Dorothy Maxwell has been writing reflections on the Sunday readings for the website of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt, New York, for years and believes that Dominicans are to preach wherever and whenever possible. She is now in her fourth year of ministry at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison with a population of more than 500.
"To thine own self be true" is a quote from Shakespeare's "Hamlet," in a scene where a son receives advice before leaving to attend a university. When Moses asked God to identify the person speaking from the cloud, the reply was, "I am who I am."
The words to identify who I am are becoming increasingly numerous as the population of this world lives out their inner truth. Aligning with a group will create another word for who I am, as taking a position on a particular cause will please or displease those in social circles who use labels to identify others.
What I am learning from those to whom I minister is that we are in an era of searching for inner truth that has been latent.
Growing up in the '50s was like living with a flock, as we were all going in the same direction, looking alike, and choices were much more limited than they are today. Cliques, classes and shared interests were fun-filled times as the cohorts floated down navigable rivers. Upon entering the world of work, we exhibited as competent, productive laborers contributing to a positive atmosphere while accomplishing tasks.
Now, it appears that youth are putting themselves out there with a distinct identity, announcing that who I am is my badge of courage, and there is a part of me that requires your recognition. It is my experience that spontaneous responses can be offensive and guarded speech is my new rule when communicating.
Fortunately, in my ministry as a prison chaplain, the staff is provided with training to protect us and offer insights on changes we may not be aware of as we encounter the prison population. The person who appears as male with facial hair is a she, and pronouns are a critical part of the daily vocabulary.
We sing "All Are Welcome" in the chapel, but how many really mean those words? Is the song really reflecting a diverse group, signifying that all are welcome?
The incarcerated come with a personal history and biases that create tensions where life is lived out in closed settings, where being alone with one's thoughts is only possible in the dead of night. In this setting and all places, much work must be done to discover how inclusivity can be a reality.
Accepting others requires realizing what core values we adhere to and how we relate to those whose values are opposed to mine. Are common core values a possibility in this diverse world? Was this not the message Jesus tried to exemplify while living among us?
As sisters minister to the poor and marginalized, we realize that we are made in the image of a loving God who is our source of strength. However, when the other appears or performs, we need to rely on that hidden God who, with our help, can make the seemingly impossible possible.
We’re delighted to share with you this blog from the monthly feature “The Life” courtesy of our friends at Global Sisters Report. This month, The Life panelists reflected on the question: What are you learning/have you learned from the people with whom you minister? CLICK HERE to read more blogs from The Life series, GSR’s monthly feature about the unique, challenging, and very specific lives of women religious around the world.