(This is an excerpt from the paper I wrote about my time with the sisters of the Community of St. Francis in San Francisco in January. -G)
The end of my time with the sisters was bittersweet. I was ready to go home to my life with my wife and school, but I knew that I was going to miss the sisters and their way of life. Indeed, that has been the case. I miss the structured prayer times and praying together with the community. I also miss the service work we did, particularly at Martins soup kitchen. I especially miss the sisters because they welcomed me into their lives and told me their stories when I asked. In many ways, how they came into religious life is pretty much that same as how I followed my call into ministry: one part intention and one part providence. Every one of them, while being lead into religious life by different paths and for different reasons, would not give up their current life. I understand their dedication, because it’s similar to my own dedication to my call to ministry.
The realizations I came to during my stay, that I mentioned previously, have already made an impact on my ministry. Part of realizing that I am contemplative has made me really think about how I express myself publicly in ritual. While most of my mentors and friends are good preachers and public theologians, I realize that I my public ministry is much different. I am more comfortable to be an example of Jesus in the world, and to show, not tell, about the love of the deities and of Jesus. Much of the public ritual that I have designed is contemplative, and that it is all right for the rituals of my new church to reflect that. In some ways, my viewpoint is Franciscan. St. Francis admonishes in his Rule that the brothers should remember that they gave of themselves to Jesus and should act as Jesus did the world.
Being with the sisters has also renewed my need to be of service to others in need. It is difficult at the moment because of school, but I know that service to others will always been an important aspect of my ministry. I have always believed that as much as work on oneself is important, serving others is equally important. Service was also important to St. Francis, and that if someone were to ask a brother for help, they should give it. It is also important to the deities I work with, particularly Jesus and the Dagda. In the pagan community, many groups are very inward focused, or when they do outward service work, it is limited to the pagan community. While I don’t begrudge the inward work, I think that if it is not balanced with general service work (regardless of community), people can get stuck in their own heads and lose sight of the greater community of which they are a part. I plan to encourage service in my new church to help mitigate this, especially since the churches that are hosting my services could use the help.
The last thing that I am taking with me from my experience is that I have a need for structured, monastic style personal practice. Steady and constant personal practice has always been difficult for me, especially since there are no Daily Office books for Wiccan-Christians, or set prayers, or much of any written liturgical infrastructure. My time with the sisters has shown me that it can be possible, and it has inspired me to create some sort of liturgy structure for myself. I have already written a Wiccan Christian liturgy, but I am now inspired to add more to it around daily prayer, monastic living, and actual written liturgical scripts. While I am not called to join a particular established order, I’m also inspired to maybe, some day, establish a monastic type community. Much of this, however, needs to wait until after I have finished school, because I would wear myself out if I tried to do everything that I was inspired to do by my experience!
I really appreciate that the sisters were able to take me into their lives. I have learned a great deal from them about how to live a religious life in the general sense. It has greatly changed my ideas about what “religious life” is. As the sisters told me, the religious life, whether cloistered or not, is not where one goes to hide. It is where you find out who you are and what plans God has for you. In prayer, you cannot hide from your innermost self, and that without that prayer doing the work of God will be difficult. The sisters showed me how to live and work in community, and that living a monastic life is both simple and difficult, but not impossible. Their love and friendship during (and after) my stay is something that I will always treasure.