By Sister Joan Dawber
The Leadership Conference of Religious Women (LCWR) held its annual assembly in person for the first time since 2019. More than 700 members attended this gathering in St. Louise from August 9 – 12, 2022, four of whom were from the Sisters of Charity – Halifax leadership team. It was a privilege to gather with so many leaders from all over the United States.
The theme of the conference was Mystical Wisdom: Following Spirits Becoming. It was an opportunity for us to explore Mystical Wisdom with each other as we women religious know ourselves called into/from the future.
A highlight for me were two conversations between Constance FitzGerald, OCD and M. Shawn Copeland as they engaged each other around their understanding of the Dark Night and the ramifications for our congregations, our lives, our earth and our world. These conversations were grounded in a contemplative way of living, in contemplative prayer, contemplative dialogue. That is the lived reality of our lives. Copeland quoted Barbara Holms said “The world is the cloister of the contemplative” and goes further to say it is where we find God and where God draws us to wounded people.
They began by looking at our contemporary experience; the failure of globalization, mass migration, fires, floods, violence, racism, pandemic, vulnerability of people on the earth, cosmic vision – fragility of the earth and drew us into an image of place, a loss of place, and displacement. They related this loss of place to the Dark Night to humanity’s situation of loss and brokenness. Taking this a step further they related it also to the vulnerability of religious life and the displacement we are experiencing, closing of buildings (Motherhouses), selling property, diminishment, death and completion.
The conversation again turned to the Dark Night and how we understand the Dark Night in religious life and in the world. Constance FitzGerald stated, “It is clear that religious women are being more and more readied through the contemplative movement, contemplative dialogue and deepening desire year after year for communion and a readiness to move on.” She also indicated that this signals that our present and future are dependent on understanding and deepening this movement. FitzGerald’s question was, “What is the mystical wisdom that the sisters are seeking in a world of continued evolution and ongoing awkenness?”
She explained that mystical wisdom, loving wisdom, loving knowledge, mystical theology, contemplation and dark night all speak of the inflow of God into the soul. It is a presence that refines and transforms and brings us to a whole new state of identity. A whole new stage of emerging, always deeper and deeper and a closer identity with Christ, leaving behind what no longer serves for a new place, a new stage of consciousness.
This deepening in us as we continue to live in a contemplative way calls us into a self-hood that is more and more communal which is leading us into a new form of religious life. It is this inflow of God that takes us to the poor, the dispossessed, despised, and excluded. It brings us to Christ on the cross.
I see this happening in our congregation as we continue to be with each other in contemplative circles. In our personal and communal vulnerability we are being drawn closer and closer to each other and becoming a communal presence of love in our world. It is not a physical place but rather a communal place of the heart for the sake of the other.
“Christ longs for us to join in communicating compassion across the currents
of human consciousness” – Constance FitzGerald, OCD