First Profession - Sister Felicity, CSM | By the Rev. Dr. Melissa Hartley
In her book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor has this to say in a chapter on Call: “If my own experience can be trusted, then God does not call us once but many times. There are calls... into and out of relationships as well as calls to seek God wherever God may be found. Sometimes those calls ring clear as bells and sometimes they are barely audible, but in any case, we are not meant to hear them all by ourselves. It was part of God’s genius to incorporate us as one body, so that our ears have other ears, other eyes, minds, hearts, and voices to help us interpret what we have heard. Together we can hear our calls, and together we can answer them, if only we will listen for the still, small voice that continues to speak to us in the language of our lives.” We are not meant to hear our calls by ourselves. It takes others to interpret what we have heard. We need to look no further than this morning’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures to see this confirmed in one of the greatest call stories of all time – the call of Samuel.
You remember Samuel. He was a great prophet of the Lord and leader of the Israelite people. Among other things, he was the one who anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. At this point in his life, however, Samuel is still a boy, probably about twelve years old. He is in the temple of the Lord because he lives there, working under the charge of Eli, a temple priest. On this particular night, Samuel goes to sleep, as usual, but there is not going to be anything usual about this night. Samuel hears someone calling his name, and, naturally assumes it is Eli. Perhaps old Eli remembered something he needed Samuel to do before morning. So Samuel goes to Eli. What is it? I’m here. But Eli doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He did not call. And sends Samuel back to bed. A little later, it happens again. Samuel, Samuel. And he runs back to Eli. What is it? I’m here. But Eli did not call. And sends him back to bed. Finally, a third time Samuel hears his name being called. He’s not sure if he should disturb Eli again, but he doesn’t understand what’s going on. Thankfully, Eli does understand by now. It must be the Lord calling to the boy. We hear that, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread...” but surely it had to be the Lord. So Eli instructs Samuel – if it happens again, here’s what you should do. Samuel returns to bed this third time and waits... and it does happen again. The Lord comes and calls, Samuel, Samuel; and he replies, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
“Speak, for your servant is listening.” I wonder how intentional most of us are in listening for God’s call. In that time, are we focused more on our talking to God or are we really listening for what God is asking us to do? Are we paying attention or just keeping ourselves busy in the temple? Or maybe we would rather not hear God’s call. Calls can be scary and are almost always disruptive. Take Samuel, for example. Today we hear the lovely story of his call, but what we do not hear is that Samuel had to tell Eli that Eli’s family was going to be punished by God forever. Later, Samuel would lead the Israelites, which wasn’t always so easy; he did anoint Saul as king, but that didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to, and we could go on. Samuel’s life probably would have been much easier if God had not come to him that night, butGod did. And because Samuel was listening, his life was so much more enriched.
Today, we come to celebrate another call. In the fall of 2015, a young woman named Madeline Parks came to Sewanee to begin her first year in college. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” And yet, a vision was granted – granted to you. We could probably say visons are even less widespread now than they were in Samuel’s day. But you had a vision your first year in college of a nun in a habit – the very portrait of Sister Constance. What a gift. But, like Samuel, you did not quite know what to do with this call. You thought the monastic life was only for Roman Catholics. And while you were prepared to go that route to follow your call, what a blessing to discover these Sisters. A convent – right here in Sewanee – what a gift.
You pondered this call all through college – you reaffirmed your baptismal vows after a year of catechumenate (with the best sponsor ever). You broke up with your boyfriend because, well... After graduation, you entered the Organic Prayer Project here for a year and then began your postulancy. You sold your car, you endured all sorts of “why would you want to do that” questions, and perhaps most importantly, you have had your call confirmed. Your Sisters here have been your Eli – they have heard your call and today invite you to take the next step on your path deeper into this community with your First Profession. You have become Sister Felicity. I’m told that you got to choose your name – Felicity. According to the dictionary, this means “intense happiness.” Not just “happiness,” but “intense happiness.” Perhaps the kind ofhappiness one discovers when a call is confirmed and a vision is seen clearly, and there is a thunderous response when we open our hearts and say, “speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Sister Felicity, may this day be one of intense happiness for you and for your Sisters as we rejoice with you and pray for you in this next step in your vocation.