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Honor Divine Providence

This article is reprinted from the winter 2009 issue of HOPE.

Of the many gifts membership in the Congregation bestows on us, a commitment to life-long learning is among the most valuable. This commitment extends not only to professional education aiding us in our ministerial lives but also to on-going education in theology and spirituality.

During the past several years, the Sisters of Providence have come to study and embrace the writings of theologian Thomas Berry, CP; astrophysicist Brian Swimme and leaders in spirituality such as Miriam Therese MacGillis, OP, and Judy Cannato. Our founding director of the White Violet Center for Eco-justice, Sister Ann Sullivan has also guided us.

On this journey of more than 10 years, two scientifically verifiable facts have increased my reverence for all creation and deepened my trust in Providence that sustains this incredible web of relationships.

Fact #1: Earth formed as a planet in our solar system 4.25 billion years ago. The eons between Earth’s formation as a planet to the emergence of Homo sapiens 40,000 years ago are marked by miraculous moments of the Universe creating “just the right conditions for. …” One example: over millennia, the salinity level in the oceans reached “just the right” level for life forms to emerge and prosper. These ocean life forms prepared the way for land’s life forms. The Universe’s God-given creativity continuously works on behalf of emerging life.

Self-deepening #1: Given Providence’s incredible care in creation, the meticulous and complex progression from solar to human forms, and the origin of each created form in all that precedes that form, praise of Holy Mystery permeates my prayer. The words of the Sisters of Providence mission statement — “to honor Divine Providence” — take on new meaning as I experience the on-going, shaping presence of Providence throughout the 15-billion-year history of life’s emergence from the heart of God. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin urged us to “lean with all our weight on that Providence that has never failed us.” How different “never” seems in light of the billions of years of Earth’s emergence! Lean, lean, lean! The Providence of God pervades all creation — every nook and cranny of it/us.

Fact #2: Billions of years ago, stars formed, exploded and collapsed. Their explosions formed and scattered elements that eventually became part of us — oxygen, sulfur, iron, copper, magnesium and calcium to name only some.

Self-deepening #2: We are made of stardust. Now that is truly awesome! Awe, at least for me, generates gratitude and an ethic of life. Given the facts of  contemporary physics, astronomy and theology, I can find authentic only a life and spirituality that respect what many call the “integrity of creation” and others call “the web of life.”

If the God of Providence creates — over unimaginable units of time — the “just right conditions” for life to emerge and prosper, it seems both ungrateful and life-defeating to squander or to abuse the gifts given over these millennia.

As a Sister of Providence, I “reduce, reuse and recycle” not only as reasonable responses to the ecological crises we humans have created, but also as practices of my spiritual life and of my fidelity to the mission of our Congregation. That mission includes “honoring Divine Providence” and the promise “to further God’s loving plans.” How differently I view the loving plans of Providence given the perspective of the billions of years Providence has taken to bring us to life.

How differently I now understand these words of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and the care Providence lavishes on us throughout the millennia: “[Providence] has protected us with so much love until the present day that I should consider it a crime to doubt his mercy now.” May I, may we continue to rely on God’s amazing Providence!

For further reading, check out “Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future” by Margaret Wheatley.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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