I’ve also come to understand the power of words and story in my work with Vocation Stories, a series which features the ministries and call to religious life of members in the Youngstown Ursuline community. When I met with Sister Julia to interview her in her room, I set the tape recorder between us, asking an occasional question to prompt her. Her stories spanned the front and back of a cassette tape, and I sat and listened as she recalled her years as a teacher and later as a pastoral minister. Occasionally, she’d look over at me, but she spent most of the interview with her eyes closed, focused intently on her life’s story, and I shared in the presence of those memories. At the end of the interview, she thanked me for giving her the chance to reminisce and also for my patience in listening.
About a year ago, Sister Darla shared a book with me called Following the Path, which was about discerning a vocation. I connected with the writer’s journey to cultivate her identity as a writer and deepen her spirituality. During my visit to the Benedictine monastery in Erie this month, I had the opportunity to meet the author, Joan Chittister, who is a sister in that community. As we spoke, I experienced the same engagement that I had with her written word, now with her in person. She tapped her hands against my elbows for emphasis, centering my attention and all of my self on the conversation between us. As she explained that writing comes from the heart, she held out her finger and tapped the middle of my chest. She spoke with her body, and I listened the same way. As we parted ways, she told me, “There’s something in your eyes that I like. I am going to pray for you.” I left the monastery smiling.