APRIL 4, 2013: Deepening Our Spiritual Practice 

Bear the Beams of Love - from Mary SouthardThe spirit and spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph is integral to the life of an associate of this highly esteemed order whose charism we share. This gift of the Spirit informs us of our Oneness with all of God’s creation setting our hearts aflame with a call to inclusive, active love that draws us ever deeper into relationship with the Divine.

On Saturday, February 23, 2013 about forty associates and sisters gathered at the St. Joseph Motherhouse with Rosemary O’Toole csj from the Upper Room Home of Prayer in Ottawa. In her generous response to an invitation to facilitate the process of deepening our spiritual practice of sharing “The State of Our Hearts”, Rosemary made it a day of abundant grace for all of us.

This way of deep listening, referred to as ‘the manifestation of the heart’, based on the writings of Fr. Jean-Pierre Medaille SJ, is an ongoing spiritual practice for the sisters and through our shared experiences for the associates. It has been handed down as an intentional way of living and recognizing the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In our monthly small associate circle meetings we follow this spiritual practice by listening to each other’s stories, receiving them and holding them with respect, love and compassion.

Through sharing our hearts we grow deeper in relationship with ourselves, others, God and all of creation, expanding in consciousness of the Holy Spirit moving us ever towards ‘the more’. Rosemary suggests that this practice of sharing hearts, where we recognize a human struggle that we are experiencing and its opposing strength, is like a two-step dance movement where we learn to balance our Medaillian spirituality of ‘self-emptying’ with being ‘filled with God.’

The love we share, as Rosemary reminded us, is ‘Love energy’ already within us and at the heart of the cosmos as the Source of unity and creativity that keeps us connected, awakened and transforms us and our world. In this way of being in relationship we open up to the ‘mystical energy’ that makes possible relating from our hearts with ‘the great love of God that will start to make all things new within us, around us and beyond us’.

From the moment of gathering prayer, a passage from Judy Cannato’s Field of Compassion and a Lectio Divina, from Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, this ‘Love energy’ filled our sacred space and our hearts with a desire to know the practice of sharing hearts more deeply, that we may be more present, attentive and patient in our sharing. We gathered around a huge circular table adorned with a beautiful white tablecloth and a large pillar candle at the centre, the light of Christ, and surrounded by our small individual lights reminding us that we are ‘Beams of Love’ as depicted in the Mary Southard csj print of the same name, and prominently displayed for our contemplation throughout the day. Rosemary led us in a stirring ritual using a ball of golden coloured yarn, passing it around the circle, weaving it around our hands making us ‘one’ while all voices joined in chanting Ubi Caritas. In conclusion each of us received the small piece of the yarn we were holding to wrap around our wrists or fingers as a visual reminder of how God weaves ‘lavish grace’ into our lives and how all life is interconnected through God’s great love.

Our time with Rosemary unfolded in reflection, contemplation, prayer, affirmations, song, questions interspersed with teachings, time for deep listening in our small circles and casual conversation over breaking bread. As the day progressed we grew in understanding of what sharing the heart can become. We grew in awareness that this practice is always initiated by the Divine. We quietly moved into the safe space within our small groups, sharing what we had learned about ‘ease and candour, gentleness and loving speech, being mindful of ourselves and others’, knowing that as we listen deeply to each other’s stories we grow and become whole.

Rosemary’s teaching and the wisdom of the large circle established the foundation for the deep intimate sharing within our small groups. In these sacred spaces, where deep listening is done with empathy and non-judgement, we took time to pray and contemplate, becoming aware of the Holy Spirit at work within us and the group, enabling us to express our interior struggles and graced moments. We learned that a springboard to discerning the process can begin with a word (darkness /faith) that expresses a core spiritual experience to help us tell our story of a struggle in some vulnerable area or gratitude for growth in grace. We learned that by opening ever more to the process we will be emptied of the wounded self and receive the grace of being filled with God’s great love.

At the end of the day we took our leave with immense gratitude for Rosemary’s generous ministry, fervor, creativity and joyful presence. She has inspired us and equipped us with resources to enhance and deepen our practice of relating from our hearts. She has renewed in us an appreciation for our spiritual practice of sharing “The State of Our Hearts” which we will eagerly take to our small monthly associate gatherings.

This day our lives have been endowed with peace, love, joy, unity and wisdom knowing that God “is filling us with Great Love, making us able to bear the Beams of Love and able to radiate that compassion to others.”     

Submitted by the Associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, Pembroke neighbourhood.

(Adapted in part from Sharing of Hearts by Rosemary O’Toole csj)    

Art: Beams of Love, Mary Southard csj