Spirituality of Acceptance: Accepting Diminishment, Illness and Loss
This article is reprinted from the fall 2011 issue of HOPE.
“You just get up and go and keep living. … It’s the best thing to do!”
“There’s only one way: take each day as it comes!”
One might think I just finished walking through the corporate headquarters of Nike, but no, I was sauntering through Lourdes Hall, our assisted living area at the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence. After visiting four sisters and asking them how they cope with their own aging and health issues, how they cope with all the losses in their lives, the words above pretty well summed up their spirit: just do it, but do it with the grace of God!
What is the connection between one’s own spirituality and one’s ability to accept the inevitability of poor health and diminishment? When talking about this article exploring how people’s spirituality assists them in accepting diminishment, illness and loss in their lives, Sister Jeanne Knoerle, HOPE editorial board member, referenced our foundress, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin: “In Mother Theodore’s life the spirituality of love and the spirituality of acceptance seemed closely intertwined.” Each sister I visited said the same thing, using different words: only love transforms!
Each sister I talked to said that her own personal relationship with God and her on-going dialogue with God throughout the day are vital to her life as she walks, hobbles or scooters toward her day. “I get out of bed and the first words out of my mouth are, ‘What are you, O God, going to give me today’ and I start my day and before you know it, I have my answer,” said Sister Mildred “Millie” Giesler. On all four floors I walked that day, only a handful of sisters were in their rooms, which led me to believe that being out and about, being involved in life in any way they can, is part of their own spirituality of acceptance.
Some people believe that life is simply a pilgrimage and journey towards death. From the very moment of our birth, the process of dying starts; already we are moving towards death. If we are in denial about the reality of death we will miss life’s greatest mystery. We will have missed the whole point of having lived. We will live into the “true” meaning and purpose of life itself, because life and death are deeply involved with each other; they are not two separate phenomena. The journey and the goal are not separate — the journey has meaning only in relationship to the goal. Inside the mystery of each of us are holy sparks that need our permission to be released each moment of our lives.
Our sisters live a reflective life, and they know that their lives have been filled with miniature diminishments each day, from birth to death. How they handle the smaller diminishments all throughout their lives is a sure indicator of how they handle them in later life. To fully live their vocation and call to diminishment and energy, to loss and gift is to live their authentic story, the only one they have, to the best of their ability.
How do we practice faithful and creative living in the face of these diminishments that will in all probability be part of our life? How do we allow the reality of loss to be in a way that holds its complexity and challenges, not just the sadness, not just the pain, not just the suffering, but also the glory and the radiance, the love and the beauty of our lives? We do it with the invitation of the Providence of God. The Rev. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, says “it is no easy task to walk this earth and find peace.” All the more do I admire these women who have been such models to me of being in touch with their own passion for living their lives to their dying breath. They do not count the days, they make the days count. They do it well and with the grace of God right beside them. Sometimes, I think, even God has trouble keeping up with our Wisdom Sisters!
Sister Jan’s recommended resource: “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova is available in The Gift Shop at Providence Center and online at www.ProvCenter.org or 1-866-996-2947 or email to email@example.com.