers that can enrich our lives with Scripture. Praying with lectio divina has helped me discover areas of my life that I didn't realize needed healing, and has consequently helped me find the path to wholeness. The transformation that took place within me as a result has enabled me to love God, myself and others more deeply. My experience on pilgrimage had never been as rich as it was this year. What changed? I did. My love for dance had never been meaningful before religious life. What changed? I did. Again, prayer has the power to transform us. It's the tool that chisels us into God's image and likeness throughout our entire lives, enabling us to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Prayer is the journey toward perfection.

Yours in Christ and in prayer,
Sister Desiré Anne-Marie Findlay