More Than The Watchman: Remembering Night Prayer

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I find a thrill in public speaking, even if I'm not the best at it. Don't get me wrong, I still get nervous. I still wonder if I'm going to trip over words - as I often do in real life - and embarrass myself. My heart beats a little faster with worry. But, if I'm prepared with material, even if I usually go off-script, it's exhilarating. I know that, more often than not, I'll get swept away with passion by what I'm presenting and lose my worry in words.

This past week, a co-worker and I were asked to present in front of a Pastoral Council at a Catholic church. Per my job, I was presenting about the programs at the non-profit where I work as well as our group and individual volunteer opportunities. My co-worker is the manager of one of our lesser-known programs so she would present on that.

I was prepared.

That is until the pastor passed around the opening prayer to the meeting and I saw the word "Night
For anyone not familiar, Night Prayer is part of Liturgy of the
Hours. It consists of a number of Scripture readings,
mainly from the Psalms and a Gospel canticle (Night Prayer's
Gospel canticle is the Canticle of Simeon, Luke 2:29-32)
Prayer". I froze. Oh crap.

As we started Night Prayer, I was back.

Back in that chapel in that old convent in St. Louis.
I saw one of the Sisters, a Sister who passed away shortly after I was missioned to San Antonio, light a candle before we began and I heard the candle crackle.
I had that small green book in my hands.
I remembered exactly where I sat in that chapel.

In you, O Lord, I take refuge...

I remember admiring how intently one of the Sisters prayed, staring ahead.
I remembered the quiet of our convent, no sounds to heard on our city streets.
In hard times, I remember craving the Grand Silence required afterward.

Recently, I heard a divorced friend ask another, "so, what did you do with your wedding ring?"
I remembered my secret return to St. Louis, this time to the Provincial House to sign the official departure papers. Secret because only my house and the Provincial Council knew the purpose of my trip.
I remembered signing the official departure paper and even saying out loud, with pen in hand, "this is just surreal". It was surreal, yes, but I won't deny that there was also peace.

So many things had to be returned. I left some in St. Louis. I left my cross and my Constitutions sitting on the nightstand of the guest room there. The rest - my habit, my coiffe, my Vincentian history books, my prayer books - I left in my house in San Antonio. It grew all too real when I stared at photos on websites or social media, quizzically remembering myself there and then realizing painfully I had been Photo-shopped out of the picture. Apart from the memory of the Sisters and my own photos, all trace of me being a Daughter of Charity was gone.

My identity was gone, but God wasn't. And throughout my entire discernment, He was never gone. No longer being able to take refuge in my identity as "Sister Amanda", I counted on Him. With that signature, He set me free and I knew He'd have to be my strength.

Out of the depths, I cry to you, Lord...

Back at this Pastoral Council meeting, my co-worker struggled as we alternated sides and flipped pages.
Meanwhile, I surprised myself by saying almost all the words without even looking down. I haven't prayed Night Prayer for over three years, yet still, I remembered.

Yesterday, January 20th, was the fifth anniversary of my Incorporation - that is, the day a Daughter of Charity becomes a Daughter of Charity. They receive the cross, the Constitutions, the title "Sister" in front of their name. I couldn't help but reminiscence. I remembered everything that eventually became second-nature through the years: struggling to get on the coiffe correctly, forgetting to smooth my skirt when I sat down so it wouldn't get wrinkled, and acclimating to a title in front of my name. I remembered the pre-Mass jitters. I remembered feeling so loved that day as I was barraged with hugs and cards.

But now, it seems like a dream. The woman I am now seems so different than the woman that walked down that Provincial House chapel in a freshly-ironed and custom-made habit dress. Many of those Sisters that gave me huge hugs and cards with long loving notes haven't seen or spoken to me since I left, some just because of distance and life, some purposefully. The woman I was then could have never imagined everything that was to happen, good and bad. In a way, it's hard to believe that it even was me.

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit...

That line of the Responsory was always my favorite part.
The New Testament Scripture (Luke 23:46), of course, came from a moment of intense pain for Jesus, shortly before He died on the cross.
Yet, it's also a Psalm (Psalm 31) - the Psalm we pray earlier in Night Prayer. God, a rock of refuge, a stronghold, please hold and guide me. In you, O Lord, I take refuge...
It was comforting to me. It was the one part of Night Prayer that I still had memorized from my time in Bolivia - "En tus manos, Señor, encomiendo mi espíritu..."

As I've written before, I have no idea where God is leading me now. I gave my life to Him as a Sister, but that didn't stop because I left. I still put my life in His hands.

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace...

Despite the grief, despite the anger, it was the right decision to leave. I'm more at peace with myself, more at peace with life, and that tells me it was God's decision, not just a whim of mine.

In the 477 days since I left the Daughters, there was only one day when I doubted. One day in which I wondered "maybe I was just being a coward because I didn't stay to work it all out. Maybe I was just being weak." Luckily, my self-confidence has grown enough that the next day, I talked myself out of that.
No, God called me out and I'm a stronger person because of it. I have stories to prove it.

May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.

Yes, please don't have my mind so in a tizzy because of this that I can't sleep.
You're a funny God.

"And now we have a special guest with us...Amanda, do you want to share more about the nonprofit you work for?"

The pastor's question snapped me back into San Antonio, back into a Pastoral Council meeting, back into work.

"Oh! Yes, umm, yeah, so we have lots of different programs. So, umm..."

So much for being prepared.

The Haunting of an Awkward Question

Friday, January 5, 2018

The conversation shouldn't have been an awkward one. That is, if I were normal, if I were like any 32 year old.
But I'm not, so instead, it turned awkward and I wanted to crawl under a rock.

How I felt during this conversation
I'm new to my work and we were all sharing details of our lives in the office, so an intern innocently asked: "So, Amanda, do you have any kids?"
"You married?"
"But you're you just not want to get married?"

Oh, God.
I will admit that I brushed this off as the intern being a young college student and not having learned the prudence I learned was taught in religious life.

"It's not that." Pause. All right, I need to give more details here or they're just going to fill in the blanks. "Okay, so I was a nun and left just a year ago."

After the initial "WHAT?!?!" and "WHOA!", she paused and said "But it's been a year already. You're not married or anything. What have you been doing with your life?"

I know she asked this innocently (once again, young college student), but I was taken back. I mumbled something about things don't happen that fast and I changed the subject. But I couldn't get the question out of mind:

"But it's been a year already. What have you been doing with your life?"

What have I been doing with my life? Have I been doing anything with my life?
I feared the answer was "nothing".

I am no closer to finding out my vocation in life, no closer to marrying anyone (or even going out with anyone), certainly no closer to having kids.
I am closer to starting graduate school for my MSW...and by closer, I mean I've filled out most of the application. So really, not that close.
I am no closer to any kind of promotion or salary increase. I switched jobs twice this year and I'm now in a job I like, but one that won't be my permanent career.
Everything has remained the same since the day I left - same apartment, same car, even the same friends.

Maybe it's true, maybe I haven't done anything in a year.

I won't deny it; I sulked around with those truths for a few weeks, even through Christmas. I had a year and I did nothing. I felt as if I had failed myself, failed God who had this great plan for me, and, in a way, even failed those who supported me leaving the community. I wallowed in shame.

Life with the Daughters was so packed with ministry, prayer, meetings, conferences, etc. Every moment was filled with purpose. Now that I was by myself...was I just wasting my life because I didn't have a "purpose" of being a wife or mother?

But, as I let myself reflect on it, I realized that while I may not have done the logical "next steps" or what the world would expect of me, there were some accomplishments this past year:

I am no closer to finding out my vocation in life, but I started writing again and am deeply in love with its pains and joys.
I am no closer to finding out my vocation in life, but I've gained some self-confidence, which can only aid in the search.
I am no closer to my MSW as of right now, but I have learned many lessons in ethics, motivational interviewing, etc by experience.
I am no closer to any kind of promotion or salary increase, but I'm happy in my job and isn't that what counts?
Everything has remained the same since the day I left, but I have gained some great friends from church that I didn't have a year ago that I wouldn't trade for anything.
Everything has remained the same since the day I left, but I've grieved my past and kept walking ahead.

I pray that, if that question comes up again, I can say with confidence: "Actually, I did a lot."
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