It Is All Part Of An Expanding Circle

I walked up to the microphone at the front of the ballroom, holding my notebook in the crook of my arm.  We had just finished our small group discussions about St. Angela’s radical gospel vision and the ways we continue to expand our circles, and I had been elected to report our table’s insights to the larger group.  I looked out at the crowd gathered before me, over two-hundred members of the international Ursuline community, including vowed religious, associates, and companions from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and India.  Most of them have been living the Gospel and the charism of Angela since before I was born, yet here I stood humbly before them, and they listened.
If someone had taken a snapshot of my moment addressing the Ursuline community and showed it to my younger self, I wouldn’t have believed that it would be a part of my future.  I had only been introduced to the Ursulines a little over a year ago when Sr. Norma came to speak at my church in small-town Garrettsville, Ohio.  Ever since my two-month stay at the Motherhouse as a Companion in Mission that summer, my relationship with the community has continued to grow.
Sisters, Associates, co-workers and a few friendsFriday’s featured speaker Sr. Sue Scharfenberger, OSU, compared the notion of “community” to a circle.  Each of the points on a circle are equidistant, and any two points on a circle can be connected by a chord.  The image resonated with my experience with the Ursulines of Youngstown, as well as with the participants at the convention.  Regardless of a person’s title—sister, associate, friend—I felt an affinity with each person I met.  Our relationship with the community might be different, but we shared a common connection: Angela.  On an elevator ride Saturday afternoon, one of the sisters asked me if I was enjoying the convention, and I told her I’d met many interesting people.  She replied, “You’ll find that those conversations are not a fringe benefit but one of the main enrichments of events like this.”  Truly, I learned as much from the planned events and discussions as I did from the spontaneous meetings—conversations at lunch, at the various vendor booths, or on the bus ride to the Reds baseball game.
In her speech, Sr. Sue also talked about the possibility of being a part of several circles at once, which Sr. Mary Alyce described as “cross-pollination.”  After dinner on Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to witness this process unfolding.  A crowd of people had gathered in the hallway outside the ballroom, engaged in their own small conversations.  The Mexican sisters were posing for a picture when all of a sudden, their smiles turned into song.  Lyrics of Mariachi music filled the hallway, and American sisters who recognized the tune joined in the chorus.  The energy was contagious, drawing more people into the group until everyone was swaying and clapping to the music.  It was a moment of pure joy and harmony.
Thinking back to my first introduction to the Ursulines—meeting Sr. Norma at my small-town church—I had no idea how expansive of a community I was entering into.  The featured speaker on Saturday, Sr. Catherine Bertrand, SSND, addressed this notion of expanding perspectives.  She showed a slideshow of illustrations from Zoom, a children’s book by Istvan Banyai.  The first image was an unidentifiable cluster of specks on a pointy red sliver, which the next image revealed was the comb on top of a rooster’s head.  Each series of images revealed a widening of perspective.  The children watching the rooster were part of a miniature play set, which evolved into an image on a postage stamp.  The focus continued to widen until the planet earth appeared on screen, tiny amidst the stars.  As someone at my table pointed out, the video started and ended with a speck.
There is no real beginning and no real ending.  It is all part of the circle—a circle which continues to expand.