A Vocation Story by Sister Sharlet Ann Wagner, CSC
Sisters of the Holy Cross
Joining the Dance
Since I was a child, the images of dance and dancing have spoken to me. So I was thrilled when I heard for the first time the country and western song, I Hope You Dance, by Lee Ann Womack. The refrain expresses the singer’s hopes that the loved one for whom she is singing will live life fully, and will take the many risks that come with following a dream. She repeats the words throughout the song, “... And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”
I’m sure that Lee Ann Womack was not thinking about nuns when she recorded that song, but every time I hear it I think of God’s call to religious life, and my response. God issued the invitation, and I had the choice, either to sit it out or to dance. I will be forever grateful that I chose to dance.
When I first began considering religious life as a junior at the University of Texas, I certainly wasn’t thinking about sitting it out or dancing, or about how I would eventually feel about the life choices I would make. My questions centered more around, “What will my family and friends think?” “Have I gone crazy?” “What would my life be like as a nun?” And, the big one for me, “How do I know that religious life is right for me?”
Some years after I was professed, a high school student I was teaching asked me, “So, Sis, why did you become a sister?” No matter how many times I’m asked that question, and in how many different ways, I’m never quite prepared for it. I think that’s because the answer has to come from the heart, not the head, and so it isn’t easily put into words. When I began considering religious life, I didn’t know exactly why I wanted to become a sister. I only knew that there was an attraction, a pulling inside of me that I could only vaguely express. Perhaps the reason can be found in I Hope You Dance. It’s a song about loving, about making a choice to live life fully, to respond to the calls that are deep inside of us, to risk looking like a dancing fool in order to follow our deepest yearnings. As I struggled to get in touch with my feelings, I responded, “I wanted to love God as much as I could, and I felt the best way for me to do this was as a religious.” My reason then and now is still the same. Love.
For the woman who is called to religious life, it is an opportunity to enter into life fully, to develop herself, to give generously to people who need what she has to offer and to receive from them, and to give her best self to God. For the woman who’s called to this lifestyle, it’s a choice for love. It’s a choice to dance.
* In August 2019, Sister Sharlet delivered the Presidential Address to LCWR. You can read her address here: presidential_address_-_sharlet_wagner_csc.pdf