I am spending the current academic year in Chicago at CTU (Catholic Theological Union) in the Institute of Religious Formation.
When I left for Chicago in late August with a car filled with suitcases and boxes, I knew very little about the city to which I was going other than it was a BIG city. In fact it took me two hours to drive from the outskirts of the city in the North end to Hyde Park at the southern end. But I knew a few things: that President Obama was from Chicago, that it was on Lake Michigan, and that at one time there were famous gansters living here. I was also familiar with the names of the sports teams. However, I was not prepared for what I discovered over the past two months. Did you know that outside of Warsaw, Poland, Chicago has the largest concentration of people of Polish descent in the world and that there is a multitude of ethnic neighborhoods all around the city? The photo above was taken on a glorious September day when a group of us from CTU took a boat ride along the Chicago River to see the extraordinary architecture, both old and new. The boat also took us through the lock seen in the picture and we went up and down Lake Michigan for several miles. And so I am learning that there is much to discover about this beautiful city: the parks, the waterfront, the neighborhoods, the festivals, etc.
I also discovered that Chicago is a "religious" city. There are churches everywhere. I am not sure they are as well attended as they once where but they tell a story of what this city was in the not too distant past. I knew when I left Saint Benedict's that I would be meeting many people of religious communities at CTU; what I did not know was the number of religious communities that have a home in Chicago, mostly for their people in formation and/or their administrative houses. I am astounded at the many names of communities that I have never heard of before.
I cannot end this short expose of Chicago without saying something about the people. My experience of big cities until now has been that people tend to keep to themselves, being somewhat fearful that someone might take advantage of them. Not here! It is most noticeable on the buses and trains around the city. When I returned from California two weeks ago I had to take two trains from O'Hare airport down into the city. I got off the first train but was unsure where to go next so I asked a young man, probably a Latino who spoke very little English, and with gestures he made sure that I found my way to the correct train. A real guardian angel! More recently when a friend and I were going downtown to the Art Institute at least three young people offered me their seat in a very crowded bus, and I have witnessed that kind of attentiveness to people who need a little help on the bus many times so far. It seems automatic: if an older person gets on the bus, a younger person pops up immediately.
There would be so much more to write about this wonderful and great city but time and space are at a premium for now. Next month I will write about the experience of being a student.
“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds around my neck.” (Emma Goldman). My love affair with roses began about ten years ago when I “inherited” 16 tea rose bushes from a friend who was moving away. Always loving roses, but without any knowledge of how to care for them, I agreed to take them. Under the tutelage of another Sister who had been raising roses for many years, the roses survived and continue each summer to bring a special touch of beauty to many. For me, the delight in raising roses comes in sharing them. It is a joy to bring a few roses to a Sister when she is ill, recuperating, for a special occasion or in appreciation of assistance given. To add a touch of beauty in an unexpected place, fresh roses are placed in a women’s restroom that is used by Sisters and guests. Sisters delight in the roses and the feminine touch they bring.
Sister Dale Wollum, OSB’s poem expresses my sentiments:
It’s October, and I’m rejoicing in all the canned pickles, frozen vegetables and dehydrated fruits in our food storage areas. They appear because two of the people that live in my monastic living group have labored faithfully to make this happen. As soon as the March snows show signs of melting, they feel the surge of spring and begin plotting the garden spaces. Out come the packages of seeds, the needed trellises, posts and boundary twine. And so begins the rhythm of summer watering, weeding, thinning and fall harvesting and preserving. What has all this faithful monitoring yielded? Besides the produce, gardeners regularly hear the cheers of those around the table that are seeing and eating these wonderful treasures.
Maybe you have noticed how richly flavorful meals are when they include food grown in the local soil, carefully preserved and served on eye-catching platters. Those who watched them grow from scratch proudly add the right amount of tasty herbs and garnish. So, in addition to the healing nutrients these foods provide, there is a palpable aura of gratefulness for the hands and hearts that nurtured, prepared and served this food feast.
"We return thanks to our Mother, the Earth, which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water.
We return thanks to the sun, that has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in Whom is embodied all goodness, and Who directs all things for the good of Her children."
-- Iroquois Prayer, adapted Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace
The Gospel of Thomas gives good advice: “Recognize what is before your eyes, and what is hidden will be revealed to you.” There is not much that I can do about the revelation; that always proffers the unexpected; but what I can do is recognize what is before my eyes.
I want to say something about a kind of daily liturgy that feeds the soul, viz., the amenities of a loving interchange! Frankly, I miss some of the amenities of a more loving and expressive way of being with one another! I will mention only three: a gracious greeting which includes being called by my name; holding the door for another-- whether carrying a package or not; and including another simply through eye contact. I am often reminded of the 13 year old Emily from Thornton Wilder’s classic piece, OUR TOWN, who although she had died was given her wish to re-live a birthday! You may remember that she descends the staircase, watches her mother make breakfast and then receives from her mother a much too perfunctory “Happy Birthday” greeting. Emily cannot bear the inadequacy of that tiny meeting and greeting! She so poignantly says to her mother: “Mama, please look at me as if you really saw me!”
Emily wants to be recognized; after all, it is her birthday! A loving embrace, greeting, fondness would have been the liturgy that could have fed her soul!
And we? Might we start a little revolution and make an effort to call one another by name, hold a door for another, or grant one another eye contact? Is it only the “child within” that longs for safety in the hands of an adult? Or is it the craving of the adult heart for little moments of communion?
Again, in the words of the Gospel of Thomas: “Recognize what is before your eyes, and what is hidden will be revealed to you.” If we let the quality of our lives together fade in the name of speed and/or efficiency, do we not run the risk of harming one another ... and ourselves?
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