Before I came to the convent I did not know how Sisters showed affection to one another. I saw Sisters happy, joyful and friendly, but I wondered about affection and friendship in the community. As a folk artist I read that another group of celibate religious women and men who were called “Shakers” made small art pieces to give to one another in community. Because the Shakers lived a celibate life as I was choosing, I thought of the art to be like “small valentines.” The Shakers presented these to one another for a job well done that had been difficult to do; when a young member was homesick for the family they had left; to someone who experienced ‘trials and tribulations’ (which I presumed were spiritual hardships) and small scripted decorations that were given for special feast days. It seemed to me their affection was more like giving a “holy card” rather than a valentine!
I began to look for the expression of affection in my own religious community. Giving one another flowers is one sign of affection among Sisters. Birthday cards, cooking supper with love for the community with whom one lives, offering to do another Sister’s “Saturday housecleaning” or seeing a movie as a treat for another—these looked like the clues of expressing love and concern for the other Sisters. I also learned that affection ‘moved around in community’ so every member got some and gave some. No one was excluded or forgotten in small acts of loving.
Namedays and birthdays were occasions for some special attention: a supper celebration that included food the Sister especially loved, small gifts given to her, laughter and conversation that lighted up the evening as did the cake with candles!
I learned that friendships were important to Sisters. Sometimes friends were both Sisters, but there were friendships with others who were not community members. Friends were invited to community meals or for fun on a weekend. Friends helped with yard work in summer or resolved a challenge with a car!
Sometimes friendships were interrupted by a change in ministry for a Sister. She moved to a new geography or to another country in her service for the community. Friendship was a gift from God and there are times when one friendship diminished so a new friendship could begin- not a small challenge and often painful.
In my life I have been aware of the meaning in this scripted message I have used in my folk art: Every ending is a new beginning in our living. Affection for others takes time and creativity. It becomes time well spent that builds up community, makes us aware of others’ needs, and brings fruitfulness to or living and loving. It is helpful to accept the ways others express their affection for us. We receive as much from them as we give. Perhaps we receive even more when we realize, “Yes! God is in this affection we have for one another.”
by Sr. Karlyn Cauley, SDS