When we first moved into Asbury Tower, our time was largely taken up with “the wheres”—where are the supermarkets, drug stores, churches, doctors, where are the service stations, etc.?—essentials when moving into a new neighborhood . . . particularly for those who were not exactly seasoned in apartment living. I seem to remember, way back then, that one of the long-time residents asked if the sisters would like to take over the Sunday Eucharistic Services. But we were heavily involved in Maslow’s very lowest level of human development, e.g., food: are Shop-Rite bananas cheaper than Wegman’s and, if so, are they as good? New spiritual responsibilities, especially of the “take over” type, were not on top of our lists. After all, Asbury Tower Sundays were, and had been for years, in the capable hands of a dedicated group of lay women, all of whom knew each other and knew their way around an altar. We didn’t know anyone and some of us were not all that familiar with altars, (from the point of view of ministry experience and of novitiate training that recognized the cleaning of bathrooms as equal to flower arrangements).
Time went on. We solved “the wheres” and gradually moved up Maslow’s ladder. We became comfortable with these good people, in spite of their tendency to believe that nuns (the term that eventually identified us) knew all about everything religious.
[A brief digression: We are still spoken of by some as "former nuns," which puzzled us until we realized that, in the minds of many residents, if you are retired, you are retired! To correct this situation may seem simple, but once you explain that no longer working doesn't mean no longer being a nun, you may very well hear: "Then what is a nun?" A sincere question but a teachable moment? Over muffins and coffee?]
One of the sad results of time passing was the death of the priest who had come for Mass one Sunday a month. Diocesan reconfiguration of parishes eventually introduced us to new priests who came twice weekly but not on Sunday. Once again, as in our early days, there was an opportunity to help. One of us suggested that we might take turns giving homilies (or “reflecting,” if our consciences preferred; after all, we are only women, non-ordained persons, if the point needs to be made stronger). And so we began preaching at Sunday Eucharistic Services. Our efforts seem to be accepted by the group, but is it our words and ideas or our nun-identity that legitimizes us? (Remember, nuns have to know everything about religion.)
Possibly the spiritual event that appears most valuable is our bi-weekly meditation time. A group of us meets every other Tuesday afternoon for what might be “meditation,” but also might be listening, thinking, or maybe just “being.” There is usually music, semi-darkness, sometimes a candle (electric, just to be safe), maybe flowers, words spoken by the leader for that day, silence, and time for journeying into ourselves. It’s a Judeo-Christian experience for about 15-20 and it’s well-loved. But we weren’t always sure of that. Were we being helpful? Was it too wordy? Too quiet? Too long or short? Was it too Christian for our Jewish members? One week the leader, trying to find out what would be most positive for the group, asked “Why do you come?” Some said “relaxation” or “quiet.” Then one person said that this time together was her “Church.” Others agreed and expanded on the thought. It didn’t seem strange to them. There was a small silence while we got used to the idea.
We hadn’t tried to be a church, at least not in the sense of a religious ritual or ceremony. But once said, it was very nice to hear. We, all of us who attend, are an accepting group. We have session leaders but no Leader. It’s okay to respond, to question, to wonder, and more and more to hang around afterward. Sessions and what follows have lengthened from 20-30 minutes to an hour and a half, which may be the surest sign of a good thing.
So now we’re climbing up the developmental ladder. . . from food to spirit. Maslow would be proud.