The Power of Words

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George, OPA

As I was growing up, many of us kids would say to each other the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  How wrong this adage is because words can hurt.  Our words matter.  Let’s muse a little on how words affect us and what effect our words have on others.

Words have such power.  Our words can foster love or our words can foster hate.  A simple greeting card with uplifting words can bolster our spirits and make us feel special.  A poster board sign that spews messages of hate can inflict pain and incite violence.  Words are everywhere and can carry messages of hope and despair, laughter and tears, or understanding and bewilderment.

In the beginning of a child’s life, we often express words of love, comfort, and joy.  At the end of a person’s life, we can express words of comfort, peace, and forgiveness.  Words can be endearing and heartbreaking.

Poets and writers delight us with their words of inspiration, with stories that speak to the human spirit and of the human condition.  They use words that invite us to think critically, to feel tenderly, to imagine possibilities, and to understand phenomenon.  Politicians use words to influence and persuade us to vote for or against a person or issue. Historians use words to reveal facts, lies, and information about the past, to chronicle events, people, and issues confronting individuals and societies.  Words can be used for many different purposes.

Words have the power to affect positive change or ignite negative actions.  Words can engender hope or tear down dreams.  We have seen the power of words by individuals who have confronted injustice and challenged or inspired us with statements, such as:

  • “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” (Rosa Parks)
  • “With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism.” (Malala Yousafzai)
  • “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?” (Dorothy Day)
  • “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” (Mother Teresa)
  • “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty!” (Pope Francis)

We have seen how words can change the world by what world leaders say.  One example is Ronald Reagan’s  words, “Tear down this wall” to the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, referring to the barrier that divided West and East Berlin.  Or, these two memorable quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. had the power of shining a light on the plight of racism in America—“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” and “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Here are other noteworthy quotes that had an impact on world affairs.

Words make a difference and we can choose to use words either to affirm or harm others.  What words will you use today to build a kingdom of love?

If you’re eager to use your words to be peace, preach peace, and build peace as a religious sister, we invite you to contact one of our Vocation Ministers to start a conversation.

Posted in God Calling?, News

Autumn Leaves, the Rich Mash, Layering Grace, and the Paschal Mystery

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

Fall is late this year in Northern Ohio. From my reading chair I look out on three layers of color. The closest tree is still mostly green, and through its branches trees in golds and yellows, and beyond them, the visual prize, that glorious orange-pink-flame that even on this wet day, glows from the maples, and below them the long wine hedge of burning bush. I’m grateful, and praise the Creator for the color that stays and plays late against the inevitable gray November sky.  I remember a little rhyme I made up as a child: “Fall is here/ I cannot cheer,” knowing then, as now, that soon all the trees would be bare except the sullen oaks, who would hold stubbornly to their brown leaves well into the winter. What was there to do but grab these brief bursts of joy, and collect our favorites and noisily shuffle through them on the sidewalks and jump in the mounds someone recently raked?

By our porch, the tomato plants won’t quit, vines still sprouting little green orbs that will not have time to redden into those wonderful pops of sweetness, and I’m loathe to disabuse them of their hopes—or mine—by tearing them down. But someday soon I will, and also uproot the zinnias and cosmos that soldier raggedly on as the chill increases, consoling myself with the wisdom that returning to the earth enriches next year’s blooming.

Mary Oliver in Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness* puts it so well: “the world descends into a rich mash…” and her poem continues with the yearly lesson: “knowing as we must, how the vivacity of what was is married/ to the vitality of what will be?”  What a strikingly succinct way to describe the layers of the earthly-heavenly-human-divine ever-cycling mystery of dying and rising.

I sense an invitation to stir reflectively my own “rich mash” of living, those seasons  of joy and pain, certainty and doubt, loss and gain, sin and forgiveness, a sort of archeology of life’s mystery. I’m led beyond the layers of my own life in this time, and pulled to the deeper, vaster, layers of God’s creation opened for us by scientists, peering outward and backward to picture the processes of space-time far beyond us; peering inward to trace the almost invisible workings of a  universe within us, a billion particles that work wonders within to make me “Me” and that form us and all of creation.

All that Rich Mash, marinating and vivifying in the love of the Creator–all of this living and dying and giving back again we share with the cosmos and our mothering earth and ancestors in family and faith, and our particular Dominican life down the centuries. O Layering Grace.

Now, watching the bright trees shouting praise, even as their leaves fall, I wonder. What will our lives tell of the presence of God and the Word made flesh and the ever-erupting Paschal Mystery? What will be our Holy Preaching? How will we, tomorrow’s Rich Mash, witness today to the mystery of the vivacity and vitality of the Gospel life?

*From the collection A Thousand Mornings

Posted in News, Weekly Word

Justice at Our Borders: Past Reflections on the SOAW Gathering

Blog  by Associate Jerry Stein, OPA

Last October, I and 4 or 5 other Dominicans attended the SOAW gathering at our new destination, Nogales, AZ. I only remember seeing the others once, at the Sunday morning gathering at the wall, which you can see in photos is a series of square steel beams about 30 feet tall. They were on one side (Mexico) and I was on the other (USA). In Columbus, GA, we could only be on one side of the “Wall” (fence). I was glad we could reach through the wall and clasp hands, which I did with at least Conni Dubick, OPA.

As usual, we had very good workshops on a large variety of subjects.  I remember two especially, The Veterans for Peace and the Tohono O’odham Hemajkam Right network. The large Tohono O’odham native reservation is just west of Nogales and hasn’t had a wall, so many refugees go through their territory. The US government is going to put up a virtual electronic wall, as a young Tohono O’odham lawyer explained to us.  Besides the intrusions of all kinds on their land and culture, the natives will also be spied upon whenever the various spy agencies desire.  She took us on the usual US justice path natives have to travel, and, if the government finds it necessary, they will take it back to the Doctrine of Discovery, which always wins the case for the government. This Doctrine was finalize by a pope in 1493, calling newly discovered peoples savages who can be killed and their

land taken as desired by “Christian” nations. Some groups are trying to get Pope Francis to denounce it. Isn’t it interesting that US law accepts it, even though made by a pope? I would hope that Dominicans around the world would make it a priority to have the pope reject that Doctrine as anti-Christian and not a worthy legal pronouncement.

On Saturday, the Vets for Peace led everyone, about 700, to the border. As on Sunday, about half crossed the border, including me and my sister and husband, and the other half stayed across the border from us. As we were processing down the US streets to the border crossing, police were everywhere, sometimes yelling at people to stay off the streets, etc.  When we crossed, there were no police of any kind around. As we walked Mexican streets, police passed by and waved at us with big smiles. It was such an obvious difference that I thought to myself, I went from a police state to a country of freedom. Of course I know the reality of Mexican cartels, but also of US detention centers for families of all kinds and how awful they can be, especially for the children.

At the Vets for Peace Workshop, about 50 people in a circle, took turns telling of an important moment in their quest for peace. At one point two Vets were sitting side by side, but didn’t know each other. The first told how he had returned to the US and became a drug addict, since the war had left him in such a bad emotional state. He finally got caught, was given a long sentence, but, when he got out, some Vets for Peace took him in hand, gave him a reason to live, and he’s been active with them and sober ever since. Then the guy next to him said he was a medic in Vietnam and was told by the CIA to feed LSD to some of the soldiers, and he went home honorable and with pay, etc. We all suddenly realized that one guy went to prison for taking drugs and the other guy was legally getting soldiers hooked on them. So who was the enemy in that war?

I’m glad that we moved to Nogales last year. I would hope more of you will attend next year, since we need to continually give good witness to the need for justice in our country, and, as far as I can see, this is a very good way to do it. We know we gave encouragement to the Indian natives and Mexicans in the area. The Bishop of Nogales, Mexico, celebrated Mass for the young 16 year old who was killed, through the wall, by an American border agent. So far, the parents have received no justice from the USA. I guess that means we can shoot Mexicans through the wall whenever we want. Please get involved and attend next year, if possible. The people we meet, the music, puppetistas, the diversity of brothers and sisters, etc., also make the SOAW gathering a wonderful celebration of hope.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Strong Relationships Begin With Open, Honest Conversation

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

The day after a man drove a truck down a busy bicycle path last week in Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring nearly a dozen, I received a text from one of my sister-friends (you know a  sister not by blood but by heart).

She was annoyed and frustrated because she knew her day would be filled with explaining that the man’s actions do not represent Islam or Muslims.

It’s the type of thing that she and I have experienced too often – being made to feel like we are being asked to take responsibility for every bad actor with whom we happen to share a faith or skin color.

I wonder how many white people felt that way last month, after the Las Vegas shooter opened fire on concertgoers, killing 58 people and injuring nearly 500?

I wonder how many Christians felt uneasy when they heard that the shooter who killed three people standing in line last week at a Colorado Walmart lived in an apartment with a stack of bibles?

My sister reached out to me because she knew that I understand all too well what it’s like to hear of a tragedy like the ones in Las Vegas and Manhattan and feel devastation (overwhelming grief and sorrow for those affected by the senseless acts) and trepidation (dread that the perpetrator will be identified as someone who shares your skin color or religion).

For my sister, that anxiety runs even deeper because history has shown that Muslims face backlash and experience increased anti-Muslim sentiments after a “terrorist” is identified as Muslim. I struggle with the term “terrorist” because I’m still trying to figure out the rules – the murderer in Vegas isn’t labeled a terrorist but the killer in Manhattan is.

Why does it seem so easy to selectively lash out at an entire community of people who have nothing to do with a violent act committed by one person?

Why does it seem so easy to see some people as one big homogeneous mass?

Why does it seem so easy to vilify an entire faith group because of one person’s horrific behavior?

Why should my sister have to be on high alert for verbal or physical attack because of something she had nothing to do with?

I think it’s time (in fact, it’s overdue) for all of us to take personal and collective inventory of our own views and actions toward people of the Islamic faith.

I am thankful that my sister and I can share our thoughts and concerns because it is in our dialogue that we find a healing that reduces our mental and emotional stresses.

Healing conversations are about being present for each other and connecting with each other.

And guess what happens when we connect? – We enhance our relationship and our bond gets stronger.

So, after you take that personal inventory, ask yourself “what can I do to build a relationship with someone who doesn’t share my faith, skin color, ethnicity, culture, political views, etc?”

And then do it!

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Why do you look for the living among the dead? The dead are among the living…

Blog by Sr. Cathy Arnold, OP

I remember as a child during the days before the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, my mother would take us to three cemeteries to decorate the graves of my dad, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members.  We would go to cemeteries in Churchtown, Lowell, and Rainbow, Ohio, and place the chrysanthemum flower tops in the shape of a cross on each of the graves.  After decorating each one, we would pause to pray silently, each praying and remembering the person to the extent each knew them.  I always had a sense of wondering – what  would it have been like to have known my ancestors who had died long before I was around, and what might it be like to meet them again in eternal life?  While I had a sense of sadness, I also had a deep sense of gratitude for the gifts my ancestors had passed to us.

At a recent gathering of Sisters and Associates, we listened to a video of Dr. Christopher Pramuk “Will the Circle be Unbroken?  Leaning into the Mystery of Resurrection Faith.”  He reminded us that it is in the remembering of our loved one that they remain alive and present to us.  It is the remembering of those who have been disappeared as they struggled for human rights, that they remain alive and present to their families and to all of us.  Dr. Pramuk has much more to say about resurrection faith in relation to racial justice issues.  You can see the full text of his talk in the link below.  But his words also resonated with me in relation to this feast day as we remember all souls and especially our loved ones.

‘“They are not here” insists the voice of reason.  “They aren’t anywhere.”  Yet the heart that has known the touch of the beloved persists: “They are here.  I can neither see nor touch their body, it is true.  But I can feel their presence.”

To say in one breath that the dead are not here, in the earth, this place of burial, may be to suggest in the very next breath that they are here: we simply need to know where to look, and how to listen.  Close your eyes, lean into the silence, and listen: the earth itself remembers, the ancient woods reverberate with their songs, touching our highest joy, revealing our deepest sadness.’  (Dr. Christopher Pramuk)

We have so much to celebrate as we lean into the mystery of the resurrection.  Today I invite you to spend some time remembering loved ones who have gone before you.  We can also take assurance from the reading from 1 Thes 4:13-14 in our morning prayer today, “We want you to be assured, sisters and brothers, about those who have died, so that you do not grieve as do others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too we believe that God, through Jesus, will bring forth with him those who have died.”

If you would like our Sisters and Associates to pray with you and with them, please feel free to submit a prayer request by clicking here.

If you would like more information about discerning with one of our vocation ministers, please click here.

If you would like to read the full text of Dr. Pramuk’s talk, please click here.

Posted in God Calling?, News