I would like to offer a personal reflection on my experience of hearing the whisper of my own “yes” as I stepped onto a path that was certainly not a part of my “plan”. I cannot even pinpoint the moment of how it came to be, that I would be working with the Presentation Sisters as a member of the Virginia Water Contemplative Centre. Though, what I do know, the years of relational practice, sitting in circles of women (both Sisters and laywomen), has deepened my understanding of the power of sacred community and released the struggle between my ‘head and heart’. I can be fully immersed in my academic work while also fully resting in the mystery of the unfolding cosmos. What a joy to realize that I am, in the words of Jan Phillips, “made of starlight and clay, minerals and meteor dust” and “the source enfleshed in marrow and bone.”
Who would have ever thought that a circle who gathered back in January 2014, comprised of women in their 20s and 30s grappling with spirituality and meaning-making, along with our wise women Sisters, would have blossomed into a deep intergenerational connection full of learning, laughter and kinship? I feel deeply grateful for Chrys Brennan, Dorothy Corrigan, Alice Dower and Mary Dower, who took a leap of faith to gather with us as we waded through the murky waters of trying to find our way.
As we began to deepen our understanding and relation with the Presentation Sisters, a couple of members were invited to be a part of this paradigm breaking, counter-cultural ministry of sharing and embodying the New Story. I have been challenged and inspired learning from great minds such as Thomas Berry, who says the “universe is a communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects” and that the “physical degradation of the natural world is also the degradation of the interior world of the human.” How am I living into these ideas? How do I embody an ethic of care for all beings and non-beings that our very existence depends upon? Thankfully, I do not feel alone in these questions but held in a loving tapestry of women and men committed to growing and leaning into these questions.
In 2018, Robyn Lamswood and I had the great honour of travelling with Alice Dower to Ballygriffin to celebrate Nano Nagle’s 300th Anniversary of her birth. The experience was extraordinarily moving and brought Nano’s spirit alive for me. Robyn and I had the opportunity to go to Cork to visit Nano Nagle Place, which was the highlight of the trip. Our passionate tour-guide provided a vivid journey into Nano’s life and being in the rooms where she prayed and planned, sparked something in me. Here was a woman who was deeply spiritual, yet savvy with business, finance and legal matters. In our present times, this charism is still fully alive in the Presentation Sisters and, most importantly, evolving to respond to our current cultural context and needs.
I can only imagine how difficult this year has been, as your rituals of gatherings have been altered to adhere to public health guidelines. I had the honour of attending the Motherhouse last year for the night vigil with my five-year old daughter Gwyneth. She was wide-eyed looking at all the statues and very endearing as she sang along to the hymns – making up the words as she went! Every time we drive by the Basilica, she brings up the experience. I believe she also fondly remembers the social afterward, where Bernadette Doherty lovingly gave her at least six cookies. My children (Gwyneth, Xavier and Rylan) have learned quickly that the Sisters give the “BEST TREATS.”
Since that time, I have given myself permission to become enriched with Our Mother Mary and have found deep solace and support in her compassionate, wise embrace.
My heart and prayers will be with you on Presentation Day as you find new ways to celebrate this special Feast Day. My life feels more enriched, sacred and awe-filled being a part of the Presentation family. Being a member of Virginia Waters and the presence of the Sisters has opened my inner ear to hear more deeply. The poem from the nine-day reflections ‘The Second Music’, beautifully embodies this sacred gesture of listening when she asks us to listen to the “lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard, yet always present” melody of our soul. I genuinely feel blessed with the opportunity to live, in the words of Parker Palmer, the gift of the ‘undivided life’ where action and contemplation spring from the same heartful space. I am so grateful that I listened to the call of my inner ‘yes’.
Thank you for carrying Nano’s light forward.
Submitted by: Holly Foley, Virginia Water Contemplative Centre.