Nov 17, 2022
Join Sister Meg Earsley as she shares the delight of discovery and learning through cultural immersion in intentional communities, both in the unexpected joy of religious life and in her immersion with the incredible people of Bolivia.
For a video version of this episode, see: https://youtu.be/11L8Oue8Y5Y
From Sister Meg’s interview:
“My community is blessed with a real attitude of inclusion. Even our constitutions have a title called Unity and Diversity. We are united as a community, but we are accepting and promoting of all of our gifts; how we find those gifts is a blessing in itself.”
“I had never lived in a larger community; before joining community, I appreciated and enjoyed living alone. My biggest fear of coming to community is like, am I going to be able to even do community? I have no idea. But I found it to be an incredible joy, although I valued my time alone because of the quiet and the only having to consider my own thoughts and ideas, being in community has a richness of communal sharing. … Living community, being in this living situation together and then being a support to each other, is something I had never experienced. This is a really good thing. This whole mutual support is something I could sure get used to. I have really enjoyed living in intentional community.”
“Unity is based on the acceptance of the diversity. … Assimilation to me means that you're going into another culture and all of who you are is expected to be folded into that and to become like that culture, whatever that culture is that you're going into. I think some of that is necessary. But there's also the other side of things where bringing your uniqueness and who you are is also very necessary when you're coming into another community, another culture. Then how do those things work together? I think that that is the joy of the whole, the phrase and the living of unity and diversity is, there's an acceptance and each person's uniqueness.”
“If I hadn't heard the call to become a religious sister, I wouldn't have ever experienced it. I would've gone through my whole life saying how much I loved being alone; one of my favorite things was to say, because I didn't have to bring other people into my emotions into my heart. At the time I didn't have a word for it, but like I don't want to have to bring other people into that space of mine because then I have to consider them. Before I do things, and I have to give them the time and energy, the love and compassion, right? And so now I've been living that for four years and I don't even know how I could ever do anything else – that's probably one of my greatest joys.”
“Can we reimagine what community looks like and how we live in community, to expand out to other religious communities, lay, or whatever? … The Franciscan Federation is looking with our Emergent Group of what does intentional community look like now, and how that's a need, a want and a desire in, for sure our country; I wouldn't be surprised at other places too. And then how can, how do we live that, and what does that look like now?”
“There is so much beauty, especially to the people, incredible people (of Bolivia). Going back to suspending judgment. I’m thinking of the word detachment, a Franciscan value; I think we might use the word here of holding things lightly. For some reason, detachment seems like, I don't care, but holding things lightly says that there might be things that are valuable.
Food safety’s a great example. People would have things sitting out all day. So even at the convent, food would just sit out, we'd have it for lunch, it would sit out till dinner, and then we'd cook it, warm it back up and eat it, right? So holding things lightly is knowing that for my culture, having a rice and chicken dish sitting out all day would be very unhealthy. We would all get sick and be in big trouble with food poisoning at the hospital. This is the judgment I could have, but the holding it lightly is to say that these sisters are … eating the food this way all the time and they're not sick. So maybe I can hold that lightly, set aside the food safety value that I came to Bolivia with, and see what happens. And you might guess, I didn't get sick, not even once, not even after the armadillo! That speaks so highly to me; I had to question then why do I think that if food sits out all day, I'm gonna get sick, right? I realized that in our culture, even having a small chance of something happening means that we shouldn't do it. In this case, food safety; so even if it was a 1% chance that that food sitting out all day might make us sick, then we probably would throw it away. So I probably won't anymore. Understanding that is a cultural value; who knew food safety was a cultural value? … The opportunity to understand that holding things lightly, detachment, might have been my greatest gift of going to Bolivia.”
“Two of the biggest gifts that I had while in Bolivia is to be able to practice the gift of presence and really concentrate wholly on relationships, without having outside things like getting things done, having deadlines or goals. I had time in a culture that was totally different to everything I understood, with the language that I couldn't always communicate in. It's harder to try to layer in my values and preferences and those kinds of things if I can't articulate them. Although I would've liked to magically been able to articulate a lot more, I think it was a really good thing because it focused me in the presence and what that actually means. It's so foundational, the start of everything; even if you go to a job, having that presence is so important.”
“How do I continue to make that foundational? Now that I've come back to the United States, how do I start to integrate all these things and, having that foundation of presence, the foundation of relationships in everything I do, how do I make that dominant or predominant in my life now and not get busy with all those important things that I need to do. How do I do that?”
“Presence allows you to see who that person is. Yes. I'll go so far as to say, see who, what that tree. Yes. Like I could walk by a tree every day and never notice it. But I stop and look, and I can see what that tree is. I can think about all the different things that is going on with that tree, whether it's the leaves or the roots, or all these different things, and I can really start to understand that tree. So how does that then translate to being present to people, right? … Through their stories and their conversation you start to understand the depth of that individual and how they radiate out into the world; you can really start to see all these connections and the absolute beauty of this interconnectedness and inner touching or touching each other, and how all those things create, I’ll say, God's kingdom….”
For a full transcript, please include episode number and email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
--Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA): https://www.fspa.org
--Canonical and Apostolic years of the Novitiate; for information of how these years are elements of the larger discernment process for religious life, see: https://www.fspa.org/content/join/become-a-sister/discerning-fspa-life
-- Meg’s reflections in Bolivia: https://www.fspa.org/sistermeg
--Franciscan Mission Service: https://franciscanmissionservice.org/