Friday, May 5, 2017

The Unfinished, Untold Story

Benedictine Women Service Corps (BWSC), an outreach of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, St. Joseph, Minn., invites College of Saint Benedict alumnae to join the monastic community in deepening relationships that support justice and service in a new location. Volunteers strive to live out the Benedictine Gospel values that were formed during their undergraduate education in a capacity that will challenge them personally, spiritually and professionally. This week's BLOG is by Erin Carey.

This is a bittersweet time of having an excitement about the next steps in my own journey and dreading the goodbyes and the change coming at the end of the month. This past weekend I got to do some reflection as I prepared to speak to an adult faith formation group at a local Presbyterian church. They wanted to know about my experience living and working with the sisters. As I prepared what I had to say, I went back and re-read some of my personal journal entries from the beginning of this experience and I stumbled upon stories I had written down from refugees, sisters and kids at the Art House. I rediscovered sayings, images, and experiences that had moved me at the time, but I didn’t have the words to describe why or how.


My brain is filled with the stories behind the images of Congolese mothers carrying their babies to daycare on their backs through the streets of Erie; the refugee camp tent that a woman sketched on her math worksheet; the shaky pencil etching out a simple letter from a hand that had never been to school; the seemingly universal words of ‘pizza’, ‘chocolate’ and ‘bomb’; the tears that come from telling about leaving and leaving behind; celebrating new jobs; celebrating a child’s first full sentence in English; handbell performances with reindeer antlers and smiles; singing the blues with seven year olds, listening to a little person explain death; listening to a sister explain death; incense dispersing in the chapel; wood on the lathe; the swing of a compassionate rocking chair; the clinking of silverware and dishes in a full dining room on Christmas; rushing to the window to greet the deer; running feet on the roadside. 


Nature is budding and blossoming
and greening all over
(Photo by Erin Carey)
I often am the recipient of stories. Many of the sisters are great storytellers, describing life ‘Pre-Vatican II’, teaching grade school, starting ministries, or the adventures of a vacation. The stories can be funny, humble and honest. The refugees practice telling their story almost daily. When I pull them out of the classroom, they tell me where they are from, how many children they have, and if they are married. Through one of those questions, they usually tell a story through broken English about leaving their country or about their children or spouse. The stories can be tearful, unimaginable, and full of perspective. The kids at the Art House tell stories in seconds and when I least expect it: during class, in the hallway between classes, or while we are playing a game. Their stories are about their family, teachers, or artwork. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected with the timing of their stories, but they are honest and simple while telling about the places that have formed the child.


I find myself left with a number of touching experiences, conversations and moments. However, these can be overshadowed by an overwhelming number of questions: Why was I here? Why did I have to change so much through this experience? What is going to happen after I leave? The author Padraig O’ Tuama has come into my life recently and I’ve enjoyed his poetry, his challenge to ask better questions, and his insistence on the importance of stories.


Narrative Theology #1


And I said to him:

Are there answers to all of this?

And he said:

The answer is in a story

and the story is being told.

And I said:

But there is so much pain

And she answered plainly:

Pain will happen.

Then I said:

Will I ever find meaning?

The Inner courtyard telling
the story of springtime
(Photo by Erin Carey)
And they said:

You will find meaning

where you give meaning.

The answer is in a story

and the story isn’t finished.


I’m challenging myself in the last month of this experience to try and quiet the questions for a while and savor the stories I’ve been blessed with. I have been graced with the opportunity to participate in the unfolding story of Benedictine monastic life and to see the world through the lens of this community. Now comes the task of unraveling the stories I’ve heard over the past nine months. Through the stories of the refugee, the sisters and the kids at the Art House, my story of the last nine months will continue on into whatever the next step is. I can pull out the stories, savor them, give them meaning and then remember that the story isn’t finished and that my forming Benedictine heart will continue writing the story wherever I am.



  1. Beautiful story!! Looking forward to following the rest of your story in the years to come! ♥️

    1. We are blessed to have three beautiful women in our program this year. They will all be home soon!