Community: Learning to Embrace All of It

A beloved sister of mine wrote this prayer for a special community meeting a few years ago:

It is Blessing

It is Blessing

It is ALL Blessing

It is Gift

It is ALL Gift

Do Not Be Afraid

Lay claim to it

Lay claim to All of it

All of it

All of it


~Sister Jean Iadevito, CSJ

“What?!? All of IT? It is All Gift? If you say so God. But I’m finding that hard to believe.” This response or something like it would have probably been my reaction to this prayer pre-entrance to my community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.  In my personal experience community is the place where I have learned to embrace the whole or all of it. It’s a place to share deeply and build trust. It’s a place to recognize imperfections and face them with humility and truth. It’s a place to be truly humbled, not in a despairing way, but with love and care which brings about growth. It’s a place where there is hurting because there is so much love; but you continue to love and be vulnerable with the other anyway.

In my experience community brings great joy and love, sadness and heartache, anger and happiness into life. Yes, the reality is sometimes it’s like “Community! Woohoo!” and other times it’s like “Ugh community!”  Learning to embrace all of it has been quite the lesson to learn in life. It’s a part of commitment. I didn’t commit to only the things I like or want, I committed to all of it.

Personally and communally there is always room for growth in some aspect. I think there is a staying power in my community and others because we are able to embrace all of it. We rely on God and each other to get through all of it. We learn from our mistakes, we move on, we continue to love and forgive and do it all again. It’s a cycle of life.

One of the best pieces of advice I received when I began looking at different religious communities was that ‘there is no perfect community.’ It freed up the process for me because I had some preconceived notion or idea in the back of my mind that sisters and women’s communities were all ‘holy and perfect’ and in some ways that I had to be too in order to join. Well that is not the case-Thank God!

It is about being willing and open to live into the possibilities. It’s about being able to fully embrace myself and being able to authentically share myself with others. It’s about embracing the mystery because as humans we never will fully understand the Divine nor will we ever have all the answers. It’s about acceptance and love.

I invite you to think about what community means to you, to find a community to be a part of whether formal or informal if you have not already done so, and to embrace all of it in the process! Let’s create or co-create communities of embracement!

Peace and Blessings ~Sister Clare


Deepening Community in the Kitchen

I just re-read Sarah’s post on community from last week. It is a great reminder of all that community has to offer and the challenges it poses. Every new person in community brings the entire community to a new place.

When we first gather, there is a freshness and a delight in exploring shared values and expectations. We get to know our housemates and we begin to share the big and little things of every day life. We hold each others hopes and dreams, we share our joys and divide our sorrows.

As time wears on, we discover each others foibles and rough spots. We also discover simple differences in approach to our shared spaces – often the kitchen is a focal point of these differences. We all grew up in a home where things were done in a certain way. Then we’ve lived in other homes where we continued these practices. And then we meet others who do things differently – often not better or worse, but just differently. In this way, we can disrupt each others’ comfort level and these little inconveniences on top of life’s other challenges can become much bigger than they need to be. These little things challenge us to live Gospel love. It isn’t much to ask to adjust our expectations so that we can all live in relative peace. And at best, it is itself a peace-building practice that can be a prayer for peace in our broader society and in our world.

As Sisters of St. Joseph the kitchen holds a special place. There is still a kitchen in Le Puy, France that is the site of our first community in 1650. Likely, it was the only room the community had. They prepared meals there, they also shared prayer and conversation there. They had cots that they rolled out to sleep on at night, with the coal and ashes of the fire to keep them warm through the night.

Even today, a kitchen is the place of warmth, preparation, lingering conversations as we prepare our meals and clean up after them. It is also the place where we can give expression to personal and cultural differences. These differences can be a richness, they can also be a challenge.

Over time, a community can become comfortable, like an old pair of shoes. You know what to expect, you know how to respond, and how to approach more sensitive topics. A good community is this comfortable place that can also be challenging. It’s also important that a community have an openness to new life, to new members.

After years of living together, we can come to a place where we’ve negotiated all those tricky kitchen issues. We can settle into a new level of comfort. Then we face new challenges. One the one hand, our community can deepen. We are called to be more open and forgiving of ourselves and of each other. Some little things become bigger things over time, as we face other challenges individually and as a community. The other challenge we can face is that of becoming more insular. We can still open our house to guests, but we have more trouble when they want to move in and disturb our settled routine.

In religious life, we often invite newer sisters to live in communities that have been together for years. It is a big challenge for the veteran sisters of the community to allow this to shake them out of their comfort zone, to raise again all those tricky kitchen issues that they have long settled. Can we welcome new foods into the kitchen, new spices into the spice rack and a new coffee cup onto the shelf? Can we welcome this as an opportunity for house cleaning, and breathing newness into our settled lives? I am so grateful that over the years, I have found communities that have been able to welcome me, and I in turn have committed to welcoming others to deepen community together in the kitchen.

S. Amy

Community: What are Our Hopes, What are Our Expectations?

(This blog post starts a short series on community.  Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more on this treasured and challenging component of religious life.)


“What are our hopes for this year of community together?  What are our expectations?”  These are the two questions that led the first real housemeeting for my new housemate and me this past week.  Discussed in the context of prayer we worked to define together what this community journey might look like.  Two things I have learned in living community are:  the community is new every time a new person moves in–even if it is one new person moving in with four people who have been living together already, the community is new and ought to be treated as such; and hopes and expectations ought to be spoken and shared.

It’s great when people’s understanding of community, their hopes, and their expectations are relatively similar.  It makes things easy and allows for a quick sense of comfortable routine and gratitude.  And while it is more difficult when people’s understanding of day-to-day community expectations are different, if explored, negotiated, and renegotiated, the learning and gratitude may be even that much deeper in the end.

I remember being very young in religious life and moving into a house where they didn’t regularly have house meetings or Sharing of the Heart (a personally treasured part of our community prayer).  I shared this with one of my sisters in leadership, “Well, call a house meeting,” she said.  I had just moved in and was forty years younger than the rest of my sisters.  How could I call them to anything?!  But I did.  That year we called each other to lots of things.  It was a community experience that demanded lots of honest conversation.  It wasn’t an easy community experience, but it was definitely one through which I learned a lot about myself and through which I really learned to love and value the sisters with whom I lived.

I think this year will be one of those easier ones.  In our prayer this past week, we voiced pretty similar hopes and expectations.  It is the first time in my experience of religious life that I am the “senior sister” in the house (at 35, a rarity).  That being said, I am the only sister in the house.  I have the honor and blessings of living in a discernment house–living with women in supportive community as they figure out the next step to which God is calling them, and through community, always actively exploring that myself as well.

If I were to summarize our community conversation, I would say we value and expect time together as a community to pray, to work, to play, and we will call each other to that time.  We want and will work at a depth of sharing that is real and vulnerable.  We want a community space that is free of judgment as people explore the things that touch and tug at their hearts.  We are committed to living simply and evaluating our impact on the earth.   And we want to explore more deeply and commit ourselves more deeply to what it means to live in community–our local community, our neighborhood, our religious community, our city, our world community.

And of course, no community conversation is complete without a practical conversation about cleaning house, paying bills, taking care of the lawn, etc.  While these things seem much smaller on the scale of importance relative to matters of the heart, it is often in the nitty-gritty details where communities experience the most conflict.  Many community conversations have been had about the proper location of the dishrag when it is not in use.

For me, community is about all of these things–creating a space together where everyone feels cherished and invited to grow, where conversations are honest and deep and sometimes hard to initiate but always blessed, where God is present in the beautiful, amazing things that we share and the dishrag conversations.  I can see how it would be easy and sometimes necessary to choose to live singly rather than in community with others.  But without people to bump up against in daily living, my edges would be sharper, my prayer shallower, my conversation and conflict management skills less honed.  When community is ideal, I am so grateful for all I am receiving that I can’t not give back just as generously.  In that ideal, every member of community feels as if she is receiving more than she is giving.  I am grateful, though our community is just starting, to be in that life-giving, ideal community right now.  I’m sure the dishrag conversation will come up eventually, but hopefully we will remain true to our shared hopes and expectations, to honest conversations, and, as a result, the tough conversations will make community that much stronger and more beautiful.

–S. Sarah