Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sr. Julie Sewell, OSB

My name is Sr. Julie Sewell O.S.B.   As a sister of St. Benedict, I am a second year novice at Our Lady of Grace Monastery and I will make my First Monastic Profession on June 21, 2008. Our Lady of Grace Monastery is a group of 73 women, dedicated to seeking God through a life founded upon prayer, work and hospitality according to the Rule of St. Benedict. The sisters of Our Lady of Grace have been an active presence in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since arriving in 1955.   As a Benedictine monastic community, the sisters pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. The sisters are also engaged in various ministries, serving the people of God as teachers, principals, librarians, nurses, mental health care professionals, Directors of Religious Education and Parish Administrators. Our sisters also work with the poor and those in prison. The sisters own and operate St. Paul Hermitage retirement home and Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center.

I came to Our Lady of Grace Monastery in September of 2005 seeking God in the monastic way of life.  I came after 13 years of working in the health care industry. In the five years prior to 2005, I was content with my life and not looking for a change. It seems that God had other ideas. I think of Proverb 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the decision of the Lord that endures”. This proverb gave me comfort because it simply states and attests to the truth that God is all Truth, all Love, all Knowledge, all Powerful, and God endures forever. My desire was simply to follow God’s ways and God’s will for my life. I believed that I had been in step with God’s teaching, leading a life of work and living with integrity.

In the year 2000, I had an experience that would change the direction of my life. I still remember the experience clearly. I was getting ready for work one morning, brushing my teeth. It was an ordinary morning and as I was brushing my teeth, this question arose into consciousness. The question was, do you know who you are anymore? And what are you doing with your life? It was a strange experience – the question arose suddenly and it didn’t come from me. I didn’t hear an audible voice but I knew this question was not my question. I believed then and still believe today that the question came from God. At first I was amused by the question and thought that I would just “ shake it off” and move into my regular routine. However, the question never left me and so I found myself living with and trying to answer the question. The more I tried to answer the question, the deeper my longing for God. It was as if the question awakened a fire within me that could not be put out. I felt like the deer that yearns for living water in Psalm 42. “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you. O God” (Psalm 42:2).

I look back to the morning that the question arose in my consciousness and can clearly say that that moment was the beginning of my religious vocation story. It would take three or four years to sort out my answer to the question. The question was the beginning of significant change in my life. In the end, I would end up moving from Chicago to Indianapolis. I would end up leaving my chosen career of 13 years. I would end up entering Our lady of Grace Monastery in 2005. I made the decision to enter after much seeking, much consultation with religious and wise elders in the community, and with much prayer and discernment.

As I look back on the years that led up to my entrance into Our Lady of Grace, I feel great awe, wonder and gratitude for God’s grace and the beauty and mystery of life. It seemed that whenever I was puzzled or unsure of what step to take next, God would provide a “nudge” of some sort to propel me forward. Sometimes these nudges came in the form of people. I remember that anytime I decided to stop pursuing a vocational change, people would come up to me and say something like – you have a vocation and you need to deal with it. I became active in ministry on a volunteer basis – working with youth in prison and working with the homeless. I sensed God’s spirit with me as I did this work and it felt right in a deep way. I also had chance encounters. I was in the religious section of a bookstore one day and a young woman asked me if I knew of a good book on prayer. We began to talk and she said that her mother had died of cancer 4 years ago and that she hadn’t been able to pray since her death. I suggested a few books but more importantly, sat down and prayed with her on the spot. On another occasion, as I was walking to the train stop on my way home from work, I encountered a woman shaking the door handles of a church trying to get inside. It was evening and the church was closed. I stopped and asked her is she was all right. She said that she needed to pray. I assured her that God would hear her on the steps of the church too. We talked and she was having a rough time. Her elderly mother was dying and she went to the nursing home every evening after work. She was a single parent and had three children who didn’t like their mother leaving them to go to the nursing home. She was exhausted and just needed to share her frustration and pour out her grief. For me these experiences were suggestions that this was my future work and not my old career.

I also had one particular dream that recurred anytime I stopped pursuing a vocational change. The first time I had the dream was after helping serve meals at a retreat. I had cut up slices of lemon to put in glasses for tea. I had 12 glasses left and I was out of lemons. I searched and searched and found one puny lemon. Somehow, I was able to get 12 slices from it. Later, someone said, would you get milk out of the frig? So, I opened the door to the large walk-in refrigerator and almost tripped over a box of about 40 lemons. I thought it was amusing – I had worked so hard to find that one small lemon – and here was an abundance of lemons. The next morning as I was getting dressed and brushing my teeth, a thought arose in my consciousness, Again, it came suddenly and didn’t seem to be my thought. The thought was – “your life is like that one lemon that you stretched so thin, if you would give up your old life, there would be abundance in your life”. I knew that this abundance was a spiritual abundance. Whenever this dream recurred, I knew I needed to continue on the journey. When I stopped having the dream, I knew I was on track. Interestingly, I stopped having the dream when I formally entered the admission process for Our Lady of Grace Monastery.

Since my vocation journey was a four or five year process, these are just a few of the more compelling highlights. I feel truly blessed to be at Our Lady of Grace. I feel at home deep in my soul. The combination of community living, monastic prayer and ministry feels like the rhythm of life that God intended for me. I like being a part of a monastic tradition that goes back 1500 years – following in the footsteps of monastics that have faithfully served the people of God for centuries. Why did God call me to monastic life specifically? I don’t know that I can answer that in a definitive way other than to say that it feels exactly right to me – like an old pair of shoes that fits so well. And God does call us all. Certainly, the Bible is full of examples of God’s calling out to his people. My prayer is that I will be able to answer as Isaiah did – “ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? Here I am, I said, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). And as St. Benedict said in his Rule, “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life” RB 72.

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