Thought of the beauty of Hildegard of Bingen’s words when I was walking in Tower Grove Park today by the lotus ponds.
About a decade ago, I started interviewing Incarnate Word Sisters to capture their unique perspectives and wisdom with the idea of writing a memoir. In May 2020, Blue Hole Wisdom: My Journey with the Sisters, will be available in paperback and e-book formats. A Spanish translation will be published in June 2020. I’ll be adding information about book signings as well as a link for ordering the book in April.
When I tell people I work with the Sisters, people are intrigued. What are they like? Who are these mysterious women in a time when sisters are fewer and far between, no longer instantly recognized by their unusual dress. They seem so different – set apart.
In this memoir of connection and common humanity, Bridget McDermott Flood reflects on the women behind the mystery and souls once veiled by habits, uncovering the wisdom, wit, and the indomitable spirits that have formed the charism of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.
In a series of reflections, remarkable women come to life, illustrating the presence of the divine in the ordinary and extraordinary missions each sister has undertaken. Their stories form the heart of Blue Hole Wisdom.
From their traditional work in hospitals and schools to outreach among AIDs patients in Zambia and hospices in Peru, these women have garnered the wisdom that comes from decades dedicated to facing life’s greatest challenges not as passive observers, but as active agents of the change they wish to see in the world.
Flood welcomes readers on a journey of self-discovery, reflection, and connection across time and space. Beginning with her earliest relationships with the Sisters and the difficult journey of the first Sisters from France to the arid shores of nineteenth century Texas, Blue Hole Wisdom traverses the globe, following the Sisters and Flood as they navigate an evolving spiritual landscape and deepening bonds of fellowship.
Each story centers on a theme that applies to a reader’s daily life and spiritual growth. As a touching spirituality memoir, Blue Hole Wisdom draws upon the Sisters’ humor and ability to cultivate joy in those with whom they connect to drive home the necessity of embracing their frontier charism. Flood and the Sisters discover the answers to the question, “How are you in your heart?” among Ch’ol communities in Chiapas, Mexico. They create spaces for creativity to flourish and foster healing among live oaks and cypress trees around the book’s namesake watering hole.
Through trials and tense moments as the Sisters engage with Vatican investigators, concerned about the ways orders of women religious in the United States adhere to Church teaching and direction, Blue Hole Wisdom considers how the Sisters’ spirituality and call continues to evolve to meet 21st century challenges. This is particularly pertinent as lay individuals find themselves drawn to the spirituality of Catholic Sisters and the resurgence of interest in Catholic women religious and their place in the twenty-first century. In moments of jubilee and sorrow, Flood and the Sisters continue to pursue their paths, not always knowing the destination but bringing readers along on the quest for peace and fulfillment.
Blue Hole Wisdom combines vivid storytelling with deep faith, inviting readers to consider the ways in which the Sisters can serve as touchstones for how to live out one’s vocation, to relate to others, and to follow God’s call with passion, certainty, and grace.
cover art by Carolyn Flood Hellmich
At the end of the year I had a business trip to Washington. The trip did not begin well. Lost luggage led to a hotel with no room ready. All I wanted to do was crash. The hotel lobby–hard sterile white marble walls, glass and chrome furnishings, black and white photographs, very uncomfortable chairs–propelled me out of the hotel and to the museum.
A brisk walk through crisp winter air brought me to the echoing limestone lobby. I was feeling a bit more like myself when the docent stopped me as I tried to brush past. Even though I had been to the museum many times common courtesy kicked in when she caught me at the information desk. And that’s when I heard that four Vermeers were in a small gallery on the first floor.
I made my way to the small gallery where visitors were taking selfies with the main attraction, a Vermeer from Amsterdam. Somewhat overlooked on an adjacent wall hung Woman Holding a Balance. At first glance, I was puzzled since it seemed like the woman was contemplating something unseen. It was only after reading the caption that I took a closer look and saw the delicate whisper-thin balance at perfect equilibrium, held by a woman ignoring the pearls and jewels tumbling out of the chest on the table.
I spent a few hours in the museum that afternoon and revisited the Woman Holding a Balance several times interspersed with intervals of reflection on benches in the neighboring galleries.
- How do I find balance in my life?
- What distractions should I look past?
- Can I learn to pull back?
- When will I achieve equilibrium?
I learned later that the painting is sometimes called Woman Testing a Balance.
That I understand.
Not too long ago, a link popped up on my facebook page. Underneath a blue sky and cumulus clouds were the words “Cloud Appreciation Society.” It sounded like something whimsical out of a children’s book. Without hesitation I “liked” their page.
Now every few days I receive a photo of a cloud formation. Stratocumulus, altostratus, and anvil tops. Prior to that my experience had been limited to clouds of the nimbus, cumulus or cirrus variety. The Cloud Appreciation Society takes clouds seriously.
But beyond the cloud classifications, I began looking at the clouds in my own skies. Cloud billows high above the oak pillars of Tower Grove Park in the morning. Cloud wisps drifting past my office window. Receding clouds at sunset, reflecting the opalescent pinks and lavenders of the innermost whorls of sea shells shot through with fiery reds and exploding nova yellows. Cradle clouds cushioning a full moon.
Each a unique moment. Impossible to capture. Life-giving.
As the sun set while I was driving home from Nashville I watched the clouds changing. The beauty of each moment was such a distraction I took the exit for a town called Ashley and pulled off onto a tractor road to just breathe and savor a unique purply sunset, and then continued upon my way, glad to be a part of the Cloud Appreciation Society.
- We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different… (tedx.com)
- Cloudy with a chance of joy (thesecretkeeper.net)
A few years ago my friend, Ann, brought me a bouquet of Mexican sunflowers as a surprise. In their overblown lushness they are the my garden’s equivalent of Betty Boop flowers. This morning a butterfly went from flower to flower doing the work of pollination. After a few minutes the bee arrived and took up the task.
I thought back to something my friend, Chris, had shared with me. I had been invited to serve on a Board by a nonprofit agency. It was a busy time–when isn’t a busy time–and I was telling him how frustrated I was because I had to take on one more thing.
That’s when Chris quietly said, “You should give someone else the opportunity. What is a burden for you is an opportunity for them.” And he was right. I had been focusing on myself, not on what would be best for agency Board or on how another individual could happily bring their talents to the table. What could be burdensome for me was an opportunity for someone else.
I didn’t join that Board and somehow they managed just fine, perhaps even better, without me. Someone else served instead.
The bee can pollinate the sunflowers as well as the butterfly. It is only a matter of sharing opportunity.
Creativity implies creating something. This, however, is the age of Pinterest and virtual creativity. We create vicariously by scrolling through an endless array of elegantly executed creative concepts. Instead of following our own path we settle for pinning the ideas of others to boards stored in the cloud, saving the instructions for projects that will never be ours or become real. We lose our creative vision.
I started sewing when I was about ten and my mother sent me to the Singer Store on Cherokee Street for lessons. I made a delicate yellow voile dress, lined and with covered buttons, an overly ambitious project that I approached with great enthusiasm until I had to rip out a dart seventeen times. My mother was experienced and knew it was a recipe for disaster. I should have made an apron. But she realized that the dress was my vision.
Those scraps were the beginning of a fabric stash that could take over a small room. Snippets of cotton, wool and silk in bins and baskets. So many possibilities. Perhaps a tablecloth, a throw pillow, or a crazy quilt. Pinterest opened up an ever-expanding universe of projects and the clicks of the keyboard drew me further into the black hole. So many plans and ideas to pin and share.
And then one day, the realization that pinning is not creating.
Time to head up to the sewing room.
I pulled out the batik fabric scraps thinking I would create a table runner that captured the simmering waterlily pond in the yard but a drippy striped sunrise of yellow orange caught my eye. Coneflowers at dawn.
Magenta pinks and shadowy purples for petals, aggressive spotted orange for the bristly center, Chartreuse and retiring forest green leaves. No need to sketch, take a Pinterest break or wait until tomorrow. Pull out the scissors, needle and glass-headed pins.
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) (noir33.wordpress.com)
When I was in Ireland I stopped at a country fair where local craftsmen were selling their wares. I brought home a nesting box for robins simply constructed of pine with a slate roof. It is charming. In the three years I have had it up in the eaves no robin has nested. Obviously my assumption about what robins think is wrong.
Recently, I spent several days with a colleague, Jane. Her boss had stopped her with some questions about a project as she was leaving for a three-day conference but she was in a hurry and as they finished their conversation she made a flip remark.
She doesn’t know her boss very well. Her boss is relatively new and she finds her hard to read. Their last conversation weighed on her mind and Jane was convinced her boss had found her remark offensive or rude. I suggested that she e-mail as a follow up on the project and in passing mention that she hoped her comment hadn’t been taken the wrong way.
Even after Jane did that, however, she was still worried and continued down the path of assuming she knew what her boss was thinking. Then she received a message that her boss wanted her to call, a message that engendered more speculation about what her boss was thinking and why did she want to talk to her.
As it turned out, she just wanted to confirm a few details about the project that they had discussed. And perhaps the motivation for the call was an effort on her part to put things back on an even footing, or even to reassure Jane that no offense was taken.
We can’t assume we know the mind of another.
When I went to the studio the other day, I walked past an old gaslight by the steps and was startled to see a robin sitting on its nest inside. Evidently, robins know their own minds.