By NANCY SCHWERIN
More than 200 courageous, spirited, devoted women gathered to share in a soul-searching day, filled with the word of God and lessons in spirituality.
“All Sisters in God’s Grace: Women, Wisdom and the Word of God” was co-sponsored by Women Religious in South Carolina and the Office of Liaison for Religious. The day-long seminar was held at Providence Hospital in Columbia.
Following morning prayer, at which Sister Pat Keating asked, “Where shall we find valiant women today?” and the audience answered, “Look! We are all around you,” Franciscan Sister Gabriele Ühlein led the women on a journey none will soon forget.
After the 200 women proclaimed their valiance, Sister Ühlein began with a poem from Emily Dickenson: “A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.”
Sister Ühlein speaks on spirituality, a vocation she has thrived in for 20 years. She uses stories from Scripture — familiar stories presented as if they were on the bestsellers list in 1999. And though they aren’t, they should be. She ultimately breaks down spirituality in order to help others see the light for themselves, and she shares her experiences on the road of spirituality, but only as a guide.
“We hold out that light is possible, but each will find it in their own way,” she said. “Our spirituality helps us live our life situation with new life.”
She likens one’s personal life to a story, in which spirituality helps you to take an active part. She also stressed that God is continually present in our lives, and that he will work with whatever elements should be introduced into it. But participation in the story, she explained, is not optional. “Optional only is the quality of our participation.” In personal storytelling, the parts that we’d rather leave out, are the chapters that probably have the most significance. Like a story that is told and retold parts change and are left out, and it is up to the storyteller to recognize the parts worth keeping.
“It takes courage to look at what is dying in our lives,” said Sister Ühlein. “God works in my life not for my sake, but for the one who needs help (those who are dying of thirst).
In Genesis the story of Sarah and Hagar enhances the knowledge that the Lord plays an active role throughout life:
After being barren for many years, the Lord says to Abraham, Sarah’s husband, “I will bless her, and I will give you a son by her. Him also will I bless; he shall give rise to nations, and rulers of people shall issue from him.”
And to a distressed Hagar, Sarah’s maid, the Lord sends a messenger, who proclaims, “You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard you, God has answered you.”
“We must not be afraid of welcoming the alien and stranger for fear of change. When you are afraid of something there is something there for spiritual growth,” said the Franciscan. “Where are you bias against the incarnation?” she asked, suggesting, “What could Jesus possibly not look like.”
Morality, she said, limps in today’s society, because people assume morality is for the private life, but it truly needs to be incorporated throughout life. — “Everything we do effects someone else. Even in the most private circumstances.”
Sister Ühlein then told the story of an apple: We don’t blame an apple for not being ripe, but, rather, wait for the juice and the crunch of its ripeness.
“Don’t make anyone small, they’re still ripening,” she said. “There are places in our own spiritual life that are ripening.”
As we are ripening, we are called to be announcers of the word of God. But, in order to be heard, we must make no one small, for the tables, said Sister Ühlein, will quickly turn — “You cannot presume to know that of those you are not.”
In the Gospel according to John, chapter 4, the Samaritan woman is the least likely to be the voice of God, yet she goes to the village: “The women left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done …. Many of the Samaritans … began to believe in him because of the word of the woman ….”
Sister Ühlein described God as “ungendered,” from which ALL things come, she explained.
“There was so much love from God, he needed to spread it (to man, woman, creation),” she said.
Looking at the Trinity, she said that it was when the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were inspired and came together in the Trinity was the beginning of creation. And each time in life a creation of some kind takes place, participation in the dynamic activity of the Trinity is also occurring.
In restoring life and bringing new life through spirituality, creation ensues. The process is never-ending, so we are perpetually involved as God is constantly creating.
The difference of each creation, ALL things from God, is what causes the uniqueness, miracle of creation.
Sister Ühlein said, “In the full range of human diversity: differences are not difficulties of stalemate and judgment, but opportunities for wonder and celebration …. For God difference is cause for great rejoicing.”
This is why she suggests that upon encountering a stranger, judgment should not be passed, for their story (pain, suffering or joy) has not yet been revealed.
“There’s great mystery in it all,” said Sister Ühlein, who admirably shared her story and who knows that in listening she fully participates in her journey, effecting her life and the lives of others — “Without silence the voice has no power.”
The feminist aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all of our lives. -Bell Hooks