From Fr. Dave Sullivan M.Afr., spiritual companion at the MSOLA chapter
On one of the first days of the chapter I spoke in a homily about my first experience of going to a dance where boys and girls danced together. At that time I had no experience of dancing. The girls that I danced with taught me that in order to dance it is necessary to listen to the rhythm of the music and then to move to that rhythm. This lesson is true not only on dancing but also of all aspects of life. We are to listen to the rhythm that God is playing in our lives and then we are to dance to that tune.
During the first days of the MSOLA chapter I had the impression that God was playing a different tune in my life.
It was a more “feminine” tune, a tune that I was not very familiar with. As I was listening to what was happening in the chapter there were moments, especially during the first days, when I felt a certain malaise, a “dépaysement” (change of scenery) – because this was not the way that we “boys” do things! I was no longer fully in my “comfort zone”. I experienced in myself a sort of inner struggle between your feminine way of seeing and doing things and my more masculine sensitivity.
In the chapter there was a “checking in” at the beginning of the morning sessions when the sisters shared what they were thinking and above all what they were feeling. In the evening, at the end of the day, there were integration sessions in which there was more sharing of feelings and personal impressions. Then there were images and symbols: seeds which were sprouting and caterpillars which were turning into butterflies. And all of this was just a little bit different from the way that I was used to. And I found it just a little bit disconcerting.
But then I thought that this was the tune that God was playing in my life, and even if it was not the tune that I would have chosen, it was the tune that God was calling me to listen to, to respect and even to dance to.
As I listened to the music that God was playing in this chapter, I think that God was challenging me to listen to my “feminine” sensitivity, to pay more attention to the “feminine” side of myself, to pay attention to the “mysterious” ways in which the Spirit of God was alive and well and very active in the lives of my MSOLA sisters!
And, as the chapter progressed, I began to see more and more clearly that good things were happening.
A warm safe space was being created in which the sisters were able to share and express really important things, deep feelings and personal experiences, which otherwise would have remained hidden. I could see that if we are to be transformed – and this was the aim of the chapter – it was first necessary to name and to face the deeper issues which are present in our lives and which are preventing us from being the men and women that God wants us to be.
During the chapter these deep-down issues that we tend not to talk about were called the “elephants in the room”. And they can only be faced and evangelised when we create a “safe space” in which we feel secure, accepted and loved – and that is what was happening in the sharing of feelings and images, etc.
The chapter was clearly an experience during which the Holy Spirit was transforming you, my sisters.
But the same Spirit was also at work in the life of me, your brother. The Spirit of God which was inviting you to move from being “caterpillars” in order to become beautiful “butterflies”, was also calling me, your brother, to move out of my “caterpillar” way of being which is too narrowly masculine and maybe even patriarchal and to become a “butterfly” who has integrated something of his feminine side and has allowed it to be evangelised.
So I thank you, my sisters, for challenging me and helping me to pay more attention to my own feminine side and to discover a bit more of who God wants me to become. But be patient, we, your brothers, sometimes need a lot of time to more from being caterpillars to being butterflies.
One of the major themes which struck me during the chapter was the importance of creating a “culture of collaboration”.
This entails, first of all, the creation of a warm, safe space in our communities in which we can feel free to be ourselves and to share something of what we carry in our hearts. This warm safe space is necessary because, all of us, we carry a lot of fragility, vulnerability and hurt and if we don’t have the courage and humility to face it and allow the Lord to evangelise it, we will probably cause pain and hurt to others.
The creation of “a warm, safe space” in our intercultural and intergenerational communities is of vital importance for all of us – both for MSOLA and also for us M. Afr. – as a place where we can feel at home and where we can share something of what we are living. In this culture of collaboration we speak to one another as equals, as brothers and sisters, children of the same God (while recognising that we may have different functions and different gifts) and also we listen to each other, allowing the other person to speak and to feel that s/he has really been heard.
One of the aims of the chapter was “transformation”. This transformation will probably not come from the modification of structures or even from the election of new leaders, but from personal conversion.
Time and time again during the chapter the sisters spoke of the need for personal work. The transformation of our missionary institutes starts with each one of us. As we were told: “Be the change that you want to see in the world” – be the transformation that you want to see in the congregation! And that is as much true for me as it is for you!
The time I spent at the MSOLA chapter was a good time. It was a time when I tried to be a brother to my sisters and when the sisters were really sisters to me. I hope that I respected the sisters and I felt that they respected me. I felt that we were brothers and sisters in the same mission and in such a healthy family spirit we can do great things and God can go great things in us!