Spiritual roots and wings are more than symbolic. They can remind you of a deep and abiding legacy that may lay dormant within you today.
Childlike spiritual awareness doesn’t always center on a specific religious discipline as mine did. It can also take root in the simplest of times: summers spent at a lake, working on science projects with that one inspirational teacher, hiking in the woods, or playing sports.
Regardless of how the tapestry of your life began and evolved, sometimes going home, even if only in your mind, can be an excellent practice in self nurturing and growth.
Deeply rooted spiritual beliefs and traditions reach back into our soul resonating in new and glorious pathways.
I was fortunate to be educated in a small pre-Vatican II Catholic grammar school taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, “women with hearts as wide as the world.” The sisters dedicated their lives to God and our academic and spiritual growth. The environment was structured and our in-school time was orchestrated to the minute. In many ways we, their students, were inextricably linked to the sisters’ calling and gifts of service to God. And for short snippets of time, we were family.
“The sisters charism now, as then, is to make known God’s goodness.”
“The sisters of Notre Dame were founded by mother Julie Billiart as a teaching order. Years ago, young women touched by God with a religious vocation flocked to the various Catholic religious orders to dedicate their lives to Jesus in service to others. They willingly took vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience.”
Back in the day, the sisters wore the now infamous black habit, replete with veil and stiff white starched bib. The long rosary beads that belted their waist authoritatively dangled whenever they walked.
In our classroom prayer breaks meant change, and to a kid any break, especially recess, was a good thing. Prayer started and ended our day. I remember kneeling in prayer on our student chairs that faced a large wall of glass windows. It was nice to glimpse the beautiful hill outside of the classroom as we lifted our hearts to God. Quite simply, it gave us a break from the regimented lessons of day.
Being introduced to nature this way as a young child maybe why I now ascribe a spiritual message to every manifestation of nature.
Interspersed throughout our daily lessens was a deep understanding of the importance of the sacraments, the consequences of our actions, and an abiding awareness and reverence for the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Even as young children we learned lofty concepts such as transubstantiation, the meaning of the Holy Trinity, confession and forgiveness. In addition, rituals were a large part of our religious indoctrination. We blessed ourselves with holy water when we entered the church, genuflected before the altar and when in church the girls had to wear something on their head, a scarf or veil, but something.
Recently a series of coincidences led me to reunite with my favorite and most impactful nun Sister Eleanor Saint John. Now still vibrant and intelligent in her eighties, I could not believe I had found her and that she remembered me. She not only remembered me, but fifty plus years later I swear she had total recall of most of the students and sisters at that time.
We live my memories not by truth.
Handily tucked away in my memories, I remembered a young Sister Eleanor as a larger than life persona with milky white flawless skin and a vibrant smile. Frozen in time she was energetic, enthusiastic, funny, and delightful. Sister did however have a no-nonsense way about her as they all did. As students we were sometimes rambunctious, and certainly the wooden clicker over-clicked every now and then, but the main theme was focus and learning with a touch of humor and fun added in for good measure.
The scene was pre-Elvis and the Beatles. But this was our now and we were all young, beautiful and new. The sisters were commanding in their mysterious black habits. The fashion-secure girls wore dark green jumpers (from Toomey rental) and white blouses with clip on bow ties. The boys donned rather ho-hum crisp white shirt and ties. From old class photos you can however see the odd personal choice variances in their trouser selections. The world was just about to burst forth into the full-blown turmoil of the sixties revolution. But for now, this was dictated fashion at its best. This was reality.
Tiny steps large footprints
Imagine getting a chance to go back in time. That is what it was going to be like being reunited with Sister Eleanor again. I was actually nervous getting ready to knock on her door.
Sister was an integral part of my spiritual roots and now the wings of life brought me to a full circle moment to help remind me who I am.
Sister Eleanor enthusiastically met me at the door and gave me a welcoming hug. The black habit has since been replaced with street cloths adorned with her Notre Dame cross. Throughout the conversation I did catch myself saying, “Yes Sister” and realized I am still her student ready to listen attentively and take direction.
We shared how our lives evolved and Sister unbelievably rattled off the names of tons of students from my group. That total recall impressed me both because she was still brilliant, but also it was clear that each student remained in her heart as valued and important.
Saint Julie Billiart “began the Institute of Notre Dame, which was dedicated to the education of the poor as well as young Christian girls and the training of catechists.” On one visit I brought a small flower to leave with Sister Eleanor. She quickly suggested we put it in front of Saint Julie’s statue. As I was leaving I smiled thinking how selfless and giving Sister remains to this day. She is still the teacher and I remain her dutiful student.
Now more than ever I remain grateful to Sister Eleanor and her colleagues. They perpetuated Saint Julie’s vision and I was one of the young girls from a blue collar working family who benefited from their lifelong commitment.
For year parents have been encouraged to give their children roots and wings. Developing deeply engrained spiritual roots also takes a village. On the winds of change our spiritual wings will help us both venture forth and return home even when we think the nest is empty.
I will share more Sister Eleanor stories, but for now I want to encourage you to reconnect with your personal back-story or experience. It may help you find or redefine your spiritual identity or perhaps renew your commitment and zeal.
GlasgowAmateur / Foter.com / CC BY-SA