Saturday, September 3, 2016

Vulnerability and Mercy: Reflections on Mother Teresa and the Single Life

I know that I start every blog post in the same way. I know it. I naturally begin with something akin to: "where has the time gone?" And I really can't stop myself from saying it because I continually think it. It is September and there are four months left in 2016. Before I know it I will be writing my Year in Review post! But present moment, I keep reminding myself. Present moment.

This weekend is Labor Day weekend and these past couple of years where I have taken to working a part time job in addition to my full time job (why don't we pay our teachers more, y'all? ;) I appreciate the day set aside for Labor Day so much more. I was walking home last night after a full day at school and 5 hours at my part time gig and thinking: "we as Americans spend so much of our lives making money or working." And don't get me wrong, I am grateful for our strong work ethic and economy here in the States. I have traveled enough to see the alternatives but I think that we also see the downside of our sometimes misplaced value on money and capitalism...but that's not what this blogpost is about. Well, kind of.

In addition to it being Labor Day weekend and my finally having a day off, the Church is canonizing one of our modern day saints, Mother Teresa. Her life and her community which she founded has been surrounded by controversy in recent years which just makes me sad. Regardless of articles and books published with theories about her faith or misplaced funds, there is no taking away from the fact that Mother Teresa served the poorest of the poor and she made this her life's work. I'm pretty sure many of us wouldn't last a month walking the streets that she walked and encountering what she encountered in poverty. I can't deny that to look at her face, she reflects God and holiness to me:

I believe she is proof that happiness and holiness is what makes us most beautiful. There is no denying that she radiates a kind of unconventional but undeniable beauty. 

I will admit there are other Theresas that I have become more faithful to over the years: St. Therese of Lisieux is my girl and St. Teresa of Avila I have mad respect for 'cause she was a tough broad (and I don't think that she would mind me saying that).

The book "The Four Teresas" which I read in 2011 features the 3 Teresas already mentioned in this post as well as Edita Stein (turned St. Teresa Benedicta). All 4 are super powerful, holy women who I admire deeply but have mainly been drawn to the two I've already described.

In praying and reflecting with my students and with myself on Mother Teresa this week, though, I realize that she is a great example of Mercy as well as Vulnerability- two things I find myself thinking about often in this blog. Mercy and vulnerability really go hand in hand. When we are feeling vulnerable, we require mercy and are grateful for those who meet us with it. But in order to show true mercy, we must not only meet the vulnerable where they are at, but allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable as well. I believe that true Mercy comes in solidarity- when we not only meet others where they are but then sit there with them either physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

I mentioned in my last post that I was blessed to get to do this with friends from college in our formative years and also last month on our little reunion tour in Australia. We shared together, laughed together, cried together. We showed each other mercy but also met each other in vulnerability.

I have prayed so long about my vocation and have come to terms with that the Lord may be calling me to the single life and that's okay! I mean, let's be honest, I totally enjoy and it and humbly say that I think I live it pretty well! We all long, however, to be in relationship and to be vulnerable with other people. But I have finally realized that there are more ways to do that than just dating and marriage.

I read this book this summer and while not a Catholic text, it definitely helped me grow in confidence in my current state in life!

I was perhaps at my most vulnerable when I was discerning religious life- putting my life and my heart in the hands of God and also other women that I came to trust and still trust to this day. I have also been vulnerable in my attempts at dating and relationships, in my writing and in my art, but again, find myself most vulnerable in situations with these close friendships that I have fostered and put time into over the years.

What many of my college friends and I have- and also many of  my friends later in life- is perhaps (dare I say) even stronger than some marriages. There are people in romantic relationships and marriages who do not allow themselves the vulnerability or mercy that some of my friendships and family members offer me.

All this to say that there is a lot of change in the talk about the single life lately. And I am totally grateful to have people in the media finally representing a more realistic version of the single woman. We aren't the Miss Havishams crazily waiting in wedding gowns for someone to rescue us from our "misery." We are thriving, living, and growing even if our lives haven't taken the conventional path.

I keep a very tidy apartment and change my attire daily, thank you very much!

Dating and marriage are in very different states than they were years ago, and to be honest, dating and marriage in the 1950s weren't exactly the dream, either. Yeah sure, maybe it was a simpler time, but I'm okay with being married with kids at 19 not being the norm or sole expectation for women anymore.

To tie this back to my points on our American values and the canonization of Mother Teresa (can she get there, folks?? Can she?! ) ...

 Whether serving the poorest of the poor in community like our soon-to-be-saint Mother Teresa, serving children with a spouse, or serving friends and family in need, we all have the opportunity and call to be vulnerable and show others mercy. And this should be our priority as human beings. For I don't think that there is any denying that when we are in solidarity with one another, we are at our strongest. Mother Teresa showed us this in a concrete way, but there are many ways to show solidarity.

I'm continuing in this Year of Mercy, to look at the many ways we can grow and show Mercy to each other. Those ways don't always look the same or are conventional, but that doesn't make them any less valuable or important for our growth.

(Saint!) Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!