Refreshment, History & Hope

Sometimes it is good (and perhaps necessary) to step away, relax, have fun and breathe some fresh air for a bit.  That's what I did this past weekend ... in New Orleans.

For the past five years, I have spent MLK weekend in the company of young nuns at the Giving Voice under 40s retreat. It has been so life giving to recharge my batteries in a sunny spot in the company of my peers in religious life from a multitude of congregations. Seeing as this is the year I will turn the big 40 (in July), this could have been my last Under 40s retreat weekend in the sun.

Instead, I decided to spend the weekend in another sunny spot with a young nun friend of mine who has already entered her 4th decade of life.  You might call it our slightly older young nun weekend.  She flew from New York, I flew from Seattle and we met in New Orleans.  Her Ursuline community has a few houses in NOLA so we had a free place to stay, new friends to get to know, all within a few blocks of the St. Charles Street Car. What more could you ask for?

I had great fun learning a bit about the long history of the Ursulines in New Orleans.  I also met a Christian Brother and learned about some of the post-Katrina ministries of men and women religious in New Orleans.  We walked leisurely through the French Quarter.  In honor of my mother who LOVED them, we stopped at Cafe Du Monde for some beignets and cafe au lait.  We went shopping on Magazine Street and ate lots of yummy food (jambalaya, po-boys, gumbo oh my!). It was a great celebration of my final vows and opportunity to reconnect, relax and get refreshed.

On Sunday we went along with some friends to mass at St. Gabriel's parish, a thriving mostly african-american parish which has come back to life after Katrina despite the odds.  For three weeks after Katrina, the church and surrounding neighborhood were flooded with 3 to 12 feet of water.  Mold destroyed the rest.  Most of the parishioners were scattered all over Louisiana and the country.  Slowly the neighborhood has started to come back.  You could see a mix of boarded up and abandoned homes and reconstructed ones.  The church itself is now quite beautiful ... thanks to the hard work of many.  Apparently the Archdiocese had decided to close the parish rather than use the insurance to fix it up.  The parish was only able to stay open by agreeing not to expect any of the insurance money.

What most impressed me however was the spirit and prayerful presence of the St. Gabriel's parish community.  They sang of being blessed by God.  Of loving God.  Of praising God. And thanking God.  Over and over and over.  We were welcomed and enveloped by many during the kiss of peace. I never cease to be amazed by the human spirit and the capacity to hope in the midst of so much suffering.

All in all it was a wonderful weekend.  I returned of course to a freakish Pacific Northwest snow storm.  But I am still warmed from my memories of walks in the sunny air of NOLA in the company of a good friend.  I feel refreshed and able to enter fully into all that lies ahead in my very busy schedule!

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