Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“What do you want for me, God?”: An Introduction to My Vocation Story

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Vis Companion
Note: the following was originally written for and published at the Visitation Monastery Minneapolis blog site. This is the first in a series of vocation narratives, or memoirs, offered by Melissa here.

Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life. Parker Palmer in “Let Your Life Speak

We all have a vocation. Each and every one of us. Whether we are religious or lay members of the world, we have a calling --something we have wrestled with consciously, or unconsciously, and found ourselves immersed in --- a "life telling us who we are," as Parker Palmer says. These days, I'm thinking a lot about my vocation and what my life has told, tells me.

In the Spring of 2002, whilst teaching at North Community High School in North Minneapolis, my life was sort of “screaming” at me. Immersed in a high poverty setting, (where I lost half of my students every year), attending to the development of relevant and hopefully inspiring curriculum for my students --as well as the content of their individual life narratives, gifts, skills and areas for growth - alongside my own -- well, let's just say I was a bit achy and itchy in my soul for what might be next. I wasn't wholly satisfied with my work in the classroom and the system in which I was operating; so I started writing letters to God. In these journal letters, I described my circumstances as a public school educator and I posed questions. "What do you want for me, God? What do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? You know my heart, my longings and my desire to serve Love. Please guide me."

I was called to be an educator, without a doubt in my mind or heart. But surely, God would not want me to continue in a fashion where I was daily filled with despair -- left with less hope and offering a diminishing amount of love, promise, and life-giving energy to myself and others?

In my writing and beseeching, there are stops and starts, almost self-conscious pauses. Was I feeling badly for the outpouring of words on paper? Was my prose too filled with complaint or dissatisfaction as I described the conditions of my life? Surely, I had been so abundantly blessed in my birth and journey to date -- given so much from loving parents and in and through my catholic faith, educational opportunities and work -- that I wouldn't be abandoned. (Was that my fear – rejection or abandonment from God?) I couldn't stop short in my writing and queries to the Divine, I had to continue in my prayers wondering about my next steps in this journey as a woman of love on the earth.

In an entry recorded on Saturday, June 1, 2002, I wrote, "I know if I were born a man, you would have me be a priest. Because I am a woman, do you want me to pursue becoming a nun?"

I remember writing the question down, and then immediately closing my journal. It was a terrifying notion, this nun business. First of all, I wanted to be married and have kids. I loved men and dreamed of partnering with one and having a child or two someday. (I longed to parent - beyond the scope of the classroom, beyond working with and nurturing the beautiful young people in my classroom who I was privileged to teach. I longed for giving birth and the gift of raising a babe from infancy to adulthood.)

In an entry recorded on Saturday, June 1, 2002, I wrote, "I know if I were born a man, you would have me be a priest. Because I am a woman, do you want me to pursue becoming a nun?" -Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

When I considered my calling to the priesthood, it felt so giant, real, awesome, but seemingly beyond my gender -- according to the church powers that be. I had reconciled my desire to preach --to lead a congregation in contemplative, prayerful thought and action -- through my work as a classroom teacher. My love for scripture and desire to break open sacred texts for inspiration and life lessons translated well, on most days, to my tasks as an English educator. Considering my recorded journal question, “[D]o you want me to pursue becoming a nun?” I wondered, too, how I could turn to another religious vocation because of the seeming limitations of my gender? I simply thanked God for making me female, so that I never had to choose between marriage and a life as a celibate priest. I set my journal down and went about my life.

For the record: At the time, I didn't really know I was doing discernment work. At this juncture, I had never even heard the word "discernment." But that would all change.

On Sunday, June 2, 2002, following mass at the Church of St. Philip in North Minneapolis, I was standing up on the alter, next to the piano with the rest of the choir members I sang with, when a small woman with gray hair and wearing a large silver cross approached me.

"Melissa, Hello. I'm Sister Katherine of the Visitation Monastery of North Minneapolis. We are having a 'Come and See' weekend for single young women. We are wondering if you want to come and see about being a nun."

I about fell over. I was wrapping microphone cord around my arm at the time, and believe I almost tripped at Sister's invitation.

Not only is God not subtle with me, but my life circumstances have never been, as they speak loudly trying to get my attention. Of course I would put my query out to the Beloved regarding my vocation, and of course I would receive this direct response! But the very next day? Whew.


Stay tuned for the unfolding of this vocation narrative, as I relay my discernment process, given the entrance of the Visitation Sisters in my life.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Humility and Gentleness: A Reflection on Scripture*

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Vis Companion

I am preparing for 12pm mass this Friday, October 22, 2010, at the Visitation Monastery. Goodness, how I look forward to this experience in the living room of the Vis Sister's home! It's not like any other service I am able to attend. (I have written of this in the past.) Today, I turn my mind and heart to the scripture readings for this upcoming liturgy. I consider how this text is speaking to me.

I slow my mind down. I read. I work to defer judgment. I make note of lines that stand out. I connect these words to lived experiences. I register what emotion they elicit. I wonder to myself. I pose questions. I speculate on what Love's message is for me. I consider my faith community and possibilities of this text for the world at large. It's a prayerful, critical response process to the Bible, this holy and sacred literature.

I notice.....from Paul's letter to the Ephesians:

"live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness
preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace"

I notice....from the Gospel according to Luke:

[Jesus said to the crowds]:

“Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate,
make an effort to settle the matter on the way;

When Paul speaks of living in a manner worthy of the call a person has received -- with a humble and gentle nature, my mind goes initially to St. Francis de Sales, our co-founder. St. Francis so beautifully exemplified gentleness in his life and expressed his motivation for living his faith out this way. He spoke of this virtue as flowing from and modeled by our Trinitarian God:

"I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove;" -St. Francis de Sales

Next, Desmond Tutu flashes in my mind. I am reminded of how struck I was in the Spring of 2008, when I saw him on two occasions speaking in the Twin Cities: his sweet, spirited, and simple demeanor. He exemplified humility and gentleness, a peaceful presence in the midst of some charged circumstances and challenging questions - posed to him in the large venues in which he spoke. "What do you think of Black on Black crime?" asked a young man in the Red Wing juvenile detention center. "What are your feelings or thoughts about President Bush?" asked the contentious (?) MPR host, Kerry Miller. Oh, goodness! To each, the archbishop leaned in, smiled and offered a response from his first hand experience that was kind and thoughtful. I can only imagine St. Francis' thoughts about Archbishop Tutu's responses, which were so poised, honorable, and filled with integrity, humility, and characteristically gentle humor. (But this story is an entirely other blog.)

I hear St. Paul's words as the writer extends them: "preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" and consider the South African Noble Peace Prize winner an exemplary model of what Paul writes.

My heart leaps a bit thinking how connected Luke's words are in the Gospel reading to those scribed to the Ephesians. The peace process that we know of in our souls, in our most core, essential spirit, strikes me as what Christ wants to remind us of, and what Paul invites us to align with, given our blessed and unique calls.

"You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky;" Jesus says, "Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" and “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?"

Christ validates our intuitive knowing, alongside of, or stemming from, our way of moving through the world based on our observations. And then He challenges us to apply these ways of knowing - and being - to our communications in charged and challenging spaces.

"[M]ake an effort to settle the matter," He instructs. It feels connected to Paul's validation of our vocations, our callings here, as Christians, as people of love, justice, peace: "[L]ive in a manner worthy of the call you have received... bearing with one another through love."

Do you know of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings of a post-apartheid South Africa? Can you recall the role Archbishop Tutu played in these public sessions where victim and perpetrator convened, crimes were confessed, and forgiveness extended? Years of violence, civil rights violations, racist separatist laws were acknowledged. Human rights violators began to look compassionately at their own cruel actions. Can you fathom this kind of work abroad? How about in your own community? Does your imagination and faith allow for practical applications of this kind of merciful, honorable, and gentle work? In your church? Home? Your own heart? Do you believe you have a calling to be such a person of peace, justice, reflection and reconciliation?

I stop here and smile, my heart full of possibilities where these texts are concerned, and how they might be realized in my immediate life. Any grievance I have filed against another, any angry action I have taken against another, I have room to see. I close this reflection imagining St. Francis' spirit alive and guiding me, the sweet laugh and peaceful model of a living Desmond Tutu inspiring me. I will continue to try to live my call as a woman of hope, peace, justice, prayer, and action.

How does this scripture speak to you today?

Happy Contemplating!

*This was originally written and posted at the Visitation Monastery Minneapolis blog site.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Speaking to the Fears of Same-Sex Love and Recent Suicides: A Prayerful Response

The past month's headlines reporting the suicides of young people - who have chosen to end their lives because they are perceived as gay - has caused the deepest sorrow in my heart. I have been praying about how to respond.

My prayer is informed by my own life experience. My best friend committed suicide six weeks before we graduated from high school. The death of Greg Schulte has shaped almost the whole of my life, career, vocation on this earth to date. I have worked in many ways - since the events of March 28, 1987 - to be a person of great love, using the gifts I believe God gave me to inspire others in their life journeys; I have worked to cultivate young and old people's perceptions: to see and believe in themselves as beautifully, perfectly made and with a great purpose on this planet. Namely: to love.

When young people kill themselves in such alarming rates, I am called again to revisit my vocation, my response, my work.

My brain, heart, spirit go to my daughter. I look into the face and eyes of Marguerite Marie Kiemde: this beautiful five month old child conceived by François Kiemde and me. I don't want her journey as a young person to include such encounters with self-loathing, hate and fear that inspire such death. I don't want Marguerite - or any of her peers - to encounter the taunting, teasing, tormenting because they might be viewed as homosexual. I don't want any more young people to want to die and to act violently on this desire to not want to continue living.

I try to go to the root of this horrible phenomenon of young people committing suicide. I pray about the best way to address this, transform it, see a way toward a life-giving and loving response and solution.

I read. I listen. I pray. I talk to friends and family who are gay and those who fear homosexuality, and judge same-sex love and relationships as sinful.

I hold the news of these suicides alongside the recent release and mailing of a DVD by our archbishop in Minnesota who is working to define and defend marriage as that natural and appropriate for heterosexual men and women. And I pray. I hear a larger message about a call to partner and commitment, delivered I believe with the most sincere of intentions -- as one extended in love -- but also conveying a message of diminishment to all gay men and women who love and respond to their call to partner. I feel diminished in hearing the message.

I try to hold the contradictions. I wonder about how these messages of our church are connected with the deaths of young people? Is it possible our church leaders are part of the root problem inspiring a desire to die?

Ellen De Generes spoke recently to the bullying of gay young people on her TV show. I wonder how much of a problem this hate of gay children is with just younger people taunting them, as compared with their parents, teachers, priests, elders sending equally hateful messages that torment?

"Respect the person" is a phrase uttered repeatedly by our church and community leaders about our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. This is a form of the "hate the sin, love the sinner" mantra coming from a number of our Catholic priests and bishops, Christian leaders. And I have to say: It's simply not enough. I have to back up and challenge the sin that is being identified in the heart of homosexuals. I ask: "What is it? The sin of loving someone of the same gender? The sin is desire? The sin is attraction? The sin is acting on your desire to love and connect?"

I keep hearing Sr. Eileen Currie, my spiritual director at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat Center in Colorado: "Who do you think gave you your desires?" After a brief pause, she answered emphatically: "GOD!" I can hear all the non-procreative arguments about the root of this desire to physically love someone of the same gender being wrong. And I hold firm: That any intentional alignment with another, of any gender, honoring the intimate soul and being of that person, is nothing, save for a generative and loving action. Period. Heterosexual. Homosexual. Love begets love. It fuels and inspires our every waking moment. If it can be honored, seen, as in fact what it is: the most natural and beautiful gift God gave us. The sin of our leaders, teachers, adults, preachers, is not seeing this, in my humble opinion. We diminish and trample on the dignity and gifts of whole faction of God's creation. It's rampant in our society, culture. And, then, it leads to this. Death.

Why does anyone want to live when all they see and experience are messages of how bad they are? When they are told their call to love is inferior, or rather, intrinsically evil and wrong?

I'm with Ellen. I'm with so many trying to create space to dialogue, educate, be in relationship, transform this fear-space and culture that perpetuates the desire of a person to die. I don't want this walk of fear, shame, death, tragedy for Marguerite, or anyone else's child. I pray for Love.

In peace and prayers,
Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde