Awakening and discovering at the Providence Associates retreat
In mid-March, having just been commissioned as a Providence Associate last November, I attended my first Providence Associate retreat. With the theme “Belonging as Providence, Rooted in Relationship,” our facilitator Sister Ann Sullivan ministered to us with wisdom and humor as well as a beautifully presented tapestry of teaching, short films, and round-table small group discussions, interwoven with ample times for quiet, solitary reflection.
The retreat began Friday night with liturgical music composer David Haas sharing his gifts of worship music, singing, piano and guitar playing, and reflections on spiritual practices with a full house at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. He invited us all to join him in singing, praying, and even in-place dancing! Many of us marveled at his ability to keep up two spirited, high energy hours in light of his age and health history — which includes recent open heart surgery!
Lodging at the Goodwin Guest House gave me the opportunity to get to know my fellow associates and candidates more intimately as we gathered over evening wine and snacks in the comfortable living room or over morning coffee and breakfast in the cozy kitchen. As a strong introvert, staying in a guest house is not exactly my comfort zone. But Providence Associates and candidates are so easy to be with, kind and friendly and gentle — much like the sisters themselves — so I was OK! And, always grateful for the beauty and peace of the Woods, I took several brisk, solitary walks in the early mornings and mid-afternoons to be alone with God.
In her opening remarks, Sister Ann invited us to experience this retreat as a “thin time,” an idea from Celtic spirituality which describes those rare but powerful times and places when heaven and earth seem to merge and we feel God’s very real, living Presence with us. She challenged us to examine our past and present images of God and to open ourselves to new divine images based on our growing awareness of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. Providence Spirituality doesn’t see a duality between believers and scientists but appreciates how science informs our understanding of the awesomeness of God! The more we learn scientifically, the more we realize how far we truly are from understanding the complexity of our Creator.
The first step to a deepening spirituality is “awakening” both to the Divine and to our own sacred selves, discovering who we really are behind our masks and makeup and being authentic. For a perfect illustration of authenticity, Sister Ann told us about Finesse, the “Alpaca Queen.” Finesse was a mother of the White Violet alpaca herd and the story of how that came about was a joy for me to hear as I pictured this magnificent creature as described by Sister Ann: “always authentically herself and you knew it when you saw her.” Indeed any of God’s creatures can powerfully inspire us!
Awakening includes removing our makeup (I hope I don’t have to take that literally since I only use a little!), taking off our shoes (recognizing we stand on holy ground), and growing up (being honest with ourselves and others about how things are so we can move on). It also includes gratitude, an attitude that serves as “a portal for the Divine.” Anger, bitterness, jealousy, and other negative emotions can block the Divine, while awareness of God’s gifts and graces throughout the day reminds us that God blesses all things. Sister Ann told the story of a priest, when asked when he was going to bless the baptismal water, replied, “I don’t bless the water. The water is blessed because it is.”
The next step in spirituality is “discovering.” Willingness to bring to light what has been hidden in shadow and to take a long, deep look at it. Out of awakening and discovering, we become ready for “creating” a different way of being with a spirituality better suited to who we are in this time and this world and these circumstances. We reflected on our personal “cognitive maps.” Our unique histories, culture, and experiences that shaped our worldview. How our own maps differ from others’ and how all of our maps expand as we enter into relationships.
Relationship is fundamental to “ministry” and “mission.” Ministry is seeing all “through the lens of Providence,” being committed to taking risks to follow Jesus, and trusting in the care of Providence. Mission is the call to “be Providence.” Offering love, mercy and justice in relationship with all of God’s beloved creation. In ministry and mission, we help heal a wounded world. All of this requires “presence.” Being fully present to our lives and what is happening right now. As Sister Dawn eloquently put it, “Presence is about who shows up every day in your life.” To me, this means that our presence manifests Presence!
In addition to all of these wonderful group sessions, and the times we had for personal reflection, we enjoyed many moments of fun and fellowship. The retreat organizers created a comfortable and hospitable environment, with beautifully adorned tables and a fun wine and cheese social on Saturday evening complete with Mexican decorations! I especially enjoyed this opportunity to meet more sisters and have more intimate conversations with them as well as other associates and candidates.
I am very thankful that I was able to attend the retreat and form a closer bond with the sisters, associates, and candidates as we gathered together in the loving heart of Providence, a memory which will help to ground me in shaky times.
Interested in becoming a Providence Associate? We are accepting applications now.