Every vocation story begins with a call – a call to share your gifts with others who want to make a difference in the world. If you believe that you’ve heard God’s call, and you want to write your own story with the Dominican Sisters of Peace, contact us to begin a conversation.
One of the blessings of having hearing aids is being able to turn them off so that I can enjoy moments of silence, free from the cacophony of noise. Silence is such a friend, such an invitation to be still, and such a rich opportunity to listen and to hear the Beloved whisper gentle messages understood only by the heart. There is such poetic movement in silence and it is here where I find God ever present.
We need silence to hear ourselves, to hear others, and to hear our God. We need to silence to hear what is happening within us, around us. We need silence to hear the voice, the cries and the desires of others. We need silence to hear how our God is trying to connect with us and wants to be with us.
During a retreat about a year ago, I found myself reflecting on how silence is such a friend and so I want to share the poem that emerged, entitled the Breath of Silence:
Silence my old friend,
I come to be with you again.
That you might teach me
and be with me.
Silence my old friend,
how you are with me now,
Always listening to me,
Being with me.
You are my forever friend.
Silence my old friend,
I come to listen to you now.
Let me hear your words of wisdom.
Search me, see me, hear me
As we walk together side by side.
Silence my old friend,
you wrap me in your love
and give me hope to see anew
That I might be love and hope to others too.
Silence my old friend,
I come to be with you again.
That I might let go
and learn to be with You
in my truest form
and may the Spirit soar
to new heights and depths
as we discover each anew in this sacred space.
I invite you to let silence be your friend so that you can hear God speak to you and to be open to receiving whatever God wants to give you.
If you hear God’s voice calling you to explore a life of prayer, ministry, service, and community as a religious sister, I encourage you to contact one of our Vocation Ministers. They will help you listen and hear God in the silence as you discern your life’s vocation.
I recently volunteered at a weekend retreat at the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna, NY. The retreat was for persons with disabilities and the theme was, God loves you, based on John 3:16. Some of the retreatants were in wheelchairs due to cerebral palsy, others were hearing impaired, had Down syndrome, or had some memory issues. Each retreatant was paired up with helper/s to provide companionship and in some cases nurses to ensure correct medical attention. As an aside, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), they use the term, people of determination instead of disabilities. I like the term people of determination because it positively describes the lived reality that our retreatants push through every day.
So here I am in Niskayuna, awaiting the arrival of the retreatants. Suddenly, one of our fellow volunteers leaps from her chair and runs out the front door. My heart swelled with warmth as I watched her running exuberantly to greet the van that was transporting her wheelchair-bound friend. It was such a pure, holy moment. An hour later, I received a big hug from a retreatant with Down syndrome whom I had never met before. Her parents explained that she was excited to return to this retreat after a two- year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the weekend, this retreatant would give spontaneous hugs to others. It was always heartwarming and something about her carefree sharing of love stayed with me.
Throughout the retreat, scarves, and instruments (shakers, tambourines, etc.) were provided so that all could fully participate in the Eucharistic celebration. The music team selected upbeat processional and recessional hymns and lively arrangements of the Gloria, Gospel Acclamation, and Doxology to encourage self-expression. You could tell the priests celebrating Mass were touched in an extraordinary way and even joined in by clapping to the hymns. When one retreatant offered a comment after the priest finished his homily, the priest engaged in a loving and affirming manner that made the interaction seem like a regular part of the liturgy. The retreatants enjoyed being together, sharing stories during mealtimes and breaks. There was a real sense of fellowship, oneness, and genuine care for each other. God’s love was palpable and overflowing. It was a sacred space.
As the retreat facilitator talked about the theme, God loves you, I reflected on the big hug I got from the retreatant and how joyfully the volunteer greeted her friend. Is that how much God loves me? Does God delight in me with this exuberance I witnessed? Yes, John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God gave up the life of His only child, for you and for me. Wow, that is beautiful and overwhelming! I thought I was there to help the retreatants and yet God used this retreat to remind me of the breadth, depth, and width of His love through my sisters and brothers in Christ.
If you are discerning religious life and would like to explore ways God is calling you to share this incredible message of love, please contact our Vocations team.
Ok, I thought by now that I would be finished figuring out what wisdom and blessings I received on the Camino. Yet, they continue to be revealed to me as I reflect, journal, look at my pictures, and prepare to share our story with our local community. You see, we, Sisters Ana, Barb, and I, are planning a Tapas party this Friday – which will include a variety of tapas, salsa music, some dancing with castanets al la Ana, short videos of our adventures and the sharing of stories, memories, and bits of wisdom we discovered.
With each picture and journal entry I revisit, I remember the moments of challenge, hope, wonder, and nuggets of wisdom. The #caminowisdom I am mulling over at present is, Adopt the pace of nature.
Have you ever stopped to watch the grass wave in the wind? I have and this is what I discovered as I sat on a log, under the shade of a grape arbor somewhere between Caldas de Reis and Padron, Spain.
I had been walking rapidly for quite some time and all of a sudden, I felt the need to stop. To just stop in the middle of the path. Ok, I thought – why am I stopping? Then, I heard my rapid breathing & heartbeat. . and I consciously slowed my breathing and in turn, my heartbeat began to slow and I began to hear the birds. Then, I noticed the breeze gently caressing the grass in the fields. It bent and swayed with the breeze and seemed to be dancing. It was then that I slipped off my backpack and sat down. Sitting on a worn log that had supported the weight of hundreds – if not thousands of pilgrims – I just . . . sat. Having stilled my body and opened my ears and eyes, I then opened up my heart and listened for the Spirit. The spirit spoke and I heard the call to embrace the pace of nature – to slow down and be in the present moment with God. I sat for a while, then stood and proceeded on the way – at a slower, more recollected pace – the pace of nature.
In the discernment process, we are likewise called to slow down, quiet ourselves, and listen so that we can truly hear God’s voice. In the book, The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making, Elizabeth Liebert, Elizabeth Liebert invites us to slow down, and to discover that, “Practicing discernment experimentally will help you adapt the tradition of discernment to your own life and to begin to become a discerning person. In discerning about your own issues, as God leads you, you will meet God in and through your own life.” This is what we are called to embrace as we discern our vocational call, our next ministry, a commitment to a course of study, significant social justice action, or how to respond to other major life issues. In my own discernment, it was not until I slowed down and committed myself to the serious pursuit of the voice of God that I came to hear my call to religious life. Now, I walk with others as they sift through the noise of daily life to hear that still small voice of God. It is a pilgrimage that may not require you to buy new hiking boots, but it is certainly one that will lead you to follow God’s footprints on the path of your life. Dare you stop and listen?
 Liebert, The Way of Discernment, p. xi.
I was invited to attend my first preached retreat EVER eleven years ago! I had no idea what to expect! I knew I was going to the magical state of Kansas, home to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz story and the Dominican Sisters in Great Bend. I knew that I would be meeting other discerners and Dominican Sisters. I also knew that THIS retreat would allow me the opportunity to pray and to hear God’s Word regarding my future. No one could have ever prepared me for the AMAZING experiences, profound insight, and the seeds that would blossom from that retreat.
In 2011, Mary O’Driscoll and Brian Pierce led the retreat. I recall Mary and Brian discussing our pilgrimage with God, of walking a road filled with uncertainty, encountering companions and in the process embracing a transformation, allowing us to be closer to God. In one of her preached sessions, Mary made reference to the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela and made reference to the movie, The Way, which is a story about “an American father who travels to France to retrieve the body of his estranged son, who died while attempting the pilgrimage to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela. He resolves to take the journey himself in an effort to understand both himself and his son.”
My retreat and experience in Kansas were life giving and provided the directions to follow a map that led me to a life with Jesus. My desire to see this movie, The Way, and eventually to want to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela was a way to hold on to the retreat that changed my life.
A year later in 2012, the road map of discernment had clear and obvious signage of the path I was meant to follow. I had no idea how I would get there, where it would take me, but I knew that Dominican Life was the pilgrimage that I needed to take to follow The Way. From 2012 to 2021, my discernment was accompanied by some difficult hills and rocky roads. Fortunately for me, I had amazing companions and expert guides who empowered me in my journey and helped me be grounded in our Dominican Charism on my pilgrimage to The Way. I would be remiss not to mention the ABUNDANT experience of LOVE, Joy and Peace. I have come to learn that the pilgrimage as a Dominican Sister of Peace is one of adventure, discovery, and love.
Fast forward to May 2, 2022. On this day, Sisters Barb Kane, June Fitzgerald, and I took our first steps on the Camino. As I began the pilgrimage, I knew that I needed to get to Santiago de Compostela, I knew that I needed to get a pair of castañuelas, and I knew that I needed to be open to the presence of God. As I started the pilgrimage, I was anxious because of my own limited experiences with the land and people. I thought I knew what to expect, but SORPRESA, I did not. There were SO MANY surprises and food for thought.
The landscape is mixed from forest to country to farms to cities, and while I did not have a map, the directions and signage was obvious and very clear. Follow the Shell and Yellow arrows. The paths varied from concrete, dirt, and rocks to bridges and wood. I followed the advice granted to me by Sister Joan Franks, to stop at every chapel and little town. I discovered profound history, from settlements of the Celts, Roman roads, and a path walked by many pilgrims, including Dominicans. I was surprised to see Dominican Life along the Camino from stories like San Telmo, and ultimately learning that St. Dominic also walked the Camino.
I met amazing people such as Pilar and her friends, the muses. Pilar is a breast cancer survivor who promised to walk the Camino if she would win the battle against cancer. She won! She and her five best friends walked the Camino with Pilar in gratitude for her life. They were also asking for a good boyfriend for one of the friends. There were mothers and daughters walking together, groups, individuals, and they were all taking the road to Compostela. I bonded with some of my peregrino companions and learned little tips and insights from them. The pilgrims shared their stories and what motivated them to make the pilgrimage. We bonded over the beauty and the challenges we encountered.
I also learned so many wonderful stories, great myths, a song, and gained so much insight. I was grateful to experience God in my interactions, on the journey and so much more!
Now, a month later, I am aware that my introduction to the El Camino started eleven years ago with a retreat. Yes, I was able to walk the El Camino, but most importantly, this journey now as a Sister is a simile to the Camino that I started walking as a discerner. I am on a pilgrimage, following Jesus’ way. The road is uncertain, yet it is an adventure with God and my Dominican Sisters!
If you are interested in joining us on this adventure of religious life as a Sister, please contact one of our Vocation Ministers or consider attending our upcoming Mission For Peace program, June 22 -27 in Kansas.