My friend Felicia sent me this ring. It was slipped on her finger when she took her final vows as a Sister of St. Mary--a group of Anglican nuns now headquartered in Greenwich, New York. Felicia was a member of the order for many years. She was a teacher, a nurse, a poet, a composer, a rebel. A woman fierce in her love of God and, as a consequence, her love of God's children--those who were easy to love and those who were hard to love.
Felicia was not then and is not today, however, a lover of rules for rules' sake. Sometimes that got her in trouble. (Sometimes it still gets her in trouble.) When I first met Felicia, I wondered why she ever left the convent. She so clearly loved the life of work and study and prayer. Slowly her story unfolded. A young novice--an opera singer--had been put under her charge. It was a hard transition. The young opera singer missed her old life terribly. She fell into a deep depression. There was little my friend Felicia could do to help her young charge. Finally, she decided to take the young woman back to Manhattan and the world she left behind. There was only one way for them to get to Manhattan from their cloister far up the Hudson--the convent car. Unfortunately, things began falling apart just as lauds was beginning.
The way my friend Felicia tells it, she had no choice. She had to take the convent car. There was no time to wait for permission. She had to get her young charge to Manhattan and to the opera world she had left behind. For two days Felicia was AWOL. Settling her young charge back into the life for which she was fitted, to which she was called. Finally, and I suppose with great trepidation, Felicia called the Mother Superior. Amazingly, the Mother Superior told Felicia to return the car and then stay with her charge as long as was necessary. Another way for Felicia to serve her vocation.
When I first met Felicia, she was old, widowed and living simply. It was hard for her to do the altar guild work she so loved. She struggled to find a way to live out her commitment to serve Christ. And she worried about the day when she would have to move from her simple home and quiet environs that made a life of prayer and song possible. In the years I have known her, Felicia's life with God has been one of adaptation, change and fidelity. Today, though she shares a room with two other women, she still manages to find the silence necessary for those deep conversations with God that have sustained and guided her for over sixty years. Though she can no longer visit the homebound, she can visit those down the hall from her. And still she raises her voice in defense of those who cannot speak for themselves.
Like Felicia, the order of which she was a member for many years has changed over the years. In the early years, they were as much a community of service as a community of prayer and contemplation. Numbered among them, the Martyrs of Memphis who stayed behind to nurse the sick when others fled a yellow fever epidemic. Times have changed. The witness the Sisters of St. Mary now give is one of prayer, contemplation and work in the fields surrounding their convent. Listening to God's call in their life. Yet their enduring witness--both my friend Felicia's and the Sisters of St. Mary's--is a commitment to follow God's call in their life.
For some time I've known that I would be receiving this ring. Truth be told, I was more than a little apprehensive. What did it mean to put on a ring that had at one time signified that the bearer was a "bride of Christ"? After all, I'm Tim's bride of more than thirty years. My first vow (as those of us non-celebate clergy are prone to say) was to Tim. And I have rings that I like to wear on my right hand--one that belonged to my mother and grandmother, one that belonged to Tim's grandmother, and one that Tim gave me for our twenty-fifth anniversary. I wondered when would I wear the ring and what would my wearing of it mean to me.
Then it came to me. I'd wear the ring when I was at St. Martin's. I'd wear the ring when I was meeting Christ in the face of the hungry, the homeless and the sick. I'd wear the ring to remind me that it is in the face of the poor that one sees most clearly the face of Christ.
For years I labored under the notion that God's call was a one-time-only kind of thing. Get it clear, get it right, get going. The lives of Felicia, the Sisters of St. Mary and faithful people I have known over the years have convinced me otherwise. Living faithfully into God's call to us is a matter of being open to the wild and wonderful ways God is present in the craziness of our days and in the meanderings of our lives. It's not a matter of getting it clear or getting it right, living faithfully is a matter of being open to the possibilities in the moment.
Like Felicia and like the Sisters of St. Mary's, both Live at Five and the Congregation of St. Michael's are being called into the future. Ours is the work of being open to God's call. It helps to have a tangible reminder that we are not alone in that work. What is that reminder for you? What is that reminder for us?
Together in God.
Lead Priest, Live at Five