Audra Turnbull

“My Heart Felt like Singing”

When I walked into the large space of younger sisters at the National Gathering my heart felt like singing. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in person since the last National Gathering I attended four years ago. I’m not much of a hugger but I found myself hugging friends left and right. These women understand the weirdness and grace that religious life offers. I am always at ease at these events.

It seems so fitting that this year’s theme was “Boldness and Beauty of Communion.” The communion of young women religious for me is both life giving and life altering. One life altering experience was meeting sisters from the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious or CMSWR. During my discernment and formation years, I’ve heard stories of the painful split that occurred between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and CMSWR. I can share my own stories about the divisive Apostalic Visitation.

My curiosity and maybe a little suspension melted while we shared meals, laughter and most importantly our stories. Stories of heartache – on both sides. We shared stories of our beloved sisters and our tumultuous novitiate years.

Stories of women who desired to live religious life in an authentic fashion in a variety of ways. I knew this in my head but my heart learned that when we are formed in stories of pain and suspicion, pain and suspicion is ingrained in us.

As young religious I believe our call is to be bringers of communion in a unique way. Due to differences in lifestyle and beliefs it may look totally different than what we can imagine now. However, I can feel the energy and desire that the two conferences bring. The beauty and boldness of God is more creative and lovely than we ourselves can imagine.

Another experience of communion occurred on the first morning of the gathering. We heard a story from Sister Heba Adel, CSJ who shared her life as a sister in Egypt and Iraq. It was a testimony of love and forgiveness. To hear a story of life and death in person makes you stop everything and take note of the preciousness of life. To see the photos of her church destroyed by hate and how she and she sisters decided to love.

This years gathering has shown me, yet again, the beauty of religious life. A life that is resilient, flexible and diverse. It is a life that has a long history and a few cracks. A life that has a future.