Failure is Part of Life

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

One of Jesus’s followers asked, “How many times must I forgive my brother or sister?”  He answered, “Every time.

Recently, I read an article on why ceramic artists are so good at dealing with failure.

It’s true. Potters, sculptures and ceramists all engage in long processes of developing an idea, preparing materials, working with clay that requires a wealth of knowledge, patience and painstaking efforts to develop skills, only to sooner or later (usually sooner) having to face the cracked piece, failed kiln firing, glazing errors or just having your precious work fall on the floor in a million pieces.  Sometimes the kiln disappoints and it’s notable that this art form requires you to give over your precious effort to a kiln that transforms it into something wonderful. Or not.  Sometimes, you just don’t like the results of your work after months of effort. If a potter can’t cope with failure, then she ought to find another line of work.

Someone else described the creative process of making pots as holding a balloon over a circle of cacti. Anything can happen. This is the tenuous nature of craft and of life.

Failure is a part of life for all of us and we are reluctant at times to realize that pain is gain.

Pain is gain on so many levels. When we are open to learning from our mistakes and overlooking the mistakes of others, our lives are bigger, richer and less prone to control, to judgement, to rigid thinking. Pain becomes gain.

If life is not a matter of sometimes dealing with our failures and our pain, then what are we to make of Jesus’s consistent message of forgiveness, of compassion toward the other, of being generous to those in need?  Is not forgiveness the acknowledgement that some failure has occurred on some level, either our own or someone else’s? Failure is a part of life and the Gospel stories are always inviting us to hear a deeper calling beyond our own self-interest.

The art of living mirrors creating art in a studio, sitting at a wheel, before a canvas, at the keyboard, or with a musical instrument in hand — we are always beginning again. Practice, practice, practice, practice.  The Good News we preach is to always see that good is possible in the face of failure, that trust in recovery from sin is possible. The Good News we preach is to always know God’s love so deeply that when we fail, we know there is another moment to keep trying.  Belief in the Good News includes accepting failure at times, our own and the failure of others too.

How many times do I have to forgive? Every time.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Behold, the Handmaid of the Lord

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

In Advent-Christmastide we heard the Annunciation story three times. We visited Elizabeth, long barren, and remembered the story of Sarah’s bitterness, and this week we consider Hannah, her tears and prayers and the gift of a child.

Saints and sages have pondered emptiness as the place or state where we lovers and followers of Christ offer ourselves as dwellings for God’s graceful presence, hollow spaces for the treasure of the living Word. I can’t assume this of you, but that was my idea of how the three vows worked: poverty, chastity and obedience were the ways I would offer my being to God as a vessel for God’s love.

Poverty: I would be empty of all the desires for things that would clutter my soul; not clinging to possessions, giving freely, owning nothing and begging for God to own me.

Chastity: No love could transcend God’s. I would forego the love and union of married love, family life.  I would be single-hearted, with a passion for God alone, in Dominican life which would call me to remember my desire to give my heart in loving service.

Obedience. Not my will, but God’s. I would seek what God sought. Trusting, I would obey my superiors and accept humbly whatever, wherever, whenever, whoever.  I would be God’s handmaid. “Be it done unto me according to your word.”

I can’t know how it was for you, but suspect we all made profession with some understanding like this. We were Mary in this story, blessedly unknowing, assenting to God’s work in and through us, and believing that like Mary we could be a selfless reflection of God’s great love.

 And how long did that last, after those first vows? Before my will was in conflict with what I was assigned, before I found myself fixated on something I could not have or someone I could not be, too aware of my failure, my harsh judgment, my stinginess in giving. There were hurts and losses. Certainly tears.  I was not young Mary. I was barren Elizabeth, I was cranky Sarah, pitiable and unproductive. I was not living my heart’s desires as I hoped I should be.

I began to suspect that my emptiness (good) had gradually turned into barrenness(bad). As the poet G.M. Hopkins mourned, ”birds build—but not I build, no, but strain/time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes./Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.” *

God’s way with us is never what we expect, even as we grow wiser and more tolerant of the mystery. The truth is, Mary had her hour of barrenness, holding her beloved child of promise who dies hated and rejected. And Elizabeth and Sarah and Hannah will be opened and fruitful, give birth and blossom with joy they never imagined.

So what if, for God ever mysterious, holy emptiness and unproductive barrenness are one and the same? What if, in the end, we can only say, “I have so very little to bring you, except the bit of shining you did through me despite myself?”  We lift up our nothingness. And it’s all God is looking for.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel once wrote of his life experience in a way we too might appreciate.      “I asked for success, but you have given me wonder.”**

*Thou art indeed just, Lord…

**Book of the same title

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word


Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Whenever I read the words of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, I immediately start humming the tune of the song written by Pete Seeger and sung by the folk rock group the Byrds, Turn! Turn! Turn!  While praying (and humming) this, it occurred to me that these words might serve as a framework for how we could live in 2018.

We will experience both birth and death and should be grateful for both.

We will plant seeds of peace, and pluck their fruits to share with others.

We will kill the urge to judge, and heal broken relationships.

We will break down the fences that separate us, and build up roads that bring us together.

We will weep over injustice, and laugh when justice prevails.

We will mourn the loss of loved ones, and dance that they are united with God.

We will throw away the stones of lies that tear down, and gather stones of truth that build up.

We will embrace diversity, and refrain from embracing labels that keep us apart.

We will seek God in the faces of others, and lose the doubt that God is in us too.

We will keep the love of God in our hearts, and cast away fear.

We will rend the division that separates us and sew together our commonalities.

We will keep silent so that we can hear God’s voice, and then, speak for the voiceless.

We will love because we are loved, and hate that we so often fail to love in return.

We will wage war on injustice, and work tirelessly for peace.

May we all be able to keep these resolutions.  Happy New Year!

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

An Angel Came From Where I am Not Sure

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

An angel came from where I am not sure, sent to this Nazareth town, to seek an answer in the gray mists of night. What far off starlit kingdom sent him here? How did he know to visit me? Was he on his own? He seemed to know his mission, although I was not at all sure of what his message meant. Who told him to come here and disturb me with his words?

“The Lord is with you”, he said in a whisper that pierced me in my soul. God’s favor? Is not every daughter of Judah special in the eyes of the Lord? Do we not all seek to serve?

An angel came — was sent to me, — from where I am not sure, and I cannot tell you what he looked like, so bathed was he in light and so veiled in mystery.

This visit was an enveloping, a cocooning in light and darkness all at once. I felt swaddled in the power of the Lord, in the angel’s coming, and although I was thrilled and fearful, puzzled and curious all at the same time, all was strangely well. He made nothing clear, no plan, so few details, only that I would bear a son in the same way Elizabeth came to be with child. No more a miracle could there be but that which came to Zachariah and my sweet kinswoman! Elizabeth and I would be co-conspirators with God. Emmanuel, “God with us.” An ancient promise kept.

An angel came, from where I am not sure, but nothing is impossible with God. Nothing is impossible with God, of that I am sure.

Then the angel left vanishing like a whisper in the night, just as I was realizing I had been visited. The angel left. Disappeared like footprints in a puddle, leaving barely a trace of evidence behind. He left no assurances that my family would understand or that Joseph would know what to do or even accept such a story. The angel did not tell me his name, so I’m not sure he actually spoke in words to me. But I know what stirred in my soul, a something or someone came to me in this forsaken place where nothing of consequence ever happens.

What did I say yes to?

Tanner Annunciation
Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Advent: the message of the Prophet, Past, Present, and Future

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

The prophetic readings of this Advent season are calls to hope. Assuring God’s tender faithfulness, they offer visions of the future, the promise of comfort, peace, and jubilant homecoming when all God’s work of creation and salvation is accomplished.  At other times  they bring warnings  of the not-so-wonderful kind:  of the rise and fall of kingdoms, wars, plagues and  catastrophes of nature, if we do not repent with fervent hearts.  We tend to identify prophets as predictors of events to come. The prophet is one who stands before the vastness of the future and tells a stiff-necked people that we are in peril if we do not change our ways, and to a people brought low promises a God of patience and tender care ever ready to forgive.

We know enough tragedy in the space of the past century. We have witnessed the immensity of evil world-wide, and our own unspeakable cruelty to one another, enough to tremble at God’s judgment. But we’ve also watched the destructiveness of tornados and hurricanes, fires,  earthquakes, volcanoes, and we know the science of their inevitability. These are not the visitation of God’s wrath upon us–although we know we are implicated in pollution, global warming and extinctions, and we have sinned against God’s earth and Gods beloved creatures.

So today prophecy takes another form, in the present tense:  naming here and now the evils both blatant and hidden. Prophets see more sharply than others—they view the human condition as seen through God’s eyes, and name not just particular wrongs but systemic evil. Here prophecy  is bold speech at the risk of alienating one’s own community. To speak truth: not “It is what it is” as much as ”It is not what we think it is”—“it is not God’s IS.” Not “That’s the way things are” and we can’t do anything about it, but “Look again. Open your eyes. There are illusions and delusions all around. Deliberate blindness obscures human sin,  massive collective evils described casually as just  the way things are.”  No. This boat needs to be rocked. This silence needs to be broken.

To keep things “nice”, to smooth over problems, to adhere to the propriety of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”:  No, not the prophetic call of the present.

We Dominicans are pledged to truth.  We are part of an order dedicated to the Holy (not safe) Preaching. We strive to seek clarity, to listen carefully  to many points of  view, and with study and prayer, aware of our fallibility, name what we see. We remember that we are voices of God’s righteousness and saving grace, and especially voices for the voiceless. So we speak  as our energies and gifts make possible, keeping  the Gospel out there, before everyone’s eyes.

Finally, prophets are also Carriers of the Memory—the past tense is critically important. We REMEMBER, and carry the promises God made to our ancestors in faith. We witness to God’s passionate involvement in every age. This is not the romance of “the good old days.” We carry the living memory of the Incarnation of God among us, the Cross and the Resurrection; the staggering, outrageous claim of our participation in Christ’s triumph over sin and death. As a Eucharistic family we “make memorial.” Proclaiming the death of the Lord, we remember our future. And Memory and Promise bring us in this present moment our prophetic truth for today. As Pope Honorius described the Dominican charism, we are “champions of the faith, and true lights for the world.”

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word