Friday, March 26, 2010

Letting Go

by Marilyn Kirvin

Yesterday the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation. The Gospel for that day, “and the Angel said to Mary, do not be afraid….” is one of my favorite readings in Scripture. Over my desk I have a print that I love of the painting “The Annunciation,” by African-American painter Henry Osawa Tanner - unlike in some portrayals of this moment, Mary here looks like a woman in her early teens… and her expression is not one of fear, but of curiosity, wonder… “How can this be?” (to see it, go to )

Often we think of this story as being associated with Christmas, but listening to the reading yesterday, so close to Holy Week, I thought instead of how , when she said “yes” to the angel’s invitation to bear a son, Mary could not have known that her yes would one day lead to watching her son as he was executed as a political prisoner. Mary, like all of us, could not see into the future… she only had that moment in which to respond, and so she said that yes – trusting somehow in the God who called her, and letting go of knowing and controlling, all the rest.

Perhaps I am thinking about Mary a bit more this week because last Saturday my oldest son moved to Corvallis to start school. He is excited, as am I for him, for he has worked hard to make this happen, and I think he’s as prepared as can be at this point. But I can remember holding him when he was a baby, and not being able to imagine that he wouldn’t be with me forever (fortunately, of course, living with a teenager tempers this desire for them never to leave home). And yet, when the time came, I did it, just like every parent does it, as every person does it when it’s time. It’s not that we don’t worry, of course. But we have to let go, and trust in God’s grace and mercy.

As a spiritual director, I suspect that the challenge of letting go and trusting God is a theme that comes up in almost every conversation that I have with the people who see me. It is there for women in their 60’s caring for parents with dementia, and in men whose marriages are ending. It is the challenge for people who are losing employment in this economy, those who are struggling with addiction, and those who grieve the passing of a loved one. It is even what underlies every time we are called – to parenthood, to marriage, to a new ministry or a new town, to retirement - we are also being called to letting go. It is what we hear from Jesus on the cross: Into Your hands I commend my Spirit….

As we enter in Holy Week, then, we will walk with Jesus on his journey of letting go… of his mission, his friends, his sense of closeness to God, and his very life. As we hear these stories, may we find inspiration there for our own journeys of trust, and may we know that we are not alone - that Jesus, his mother, his disciples, all those who have gone before us, and those who pray with us are on the same journey, accompanied by our loving God.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Experience of Pilgrimage

During the past two weeks, three of us from the Franciscan Spiritual Center had the opportunity to accompany eleven other people on a pilgrimage trip to Assisi and Rome, Italy. This was the second pilgrimage trip sponsored by our center and appears to have been a successful endeavor to those who participated.
The experience of traveling to holy and historic sites in Europe is a marvelous way to meet others and share meaningful dialogue. Places where St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare routinely lived and wandered were simultaneously very spiritual and impressive. We had the benefit of learning a great deal about both saints through the lens of Sr. Mary Jo Chaves who has spent a lifetime in study and contemplation of Franciscan theology. Through her descriptions we could feel the holy presence of both Francis and Clare which allowed us to more fully understand their continuing impact on people throughout the world. The pilgrimage sites in Assisi continue to draw large crowds of the faithful in spite of the fact that they lived in the twelfth century.
Having been on three pilgrimage trips I know that such a trip changes one’s perspective. It is impossible to go and not feel the challenges that saint’s encounter as they make their spiritual journeys. To see the adverse conditions that Francis willingly chose to endure in his devotion to the Gospel message was indeed remarkable. Through the stories of Francis and Clare I learned about their love of God, love for their fellow religious and loyalty to their church. The strongest message that I returned with is that the tough choices they made were made willingly and with love for their fellow human beings. Francis of Assisi is known for his rather peculiar behavior during his lifetime but there can be no doubting of his devotion to God and the Gospel message. The willingness on both his and St. Clare’s part to challenge authority when necessary to remain faithful to their vocations is a fine lesson to all.
Most of us probably don’t know of any future saints in our midst but we can learn more about remaining faithful to our values and what we believe from those who have gone before us. To me, being a saint is less about performing miracles but is all about following one’s convictions to lead a life of kindness filled with hope and gratitude. Francis and Clare embodied those characteristics and continue to influence thousands of people yearly in the beauty of the Italian countryside. How lucky were we to experience the sanctity of their homeland and to gain a better understanding of why we call them saints.