Monday, October 19, 2009

Conscious Living


Gratitude:
Given and Received

In one of my past lives, as member of a parish liturgy committee, it was my task for a number of years to round up twelve people willing to participate in the foot washing ritual of the Holy Thursday Mass. It turned out to be a very difficult job. I can say without exaggeration, that it took months to find twelve souls, male or female, young or old, religious or lay person who would give their consent. The issue in many cases was that of their sense of unworthiness.

Here is a photo of that memorial of Jesus's last supper with his disciples; a remembrance of his last gesture; a striking visual representation of love and service. The ritual is being performed by the prioress of our monastery. Perhaps this picture moves me so because I know the personalities of those involved. Our superior is kneeling at the feet of her sister in community. One of the foundresses of this house has put on an apron and given herself to the task. She has been a Redemptoristine for over 55 years. We all look up to her. The sister whose foot is being so tenderly cared for is known for generous service in community; no task is too lowly or menial; the needs of the other are always considered first. The one whose rightful place is at the head of the table has come down to its foot as servant. And the one who naturally gravitates to the foot of the table is allowing herself to be served. Gratitude being given and received.

I have been impressed to hear my son and daughter-in-law say "Thank you" to their children so frequently. I don't know how often I thanked my son when he was a child. I do not remember hearing these words often in my own childhood. We've not talked about it but I gather that this new generation has adopted the practice as an effort to give good example and because they know the power of positive re-inforcement. But at an even deeper level this is most valuable communication heart to heart.

For some adults gratitude is hard to offer and hard to receive. I was taught a lesson years ago by a friend who brought me up short saying, "Do you realize that you never accept a compliment without responding with at least one reason, if not more, about why you do not deserve it? It is very rude because it tells me that my appreciation is really poor judgement." I still fail in this but most of the time I remember her well-taken point.

It is as if human gratitude, owed to or received from another is a realm into which some simply cannot enter. I have found it helpful to remember that it is a foreign country to them. Sincere, face to face, square in the eye gratitude is far too intimate an expression of emotion, far too connecting - too close for comfort.

Expression of human gratitude may also frighten due to the implication of personal indebtedness or obligation implied. It can offend stubborn adherence to a rugged individualism, that personal autonomy which is to be defended at all cost. To accept gratitude is also to suggest that one must take the needs of others into consideration. Conversely, to extend gratitude may imply a personal need which we cannot bear to admit. Reluctance on either part may also be due to a subtle fear of blurring the boundaries between levels of authority in families, in the workplace, within organizations and even religious communities. And sometimes the sheer emotion of profound gratitude can be a fearsome prospect to the highly controlled individual. Such emotion brings to the surface a swirling, living interior reality that they have been taught to keep at bay and learned to suppress.

All of this came to me today as I read the last pages of Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth - Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. He speaks of awakened doing, new vocabulary for what many have come to call contemplative action or conscious living. Tolle speaks of three modalities for awakened doing: acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm. He goes on to say, "Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. You need to be vigilant to be sure that one of them operates whenever you are engaged in doing anything at all - from the most simple task to the most complex. If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others." It seems to me that conscious cultivation of the abiltiy to give and receive gratitude would go a long way to promote the presence of these modalities within me. Tolle would  say that these modalities have an energy of their own. Not only a positive energy for the person in whom they reside but a positive energy that flows out of the person into their environments and realtionships. This awareness, this consciousness, is an effort to love and to respond to love. "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Sr. Hildegard, I ask you to consider that the dearth of volunteers (in non-monastic settings) for foot-washing might not be due to either lack of humility or excess of it.
I am a woman priest who has never volunteered to have my feet washed. My reasons are entirely prosaic. In New York, it's usually still too cold for bare legs on Maundy Thursday. I don't wear pants to church. Taking my tights off in church would be immodest and uncomfortable. Most lay Christian women in colder parts of this country probably feel the same.
Please don't judge until you've walked a mile in my tights.

Thanks and blessings; sincerely,

(The Reverend Mother) Francesca Fortunato

Netty Scribbles said...

Dear Sister Hildegard, That was so touching and absolutely beautiful! I am ever grateful that there are nuns to spread such love and charity throughout the world, you give such hope. I humbly thank you for all that you do.

I know that I personally would feel very awkward having a nun wash my feet...I would feel like I should be washing theirs because of the great service that you do for humanity. I would not feel worthy to have a nun on her knees before me, I would feel like I should be the one kneeling. I would think that the lady priest is the exception, but that's just my humble opinion. I feel that nuns are to be honored and I would feel funny having someone so high (in my eyes) honor me like that. Nuns amaze me because you are walking prayers to God. You have so very much to teach the world!

Again, thank you for all that you do. This post touched my heart.

Please forgive me, but I am ignorant - I'm Catholic and I didn't know that there were female priests (The Reverend Mother) Francesca Fortunato. What religion is that? I am very curious. Please tell me about this.

Most Respectfully,

~Annette

Annette said...

Dear Sister Hildegard,
I am so sorry that I left you a TON of comments...I didn't see them appear, so I kept trying to send them, not noticing that they needed approval. Wow, so that is embarassing! I even sent it with different email addresses because I didn't know what I was doing wrong, so I tried changing to a new email to get it to work. My apologies, I am a silly woman! I wasn't trying to blow up your inbox, I'm just not very good at this. I saw your blog while looking up some things on Rosaries and I just had to leave you a comment because it was so lovely! Also because I think it is wonderful that you are a nun with a grandchild. That's awesome! I have the deepest respect for you all all who have dedicated their lives to helping others through God. Thank you again for what you do. It's heartwarming to know that there is always someone us. (This wasn't left to be posted, but I didn't see an email on here so that I could say 'sorry' for all those comments I accidentally left)

Most Respectfully,
~Annette

Sr. Hildegard said...

Thanks Annette, for all of your gratifying words. We aren't special. We've just made a particular commitment to God and try to live it out as faithfully as we can. I am so glad that these posts mean something to you.

I am pleased that Rev. Mother Francesca Fortunato reads this blog and took the time to comment. Women do have dress code problems. I checked her website. She is not a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women. She explains that she was ordained by the Orthodox Catholic Church, an independent Catholic Church not in communion with the Church of Rome. There are many orgainized religions that use the word "catholic" in there name but are not in communion with the Church of Rome.

But I am an equal opportunity writer welcoming readers, Christian and non-Christian, and even those who say they do not believe. We are all one in the eyes of God.

Annette said...

Thank you for teaching me about women priests. Google is a great tool, but it's better to hear it from a knowledgeable source if possible and I didn't know how to ask her. I'm pretty new at this. I like to learn things and I find that people (when available) are much better to learn from than computers.

I understand that humility is why you say "we aren't special," but I think it is a beautiful thing to live such a life. You see, it's people who take time to help others and make the world a better place who I find impressive. Too often today, people seem to respect the wrong things. They idolize movie stars and rock singers because of their big houses,'cool' toys, fancy cars...Because of things. I find it more wonderful to see people reaching out to help others and using their talents selflessly. I am a Marine and I have been to Iraq. I saw poverty and war and all its sorrow. Since then, I have changed. It made me realize what was most important in life. Now, my heroes are those who help their fellow man and walk a life of poverty and humility. That is why this post really moved me. To me, nuns and priests are what movie stars and rock singers are to most people...Heroes.

Please don't take that wrong, I have nothing against stars. I'm just not an eloquent writer and that's the best way I could think to express myself.

Most Respectfully,

~Annette

Sr. Hildegard said...

Annette, would you tell me how you stumbled upon my blog.I am very curious about how people find it. I am always looking for ways to increase the readership. Any ideas.

Annette said...

Dear Sister Hildegard,

This is how I found your blog:
I plan to visit the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupré when I am discharged from Active Duty. (I was injured when I was in Iraq and should be discharged soon. I would like to go pray there and ask St. Anne for help.) I had wanted a nice set of Rosaries to pray with. I have one with St. Joan of Arc as the center, but I wanted the Blessed Virgin Mary in the center. I saw a lovely set on eBay that my husband bought for me as a gift that had been owned by one of the Sisters of St. Anne de Beaupré (purchased from her estate it had said on the listing) and I was curious about it. It had a skull carved from ox bone hanging by the crucifix, along with a couple medals fastened along the Rosary. I wanted to research it, so I looked up "nuns praying" and "nuns habit" to see if any images came up with a set of rosaries like this one. I was wondering if the medals attached were for reflection while the Rosary was prayed. I came upon your blog while searching and I saw your post. You are a very good writer and I enjoy reading your work. I was very moved by this post, so I subscribed to your blog. As for the Rosaries, I will ask my Priest when they arrive. Fr. Finley knows a lot, so maybe he can explain it to me. Again, I like learning from people better than online, but my husband just bought them last night and I am a curious one!

As for getting your blog out there more, maybe MySpace, FaceBook, things like that could be good places to advertise your blog. You can create profiles for yourself there and have links to your blog here. Plus, it is great for hosting photos that can appear on search engines like Google that would bring people to your page. I am not quite sure how to get it onto Google, I think that you just need to make it public when you list it.

Most Respectfully,

~Annette

Sr. Hildegard said...

Annette, I love your story and I am so glad that you are back from the war zone in one piece. How lovely that you are planning a visit to St. Anne. Perhaps you could send me a photo of the Rosary when it arrives. The Redemptoristine monastery there closed in 1990. No sister would have had an "estate" becasue we take a solemn vow of poverty but perhaps items from the monastery were sold and this rosary was among them.

Yes, I am on Facebook and my posts to the blog appear there. Little by little I am getting more savy about these things. Thanks for the suggestions.