A few weeks ago I wrote a reflection on changes I’ve seen in my lifetime that I lament. (See “Whatever Happened to…?” April 18, 2016.) I promised then that I would also write about changes I’ve seen that I applaud. Let me start with a true experience that captures some major changes I am very grateful for.
When I was a little girl in the 1950’s, I saw a letter requesting a donation for the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In history class I had learned how unfairly Native Americans were treated by white people and I felt sorry for them. So I decided to send the school some of my allowance money. I remember taping two quarters onto a file card, slipping it into an envelope, and mailing it to the school. A few weeks later, I received a beautiful bookmark and more stories about the school and the reservation. So later on I sent them more money. Then more. Back then, $.50 was a generous donation from a little girl who earned $.25 a week doing her chores.
Fast forward now to the mid 1990’s. I am now a middle-aged Sister of Notre Dame. And I am ministering at the Jesuit novitiate in Detroit. I also do spiritual direction. And these Jesuits ask me to direct five Jesuit novices from Wisconsin and Minnesota for a week-long retreat. And where will the retreat be held? That’s right, in South Dakota near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation! What’s more, one of the Jesuits who served there for many years invited me to come early so I could spend a few days visiting the reservation with him.
This experience captures in a nutshell some incredible changes I witnessed from the time I was about 8 to the time I was about 50—changes I am immensely grateful for. First of all, I had become a Sister. That change has been a great gift for me. And within this vocation, I have seen some other amazing changes.
I had spent over 20 happy years teaching in various schools and living in convents with all women. Who would have thought that in the 1990’s I would be ministering in a Jesuit novitiate and working in an all masculine environment? Who would have thought that a male religious congregation would want a woman on their formation team? In my early years as a Sister, it was always men (mostly priests) who directed us Sisters through retreats, confession, conferences, and books. Now I, a Sister, was directing a retreat for five men studying to be priests.
While in South Dakota I attended a few Native American Eucharistic liturgies that incorporated drums, smoke, and eagle feathers in their ritual. Adapting the Mass to specific cultures is a change I certainly applaud. Here are a few others: The developments made in our understanding of sacred scripture, the expanded role of the laity in the church, the reintroduction of the permanent diaconate, the rich variety of prayer forms available, the renewed emphasis on social justice, the ecumenical movement among Christian churches, the attempts at greater understanding and appreciation of other non-Christian religions, the ecology movement, and the array of spiritual writings by both men and women—clergy, religious, and lay.
There are many other changes in other areas of life that I’m grateful for—the invention of the Hubble telescope, for example, and how today’s fathers take a more active role in raising their children. Then there’s women! I still remember the time I was waiting for my plane to take off and I learned that our pilot’s name was not Tom, or Michael, or Jason—but Margaret! And today both my doctors are women too.
I hope this reflection is conjuring up in your mind changes you have experienced in your life that you are grateful for. Why not give thanks for them today?
(Note: Red Cloud Indian School is still going strong. But Pine Ridge Reservation remains in great need. A few facts: 80% unemployment, 49% live below the federal poverty level, its county is the second poorest county in the nation, and less than 1% of all philanthropic money goes to Native American concerns and organizations. Some things don’t change… I think it’s time for me to send another donation to: Red Cloud School, 100 Mission Drive, Pine Ridge, SD 57770 or www.redcloudschool.org.)
Here is a Native American Prayer, “Great Spirit, Keep Us Free.” The lyrics were not included, but the song sings of Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the winds that flow in four directions. The pictures—especially the old and contemporary pictures of Native Americans—are very moving. I hope you enjoy the video.
What changes in the world have you seen that you are grateful for?
What did you think of the song/prayer?
PS: Thank you to the Sisters of Mercy of Philadelphia this past week for their wonderful hospitality. I really enjoyed facilitating the retreat for about 30 of their Sisters. What beautiful women! And thank you, my dear readers, for your prayers. Next week, June 26 to July 1 I’ll be leading another retreat at the Living Waters retreat center in Maggie Valley, NC. The topic is “Hope.” Thank you for your prayers for this retreat too!