October 2020

Volume  99, Number 2

The coronavirus has changed us in so many ways.  It has caused us to shelter-in-home for months which is a new experience!  This invisible virus has prevented us from connecting with people outside our homes whether family or friends.  It has broken our connection to fellow parishioners and especially our Spred catechists and friends.  Covid-19 has been frightening in many ways especially not being able to see our loved ones who were hospitalized or visit those in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers or residential facilities. Yet, I believe that we must still have hope.

 

            “May the God of hope bring you such joy and peace in your faith

            that the power of the Holy Spirit will remove all bounds to hope.”

                                                                                         Romans 15:13

 

I have heard stories of real bonding with those we live with through shared activities, such as playing games, cooking, baking, watching movies, leisurely meals as a family around the kitchen table.  This time together has helped family members learn more about one another.  One of my neighbors shared an experience with her family.  They went to the forest preserve and walked awhile.  Then they enjoyed their picnic lunch before returning home.  I myself have had many opportunities to have lengthy telephone conversations with friends near and far.  I even experienced a conference call on a speaker phone that one of my friends arranged so that four of us could talk together from various locations.  What a wonderful experience!  I have stayed connected by mailing cards to various friends and family members.  Some of them live in residential facilities or CILA homes and have been sheltered-in-place for many months with no visitors permitted.  One family thanked me for sending cards to their daughter who loves to receive mail.

 

Many of our Spred communities have been very creative in connecting with friends with intellectual disabilities and other Spred catechists. 

 

One Spred community share an ice cream social via Zoom.  Another Spred community celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation with their pastor in mid-July since churches are now open for Mass and celebration of sacraments.  Catechists from a Spred group organized a car parade visiting all of their friends.  My parish has had weekend Mass since mid-June.  One day in July, I was surprised to see one of the Spred catechists and two of the Spred friends serve as greeters to register people as they walked into the church for Mass.  Then they helped the parishioners to get a squirt of hand sanitizer before entering the church.  I heard of another Spred community’s plans to create a gift basket for each of their friends containing items that they enjoy in Spred or at school.  The thoughtfulness of all these people lifts my spirit.

I truly miss our Spred sessions which ended abruptly in mid-March.  I realize that Spred is my community of faith.  My Spred friendships deepen through the sharing of our stories.  All the catechists and friends are storytellers in our Spred sessions.

 

I have discovered some valuable insights into the importance of telling our stories in the sacred space which is created by the leader catechist for all of us.

 

            “Whether the delivery is amateur or professional.... All that matters,

            it seems is that the teller cares about his or her story.” 1

 

Many people who are new to Spred seem uncomfortable talking about an ordinary life experience that they have had.  I realize that perhaps some people feel that their life story is too ordinary to talk about.  They become embarrassed.  But all that matters is that you care about your story.

 

            “Good story telling is people telling stories that they really

            care about and want to tell, audiences they really care about

            and want to tell them to.  It is a gift.” 2

 

I enjoy listening to other catechists’ stories, but not in judgment nor in comparison to my own stories. I find that this sharing builds community among us.  All who say yes to Spred ministry know that we are a community open to sharing our stories to build relationships of trust and respect.  Each of us feels that our sharing is sacred.  Otherwise Spred catechists would never feel comfortable enough to share a life experience.   Trust would be shattered.

 

            “Stories are medicine.  The language bypasses the ego -

            it’s a dream language.  And the entities in the psyche that

            pay attention to dream language are the soul and the spirit.”3

 

Our goal is communion with God through the process of evocations, through the process of calling to mind our own stories.

 

            “The catechist preparation session which precedes each experience

            with our friends provides a means for us to develop as a community

             of faith.  We participate in a process which calls us to evoke a lived

            experience.  We engage all our being, body, mind, and spirit to become

            so present to an event, so caught up in it that we live it symbolically.

            Each person’s evocation is unique yet all are linked intrinsically,

            stemming from the same intentionality.  After sharing, the leader catechist

            explicitly situates our experiences in the faith of the church (which

            we call the liturgical evocation).  Our experience is illuminated and

            we become aware of God’s presence.  As the leader reads from the

            Book of God’s Word (which we call the biblical evocation) we

            experience being disposed interiorly under the action of the Spirit

            to receive the message of Jesus.  The experience is one of being

            unified and gathered together in God.” 4

 

Each time I meet new Spred core team members during training or when a new group is formed,

I am delighted to lead a catechist preparation session.  I begin by stating that sharing our stories is a gift to the Spred community to build trust among us.  What is shared by each one of us is sacred and remains within the sacred space.  I give the community twenty minutes of silence to reflect on lived experiences so as to discern what story to tell.  We have to have truly lived an experience we want to share in order to unearth the feelings that the stories evoke.  As the session progresses we realize that we are drawing closer to God in our everyday lives.  We cannot rush the catechist preparation session.  It simply unfolds as one moves through the evocations led by the leader catechist.  In sharing the story of a lived experience, we tap into our feelings and emotions that resonate within us.  This enhances our memory and helps us to be in communion with a loving and merciful God.

 

            “Telling our stories helps us to discover who we really are.

            I don’t really learn my story except in the process of telling it.”5

 

            “The discovery of God’s love in the common events in everyday

             life helps us to develop a more contemplative attitude regarding

            our experience.  We treasure life as the dwelling place of the sacred.

            We savor the times we gather to sense the Mystery of life and rest

            in the Presence which defies explanation.  We experience our identity

            as an ecclesial community and grow in our ability to trust the Spirit

            of God who missions each of us to be Light for others. 6

 

            “Everyone of us has a heart full of tales to share drawn from the

            unreplicable details of everyday living.” 7

 

When I choose new catechists to share in a catechist session during their training, I realize that these are volunteers who may not have experienced this kind of catechesis.  Yet I am utterly amazed by what they share.  It is a real gift to learn more about their lives and their faith in God who is present with us.

            “Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound

            respect for each other.  Work for the Lord with untiring effort and

            with great earnestness of spirit. If you have hope, this will make you

            cheerful.  Do not give up if trials come; and keep on praying...and

            you should make hospitality your special care.”  Romans 12:10-13

 

            “When the catechists complete their catechist preparation session,

            they are alert for the coming session with their friends with intellectual

            and developmental disabilities.  They want to know even more about

            their friends’ lives, their activities, their events, good and bad.” 8

 

            “We’re talking about a spiritual journey.  Finding the story is part of the

            work.”9                                                                                

Elizabeth Sivek

Chicago Spred Community Religious Worker

 

 

1.”Once Upon A Time” Yoga Journal, Ann Cushman, July/August, 1993, 2.Ibid, 3.Ibid

4.”A Place of Welcome for the Presence of God,” Sr. Susanne Gallagher, Spred Newsletter, Jan. 2009

5. Ibid. “Once Upon A Time”   6. Ibid. A Place of Welcome for the Presence of God.

7. Ibid. “Once Upon A Time”   8.”Support Catechists for the Mission,”

 

 

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