There is nothing like an assemblage of varied Christmas ornaments on a dining room table to remind oneself about the complex yet beautiful realities of life in community. There are the shiny ones and frosty ones of all assorted sizes. Some are opaque while others are translucent or transparent. Some are fragile; some are not. Certain ones draw attention to themselves while others are easy to overlook. A good number show the wear and tear of the years, and some appear as good as new. Yet, sitting there in anticipation, they have a common purpose.
On the outside looking in, a religious community looks one way. On the inside, one sees a whole different perspective. The diversity of needs and perspectives and hopes and expectations of the members is a vast array. Some have gifts and talents that draw attention, while others quietly blend in and provide a stable strength that upholds the whole by their fidelity and presence.
In community there is a high level of familiarity with one another’s idiosyncrasies, which at times can blur the way we see each other in day-to-day, mundane interactions. We frustrate one another with stubborn opinions, knee-jerk reactions, limited understandings, and opposing preferences for food, activities, leisure, and room temperatures. Some members thrive on spontaneity and change, while others need structure and order. The more extroverted among us are quick to engage in socializing activities, and the more introverted members are just as quick to find a quiet place of solitude to read, to enjoy nature, or to play with a pet project. Even in a small community such as ours, we are as diverse as those Christmas ornaments. And, where there is diversity, there is bound to be complexity!
In another way, however, each member of the community is very much a mystery—a mystery unfolding. As familiar as we are about one another’s qualities, personality traits, and habits, each and every Sister has an unknown inner world of memories, ideas, emotions, dreams and expectations. We surprise one another regularly in moments of sharing and caring. A thoughtful gesture, a profound insight, an unexpected service, an alternative viewpoint, a creative expression…comes at a timely moment from the least likely individual. It is a moment of grace. Each life, for all its frailty, is a thing of beauty to behold for God is at work in her inner life. All have a place and purpose in God’s design. Each day we receive the gift of one another as we are in the unfolding of God’s design, and we are called to nurture one another in sharing the gift of ourselves not only with one another but also with the People of God.
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB