As a “newer” member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace Communications staff and a relatively new convert to Catholicism (I entered the Church in 2010), I was asked more than a few questions about my reaction to last weekend’s Assembly.
The word that most describes my feelings after my first Dominican Sisters of Peace Assembly is not “different,” or “refreshing,” or even “spirited.” From the view of my own religious and life background, the word I would apply to the ceremonies and the discussions would be “inclusive.”
A little background – I grew up Pentecostal in rural West Virginia. Dancing in the spirit, delivering prophecy, speaking in tongues – these “charismatic” events were a regular part of our worship service. Seeing people dance as part of a Church service is rare for me now, but not unknown in my faith history.
Scripture study, however, was often less study and more memorization (my dad was a champion at “Bible Baseball,” where the leader read the beginning of a scriptural passage and the players complete the verse), without much analysis and application to the problems of everyday society. The book of Revelations was a study focus at least once a year, and I grew up terrified of being left behind in the rapture we expected at any time.
I often compare the faith of my youth to the faith that I chose as a woman in my forties. And I find comparing those two faiths very much like comparing our recent Assembly to a Pentecostal tent service.
The application of Scripture within the two events is vastly different. In a standard tent meeting, Scripture was literally quoted chapter and verse, stated as black and white regulations to be followed in fear of a vengeful God.
As a Catholic, and most notably, through the eyes and minds of our Sisters, I have learned to view Scripture more like the law in the hands of a well-educated and thoughtful jurist – a jurist who views everything through the lens of Christ’s love. Our discussion Friday, where Sisters and Associates of different races, cultures and even sexual identities, were given equal weight in a discussion of multicultural living, was eye-opening and, to me, the definition of loving inclusion.
The thoughtful application of current events to our charism presented in the opening ceremony moved my heart. We acknowledged to God that our world is broken – we looked to the Saints for ways to repair it – and we pledged to each other to make that happen. It was sad and hopeful, all at the same time.
And the dancing! Oh the dancing! As I said earlier, dancing in the spirit was a relatively common sight for me growing up, but it was completely different than what I experienced as part of our Assembly. In addition, to me, the dancing was a metaphor for the openness that was evident throughout those four days.
In the past, when I have watched a fellow worshipper dance in the spirit, it was a joyful but very personal experience, as though God were speaking to just one person and the rest of us were to observe. But as a participant in our Assembly, it seemed to me that dance was performed as a glorious gift to God, planned in such a way that, like so many other parts of Mass, everyone could take part in the offering of joy.
As Ana and Margaret danced into their profession ceremony, I watched Margaret’s brother dance on the edge of the aisle, offering his happiness to the occasion.
Sisters, associates, family and clergy twirled scarves and napkins to celebrate our new Sisters – and Ana’s brother literally boogied through the procession with his flowing banner. Others followed behind, maybe clapping, maybe just walking, but all with a look of joy and thanksgiving.
For every offering made – preaching, teaching, Eucharist – everyone was given the opportunity to participate in her or his own way. Whether we danced in the aisles, swayed in our chairs, clapped our hands or simply smiled, we were all part of the dance. And I was happy to be one of the dancers.