BY AMELIE RODE
A couple of weeks ago, my second year as a Loretto Volunteer commenced. We began again at the Motherhouse for retreat, and then I moved back to St. Louis, Missouri and into the wee, blue cottage that is the Tobin House. In this loopy bout of change, I’ve felt a lot of feelings. I’ve felt nervous, excited, apprehensive, anxious, and joyful. Like plenty of others, I struggle during times of transition. This time, so far, has been no different. During transitions like this one, I tend to be aware of a lingering feeling of instability and a desire for comfort from my loved ones who aren’t there. I also tend to doubt myself more and sometimes be more critical of myself than I might be normally.
Those who meet or know me know that I’m an introvert. I’m comfortable in silence (alone and with others). I can be quiet in certain settings and especially when I’m still getting to know folks. In new and change-filled situations as the one I just described, this aspect of myself is one of the things I tend to hone in on or get especially anxious about. I notice the outgoing folks around me and become hypersensitive to my own outward silence and my thudding heartbeat whenever I do force myself to speak.
Thankfully though, there were multiple times on retreat when I felt called into myself and was reminded to be patient and loving with myself too. Since then, I have gone back in my mind to one such time in particular.
For one of our retreat sessions, we were scheduled for “Dances of Universal Peace” with Elaine Prevallet. I’d never met this Sister of Loretto and when it came time for her session with us, I eyed the title of the activity on our orientation sheet skeptically. Just before gathering for this session though, our program coordinator, Mallory, briefed us a bit. As I’ve come to understand it, Dances of Universal Peace were popular in certain spaces in the 60’s. They were created to include sacred phrases, chants, and movements from various faiths and spiritualities from cultures around the world in a way meant to embody unity and acknowledge the truth and sacredness of each.
Mallory told us a bit about Elaine who most first and second-year volunteers hadn’t met yet. She referred to Elaine as one of the great sages of the Loretto Community. She described Elaine as introverted, spiritual, wise, and shared that Elaine chooses to live a more secluded life tucked away in the Cedars of Peace woods instead of on the main campus. Mallory said that she believes that when Elaine chooses to be with others and share with them, it’s truly something special and something you should want to be a part of.
When our session with Elaine came, we sat in a circle and she shared a bit about herself and her story – something that had been hoped for but not expected by program staff in the room who know her. She told us a snippet about her time in the novitiate. At one point, her rebellious nature got her called out and she was told to decide what she wanted – to stay or to go home.
She laughed when she said something along the lines of, “I couldn’t go home if they didn’t kick me out! They were making me decide.” She shared that she asked God what to do. Elaine listened and She told Elaine to continue on with the Sisters of Loretto. Elaine told us she has heard God many times in her life so far and along her spiritual journey. She taught theology for some time, where she got to dive into learning and teaching about different religions/spiritualities and their histories and the cultures they come from. She’s also gotten to spend time in different retreat centers and sacred spaces, learning from people whose faith or practices resonated with her too.
When it came time to dance, we scooted our chairs to the side and followed Elaine’s lead. She taught us phrase by phrase of each song, paired with the movements for each corresponding phrase. We danced and sang/chanted together beautifully– occasionally jumbling words or steps and improvising. In one step we were spinning with eyes and hands reaching up toward the sky, and in another we were gently cupping our dance partner’s face. It was hard not to laugh, so I just did. I felt happy and connected to everybody in the circle. I also felt a lightness, sometimes peppered with a heavy chill – a feeling, I’ve found, that only voices really singing or chanting together can achieve.
I said earlier that I felt called into myself because in listening to Elaine – through her sharing about herself and through song and movement – I was reminded of the power and beauty that is in quietness, listening, and also simply speaking when you have something to say. With my headspace previously revolving around going into a new job and how to channel my most extroverted and thus “successful” self, I was brought back to all the good things about my introverted self. I felt the scales becoming a little more balanced between the importance of taking risks and also fully embracing how I, as I am, already have positive things to offer.
On our last full day at the Motherhouse, I felt more calm, relaxed, and settled back into my skin. We had a closing ceremony to end the week’s activities, followed by the traditional picture taking outside by the bell (once rung before someone left for a new journey). I was happy to see that Elaine joined us, along with a few other Sisters and Co-Members. At one point, I was standing alone at the edge of the group with Elaine. We chatted a bit and my mind the whole while was just trying to think of more words to say (I just want to be her friend and also be like her when I’m grown up, okay?). But, as it turns out, silence and listening are just fine too.
Amelie Rode (she/her) is from Tulsa, Oklahoma and graduated from Saint Louis University in 2018, where she majored in English and Women’s and Gender Studies. This past year, she served as a volunteer in El Paso, TX. And for her second year as a Loretto Volunteer, she will be moving back to St. Louis and will be working at MIRA (Missouri Immigrant & Refugee Advocates). In her spare time, Amelie enjoys reading, writing, camping, hiking, and she is newly fresh on the bread-baking scene.
In Their Own Words
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