Suffering and Living - Thea Bowman

I use a variety of prayer books to guide my time alone with God. This is especially true while I'm on vacation and don't have the benefit of praying with my community. One of the books I'm using this Christmas Season is the Little Blue Book by the Diocese of Saginaw - if you haven't used their Little Books before, I highly recommend checking out these little gems. The little blue book gives you two pages for each day. One page walks you through the Scriptures of the season. The other page gives you a little fact or tells you about a holy person.

Yesterday's holy person was Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA. Yesterday would have been her 71st birthday. For those of you who haven't heard of Thea Bowman, she has her own Wikipedia page! Also, the FSPA's have a nice page dedicated to her legacy. (As a side note, my great-great Aunt Sister Rose Francois was also a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration.)

Here's what the Little Book had to say about her:
Born on this day in 1937, the granddaugter of a slave, Bertha Bowman was a natve of Mississippi. At age nine, she was baptized Catholic, and her parents later enrolled her in a Catholic school run by Franciscan Sisters. At age 16, Bertha joined the Franciscan community and took the name Sister Thea ("of God"). She was the only black member of her community.

Sr. Thea had a remarkable singing voice and used it to familiarize people with black and spiritual songs. One of her goals was to bring more of the black traditions into the Cahtolic Church in the United States.

After getting her doctorate in English, Sr. Thea worked in Mississippi and Louisiana. Much sought after as a speaker, she brought her message to colleges and churches arund the country. She was even profiled by "60 Minutes."

In 1984, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which soon spread to her bones. As the cancer progressd, she continued her mission - in a wheelchair for the last two years of her life.

Sr. Thea died of cancer March 31, 1990. She was 52.

I found a quote on the Wikipedia page from her interview with 60 minutes: "I think the difference between me and some people is that I'm content to do my little bit. Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change. But if each one would light a candle we'd have a tremendous light." Amen. That approach to life probably explains the quote in the Little Blue Book from Sr. Thea that has been stuck in my mind for days, ever since I stumbled upon it thumbing through the book:

"I don't make sense of suffering ... I try to make sense of life." - Sr. Thea Bowman

There's so much suffering in the world. Gaza, Iraq, Darfur,poverty in our own communities, homes in this neighborhood that may be suffering from domestic violence or saying goodbye to a loved one, etc... I've written before about my personal struggles with suffering. To sum up where my struggles have taken me, I've come to realize that suffering is. And that while God doesn't in my opinion cause the suffering, God is with us in the suffering, just as we are there with each other. In our openness, vulnerability, compassion - and Sr. Thea no doubt would say living - we find God and we find each other. Dare I say it, we find hope.

So I will keep thinking on these wise words of hers ... what am I doing to make sense of life? How am I contributing with my little bits to the great light that makes all the difference in the world??

Have a great day everyone.


Dr. Mooney said...

I remember Sr. Thea from the 1970s. I attended several workshops on liturgy and ministry she gave in New Orleans. She was truly a remarkable woman.

Melissa said...

Sister Thea is an inspiration to me too. I read a magazine article about her one time, and never forgot her! Thanks for blogging about this tremendous lady! :)