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.