When I disclose that I teach in a junior high school, it’s not unusual for me to receive clucks of sympathy or kind words of appreciation; I suppose there are many people who don’t look back on their middle school years too fondly. While it’s true that teenagers are not always angels, they do often offer a lot of wonderful surprises.
One of my classes especially warmed my heart. In self-isolation due to close contact with a student who tested positive for Covid-19, I was teaching virtually from home with a slightly dry throat.
I ended up coughing a few times and was the recipient of some very sweet expressions of concern: “Sister, are you all right?”, and “You should take some tea with lemon and honey,” and “Make sure you rest after class is over.”
As I reflected on how lovely it was to be the recipient of my students’ loving concern, I began to think about how a lot of the kindnesses sent my way this week only happened because I had been forced to spend more time at home doing less. It was like I was living my own version of the story of Martha and Mary from Luke’s Gospel.
You see, like many of you reading this post, I tend to be a doer. I enjoy taking my turn at cooking supper and helping out with household chores and regularly leading the evening prayer. At work, I have a strong sense of wanting to do my part in the life of the school community. I take pride in generally being fairly well-organized and competent. You might say that Martha and I would have gotten along just fine.
And yet, due to reasons outside of my control, I find myself much more like Martha’s sister, Mary, these days. Unable to supervise students at school, temporarily banned from cooking, and unable to complete most of the regular chores for my religious community, there’s not nearly as much “doing” in my life at the moment.
With an intensity that cannot be ignored right now, I am asked to accept what God sends me through the hands, hearts and voices of those around me, but at a distance. With each beautifully prepared meal left outside my bedroom door, with every thoughtful phone call from a friend, with every message of encouragement and promise of prayer, I become more like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, receiving from God. As it turns out, unsurprisingly, God is so very generous!
When Rev. Pedro Arrupe, a former general superior of the Jesuits was very sick, he wrote:
“More than ever, I now find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth … but now there is a difference: the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in his hands.”
While I don’t pretend that my experience of self-isolation matches that of Arrupe’s illness, I do understand his words in a new way. It is indeed humbling to be “in the hands” of my FCJ Sisters and the larger community of people that know me. It is a sacred place to sit before God as a recipient of the loving kindness of so many.
During this time of pandemic, let us pray that we all can sit still and be in touch with our inner “receiver”, our inner Mary, able to see the generous gifts that God offers through the hands, hearts and voices of those around us.
-Sister Michelle Langlois, fcJ is chaplain and a teacher at St. Thomas More junior high school in Edmonton. Her column was originally published on the FCJ Sisters’s Weaving One Heart blog.