1:20 p.m. One of my nuns, Sister Mary Jane Hinks, IHM, is celebrating 70 years as an IHM Sister! I can hardly imagine 70 years of life or even 20 years as a sister! We are celebrating her Jubilee as a community but also as a Mission Unit, a smaller grouping within our congregation that comes together for prayer, community business, and sisterhood.
My task for the celebration is to organize the prayer. Prayer for us sisters includes many different ways of praying. For this gathering, I decide to open with a Psalm, have a blessing of Sister Mary Jane with holy water, prayer for the needs of the world, and conclude with an overall blessing. Each part of the prayer reflects a way in which Sister Mary Jane has served God in mission.
As I prepare the prayer, my thoughts go in 2 different directions. First, I am so conscious of Sister Mary Jane's life of faithfulness, mission, and prayer. If I could be half the nun she is, I will have lived a good life. On her Jubilarian page, she says of her vocation that she is most grateful for the life she has had with the community, finding what she “had been looking for. My vocation is love and service to others.” (Read more of Sister Mary Jane's story.) Sister taught primary school for many years in Michigan and Florida. She has an overflowing album of photos and letters her students, former students, and parents of students have sent her over the years. What a blessing!
Second, for as cool as it to think about the activity of God in Mary Jane's life, I am painfully aware that I have to construct a prayer service in the midst of what is already a very busy week. How am I going to find time? How can I ever do justice to this woman's life? How can I lead prayer when I am hardly capable of figuring out what to have for lunch right now?
Then two remarkable things happen. One pre-prayer. And one during prayer. Both are sisterhood writ large.
First, my friend and colleague, Sister Julie Myers, OSF, steps up. Sister Julie is not only a fabulous Franciscan and A Nun's Life team member, but she is a talented prayer organizer! She brings me every manner of resource and her own thoughtfulness to help me select the perfect components for the prayer. Not only do I now have the words for the holy water blessing, but I have the holy water, the vessels, a song, the sand, and the fabric to create a setting to draw people into the prayer. ¡Qué bueno!
I pack everything up in the convent car and head for the Motherhouse. I have prayer gear and I am ready to go. But I still don't know if the assembly of prayer items -- word, song, ambiance, water, sand -- will amount to "prayer." Will we meet God? With the help of friends and sisters, I set up the prayer space and we begin.
That's when the second remarkable thing happens. God. When you spend all your time focused on creating a prayer service, you can forget that you are not the leader of prayer. God is. The real part of the prayer was already happening as I reflected on Sister Mary Jane's life, and the Spirit guided my work as I pulled together the pieces of the prayer. Truly, I could have had us all pray from the phone book and it would have been perfect because God is truly in our midst. As the prayer started to unfold, I saw Sister Mary Jane, my sisters and associates, enter fully into the moment of celebration with God. I realized that my imperfect prayer was made perfect by each of them. As we prayed the words of the holy water blessing, I found water tearing up in my own eyes. Prayer had become praying for me. I could let go of all of my "what ifs" and "is it good enough" and enter in just as my sisters and associates were entering in.
Why do I nun? This.