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I’ll meet you in the field: the spirituality of coming together

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is
too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the
phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.  — Rumi

Sister Ann Sullivan

Sister Ann Sullivan, SP, (formerly Sister John Margaret) uses this quote in workshops and in conflict resolution. Rumi, the Islamic scholar, poet and mystic, lived nearly 800 years ago in Persia. Yet Sister Ann finds his words especially relevant to our time.

“It offers possibilities. We can be upset, we can be angry, but there is someplace, if we want to, where we can come together and we can listen to each other and can understand. And there is a field. Probably not your house or my house, but there is someplace where we can come together.”

Sister Ann currently ministers as a counselor, consultant and retreat/workshop presenter. She has years of experience as a college professor, a director of a mental health center and even as founding director of White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Deep polarization

She says she has been surprised at the deep polarization she has experienced lately in this country. She sees deep divides between people in the country, in the church, in the world.

“With the whole election, with the lack of civility, the bullying, the lack of truth — it was astonishing to me that so many people supported that. And while I was thinking, how could this possibly be happening, I think it was a wake up call that people are hurting. People are resentful. People feel left out.”

How do we bridge our divides? Sister Ann thinks it starts with being engaged.

“Engaging is taking yourself into something that might make a difference. It’s doing something. I think back to what Saint Mother Theodore said, ‘We aren’t called to do all the good possible, but only that which we can do.’”

What you can do

Really listening to each other is key to bridging divides, she says.

“Putting aside the ‘I know I’m right but I’ll listen to you anyway, and then I’ll try to convince you.’ Talking, talking, talking, talking, talking is probably not going to do it if what I am doing is trying to convince you. To really try to put aside my own notions of how things are is really important and it’s really hard to do.

“When we experience people who are of such a different mind, it is going to take a willingness for us to realize that we don’t have the whole picture. Of course, I always think I do,” she says with a laugh, “It’s those other people. But I think to recognize that I don’t stand in somebody else’s shoes and I can’t know unless they tell me where they are standing and what they are seeing in their own lives.”

“Understanding and tolerance and patience for the other person’s viewpoint are vital. I know how many days I’ve listened or read and am thinking, ‘How stupid could this be? I mean, who could think this?’ And yet this is where a lot of people are, so I really do view it as my problem that I don’t understand where they are coming from.”

Spirituality of engagement

“Whatever religion or belief system or spirituality that we have, it almost always hinges at least to a large extent on how we treat people. It certainly is what Jesus was about. Jesus made it simple: love God, love everybody else you are in connection with and love yourself. That’s pretty clear. But the loving your neighbor really isn’t all that easy.

“My spirituality can’t be pie in the sky. It has to be anchored in the everyday reality of my life. Who is in it? How do I treat them? And how do I care for myself? Forgiveness, I think, is huge in this whole discussion. How do I forgive? How do I let go and not become bitter and angry and violent over things that have happened to me?

Silver lining

“I think the other thing is not to get so discouraged you don’t do anything. Continue to try to engage in ways you can. Coming together with somebody, even just a small group, makes a huge difference. We find a sense of empowerment there that we lose when we are overwhelmed.

“I think the silver lining of where we are right now is that we are being forced to see that there is a divide in who we are in this country or in who we are in our church. And recognizing the deep feelings people have about who they are and about their circumstances is really important.

“Not since the really active civil rights days and the Vietnam war reaction have I seen people coming together and being active like they are now. Those were the things in my lifetime that got people out of their houses connecting with other people in meetings and groups to educate themselves, standing in the streets, leading, listening to people and what they are experiencing.”

There is a field. I’ll meet you there.

(Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Amy Miranda

Amy Miranda is a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence and a staff member in their Mission Advancement office. Amy is a 1998 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She currently manages the SP publication HOPE and works on marketing support for Providence Associates, new membership and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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