Guest Opinion: An Unexpected Call

Our May 27 hour on American women making the choice to become nuns included the voice of Sister Colleen Gibson, a novice at the Sisters of St. Joseph in Philadelphia. She wrote about her conversation with us on her blog, and gave us her permission to repost her thoughts here.

On occasion friends and acquaintances have told me I have a natural voice for radio. I took this as a nod to my love of NPR and the way that the dial in my car always seems to end up on WNYC or WHYY as I travel, to and from New York City and Philadelphia respectively.

In my book, it's a compliment. And even if you don't think it is, it's far better than being told you have a good face for radio. But, I digress.

Yesterday, I got the opportunity to put my voice to the test as a guest on the show On Point produced by WBUR, Boston's NPR affiliate.  The hour-long interview entitled "American Women, American Nuns" featured three young women at various stages of formation (myself included) and looked at the why and how of entering religious life today.  It was a good conversation running the gambit of topics from how the people in your life reacted to your choosing religious life to what it means to be entering an institution that is shrinking at an ever-increasing pace.

These types of conversations aren't always the easiest, but they are important.  They speak to the truth that I find in this life, the reasons why I feel called to live a religious life through the distinct commitment to a religious congregation and vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and they allow the conversation about call and the future of religious life to expand beyond the convent walls, where it can find new energy, new understanding, and we can seek out new and creative answers to how we- as a church and as religious women- are being called into the future.

To be honest, it was privilege for me to be a part of this conversation (see my love of NPR & religious life).  As I approach the end of my two year novitiate and hope to make first vows with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia this summer, this conversation also gave me a chance to put words on the call that I feel to religious life and the journey that has gotten me to this point.

Regular readers of Wandering in Wonder know parts of this story and have joined me in reflecting on this journey as I've recorded my own wonderings and wanderings on these pages for the last four year of my life.  From my very beginnings as a long term volunteer with the sisters and the idea of what it means to consecrate time as a novice to the process of love and loss as you experience them in a new way as a sister and poetry about being set on fire and a deep call that becomes you, I have strived to provide a glimpse into what this life means for me and how wonder is all around us, calling us to be and become who we truly are.

As I sat in the sound studio yesterday in downtown Philadelphia, I was reminded of the unexpected ways God can speak to us. If you skip to the 38:30 mark of the interview you’ll see what I’m talking about.  There are lots of preparations you can make for an interview. You can sit with your story and you can imagine what questions might come your way, but there is something you can’t ever fully prepare for about live calls.  In my case, this meant a connection to my past that I never could have imagined… an unexpected call that reminded me of those earliest days of discerning my call: high school youth group.

It was during high school that my relationship with God became something more than what I had always been taught.  The God who I'd read stories about my whole life became real; a being that cared deeply for me, offered me love without condition, and called me to share that love with other.  In the midst of high school relationships, overnight retreats, and service projects, my faith became my own. I fell in love with God and a call to religious life was planted firmly (although discreetly) in my heart.

Hearing Jeff from Brighton’s voice brought me right back to that first unexpected call. I couldn't help but let that call- the call that resonates from deep within me- ring out for a little bit.

I didn't always know I wanted to be a sister.  In all actuality, even once I felt called, I tried to dismiss the idea as naive and misguided.  It was an unexpected call, inconvenient and yet utterly intrinsic; no matter how much I tried to deny it, that call returned over and over. Each time I felt it, I came up with some excuse as to why I couldn't answer quite yet. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. A spiritual mentor gave it to me straight- you have to take a step toward exploring this life before you can dismiss it. 

If this call was as crazy as I thought it was, I could take a step toward it and it would dissipate. So, I took a step. Now, six years (and many steps) later I find myself on the verge of making a preliminary vowed commitment, answering the call to love God and neighbor without distinction that I feel deep within me.

The journey since that first step hasn't always been smooth. Lots of days I still think that parts of this call are a little crazy. So, why not give it up? Because I've come to realize that Love makes you do crazy things and that each one of us has a little something crazy in us; it's part of what makes us stand in awe of Mystery, what draws us into relationship with others, and what blesses us with grace when we open ourselves to the wonder, small and large, of the world around us.

That is the call God places in each one of our hearts. The way we respond is in how we live our lives- with intention, with compassion, and with authenticity.  The results of such a response can be just as unexpected as the call. They can lead us to places we never imagined, to a life alive with possibility, and to a love of God that sustains and serves.

As John Donvan reflected at the end of our time together, "There may not be many of you [sisters], or not as many as there used to be, but there certainly are many ways to be you." That certainly is the truth. Each one of us is a sister in the way she is meant to be. We all are in the business of living the truth of our call, coming to understand that sometimes it is the unexpected calls that give us the opportunity to discover the One on the other end of the line.
-- Sister Colleen Gibson


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