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Can I Stay Here Forever? The Answer is YES.

Sister Tracey Horan hiking through a stand of 400-year-old Hemlock trees during her 30-day retreat in northern Wisconsin.

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.

30-day retreat

Sister Tracey’s photo taken from the eastern shore of Trout Lake on her retreat

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
                                    By myself.
                                                Why am I just learning this?
– – – –
I’m here.
            I make it to the island.
            It’s beautiful.
            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.

Sister Tracey’s photo of the sunset from the shore of the Big Muskellunge Lake

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.

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Sister Tracey Horan

Sister Tracey Horan

Sister Tracey Horan is a Sister of Providence in formation. She professed first vows in 2017. She is a former intern at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence. She currently ministers as education coordinator at the Kino Border Initiative/Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera where she works with an education team to coordinate and host individuals and groups for immersions to the U.S./Mexico border in order to engage participants on the current reality of migration.

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  1. Avatar Debbie Griffey on August 14, 2022 at 7:36 am

    I so enjoyed reading this! Such an apt description of your travel to this spot in your life. What a blessing you will be to those around you. May you journey well.

  2. Avatar Connie Kramer SP on August 14, 2022 at 10:13 am

    Thanks Tracey for this glimpse into your 30 day retreat experience and your journey to your forever yes. I am so grateful for the time we lived together and look forward to celebrating with you on your special day.

  3. Avatar Jeannie Smith on August 14, 2022 at 11:39 am

    Dear Tracey, what a gift you are to all – to the Providence Family, to the Immigrants at the border, to your family, friends and strangers – that is all to say, to Holy Mystery. We all rejoice in your Forever Yes!

  4. Avatar Donna Butler on August 15, 2022 at 2:29 pm

    Tracey, Thank you for this beautiful reflection from your retreat.
    I rejoice with you on this sacred occasion of your final vows and
    for all the people whose lives you have touched and will touch
    with love, mercy and justice.

  5. Avatar Mary C Duffy on August 16, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    So Happy for you, Tracey, that you have chosen we SPs to be your loving sisters and supporters as we walk with you on the next steps of our mutual journeys.
    Congratulations! for Saturday’s entrega and confirmations.
    Dios Te colma de toda paz y Algeria. 💐❤ Marikay.

  6. Avatar Ann Henderson, PA on August 16, 2022 at 11:13 pm

    Tracey, I rejoice with you as you give your whole beautiful life to this call. Thank you for continuing to share your journey with us. I am grateful to know you. Sending you much love as you take your final vows.

  7. Avatar Sharon Maronski on August 17, 2022 at 9:20 am

    Such a beautiful piece! Thank you for sharing such an amazing picture of what you felt while on the lake. I’m sure these questions resonated with many as they did with me. I will be praying for you and Sister Arianne during this special time.

  8. Avatar Eileen Horan, PA on August 26, 2022 at 5:09 pm

    Dad and I enjoyed reading your blog together as we’ve enjoyed being part of your journey from Day 1. You have discerned and listened to God’s call. May God continúe to bless you with love, peace, health and happiness as you live out your call to a life of love, mercy and justice. We are proud of you! ❤️

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