Written by Sister Jan Kilian, this blog will give an understanding of what it’s like to be Franciscan. Living out the spirit of Saint Francis, we see all God’s creation as brother and sister. We, Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, are committed to building relationships and community, ministering wherever there is greatest need, promoting justice and healing Mother Earth’s wounds. My writings will give a glimpse of the compassion, spirituality, interconnectedness and goodness of living Franciscan.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Don't you ever get into a good fight?"
by Sister Jan Kilian

I’m Sister Jan Kilian. I’ve lived Franciscan community life for 10 years here at Clare’s Well (our Franciscan Retreat Farm). Three of us Sisters live and work about as closely together as can be. Our daily lives are in the same house and we share the day-in, day-out ministries of hospitality, meal prep, gardening, care of the farm, etc. Retreat guests sometimes confront us with astute observations regarding how we three get along. Recently a guest put down her fork at lunch, crossed her arms over her chest, sat back and skewered me with the question, "How do you handle arguments in your house? What do you do when you’re really mad?"

I’m disappointed with my glib answer. What I said was true: "That doesn’t happen." We don’t get into big arguments and we don’t fight. Over the years, we’ve all smoothed off our sharp edges; we have common backgrounds; shared values help to mellow us; we trust in God’s presence with us. But . . . . you know very well there’s more to it than all that! I missed a significant invitation to share the deeper reality of how I have learned to live happily with others.

There are moments of frustration when I ask myself, "What’s going on here?" If I’m upset, I’m probably exaggerating the significance of something I won’t even remember two days from now. Even very large differences of opinion can be let go of for the sake of a greater good when I accept the truth of who I am.

I just finished listening to Anne Dillard’s book, The Mayberry’s, a story in which Lu Mayberry’s husband leaves her very unexpectedly for her dear friend. Lu suffered alone for months. I could identify with the words of her neighbor who’d had enough of the negative vibes Lu wallowed in and said to Lu, "I wish you’d stop poisoning yourself!" Lu took those words to heart and began to take daily walks to a special place where she explicitly pulled herself out of her mire and practiced letting go of her self-pity and anger, at first for just one minute at a time, until she was once again a peaceful woman.

Not being married, I’ve not suffered the awful pain of an unfaithful spouse. My pains are very much less though still significant in my call to let go of ego and grow in what is essential. I especially remember two life-changing confrontations. The first was years ago, when a black man, Professor James, listened to me complain that members of our psychology class were dumping all their negative experiences of nuns on me! "Unfair", I said, "They should see me for who I am. I’m not responsible for the bad actions of other nuns." Professor James looked me in the eye with not one ounce of sympathy and said, "Jan, you should wake up black someday."

In the second example, my indignation over someone not recognizing my self-defined importance shriveled when a teacher said, "Jan, stop escalating." Lights came on. I saw what I was doing, and if I was doing it, I could stop it. I’ve been "stopping it" ever since. Peaceful community living requires working with the difference between ego and essence. In the former, I need self-defense. Tuned into the latter, no defense is required: I am who I am and that’s all there’s to it.

So, yes, my ego is alive and well, but she isn’t in charge. We three Franciscan women continue to grow in a deep affection for each other. We get in one another’s face sometimes but, with God’s grace, forgiveness and understanding are within easy reach. I can’t imagine living with two more transparent and honest people than Sisters Carol and Paula. I fight a lot less when I know I’m safe no matter what a mess I make.

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