She was a diminutve Poor Clare, a contemplative Franciscan who lived out her adult life within the physical walls of a monastery. In her 70’s, with snow white hair cropped close and penetrating brown eyes that thoroughly embraced the world, she had a soft Brooklyn accent, a quick laugh, and a keen sensitivity to others. She was the first to challenge me to think about the presence of the Spirit in the world, and she did it with a keen consistency that allowed me to consider the idea that beyond all our human differences, there is a unifying feature. She would say, “if you look long enough, you will always find the common ground…and that is the work of the Spirit.” And she never hesitated to note that perhaps further looking was required, especially for herself. But it was her intense belief that the animation of the world, the source of all synchronicity, was the Spirit. Pentecost, in her world, was the feast that opened that possibility for all. For her, Pentecost was the promise of unending Presence just as surely as the Eucharist was the promise fo unending connection. The very thought could light up her whole being and energize the most passive of moments. And she confided, over truly awful coffee in the confines of a tiny parlor for visitors, that it was that very insight that was so closely connected to her monastic life and to her ability to live within the walls with the sameness of their lives: the same women, the same schdule, the same meals, the same limits and the same hopes, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It was something bigger than themselves that made each of their unique personalities into a glowing whole of a community. Never one to deny the truth, she was simply realistic about strengths and weaknesses, her own and everyone else’s. But it was the work of every day to make the community work, to be part of this greater whole and to enable each one, every one, to become better. And it was, to her, the movement of the Spirit that made it all possible. It has not occurred to me until recently that her monastic microcosm carries great lessons for the wider world.
In a world where there are so many deep needs and unpredented wants, that tiny Poor Clare stands in her plain brown dress with the simple cord at her waist in silence with a profound message. Life is work, and building community is a significant challenge. it is not all about the wants of one person or another, but about a whole that is greater than self. It is about knowing self and daring to really know others, to be prepared to observe, to listen, to accept and to challenge, and most importantly, to be attuned to the right time for each. The idea that there is something beyond self that can lead, unite, and animate means trusting in the promise of Pentecost and learning to listen to the whisper of God’s voice in every venue of the created world. It is about standing up and speaking out as well as sitting down and listening carefully, gently, with an open heart. And most of all, it is about the ability to discern the difference between the two.