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.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I am CHALLENGED and ENCOURAGED

by Sister Carmen Barsody


At Faithful Fools we make an annual 7-day retreat on the streets of the Tenderloin. From October 18th to 25th, we retreated in the streets with 9 other people, while others kept vigil through meditation at Faithful Fools in San Francisco. As part of our preparation we write a letter to family and friends, a circle of people whose encouragement, solidarity, prayers and generosity walk with us through the week.

This past July I was given the unimaginable gift of participating in a study pilgrimage in Assisi, Italy, the birthplace of Saints Francis and Clare. As I walked through the streets, churches and shrines, as lectures were given and time for prayer and reflection were integrated into each place, I would pay attention to what most resonated with my own heart. Where did I feel the life within me leap at the meeting of the spirits of Francis and Clare and their intentional ways of being in the world? Their commitments and lives were in response to what they were witnessing around them. It too is my commitment.

I am challenged and encouraged by the lives of Francis and Clare, and many others through the ages who knew as Ghandi did that, “we must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Each of them paid attention to what was going on in their city or town, and in the world, seeing wars based in religious beliefs; growing economic disparity for the majority of citizens; abuse of power by government, civic and religious leaders; lepers of the community considered dead and sent outside the city to live; etc.

It appears that times aren’t so different. The retreat in the streets is a time to look into the mirror of the world where I live and polish the mirror of my own heart, as well as strengthen and clarify our work as Faithful Fools and Franciscan Sisters. It is a focused time of allowing knowledge and sight to enter us from the ground (literally), up through our heart and into our conscious mind so as to be transformed into action. It is a form of fasting, fasting from that which fills us, confuses and distracts us other days of the year. I used the journal I used while on pilgrimage in Assisi, as it is one continuous pilgrimage of the heart.

I set out on the 7-day street retreat with my heart filled with the prayer intentions people had given me to walk with through the week. I prayed for… sisters who were not speaking to each other; for a man in serious condition after an accident; for someone’s sister with a serious heart condition; for vocations to our community; for a cousin who is battling cancer; for a husband, friend and cousin; for well being through eye surgery; for the unemployed who are feeling discouraged and desperate; for a young woman and her son who are in a difficult living situation; for a sale of a house; for good health; for a sister in-law who was dying of cancer; for people who suffer from mental illness; for a young man who had a court date for parole; for a whole family whose picture I carried with me. One friend sent a song she had written, “Be thou my feet and guide my walking. Be thou my eyes that I might see. Open my heart. Give me compassion. Hear my cry and answer me.” This song became the song we sang daily as we gathered for reflection.
It is a retreat. As the week goes the subtle inner shifting of our bodies and minds feels glacier-like. The heart enlarges with gratitude for all the generosity we experience. A Cambodian woman offered us each a sandwich and wanted us to know that Jesus loves us. On Tuesday nights a restaurant owner serves “Curry Without Worry” for “all hungry souls” in the plaza. He fasts through the day and cooks the meal. As volunteers serve the food, he moves through the plaza with an instrument, lifting hearts with music. After all are served he then serves the volunteers. After everyone has been fed, he eats. Housed and un-housed form the line, for in reality we are all hungry souls.


We were grateful once again for the institutions whose mission is to feed hot meals to thousands of people each day in their dining rooms and soup kitchens. The heart gets an extra jab when we see children eating their breakfast in a soup kitchen before school, or people in wheelchairs moving through the line, as well as youth and elders and all of us in-between. At the same time we experience once again what it is to be at the bottom where what reaches us are the old and dry pastries, bruised and spoiling fruit, processed foods and innumerable carbohydrates and sugar that fill up but don’t actually nourish.

As we sought a place to sleep we’d join the many others who would sign up for a shelter and then be told to sit in a chair and wait, forced to sit in front of a 6 foot blaring television. After four or five hours of sitting hopeful that a bed would be available someplace, we’d be told at 11:30 p.m. that there were no beds to be had and thus sent out into the street to begin looking for cardboard and search for a place to sleep on a concrete sidewalk or in a doorway. What surprised me the most was that no one seemed to make a special effort to find shelter for 75 or 80 year old women or people in wheelchairs who were missing limbs. One woman with a walker did get a bed in a shelter 2 miles away, but the van that takes people to shelters was not going to come that night. If she wanted it she had to get there on her own. She didn’t. She fell asleep in the chair and stayed there til they closed.

As the week went on our daily reflections deepened. The song, “Be Thou My Feet”, as well as our Mantra, “What holds me separate? What keeps me separated? As I walk the streets, what still connects me?” grew stronger. We all grew stronger in our commitment to bear witness to the joys and suffering in the universe and to bear what we witness, even though we might feel tired at times. The elders, children, physically challenged and just plain human beings living inhumane realities increased our longing to be the change we wish to see in the world.

We closed the retreat with the commitment to keep walking in ways that will keep us awake to human suffering and social injustice. It is an every day commitment. Some of us closed the retreat knowing that we will set out once again during Holy Week. I close this reflection with an invitation…Come walk the streets with us, or walk the streets wherever you are. Let your heart be opened to all there is for us to notice, within ourselves and around us. Together we will “discover on the street our common humanity.”


1 comment:

Carolyn Law said...

Thanks Carmen, for your in depth walking with the most poor of our world and your foolish faithfulness to walking in the steps of Francis and Clare.

Sr. CarolynLaw