Last year, on the long stretch of 35-W my car broke down. Impermanence is a philosophy I regularly entertain, but it is always best enjoyed as a spiritual practice from the comfort of a cushion and not from one of the busiest highways in Minnesota in the middle of winter. I was on my way to volunteer at my favorite radio show and former internship site, On Being with Krista Tippett. This evening was special. Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, was the featured guest of a live-production at the Loring Park studio. I was livid, cold and the antithesis of mindful. I called my father from the roadside and asked for a lift to the dealership where my car would be towed. Once the situation was dealt with, I texted my friend Lily Percy who serves as the Senior Producer at On Being to explain I couldn’t attend. In true millennial fashion, there were a lot of “ !’s” and “ :(’s”.
I will also disclose to you, dear readers that I identify with the term “none”, or what Pew Research has described as a millennial spiritual identity. We are the spiritual, but not religious. The nones are often times disconnected from institutions but networked by friends. When I’m asked about my religion, if allotted I give a ten minute manifesto about my spiritual journey, or I simply respond with “it’s complicated”. Seeking a spiritual awakening is in no sense related to feeling an inherent deficit in my spiritual life; it is a profound realization that I am one with a community bigger than myself. I seek people who have a reverence for the multiplicity of religious expressions, have a sense of gratitude for mystery and who are social justice-makers.
I wasn’t able to join what I felt was that community on the evening of Sr. Simone’s interview last February, but Lily sent me a text message of Simone’s words during the production. It read,
“Right. Because on the cushion, doing the Zen is the easy part of the contemplative life. The harder part is the living in relationship, the living it out, the consistently trying to do what I call deep listening, listening to the needs around me, listening to what I’m — where we’re being nudged and drawn, listening to people’s stories, listening to the murmurs inside of me. That’s the tougher part. And the sitting part is just — I say it’s like this: life’s like a snow globe and it gets all shaken up. And then sitting, doing Zen, you put the snow globe down, and it all sinks down. And there’s clarity. For one brief shining moment every now and then. But I must say that my current little mantra is — to God is, ‘Wake me up. Please wake me up.’ So I feel like I need a new waking up.”
In that moment of time, that was what I needed. Lily knew I needed to hear that. I would like to believe Simone was reminding me to calm down a bit too. I appreciate that Simone’s Zen Buddhist discipline informs and aids her Catholic tradition. The contemplative sage is alive and well in her work of lobbying for social justice at NETWORK. And when I look back to this interview now, I see that Simone does identify as a contemplative.
“ … The heart of who I am is the contemplative. And Gerald May, in this amazing book “Will and Spirit”, says that the only thing that we bring to the contemplative life is a willing heart. And that the two things that shut down the contemplative life are fear and holding on, grasping. And so what I’ve come to realize is that, for me, this journey is about continuing to walk willing towards the hope, the vision, the perspective, the opportunities that are given. But it’s all about where people are hungry. I get invited to where people are hungry. And I’m willing to try to be food for them, just be available, just be present, and listen to their stories or tell mine and — but it’s all about keeping my heart open to what’s around. And not closing up … But the whole contemplative life thing is about ‘walking willing’ aware that we’re one body, and that I’ll be nourished in the process if I give myself over to this bigger need.”
Now a year later, I see with clarity how God is waking me up to always be a presence for the dear neighbor. More poignantly, I appreciate that God brought Sr. Simone back into my life with her visit to St. Catherine University on Tuesday, February 23rd. “Breaking the Impasse VII: A Call to Bridge the Divides” was a gentle wake up call to our need to be and act more as one. Simone’s presence certainly fed all that were in attendance with her call to address the unmet needs of our time, and to work more as one body.
I am reminded that regardless of my identity as a none, there is never a day that passes in which a nun does not move me to action, and feed my hunger for community.
This post was written by Megan Bender, Justice Associate