The grace of beginning

Twice in the space of three days I have been with a large number of my sisters in a formal yet celebratory setting. New life one day, eternal life the next.

On Monday we gathered to celebrate the opening of our new novitiate and welcome three new novices into the congregation - a moment of great joy for us, as well as for the three novices themselves. I found myself remembering my own entry, my reminiscence aided by the fact that the sister sitting next to me had been the Provincial who accepted me into the Society almost nineteen years ago. I recalled my own feelings on becoming a novice; the longing, joy and anticipation laced with fear and anxiety. Longing and anticipation for this new stage, this intense time with God, for prolonged times of prayer and all the other things I was looking forward to; anxiety because I had no idea how it would be or what God was going to do with this time (and with me!)

As with so much of life the novitiate is semi-charted territory. Travellers have been there ahead of you: they can describe their own journey, give an outline, in bold brush strokes, of "elements" and "programmes", offer wise words of advice - but they cannot - ever - describe just how it will be for you. That is something we only discover for ourselves, by actually setting out. This is the joy and the grace of beginning, as well as the scary riskiness of beginning.

And then today I sat next to the same sister, this time at the funeral of an RSCJ who had died on the 58th anniversary of her entry into the Society. New life followed by eternal life: a different, more profound grace of beginning, and another celebration, this time of a life spent in decades of loving service, education and creativity.

When we received the three novices we said a prayer of blessing for them, written by John O'Donohue. One verse has stayed with me: for me it spans both events, both beginnings; a prayer for all those standing on the threshold, whether of a new way of life or of the fullness of life...

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
This is at one with your life's desire.