By Sr. Rachel Dunlap, Sisters of the Presentation of Blessed Virgin Mary
The past few weeks have been filled with new and life-giving experiences. On September 10th, I found myself celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival – explained to me as Chinese Thanksgiving – with my ICCN (Intercongregational Collaborative Novitiate) community and two other sisters in the area. Several days later, I was flying to South Dakota to meet with my congregation and other Presentation People across North America.
When I began considering religious life eight-ish years ago, I never could have imagined the diversity of experiences I’ve had over the past year, such as balancing involvement in my Presentation community with living with sisters from other congregations, and joining in the celebrations of numerous cultures, just to name two. When I first met women religious in college, I knew the numbers were declining, but my experience was one of more homogeneity and stability. I’m grateful that is changing – evident by the six different congregations and countries of origin represented among us ICCN novices – because diversity in experiences enriches us all.
As I’ve been pondering on these experiences of the past month, and with the beginning of autumn, I’ve been reflecting on what I need to let go of to allow the new to emerge. The call I thought I was discerning eight years ago is not the same call I am discerning now – which is the beauty and struggle of discernment. I did not know at that time that I was entering into a very unknown future, but one filled with more possibilities than I could have imagined.
Being part of ICCN has helped me experience the emerging reality of religious life. Living interculturally, intergenerationally, and intercongregationally, all at the same time, has been a profoundly life-giving experience for me, and it is the way of the future. With this experience has come my own internal wrestling with accepting the tension between being present to both my own congregation and my ICCN community, and learning how to cultivate and embody the Presentation charism while also being in greater unity with the whole of religious life. In my opinion, it is a beautiful “problem” to have, because we are better together.
There are no answers about the future yet, only questions. Living into the questions requires letting go of my/our desire for answers and accepting that I/we must wrestle with the tension between what was and what’s emerging. As we live into the now, we will allow God’s vision for our future to emerge.