An Aquinas preaching student is in the solitary throes of writing her thesis. Actually, she’s not writing at all. She feels flat. Empty. Organizationally challenged. Dry as a bone. Cold embers where passion once flamed. She e-mailed me the other day to schedule a get-together, "Help! What do you turn to when you need new energy, when you feel like you’re totally wasting even the little time you have to write? Where do you find for inspiration?"
A good question for preachers as well as writers. As I labor for ideas and words under the too-familiar nimbus "cloud of unknowing" where do I turn for some salve for my soul, encouragement in my stuckness? These are some of my well-loved friends and coaches who comfort and inspire me, and have stood by me all these many years and offer me seeds and songs of hope.
Perhaps you caught the article in the November 12 issue of the National Catholic Reporter written by John Dear, SJ, titled "The World — and Word — According to William Stringfellow." Stringfellow, a lay theologian, Episcopalian, and social critic, authored a number of books as well as articles for Sojourner magazine. He was a strong advocate for peace. I share with you a portion of Dear's article because of its relevance to Dominican living:
"For Stringfellow, living according to the Word of God was key. He writes:
The topic of my class for deacons last week was "paying attention" - growing in awareness that God is at work all around us and within us. We determined that recognizing God's daily presence depended a great deal upon our perception of God. Do we live the truth of Paul's statement, "In God we live and move and have our being?" Once again, I refer to Fr. Robert Barron's words in his book Bridging the Great Divide: "God is not so much somewhere else as somehow else. What emerges from this… is the insight that God is totally other and unspeakably close. God pours himself out with reckless abandon into every nook and cranny of finitude, and he can draw finitude infinitely beyond himself.
This past June, I represented the Dominican Sisters of Peace at a meeting of our National Promoters of Preaching, generously hosted by the Houston Dominicans. About 18 were there, including our Dominican borthers from Central, Southern, and Western provinces. Sisters attended from the Caldwell, Hope, Blauvelt, Sparkhill, Houston, Grand Rapids, Mission San Jose, San Rafael, Springfield, Sinsinawa, and Adrian congregations, and representatives of the Dominican Laity were also present.
In August, I was asked if I would teach the homiletics course to the third-year candidates for ordination to the permanent diaconate. Classes began on September 7; on October 12, these men composed and preached a homily for their first preaching practicum. I am touched deeply by their willingness to accept the critique of these first attempts. Most of these men, with an age range of 45 to 64, are successful businessmen – CEOs, managers, directors of programs, etc. Yet each received humbly and willingly the evaluations of their preaching efforts. These men invited their wives and their children to the practicum, accepting their criticisms as well. One of the men truly struggled to compose the homily; after class he came to me for suggestions on how to speak more from his heart. He is adept at analytical writing as well as giving terse logical presentations.
I don't doubt that I was in the presence of two saints this past Monday evening. All persons in the greater Cleveland area who donate, no matter the size of the amount, to the Southern Poverty Law Center, were invited to attend a presentation by the founder of SPLC, Morris Dees, and its current president Richard Cohen. There was no charge.
Dominican Sister of Peace Janice Thome, OP, sent me the following after reading last week's blog: "We were a border crossing experience for the JustFaith group in our diocese for two years. They spent a Saturday with us trying to get a feel for poverty and for the poverty of the immigrant. Thanks for bringing this resource to the attention of our community." What a marvelous experience it must have been to work with the JustFaith group.
One marvelous vehicle for study is participation in a JustFaith program. JustFaith Ministries, based in Louisville, Kentucky, "...forms, informs, and transforms people of faith by offering programs and resources that sustain them in their compassionate commitment to build a more just and peaceful world." I have participated in three programs offered by this Catholic ministry founded by Jack Jezreel: a non-violent peacemaking course, which ran eight weeks; a 20-week course titled Engaging Spirituality; and a 20-week course on immigration. Studying with a group - 10 to 15 in number - that meets once a week for two hours was an energizing and a deepening experience for me. A new program currently available is "In the Spirit of St.
Our study is not limited to books alone. We are called to study the world/worlds around us. Dominic, on the mission trip with Diego, became totally aware of all that was occurring in the Languedoc region of southern France. He learned the tenets of the Cathari, a religious cult infiltrating the region. We know this because of the story of his night spent in an inn, explaining the faith and proclaiming the Gospel to the innkeeper. How persuasive Dominic must have been to keep the innkeeper from his sleep and by morning convincing him to renounce the unorthodox cultish ways.
Study is one of the pillars upon which is built the Order of Preachers. Study is akin to prayer. I am more aware of this as I prepare to teach a homiletic course to the candidates for the permanent diaconate in the Cleveland Diocese and for three presentations that I will give to the priests of the Dodge City, KS, Diocese. Where would I be without those in my life who dogged me to study, study, study. From the time I entered the former Akron Dominicans congregation, study was linked with prayer. Attending St. John College for our BSE, we Dominicans were instructed to sit in the front row of all the classes in order to "get all the knowledge the professor was giving." Sitting way up front precluded distractions and assisted concentration.