BY SAWYER HILL
When at the Motherhouse for opening retreat a good 9 weeks ago I gave Sister Kathleen my oft used half joking line about being “religious, but not spiritual” and she didn’t laugh.
A woman with a soft face, short gray hair with micro-bangs cut in a straight edge, a shared alma mater and an ability to listen. She’d responded with warmth during our prior conversations—particularly regarding the trans-erasure at that same not aforementioned shared alma mater—so I was hoping for at the very least a polite chuckle at my statement.
Instead, she told me she didn’t think what I’d said was true.
As a person who takes pride in being able to hold her own, I probably wouldn’t have taken such a challenge well from someone other than Sister Kathleen, but her demeanor was soft and her aura seemed to say that she didn’t correct people on their thoughts on spirituality with frequency. In an effort to clarify after observing my bewilderment—I have an expressive face when I’m displeased—she told me I’d misunderstood spirituality.
That the components of religion that I claimed for myself, were actually the spiritual components.
That I’d been mistaken and spirituality was not actually one thing, but rather was a term employed best to describe that feeling of connection.
That literally any connection “counted.”
That essentially the feeling of “holy shit I’m alive and I want to lovingly smother all strangers in my arms” that so readily and fleetingly accompanies when I’m driving 13 minutes before the sun is behind the mountains and everything is orange or when I notice that my neighbor has once again taken our garbage bins out on garbage nights even though its raining and he lives more than one house away all counted as spirituality. (I’m paraphrasing a bit on the last sentence, but it wasn’t difficult for me to begin applying Kathleen’s definition to my own life.)
I walked away post-consumption of only soft foods—the Motherhouse has a sort of retirement home attached where Kathleen resides as well as the cafeteria—feeling much more full than I had after other meals. Kathleen’s truth in that moment was my truth. And Kathleen’s truth is my truth in this moment too. I’m not sure what the policy is on putting a lengthy journal entry from a theologian in a reflection, but I figure if there’s a theologian to include Thomas Merton is probably the most relevant, as he is well loved by Loretto and they were well loved by him. For a graduation award I received, a professor of mine gifted me a few Theology books—I was a theology major so this wasn’t wholly out of line—one of them being At Play in Creation: Merton’s Awakening to the Feminine Divine by Christopher Pramuk. I cried when I left her office, as this book makes quite a lot of sense for me. That said, I didn’t start reading it until I got here, to Texas. In it, a journal entry of his is quoted that I’ll end this with. A perfect embodiment of Sister Kathleen’s spirituality.
March 18, 1958
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness…
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… Thank God, thank God that I am like other [human beings], that I am only a [human being] among others… It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself glorified in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race!... As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Sawyer Hill is from Roselle, IL and graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI in 2018 after majoring in Theology and Social Welfare & Justice. Sawyer enjoys spending her free time outside climbing, cycling and soaking in the sun when it decides to come out in the summer in Milwaukee. She has been known to cook the occasional lasagna for a crowd and loves having people over for tea. Sawyer is excited to be working with the Center Against Family and Sexual Violence in El Paso and to experience the Southwest for the first time!
In Their Own Words
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