Some people are fortunate to have a great view – you know, like those who snag seats on the floor for a basketball game – or those who get great seats behind home plate at a baseball game or better yet, those who are fortunate enough to get a seat in a suite at a football game. I am sure some of you can relate – the kind of places where you are so close can see the sweat on their brow – the kind where that baseball looks like it is just an arm’s length away – or the view from the suite where you can see the entire field. Well, my experience this past week wasn’t in a gymnasium - or on a baseball field – or in a football stadium. I was just at home and I had the perfect seat – however, I was on the outside looking in – and I had the perfect view.
Fifteen years ago, through the ingenuity of Sr. Mary Luke Jones and the generosity of Lilly Endowment, the program Women Touched by Grace came to be. It is a Spiritual Renewal Program for Christian Women Pastors. Over the course of this time, over 60 women, from all over the United States and Canada, have “graced” the halls of the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center – attending classes – engaging in conversation – building relationships – and affirming their special call. They also have “graced” the halls of the Monastery and Chapel – joining the community for prayer – sharing meals – becoming prayer partners with the sisters – and spending time with us during social times. I truly believe this program has done as much for the community as it has for the women pastors.
Being on the outside looking in, I have a very special vantage point. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about what speakers to secure, or logistics to work out, or any planning, or really, anything for that matter. No, I am blessed because I get to sit back and just watch. I am blessed because I make the airport runs – arrivals and departures. I am the first one who gets to see most of the women and the last one to say good bye. I am the one who gets to hear the anticipation in their voices as we get closer to Beech Grove and the one who hears the sadness in their voices as we approach the airport before they head home. But my greatest joy is when we pull into the parking lot and I get to say, “Welcome Home” and each woman feels as though they are. Although this may sound strange – the anticipation and the sadness gladdens my heart because I realize how wonderful it is for them to be with us and how sad it is when they have to leave.
Being on the outside looking in, I watch them interact with each other and the sisters. I see the respect they have for each other and the admiration they have for our community. It makes me smile when they see each other for the first time, whether it has been just a few months or several years, the joy is contagious, and a wonderful spirit fills the halls, the meeting rooms, the cafeteria, the Monastery and the Chapel. It is simply pure happiness personified in our midst.
Being on the outside looking in, I get to see women of different denominations, ethnicity, backgrounds, ages, sizes, personalities and demographics, interact with a Monastic Community of women. In mere moments, possibly even seconds, I see no differences between the two groups. We do not define each other by faith communities, or physical features, or history, or locale – once we gather, especially in the Chapel, we simply become women of faith who believe in a God who is inclusive, who loves unconditionally and who bonds us together.
Being on the outside looking in, I hear all of the gratitude these women hold in their hearts for our community. Each woman offers so many wonderful words of appreciation for our hospitality, prayers and friendship – I just hope they realize how much we appreciate them for all they give to us in return and how much we appreciate them. Who would of thought that a dream of one person could have such an impact on so many women? Women, whose paths probably would never have crossed otherwise, but whose lives have changed profoundly because of it. What a gift it has been to be a part of the reality of her dream and what a gift these women have been to our community. I wish they could see it from my view.