Sister Emily Brabham, OSF, is a Sister of St. Francis of Clinton, Iowa and is the campus minister for social justice formation at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.
There have been many times that I have experienced the idea of “holding things lightly” during my experience within religious life. It is this idea to free ourselves from attachment so that should another have need of something, we are able to freely give it. This is very much a part of living the vow of poverty. The reality is not just to simply give up material possessions, it is also to accept humbly the gifts of others. As with a lot a people, I am often more comfortable giving than receiving. My call to religious life exhorts me to allow my sisters, and others, to give to me when I am in need.
There was a time when I was with a sister in the emergency room and she told me to go home. I then lovingly asked if she would leave me if the situation were reversed. Her response was a predictable “absolutely not!” I followed up with “even if I told you to go?” Still her response was “of course I would stay no matter what!” The realization occurred that I was being sister to her as she is sister to me, as we are sisters to one another.
After a summer course on economic justice, I realized that I was being called to disengage from the clothing industry that is artificially cheaper because of slave labor and slave wages. The idea that clothing is made in poorer countries in order to keep the cost low is something I have become complacent in. I came to decide that I would no longer purchase clothing. Instead, I would make it.
I learned to sew from my mom. I’m not a master seamstress by any stretch of the cloth or of the imagination. However, I do know how to use a sewing machine. The one problem was that I didn’t have one. Knowing that my budget is limited and seeking out what might already be available within my community, I called the motherhouse. I thought there had to be an old machine somewhere that I could use. A few days later I received a call that one of the sisters, who is a master seamstress, quilter, and all around sewing phenomenon, would give me her sewing machine.
I was assured that I was being given her older machine. Never had I expected to be gifted with a machine that was actually still in use! That’s the funny part about religious life, something that should be obvious, becomes an unexpected surprise.
When I went to actually get the machine, I was shocked to see it was in mint condition! This sister had even taken it upon herself to get the machine professionally cleaned. She was using this machine to make simple dresses to be sent to Africa as part of a charitable organization’s efforts. She assured me that she was no longer able to make the quantity of dresses that she used to, and that I would have more use for it. And just like that, what I had asked for was given to me. My dear sister had held something so precious to her, lightly. My challenge was to humbly receive it. And humbled I most certainly was and still am.
This is the reality of my sisters. We are stitched together in the beautiful tapestry of life. As I move forward in what is still the early days of my religious life, I am confident that my sisters are a gift from God. It’s not one simple exchange that affirms this, it’s that this is merely one example. I trusted, that if I was being called to make my own clothes, it would be possible. Vowed life is one of increasing interdependence and interconnectedness. We hold things lightly to keep our focus on God in our lives. When we’re able to do that, we remember that “with God all things are possible,” even sewing.