Conversation on Contemplative Circles at Assembly
by Sister Liz Bickar
This opening agenda item of our Congregational Assembly in Boston set the tone for the entire duration. We have been engaging in Contemplative Circles on the three principal social issues of climate crisis, systemic racism and the cries of the poor almost since the end of the last General Chapter. Following the direction set by the Chapter, most Sisters and Associates committed themselves to one or more circles and met regularly via Zoom to explore the meaning of these issues which entail social sin.
What does this issue mean to me? To us? To the Church and to the body politic? We explored and discussed, and we attentively and lovingly listened to one another to discover what all of us felt and thought. Then it came time for the Assembly, and we realized that we had only touched the surface of the problem.
The Assembly provided a forum for delving deeper. The format for this was highly creative. The co-chairs of the groups were asked to share their thoughts and then to engage in conversation with one another around these two questions:
What are we coming to see more clearly in this process?
How is the work of your circle connecting with the work of the other circles?
So on to the stage in the International Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel Logan Airport came the six co-chairs of the three circles: Sisters Katherine McGrath and Mary Beth Moore (Cries of the Poor), Sisters Marie Sorenson and Evelyn Williams, graciously sitting in for Sister Joan O’Keefe (Systemic Racism) and Sisters Margaret Coppenrath and Gertie Jocksch (Climate Crisis).
Sisters Katherine and Mary Beth explored how to see, judge and act on behalf of the poor, doing this work together in the context of our own vulnerability. The cries of the poor, which we heard from the mouth of Vincent de Paul, are louder than ever. As we take responsibility for our own role in the plight of the poor, we recognize that we are all one and that we are called to identify with our poverty-stricken sisters and brothers.
For many years Sisters Gertie and Margaret have been calling us to greater awareness of the plight of our planet. Indeed, they spoke from the heart, reminding us of our role in the crisis and challenging us to participate in giving life to those who will make the earth their home in generations to come.
As the microphone was passed to Sisters Marie and Evelyn, we learned from them how much awareness we gained in our circles. White privilege is an infection which is not easily remedied, as it impacts our words and actions regarding black, brown and indigenous people. We are challenged to keep the conversation going as we face the enormity of this blight on our collective and individual consciences.
Listening to the conversation, we came to realize how these issues are interconnected. Our charism draws us to the heart of things, to direct action and to advocacy. We are called to Give Joyful Witness to Love even when it’s difficult to know what to do
Exit stage: on come Sister Cathy Stare and Associate Ronnie Collins MacDonald on racism, Sister Anne Harvey and Associate Elena Miranda on climate, and Sisters Helen Danahy and Sheila Conley on the cries of the poor. Their conversations brought us deeper. As we listened to their exchange, we heard the call to sit with the pain of the poor and underprivileged with empathy and with an awareness of a call to action. Elena touched us with mention of the new light of her life, her grandson Louie. Will he be left with a bruised and damaged earth in which to live? We are called to listen and reach out, all the while keeping our hearts open to the transforming love of God as we move from the solitary “I” to the solidarity of “we.”
What a blessing it is to have one another for support and challenge! What a way to begin our days together! The tone had been set; the thoughts and insights had been shared. It was now time for our work to begin.