On Our Way to Becoming a “We”

by Melannie Svoboda SND on November 13, 2017

In his book, What Is the Point of Being a Christian? Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe tells the story of a famous rabbi who received a letter from a man in deep distress. “I ask for your help,” the man wrote. “I wake up every day sad and apprehensive. I can’t pray. I find it impossible to concentrate. I keep the commandments, but I feel no spiritual satisfaction. I go to the synagogue, but I feel alone.  I don’t know what life is all about. I need your help.” The rabbi returned the letter to the man, underlining the most prominent word in each sentence: I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I.

Loneliness can be a symptom of an “I problem.”

The writer Alice Camille says that we humans sometimes have an “I problem.” We focus too much on ourselves in isolation from the rest of humanity and the rest of the world. “I” statements can be adversarial, she says. If there is an “I,” then “there has to be a ‘you’ on the other side of the table.” Camille concludes: “The cure for ending the battle between ‘you’ and ‘I’ is finding the way to ‘we.’”

Finding the way to we… That phrase really touched me. Aren’t some of the critical issues today really an “I-You” problem? If we’re racist, it’s because we separate a particular race from ourselves. We “I’s” against you “you’s.” If we’re sexist, it’s because we separate one gender from another. We hold one gender superior to the other. If we’re ultra-nationalistic, then it can be we Americans (or we Canadians or we Australians) against you the rest of the world.

Sharing the solar eclipse was a “we” experience for many.

It seems to me that the great challenge is to “widen our we.” We are called to become more and more inclusive in our awareness and in our love. Every now and then, we have experiences that show us we are not separate “I’s” and “you’s.” We are all one. Sadly, it is often tragedy that dispels the illusion of our separateness. A devastating hurricane, a mass shooting, a flu epidemic—all can unite us in the shared experience of human vulnerability, suffering, and pain.

Fortunately there are positive events that can dispel the illusion of our separateness too. A couple of months ago vast parts of the U.S. experienced a total eclipse. Millions of people witnessed this incredible phenomenon firsthand or via TV or the web. Huge groups of people (and I!) were united in awe at the great mystery we were experiencing. Some people clapped and cheered. Some even wept. All those “I’s” had become a “we.”

Other experiences can makes us more appreciative of our “we”: a wedding, a birthday party, a concert. A sporting event can be a powerful experience of our “we-ness,” where total strangers hug and high-five each another, united in their shared devotion to a team.

Many people experience oneness at a sporting event.

On a deeper level, how do we encourage our awareness of our oneness? As Christians we celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. Pope Francis has said, “The Eucharist is the sacrament which brings us out of our individualism.” We gather together to worship. Says Camille, when a person says, “I don’t get anything out of Mass,” one reason is they are attempting to do the unlikely: “to have a solitary experience in the midst of a party.”

At Mass, I am often aware of our “we.” The welcoming usher, the robed presider, the altar server with her bobbing pony tail, the reader with the mellow voice, the talented organist, the lively choir, the 100-year-old woman sitting in the first pew, the toddler asleep on his father’s shoulder—we are one with each other. We are all “I’s” on our way to becoming a “we.”

When do you experience your oneness with others, with all of creation?

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said the primary “illness” in the United States is loneliness. What are some ways we can help ourselves and/or others who have this “illness”?

Today’s song is “One Bread, One Body” written by John Foley, SJ. It is based on: 1 Cor 10:16-17; 12:4, 12-13, 20; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:4-6.

 

 

I welcome your responses to this reflection and/or song!

PS: Thank you for your prayers for my two presentations in Thousand Oaks, CA. I really enjoyed interacting with the faculty and staff of La Reina High School and Middle School. What great people! And on Saturday we had 50 SND’s, their associates, friends, and a few other sisters at our mini-retreat on “Wonder, Courage, and Hope: Three Essentials of the Spiritual Life.” I really enjoyed my time with them too!

My next presentation is on Dec. 2: “Unwrapping the Gifts of Advent” at the Marillac Center in Leavenworth, Kansas. Check the website for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth for more information.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen November 13, 2017 at 5:56 am

Sr. Melanie,

I like the word “we-ness.” During these times of such division, thanks for reminding us that we can be one in the Eucharist.

Safe travels. God bless!

Kathleen

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John Hopkins November 13, 2017 at 6:01 am

Good morning, Sr. Melannie! Your blog made me think of the biblical banquet table where “saints and sinners are one.” That’s the “we” we need to get to. Trouble is, sometimes the sinners become a “you” and the saints become an “I” or vice versa. We just need to get in there, get greasy, spill some some gravy, burp, and just enjoy the meal!

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Jean Canatsey November 13, 2017 at 10:03 am

I experience “oneness” with creation when I wake up in the morning with sunlight streaming through our sliding glass door and feel my husband of 61 years next to me, when I sit on our backporch holding a puppy, when I sit on the beach staring at the ocean or when I stand on a mountain and watch the smoke rise from their peaks in the distance. I am never “alone” in nature.

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John Hopkins November 13, 2017 at 3:03 pm

That’s beautiful, Jean.

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Barbara D. November 13, 2017 at 10:04 am

Dear Sr. Melanie:
I am in the process of writing a book (Life from A to Z) and I take each letter of the alphabet, one by one, and use it to describe situations in life. My “I” letter is all about the word “I.” This blog is exactly what I am talking about in my book – too much emphasis on the word “I” and not enough on the “we.” We are all one after all, black or white, jew or christian, rich or poor. We are all God’s children. I loved this blog! We need to accept one another as we were created by God.

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Joyce Thomas November 13, 2017 at 10:25 am

Today’s article is amazing to me because just yesterday at Mass after Communion as I was praying, I looked up and saw all the different people, music playing, babies crying, etc. I had been missing the days when Mass was more solitary, but then I realized we were all there for the same reason and we were together! We were as one body of Christ. Thank you for sharing. Love, Joyce

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Carolyn Hashey November 13, 2017 at 10:57 am

Good morning, Sister Melanie! Your sunflower website was sent to me by a friend. We are both former SND’s from Boston. Your insights, most recently moving from I to we, was really on point. The spirit of Saint Julie is alive and well through your work. Could she ever have realized her words and like would be going forth centuries later?
Blessings to you.

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Herb November 13, 2017 at 11:49 am

Dear Sister Melannie What a wonderful word WE to bad so many I`s in our lives. Having been taught for 8 yrs by those wonderful ladies SND as I near 93 still marvel at their dedication. Thank You for such inspirering blog each week Herb

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Kathleen Cunningham November 13, 2017 at 7:00 pm

Thank you for all your messages. I read, enjoy and profit from them every week. I’m very fond of the St. Louis Jesuits. Several years ago our choir from St. Patrick’s in Seattle was excited and privileged to sing with them along with the St. Joseph choir. It was great fun.
Kathleen

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anita compagnone November 13, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Really liked this one sister! I just love Alice Camille too! I think you are both doing a tremendous job of uniting and educating us. “We” are becoming more enlightened by your works and compositions.. and Alice’s. thanks so much, Nita

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Tom November 13, 2017 at 10:02 pm

I trust that I was not the only one awestruck by the folks who would come forward when we offered the Anointing of the Sick at weekend Mass. I expected the ‘old and feeble’ to present themselves for the consolation of the sacrament, but not those ‘just like me,’ often appearing even younger and more vibrant than myself. This always drew me out of my isolated focus on my own aches and pains to an awareness of my commonality with my fellow believers.

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Linda Ann Torer November 13, 2017 at 11:09 pm

From time I like to listen to a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer…what sticks with me is EGO—Edging God Out…

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Adrienne November 13, 2017 at 11:31 pm

I am a nurse with 40 years experience. I agree that loneliness is too common. I know it’s not accepted everywhere but I love to hold hands during The Lord’s Prayer at Mass. I imagine God smiling as WE join together to pray to OUR Father. Some people may not feel the kind touch of another person if not for this.

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Sr. Mary Joseph Suter November 14, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Sr. Melanie,
Thank you and all the Notre Dame Sisters who welcomed me at the great workshop you gave Saturday. I have enjoyed the notes from your talk, and your wonderful poetry.

Thank you again.

Mary Jo

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Joe Johnson November 14, 2017 at 1:50 pm

My daily prayer includes a wish for less ego and more “We go”.

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