Spirituality A Personal Journey A Personal Story (Presented by Colleen Rivers)

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What is spirituality? For me, it is my personal life-long journey into who I am, what I value and believe as well as how I live my life in the every day world. Without developing a deep, intimate relationship with God, my Creator and Best Friend, my spirituality, as I’ve experienced it, could never have evolved.

I was born into a traditional Catholic family at a time when the Victorian Era still held a great deal of power as a benchmark for raising children. My family attended Sunday Mass together and recited the rosary daily after our evening meal. My brothers were altar servers and I joined the choir and celebrated Eucharist daily during my elementary and secondary school days.

Mom was a strong devout Catholic who faithfully followed her religious beliefs and traditions. Dad was an Irish immigrant who converted to Catholicism to marry my Mom. From a young age, I was inquisitive about my Catholic faith and traditions. Mom tried to answer my many questions but I do recall an oft repeated phrase,” Because the Church says so!” This response stirred a spark within me. Little did I realize that the Spirit was moving as gently as a breeze to awaken my passions. Later, I understood what a true gift my Mom’s limited replies were for me!

I was taught by devoted Sisters of St. Joseph and other professional, compassionate, caring priests and lay people. I had determined at a very young age that I would be an elementary school teacher. I had experienced amazing role models.

One catholic priest, during my High school years, challenged me to find my own identity within my family and my faith community by becoming excited about learning who Jesus was for me. This teacher introduced me to exploring the Bible, sharing open discussions and even debating issues in the New Testament. He assisted me by affirming my desire to “seek and question”.

My relationship with my God was deepening. As in most real relationships, there were and continue to be highs, joys, and deep satisfaction in the form of fulfillment. As well, there are lows— pain, sorrow, disappointments felt labouring over actions I was not prepared to accept. I was struggling with delicate, personal choices of family members and friends at work and in the neighbourhood. Even my church community was struggling sometimes. These frequent calls to reflect only heightened my emotions.

Before I began my teaching career, I wrestled with the “call” to become a nun. Every Catholic family that I knew prayed for a priest or nun to measure their family’s success. With much prayer and discussions with myself, my God Friend, and other advisors, I came to understand I was basing my commitment on too many wrong reasons. This was an extremely painful time in my life.

My husband was strongly traditionalist. After Vatican 2, I was really evolving rapidly. I embraced the numerous changes while allowing the Spirit to help incorporate the past with the present for me. My husband made a decision to withdraw from any Church and leave the faith teaching of our children to me. Fortunately, we had a very special priest FRIEND in our lives. Without a doubt, for me, Father Ted M. was the” Joseph of our time”. He was a true visionary---so far ahead of his time in his thinking, living and ability to connect. Together we broke bread, dialogued, played games, sang, laughed, cried and grew spiritually in leaps and bounds. Before my husband died, he found his way back to his God and Church. For Fr. Ted’s patience, love, and willingness to accept who we were at THAT moment, I am forever grateful.

Celebrating Eucharist has always been the central focus of my existence. To enhance these experiences I met with and surrounded myself with others who wanted to dialogue, read and share even controversial books about our faith—books, discussions and celebrations that challenged the very core of our existence. We studied the Bible and so many other articles to understand our traditional roots. I could keep moving in the present with a deeper appreciation and respect for who I was, from where I had originated as well as where I was going.

Recently, I pondered so many times I wrestled with my God to reach an inner peace. My daily prayer included times of silence, times for community celebrating and recognition that each action, thought, and experience was a way to connect with God and all creation. At times, we were so united, so in tune with each other. At other times, I felt distance but never alone. It was through all of these situations, through my deep intimacy with my God that I experienced my greatest hope and harmony.

I am beginning to recognize and willingly accept my awesome wrestling matches with my God. Our friendship deepens, our love grows, and together we walk hand in hand with all creation. I cannot right all the wrongs in my life or anyone else’s life. I cannot save the world. I CAN right my wrongs by learning through the action. I CAN continue to question, to stand up for what I believe, to give thanks for the daily trials and pleasures, to open my heart to the Spirit who dwells within me. Gratitude is my chosen gift for this day.

Thank you, God, for the joys, the sorrows, the successes, the failures, the never-ending love and treasured friendship.

In closing, I am quoting a very wise mentor and dear friend who taught me that “Scripture calls us to a personal struggle. It is in this personal involvement—our personal wrestling match with the mystery of God that we come to faith”. For this gift I am grateful.

by Colleen Rivers

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