Vulnerability in Religious Life

In the past months, the theme that keeps finding me is vulnerability—but not necessarily as a bad thing.  How can that possibly be?  It first found me when I read an article by the English theologian Sarah Coakley, who spoke of prayer as vulnerability.  She explains that she herself was transformed by her prayer.  Her silent prayer allowed God’s word to work in her, to transform her understanding (as it so often does, if we only let it).  

Vulnerability requires us to relinquish control.  We risk losing what we have and facing something completely unknown.  We want God in our lives, but in a way that allows us to do the planning, to control the relationship so it suits our desires.  It doesn’t always work like that, though God certainly wants us to be our best unique selves and to be happy.  In our relationship with God, we are not in control.

But, really, we do not control any of our relationships.  Each one of them must be a place of vulnerability, where we open ourselves to be known and changed by another person.  We do that daily with the women in our communities by sharing our lives with one another.  We love our sisters, and in loving them, we allow ourselves to be shaped and transformed by them in unexpected ways.  

Whether we like it or not, religious life is in a vulnerable state right now.  It’s not specifically about aging populations or that horrible word, “diminishment.”  Instead, our vulnerability now lies in our uncertainty about the future and our lack of control over what will happen.  When we can fully embrace that, when we can be fully open to our places of vulnerability, then God can work freely in us.  God can and will transform religious life in ways that we are incapable of imagining.

In this month of November, we take time to give thanks for all the ways that God has touched our lives and provided what we need.  We remember the gifts we have been given – the food on our table, the love of our families, the companionship of our sisters, our good health and moments of healing.  These are our memories of God’s fidelity to us, a way for us to strengthen the faith it takes to become vulnerable again and again, to God and to the people we care about.  

May we allow God to work in our vulnerability, creating anew religious life for a glorious future.