By Kathy Berken
I never know what I am going to encounter when I visit the retired Sisters of St. Joseph at Carondelet Village. I was just going to having lunch with Sister Joan, help her with her computer and say hello to some old friends. Sister Michele joined us and got us all laughing, and then Sister Susan sat down to eat.
She said she was also having trouble with her printer, so I told her I’d be up to help her shortly. Little did I know that her printer was never the reason God sent me there.
I did discover that her ink had run dry, so her pages of haiku wouldn’t print. “You write haiku?” I asked, as we scrolled through her 10 double-columned pages. But it was when she took me on a tour of her apartment and showed me a collage she made for her mother Katherine, that the moment of wonder occurred. Eighth of 12 children, Sr. Susan was raised on a farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse. You know, the good old days.
On the collage was a letter she wrote to her mom, thanking her “from the bottom of my heart for being the Word of God made flesh for me.” A beautiful tribute. She explained that her mother was like a divine parent, an image of God that has served her well during her 85 years. Before birth, “in the warmth, the freedom, the living water of the womb,” she wrote, “Word of God’s womb birthing, rebirthing, transforming me until my final birth at death.”
She wrote that her mother’s breast-feeding gave her nourishment, life, and sustenance as God’s “own Body in the Eucharist.” Throughout life, Katherine gently led, encouraged, taught, mentored, forgave and offered “God’s steadfast love, always waiting with love to welcome me back.” No wonder she treasures the four-foot high print of Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son” that warmly greets visitors when they enter.
Sr. Susan’s image of God as mother, as “Word of God’s compassionate ‘womb-love’” that was always present, always sustaining, compassionate, and affectionate, who nourished her with “food, beauty, goodness, faith, hope, and love” inspired her to serve others in healthcare.
But it was only recently that she learned that after a female fetus is only five months old, she has all of the eggs in her tiny ovaries she will ever have in her lifetime. It was a moment of grace and awe. For me, too. “I was an egg in my mother’s ovary that was inside of my grandma,” she says with that smile of learning something brand new. “My mother was an incarnation of God, and just as Jesus gave his body and blood for us, my mother gave her breast milk to me from her own body to give me life, too. It was like Eucharist.”
Eucharist, the many-faceted sacrament revealed to us by Jesus at the Last Supper, a meal and a sacrifice, the culmination of a rich history of religious ritual, traces back to ancient Judaic times with the Passover and the Exodus. The Word of God is continually revealed to us, often through the sacraments, imbued with God’s grace, offered as both human and divine. For Sr. Susan, God’s grace is ubiquitous. It just makes sense that God is everywhere, she said, so she wrote a haiku explaining her new discovery.
To think I was once / In my Grandma’s womb five months / In mom’s ovary. / Grandma died; mom five. / I interconnect with them / And all foremothers.
Here I thought I was going to see Sr. Susan about a printer. Goes to show how much control I have over my life, doesn’t it?
(Kathy Berken has a master’s degree in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arch, L’Arche in Clinton (1999-2009) and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch).”)