Gathering to share a contemplative moment
As Sisters of Mercy throughout the Institute gathered for contemplative prayer at noon eastern standard time on November 29 while the leaders were considering the data from the fifth consultation about reconfiguring, they were supported by the sisters at the Mercy International Centre, Dublin, who also gathered in prayer in Catherine’s room. Back in Australia, the power of this experience was palpable as Sister Celestine Pooley describes from her experience in Mulgoa NSW.
On November 29 at 12 noon, a group of fourteen Mercies from across NSW and the ACT and two Aboriginal women gathered together on a sunny day at Mulgoa, responding to the invitation to be united contemplatively with other Mercy women across the Institute at this significant moment in our history.
We had just viewed a section of one of the episodes of the recently recorded SBS production of First Australians and reflected on the powerful impact of the series. This was still with us as we prayed together the opening prayer on the sheet. We then gathered outside and sat facing a wide expanse of the Mulgoa bushland.
The fresh smell of the recent heavy downfall of rain was still in the air. Opposite us in the distance on the rise of a hill a row of tall trees lined up in stillness as if in solidarity with us across the divide. Small clouds in the sky moved ever so slowly to join up with others, eventually making a new and larger shape. The symbolism of that was striking, given the immediate context of our gathering.
The silence was broken only by the singing of the birds. Nature seemed in perfect harmony with us during that time of shared contemplative space. A powerful unity so effortlessly achieved!
I trust this positive energy, combined with others around the nation, was felt by the leaders at Parramatta in their discernment of our Mercy future together.
The NSW Mercy Aboriginal Concerns Group has been meeting once or twice a year for five years, sometimes at Bathurst, more recently at Mulgoa. The group is small, anything from 16 to 20, across seven congregations.
Over the time of coming together we have consolidated our commitment to Indigenous concerns and clarified our aims and objectives. The presence of Louise Campbell and Lisa Buxton, Aboriginal women who have continued walking this journey with us, has played a key role in our growth in understanding. As valued members of the group, these women, who are Mercy Associates, have an equal place at the table. They have informed and enriched our reflection, discussion and action. We have learnt much from their generous sharing of spirituality and culture, and been helped to see something of the Australian reality through their eyes.
We arrived for this gathering at Mulgoa with flagging energy, some having travelled long distances to make it by mid-afternoon on Friday. By the end of the evening session the energy levels had begun to rise and by next morning we were ready to engage fully with the agenda that Helen Kearins RSM resolutely moved us through. By the time we finished we had a number of goals and a clear action plan towards achieving them. We left, thoroughly energised by being together, knowing our time had been well spent, and looking forward to the next gathering.
Later, I reflected on what had kept this grassroots group together despite times of fragility. We were all committed to the ministry around which we gathered. We enjoyed being together as a group of Mercy women from both city and country congregations with our Aboriginal sisters. We were enriched by sharing the different ways we had engaged with Indigenous concerns in our local areas. Our individual efforts seemed small when so much remained to be done. But together our contributions were impressive, and this encouraged us to continue. Then there were the projects we could undertake together. Outside our gatherings we communicate via an email network, but the regular face-to-face meetings are the bonding factor. In our separate congregations there is not a critical mass of people to come together on any one issue, but in this reconfigured Mercy group we gather around a common concern of our mission. We recognise our need of each other.
I believe that the contemplative space we shared at noon had its own transformative effect. Perhaps we are at a point where a conscious commitment to share more contemplative time together across the Institute, might be the key that will open us to allow God’s transforming love to shape us anew as Mercy women, to be a more tangible sign of hope for our world.
Even in this time of our diminishment, how do we reflect the kingdom of God on earth in the way we live our lives? Are we being called to rediscover together the prophetic, the mystical, contemplative essence of the religious life?
These are questions I ponder.
From: Sister Celestine Pooley RSM (North Sydney)