Sr. Wendy Grace, n/ssjd
For the last three or four months I’ve been repeating a few lines from St. Teresa of Avila as a kind of mantra, “Everything is changing. God alone is changeless”. These two sentences come from a longer poem which I have often used with the Anglican Rosary:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
Everything is changing,
God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
Who has God lacks nothing.
God alone supplies every need.
~~ St.Teresa of Avila
I said these words to myself in January as I traveled out to St. John’s House in Victoria BC for what I expected would be about six months of branch house time.
I said these words as the personnel in the house changed and changed again.
I said these words when the announcement was made that St. John’s House was closing by a mutual decision of SSJD and the Diocese of British Columbia.
I said these words when plans were made and then almost as quickly changed.
I said these words as COVID-19 became more and more of an issue and as a result, our leadership made the decision to close St. John’s House even earlier than planned.
I said these words at the end of March as Sr. Brenda, Sr. Beryl and I returned to Toronto and entered 14 days of isolation in the Guest House.
Some days I’ve said it with perfect peace and some days I’ve said it through gritted teeth.
For the first few days of isolation all I wanted, and needed to do, was sleep. Then the three of us started saying the offices together and began to talk about how we might celebrate Easter while in isolation. I decided to view the time in isolation as liminal time; no longer in Victoria but not yet safe at home either. Still, it felt like an opportunity to just be for a change.
Our isolation ended on the Tuesday after Easter. It was not quite an Easter resurrection but it was good to be out of isolation. The convent I returned to was not quite the same convent I had left. When you live and work and worship in the same place you’d think you could carry on much as usual. Except you can’t.
We’ve had to lay off some of our housekeeping and administrative staff so sisters are now filling in the gaps. Sisters who would ordinarily be offering spiritual care at St. John’s Rehab Hospital are now vacuuming and doing laundry. Many of us are using technology, like Zoom, to keep up with meetings or appointments which cannot be delayed. Most of us have had to make some kind of a change in our daily work.
We no longer celebrate the daily Eucharist. We no longer open our doors to share our lives with others. We only allow essential visitors into the convent and sisters take turns carefully screening all visitors. We wash our hands repeatedly. We’re spread out in the Chapel and the Refectory and we hold our daily Conference, and Community Time, in the much larger conference room instead of our smaller, cozier Community Room.
And I keep telling myself that we’re fine, that we’re more fortunate than most, that others are much worse off. I’ve always had trouble with that kind of attitude and yet it keeps reappearing in my life. I once heard a preacher say, “I was sad that I had no shoes and then I met a man who had no feet.” I don’t think it is a particularly biblical attitude. The Bible is full of people crying out to God; off the top of my head I can think of Moses, Naomi, Peter, Mary Magdalene. Not to mention the many psalm writers who ask ‘how long’ or cry ‘Help, O Lord’.
As people of faith I think it is acceptable to express how we are feeling even, perhaps especially, to God. It’s okay to grieve the closing of a Branch House, the loss of ministries, the isolation from friends and family, the loss of freedom, the lack of normalcy. Even if others are much less fortunate. Everything is changing but God hasn’t. And neither has God’s love for us. God’s love for us is unconditional.
There will always be someone both better and worse off than you. God has promised to be with us regardless. God doesn’t say “I will be with you but only if your suffering reaches a certain level on the scale of suffering”. God’s message is, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Everything has changed. Everything is changing. But God never changes. And neither does God’s love for us.