Can I Stay Here Forever? The Answer is YES.
Ever wonder what you would learn about yourself if you spent 30 days alone in a cabin on a lake? It sounds like a popular ice breaker: If you were stranded on an island, what one item would you bring with you? For me, though, this hypothetical became real life during the month of May when I embarked upon my 30-day retreat in preparation for perpetual profession, or final vows.
We Sisters of Providence enjoy the pleasure and challenge of undertaking a 30-day retreat as part of our tertianship, the year before we take final vows. I entered into this time with lots of hopes and expectations and could probably fill a book with what I learned about myself and God’s love. But for the purposes of this blog, I want to zero in on an experience I had early in my retreat that seems to summarize the ups and downs of my journey to this moment, when I will profess forever the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
I was thrilled to reserve a cabin on Trout Lake at the Marywood Franciscan Spirituality Center in Wisconsin for my 30 days of prayer and reflection this spring. I couldn’t wait to explore the lake and nearby hiking and biking trails, especially since I find that I connect most profoundly to the Holy One through nature and moving my body in the great outdoors. So as soon as the ice thawed on the lake, (yes, there was still ice on the lake in May!) I dusted off one of the center’s kayaks and got on the water.
I had decided that my first time out, I would head to an island I had been eyeing all week, that did not appear to be too far away. As I pushed off from the shore, I felt a mix of excitement and anxiety: I was literally the only soul on the water, as far as I could see. This moment felt to me like my early days of formation, when I had an eye on where I desired to go, but could not quite see the path marked out in front of me, and sometimes wondered if anyone else understood what it felt like pushing off from the shore into such uncertainty.
I reflected on what happened next in a poem in my journal entitled “On the Water”
On the water
How eager I’ve been
To get up close
To venture out in a boat
Watching each day
Willing the ice to melt
To give way to my freedom on the water
Maybe I’ll paddle across to the island
Yes – that mysterious wild place
No houses, only trees
And maybe bears,
If I’m lucky
Today is the day
Not a cloud in the sky
No ice in sight
Paddle, life jacket, hat – I’m off
Or rather, in, on
In the kayak, on the water –
Wait, how deep is this water?
There aren’t any sharks, right?
Or maybe giant fish I should look out for?
Wait, what was that sound?
Is there a leak in the boat?
I don’t think so – but if it turns over,
How long until I die of hypothermia?
Could someone hear me shouting from the shore?
I think so, if I scream loud enough.
Okay – you’re fine! Just breathe.
Ah, isn’t the water beautiful?
Wait, why am I the only one on the water?
Does everyone else know something I don’t?
That island really seemed a lot closer from the shore.
I should be enjoying this! Look at the view!
I think I’m afraid of being out
In unknown waters
Why am I just learning this?
– – – –
I make it to the island.
The water is so clear – I can see the stones at the bottom.
The way the trees slowly pass
As I float by on the water
Feels like magic.
The air is so still here, and the trees
Seem taller somehow
The water barely moves,
The sun and the air are warm.
Can I stay here forever?
A voice rises up from within the trees:
Are you ready to give your whole life to me?
My eyes shine up at the trees
From under my visor.
They know my answer is yes.
I need this place of sanctuary
And the memory of it
To propel my return voyage
The safety of the island
Its proud, warm trees
The stillness and stability
Help me make sense of the choppy deep water
And the fearful loneliness on the way
With my feet back on Terra Firma,
It seems impossible
To look across the water
And imagine I was there,
That I made it to the island and back
But my heart knows
And the trees bore witness.
The truth of my yes
As I reflect on all that I have lived during the last eight years as a Sister of Providence, all that has led me to my forever yes, I am so aware of the moments of questioning, fear and uncertainty that have brought me to a deeper groundedness in my call. The Terra Firma, or solid ground, I have found under my feet is a gift of those moments.
Now I look back across the water, and my heart knows the truth of my yes to this life and the joy it brings me, the Providence Community and the world around me. On Aug. 20, just as the trees bore witness to my trek across the water, my Sisters, family and friends will gather to witness my yes to a life of love, mercy and justice. Am I ready to give my whole life to this call? The answer is yes.
Join us virtually or in person for the final vows ceremony for Sisters Tracey Horan and Arrianne Whittaker at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Aug. 20, 2022.