“The heart of ministry is relationship,” is a common refrain among Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. The centrality of relationship is reflected in the Christian articulation of God as Trinity, in Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si’ about creation’s interconnectedness, and certainly in the thinkers articulating ideas around the New Cosmology. “Relationship is the basis of all that is,” says Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio (Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness [Orbis, 2014), 68).
Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi 2020 message draws on Mark’s recounting of the disciples with Jesus in the boat during a thunderstorm. “We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together,” Pope Francis said, going on to challenge us to solidarity and unity.
If we all are seeing anew that we are in the same boat and fundamentally interconnected, how do we learn to collaborate? It seems to me before we can have collaboration, we need to develop relationships through conversation. And before we have conversations we need to have initial connection.
In this post I’d like to step back from the content of New Cosmology and pull back the curtain to look at the process we’ve engaged in with communication with various cohorts of women religious.
The guiding values of this research project are collaboration and transparency. We don’t want our thinking about the question of the role of Jesus and the New Cosmology to happen in a vacuum. Thus, Laurie created the advisory committee and this blog. Most importantly, we created a survey to draw out the insights of as many different Women Religious as possible. As Laurie’s research assistant, much of my work has been administrative and nuts-and-bolts around creating, editing, translating and disseminating the survey.
In seeking to hear the perspectives of various cohorts of Women Religious, and aware that in any system voices in the minority often go unheard, Laurie surfaced six different groups of Sisters to receive the survey: leadership in CMSWR congregations, leadership in LCWR congregations, Sisters under 50, Black Sisters, Sisters in formation ministry, and Latina/Hispanic Sisters. I spent many hours working to make contact and invite participation in the survey. Different cohorts had different levels of responsiveness and engagement.
The work of disseminating the survey has raised some questions for us about the avenues we as Women Religious have (or don’t have, but perhaps need) to be in contact with one another in order to develop relationship for collaboration. My conversations with other newer/younger Sisters and participation in processes visioning for a future for Religious Life marked by ever-increasing collaboration raises the same questions.
The value of relationship and need for collaboration with one another has become particularly poignant in the past weeks given the COVID-19 pandemic. How do we remain in spiritual communion in a time of physical distancing from one another? How do we initiate and deepen in collaborative relationships for the sake of common mission as we live into a global pandemic and a time of unprecedented suffering? How do we listen deeply to one another without the benefit of sitting in the same room? Now is a time where I feel particularly aware of the need to be “whole-makers.”
I have been heartened by creative uses of technology in the past weeks: parishes offering prayer and worship through Facebook-live, faith-sharing and peer-support groups spontaneously organized through video-conferencing, the UISG offering global, multilingual prayer. Perhaps a grace of this time of self-isolating is we will find new ways of contact, collaborating and community-building that, God willing, we will continue to practice after the virus has passed.
Given the global pandemic, the questions I offer now have deeper implications than they did several months ago when I was working on the survey.
How as Women Religious can we create ways of being in contact to initiate conversation to develop relationship and ultimately to collaborate?
What kind of structures and modes of communication can we create to cross the divide of congregations and organizations, recognizing we are all in the same boat? It’s a question that for the sake of our future and our call to wholeness, we need to answer together.
A note to commentators from Laurie Brink, OP: I am a Catholic Christian scholar for whom the Gospel directs not only my teaching, but my actions and hopefully my speech. I look forward to your insights, but I ask that in the spirit of Christian charity and courteous discourse you write with love and civility. Uncharitable or discourteous speech has no place in thoughtful dialogue.
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29).