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First vows: Sister Arrianne’s journey

Sister Arrianne Whittaker (right) professing First Vows with Sisters of Providence Vicar Sister Lisa Stallings.

June 29, 2014 — the day I professed my first vows as a Sister of Providence — was another sacred marker on my journey of Providence.

It also offered another opportunity for me to share with others (blog style!) this very special milestone in my journey. In general, those who know me, can attest that I usually have much to say on the topic of religious life (especially new vocations), but I must admit that when I was approached about writing a blog post for this occasion, I immediately said yes — no doubt out of habit — and then thought puzzlingly, “now what are you going to write about, Arrianne?”

I wasn’t sure I would find the right topic or how to transpire my experience into anything worth reading. I thought to myself, “just wait, experience the day for what it is, and something will come.”

Well the day came, a day I had been dutifully preparing for these past three years, and in essence my whole life, and all I could say when someone asked me how I was feeling was, “I’m not sure.”

I couldn’t read my normally very transparent emotions!!! Which irked me beyond annoyance because I had this anticipation that there was a certain expectation of what I should feel, say, or experience on this day. And yet the only response I could give to innocent inquiries about how I felt was, “I honestly don’t know.”

I felt numb, almost in a surreal alternate realm of existence, as I waited for the opening bars of the prelude to begin. I walked down the aisle, listened intently to the wisdom spoken in Sister Ann Margaret’s reflection, responded affirmatively to the call to profess my first vows — and I waited for the “a-ha” moment, the moment of clarity, the moment of peace.

As we moved into our annual meeting, the following week, I found myself still waiting. Surprised that I hadn’t yet found the clarity I desired I placed my concern in the “wait and see category” and went on with the business of the meeting.

We had four days of intense meetings with our sisters, ministry partners, and associates. Many hugs were exchanged and laughs enthusiastically shared, there were also hard truths to face and a level of vulnerability required to ask difficult questions. Humility was needed to admit that we may not have all the right answers nor may we ever have the right answers but only more questions.

We are truly a community rooted in our humanity, and that is the least predictable and controllable variable of all — so I sat, listened, shared, and prayed with my community … all the while still waiting. And then it came, not as a lightning bolt but rather as the warm rush of the coming tide.

Our closing liturgy was held on Thursday afternoon in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the same sacred place I had taken my vows only five days prior. During Mass I was suddenly overcome by a spirit of peace and affirmation. I felt my “belonging” to this place and this community in an almost palpable way.

I thought to myself “this right here, right now, this is my home, this is my community.” Looking around at my sisters I thought “this is community.”

Community is not about the extremes of experience (although that is a part of the journey) but rather it is about my everyday living of these Vows, my daily commitment to my Sisters and to my God. It is about listening with our hearts and walking with each other patiently, gently, and compassionately.

It is about being able to ask the hard questions and admitting that we need one another to continue the journey forward. It is about celebrating both the blessings and the challenges as integral and vital to our life and mission.

It is not about the day of profession but rather the life of commitment to which we are called. I was looking in all the wrong places for affirmation and peace in regards to this next step. Of course I was joyful on that day and if I’m honest I was anxious, overwhelmed, and grateful too.

But my profession of First Vows was not about how I should feel or what I should do or say on that day but rather about how I live these vows on the day after and then the day after that and so on.

If a stranger met me on the street would they know that I am a Sister of Providence? Would my actions and words emanate the commitment I have made this day? Would they sense that I have committed myself to something greater than just my own purpose and mission? Would they witness the living out of my Vows through my interactions with others, with them?

I will close with a few words of wisdom taken from the reflection given by Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara during our Vow Liturgy. She was addressing both myself and Sister Su-Hsin Huang who professed Perpetual Vows on the same day as I professed first vows. She said, “You will not take these vows for yourselves. You will take (them) for the mission of Providence, to live Love, Mercy and Justice, and God will proclaim through you God’s loving care and design.”

I don’t think I could’ve said it any better myself!

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Sister Arrianne Whittaker

Sister Arrianne Whittaker, SP, entered the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2012. She is a temporarily professed Sister of Providence. Sister Arrianne recently completed medical school at Marian University in Indianapolis and is serving as a doctor in residency at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

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4 Comments

  1. Donna Butler on July 12, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Arrianne,
    Thank you for such an honest sharing of your whole mixture of feelings. And how right you are – it is the day to day living of the Vows that is the real substance. I know these are challenging times in religious life and I’m deeply inspired by your commitment to walk that journey in community as a Sister of Providence.

  2. Cathy Keller on July 12, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Ron and I want to wish you the very best. Know that you are sill in our thoughts and prayers. We have thought of you often as we gatherd with other associates in Southwest Indiana, remembering you visit with us at St. Meinrad. God bless you abundantly!!!

  3. Lorraine Kirker on July 12, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Beautiful! I feel truly blessed, as a Providence Associate, to be part of the greater community as we walk toward the future together.

  4. rejane Cytacki on July 23, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Arrianne- Loved your article! I really wish I could have been there! You sound very grounded in your call to the Sisters of Providence. Hope you can make it to Giving Voice next January or come to the National Conference in Kansas August 6-9 2015. (I’m on the planning team). It’d be great to see you!
    Rejane

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