Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Saying Goodbye

I have now been in Texas for almost three months and will be leaving this adventure for another in the next few days. I just felt like I have hit my stride. I am comfortable with where I am and what I do. I’ve figured out my living situation and who my friends are. And now, I have to say goodbye. Leaving is never easy, but after moving around job and living locations a few times, I’ve learned some things that make it easier.

Remember Ritual
Ritual is a way for me and those I am leaving to get closure to the relationship. Realistically, I am not able to keep in touch with each person I leave. For many, this will be the last time we see or talk to each other. For others, the nature of the relationship will change. I find that without some ritual of goodbye, a card, a dinner, or a personal conversation, feelings can be hurt and people can feel cast aside. The nature of being a sister means I will move around a lot. Moving for me does not mean I am unhappy with where I am, like it does for most people. Moving for me just means going to the next thing. I will always keep those I have met in my heart, and they need to know that.

A simple ritual of goodbye can be giving cards or a meaningful trinket. The children I teach in Mexico will each get a handmade friendship bracelet and I will tell them how much they mean to me. I will remember them by a matching bracelet. We will continue to be connected. With my adult students and friends we might go out to dinner to celebrate and exchange phone numbers. Regardless of the specific ritual, the important part is that they will know what impact their life had on mine.

Share My Experiences
Sharing my experiences not only helps others to learn what I am doing and possibly find a replacement, but also helps me to put words to my experience. Finding words to describe my love of a place and for a people helps me to remember and let go. Part of this letting go happens here in my articles and my ability to share my experiences with you. Other times it is in conversations with family and friends.

Teresa and I enjoying ministry in Texas.
But sharing my experiences in person with others who might take my place is the most life-giving for me. I love sharing my joy with others. I love introducing others to the people and places who mean so much to me. I love seeing the light in their eyes when they experience something for the first time. I love seeing the wheels turning when something new comes along. This week I have had the privilege to share my experiences with a young woman named Teresa. It has been a joy to get to know her and I enjoy hearing her reflections on things that I experienced for the first time only a couple months ago. Sharing my experience with her has been a wonderful way for me to say goodbye to all that I treasure here.

My Lenten reflection based on my experiences here in Texas.
Another important outlet for sharing my experiences is in journaling and painting. I keep a journal so I can remember what I experienced. I can go back to it and remember how I felt in this new place and how I felt leaving. My paintings express my feelings in a more visual way and allow me to process my experience beyond words.

Planning for the Next
I know it can be dangerous to plan ahead before it is time, but I find that planning for the goodbye, psyching myself up for it, makes the goodbye much easier. Instead of just leaving, I think about how I want to leave. So how do I want to leave the Rio Grande Valley? I would love to be able to leave promising a return, but I cannot. So I have to say goodbye like it is the last time. I want to leave the valley with love. I want the people I have met to know that “because I knew you I have been changed for good” as a song from the musical Wicked says. I want to leave blessing the land and promising my prayers. I want to leave with all the lessons I have learned intact and engraved on my heart.

And after leaving, there is always a new beginning. So how do I want to begin at my next location? It’s never fun to be one place physically and another place mentally. People don’t want to hear you pining for where you wish you could be, but want to hear your stories. Being mentally absent will only hurt me. I want to be fully present where I am, but still remembering how I have changed through the lessons I have learned in the valley. I want to remember where I was and integrate this experience into who I am, but still enter fully into where I will be. Will this be hard? Yes. But with the help of God and my friends, I hope to make it a reality.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Meaning of Ritual

Being a religious sister, ritual is very important in my life. And, I would suspect, that ritual is important in many lives. I don’t only mean religious ritual, but also the ritual of what I do each day, the self-care rituals I engage in, and the social rituals that keep me grounded. I have learned that having certain rituals enhance my experience of life and keep me sane. This year, Holy Week and Easter were full of new (and old) experiences of ritual.

I have always enjoyed learning about and experiencing other cultures. My parents raised me on tum yum goon, Indian curry, and tabbouleh – none of which are a part of my heritage. They enjoy trying new things and teaching my sisters and me to do the same. Of course we love our Italian comfort food too, but the value of respectfully learning from other cultures was instilled in me from a young age. My father taught me how to observe before participating and my mother taught me how to throw my whole self into the experience. So you can imagine how thrilled I am to be immersed in the sub-culture of the Rio Grande Valley.

Walking the viacrucis on our pilgrimage to the church.
The highlight for me was Santa Viernes, Good Friday. I have always loved the somber atmosphere of Good Friday which gives me a chance to reflect on God’s love for me. This year, a new ritual allowed me to walk with Jesus in a whole new way. At 2pm, a small crowd gathered at a park near the church. Leading the pack was a wooden cross carried by a teenage boy dressed as Jesus. A girl dressed as veronica, complete with a veil bearing the face of Jesus, walked beside him. We processed through the streets, singing and praying el viacrucis, the Way of the Cross. I felt like the women of Jerusalem, following Jesus in the streets as he showed us how much he would suffer in the name of the justice he stood for. As we arrived at the church we prayed the last station and entered the church in silence. The culture here is an expressive culture, and I appreciated the ability to express my sorrow for the suffering of the world and to physically see God’s love for us in his actions.

Later that day, after the passion play put on by the children of the parish, I participated in yet another new-to-me ritual. We gave our condolences to Mary. The idea is to give condolences to Mary on the occasion of her son’s death, just as you would with a friend. We said a special rosary that led us to meditate on times Mary had to let go of her son and watch him do God’s work. It was touching to watch mothers, who have to let go of their own children, meditate on what it must have been like for Mary to do the same.

We were greeted with this beautiful altar as we prayed our condolences to Mary.
About a week after Easter, I had the opportunity to participate in a Mayan cleansing ritual called a temazcal. Unlike the other rituals, this one did not have a familiar basis for me. I had no idea what to expect and I was not given much description ahead of time. The ritual cleanses body and spirit, inside and out. One participant described it as going into the womb of the earth. The whole ritual reverences nature and thanks the elements and mother earth for the gifts of healing. Before the ritual, a small hut with a tiny door flap is built and a fire is lit to heat the stones at the bottom of the wood. I loved the reverent preparation. Each person was blessed with a type of incense before entering and I was asked to pray “for my relationships” with my forehead to the earth at the entrance of the temazcal. Once all were inside, “hombre fuego” dug some rocks out of the fire and delivered them to a hole in the ground at the center of the hut. We welcomed each rock with “Bienvenido abuelita!” (welcome grandma in English). Once the door was closed, water with different herbs were poured on the rocks to create steam and an incredibly hot room. The door was opened four times and each time, more rocks were added and a different herb was infused in the water. The first two doors felt like being enveloped by a car on a hot day. The heat was comforting and cleansing. The third door was so hot that I had to lay down. I left with the fourth door because I had reached my limit. After the ritual I was doused by cold hose water to close my pores and shock me back to normal.

After the ritual I felt energized and at peace. Inside I was disoriented, but once I emerged and was doused with water, I was somehow more present. Even though I hardly knew the names of most of the 19 people participating in the temazcal, I somehow felt bonded to them after our mutual experience. There is wisdom to rituals, no matter what tradition they come from. And opening myself to these new experiences has been invaluable.

Happy toes in the Gulf of Mexico.
The final ritual I engaged in this Easter is one I am quite familiar with. I have a ritual of taking a quiet day once a week if possible. This time I spent the day at a local retreat center near the Gulf of Mexico. A blanket of quiet covered the place as I encountered wildlife and the tangible presence of peace. At the end of the day I drove the five miles out to the retreat center’s private beach on the gulf. How exhilarating it was to be consumed by water!


No matter what ritual it was, each one helped me to live in the present moment and get a taste of this new-to-me culture. What a blessing to be able to learn from others!

*Note* I apologize for the long absence of posts this last month. I have a back-log of stories, so you should be getting one a week for a while!