Thursday, March 12, 2009

"The kindness of strangers..."

I think he was homeless. I stopped in a STARBUCKS® for caffeine and Wi-Fi on my way to a meeting in Baltimore. The traffic north of Richmond was normal until I got to the “mixing bowl” – a strange intersection of highways just below the Wilson Bridge. I lost some serious time there so when I got to the coffee shop, I needed to log on fast to answer the inquiries of the day. I bought a tall, normal coffee. (Their new blend, “Pike Place”, is Fair Trade and “green” in it’s production. AND, it’s smooth and easy – it won’t fight you every sip of the way. It’s the first of their coffees I really enjoy and it cost’s under $2.)

I had just sat down and opened the laptop when a man behind me interjected. “Are you trying to get wireless?” “Yes,” I answered. “Won’t work. They don’t have it here. They had all kinds of problems with it and now this store is scheduled to close.” Crestfallen, and trying not to act like the techno-nun I have become, I thanked him for saving me the frustration of searching for a non-existent signal. Then, came an act of random kindness. “If you move to the counter in the back of the store, you can get the signal from the coffee place across the parking lot. It’s free. Lots’a people do it.”

I smiled – BIG, thanked him for his goodness and began to collect my stuff. I looked over at this giant of a man. He was BIG – like “Bluto” in the Popeye cartoon. He wore a simple pair of trousers and a t-shirt. His hair was buzzed close to his head. My helpful new friend seemed about 50 – give or take 5 years. He had a newspaper, a BIG white coffee cup of his own, a small DVD player and ear buds. He seemed ready to spend some serious time there. I looked at the floor beside his table and I saw a small satchel…and a sleeping roll.

Was he homeless? I don’t know for sure. He seemed to know the staff – acted like a STARBUCKS® regular. I had the thought that he might wake up somewhere out in the world and then come in for coffee, a clean restroom and the feeling of being like everyone else, sipping, reading the paper, and easing into consciousness.

I moved to the back of the store and happily logged in. I took care of several e-mails and answered the cell once. I noticed “Bluto” getting a second cup. Then, he was at my side asking, “Did it work? Great. Thought so.” I thanked him again. As he walked back to the place he had staked out, I wanted to do something for him. I wanted to buy him breakfast or talk with him for a while. That felt wrong somehow. He was the one doing for me that day - the kind stranger taking the time to make someone else’s day brighter. I thought if I brought him food, it would somehow turn the tables and he’d be the “homeless man” again, and I would be the saint. No. I decided to do what people everywhere seem to be doing in these hard times – a small gesture of care. I left the man at the counter $3 for my friend’s next cup of coffee. The young man said it would cost $2.07. I told him to keep the change if “Bluto” didn’t order something more – for helping me to thank him with dignity. I left through the back door and said a prayer for all who find themselves in desperate circumstance. May GOD bless this gentle-hearted man and keep him safe and warm. "Open my eyes, Lord. Help me to see your face. Open my eyes, LORD. Help me to see." (Jesse Manibusen, OCP)

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Monday, March 9, 2009

A metaphor...

I am working from the convent in Richmond today. We returned here, yesterday afternoon, from a wonderful weekend at the monastery. Friday, I met with two of the women in our “Live-In” Program. We had a Chapter Meeting on Saturday. That’s when the whole community gathers for official business. Then, in the evening, many of us attended the LHS Gala – a major fundraiser for our elementary school. Sunday – my favorite day to be home – we prayed Morning Prayer, celebrated the Eucharist and ate a big, Southern brunch. I met with another woman in our LIP after the meal. Then, it was time to bag my bag of tricks and head to Warrenton where I visited St. John the Evangelist Church. I’ve been teaching one CCD class on “vocations” each year for the past four or five, I think. One of our oblates, Debby Fancher, Obl. SB, is the instructor (as well as the liturgist/music minister for the parish.) After class…I headed south once more.

I really do love this ministry. I love the teaching, the weekend programs, the outreach in schools. Most of all I love the one-on-one time I have with women in discernment. I said to one of them this weekend that I often feel like an air traffic controller. (My brother, Andrew, is a pilot so I often think about things aeronautical.)

Women who are in discernment with us, at various levels, “circle the runway” for various periods of time before they “come in for a landing” and enter the monastery. Some come in fast and hot like the NASA shuttle. For them, things seem to fall into place more quickly than you’d expect. These women have a certainty of purpose, a real clarity about GOD’s will for them. Some women remind me of gliders who soar quietly and descend slowly, gently, gracefully. They are content to allow things to move forward naturally. They trust the persistent whisper and the loving nudge of the Spirit. They are happy to let the plan slowly unfold. Some women hit bad weather. Strong winds and major “turbulence” slow their “approach.” Often, their flight plan has some glitches – things that need to be taken care, or circumstances beyond their control that test patience and the veracity of their call. The ones that send me reeling are the Stealth® planes – people who come in under my radar and totally surprise me with their interest in monastic life. All of a sudden they descend through the clouds, needing little help with their landing gear. They’ve been doing much of the “checklist” on their own.

Unlike real Flight Traffic Controllers, I can make a mistake, without dire consequences. Women in discernment tend to be very forgiving as we are in a mutual process of discovery – moving within the mystery of God’s desires. But, when they "touch down" safely and begin their life with us, the joy of this ministry really kicks in. We have three planes in the hanger now. (I guess that could be a metaphor for Initial Formation.) Several are circling above us. Only GOD knows if and when they will land. But, I trust in the Spirit who is, literally, the wind beneath their wings.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki