I spent this past weekend on a “discernment retreat” at the Incarnation Center. It was an overwhelming weekend – one fellow candidate dubbed it “Episcopal Speed Dating” and that’s kind of what it felt like. Shifting from small group to small group, being interviewed and answering questions as the commission on ministry sought to better know us and to offer us suggestions to continue to pursue our discernment.
It was exhausting.
Perhaps because I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t fully appreciate a serendipitous meeting at the Center at the time. As we were all lining up for dinner, I glanced at the other group of people heading to the food – there was another retreat happening simultaneously – and I saw Sister Shane.
Shane is an ordained priest and nun, a co-founder of the Companions of Mary the Apostle, and has facilitated several retreats I have been on at Holy Cross Monastery. She is marvelous…and in my mind only exists in the e-mail newsletter I get from the Companions, and at Holy Cross. That she should appear in line with me at the Salad Bar at the Incarnation Center never, ever, crossed my mind as possibility.
We hugged, and she said, “I was just thinking of you the other day!” and we laughed and that was that.
But as I drove home (nearly getting in two accidents from preoccupation – seriously, I shouldn’t drive after Episcopal Speed Dating) I reflected at how perfect it was that she was there. I keep writing and re-writing the spiritual autobiography I tell myself over and over as I continue in discernment, and it adjusted yet again on this car ride, for I realized how my relationship with Sister Shane nudged me partly onto this path.
My first retreat at Holy Cross, the Companions of Mary Magdalene were so new. Sisters Shane and Elizabeth had both left their former monastic homes, and were at a loss as to what God wanted them to do. You could feel the angst of that time in how Shane related the story, as well as the fear and exhilaration at starting their own, new, monastic order from scratch. Where would they live? What would they be? How would this work? Back then, that was all unknown, and the fact that these institutions and structures and rituals I take for granted in our Episcopal industry once started from nothing, from the prayers and callings of human people trying to follow what the Spirit leads them to do – this felt so amazing to me. Rather than thinking of my church as a static template I had to fit myself into, I realized I was the church, and it is, always is, always will be actively created from those within it.
I began to discern differently after that. Anything seemed possible.
And after this weekend, I need this reminder, that I don’t have to shoehorn myself into anything. That my calling, my journey, all I need to be is me, following, doing the next step. That it will be frightening and exhilarating.
You never know what can happen at a salad bar in a retreat center…