Click image to visit Sister Helen Prejean’s website: Ministry against the death penalty. photo by Scott Langley.
I’m interested in people who live lives of faith. It might be a life of religious faith, but it’s bigger than just that. My fascination is with those who are guided by and believe in something that is bigger than themselves — people who organize their lives around a relationship to a divine presence or a cause or a calling. For years, I’ve sniffed out clues, read books, and positioned myself to catch glimpses of people who live this way. I’m a secret scientist, collecting information and making observations about what it looks like or feels like to be a person of faith.
Last night, Dave and I went to hear a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean. The movie, Dead Man Walking, is based on the book she wrote about her relationship with a man on death row. She says that it was that experience that awakened her to what she now does—she serves the poor, the families and victims of violence, and those in prison. She’s works, writes, lectures and educates others with the explicit aim of ending capitol punishment. It’s heavy stuff, and yet she goes about it with southern charm, infectious conviction, and a sense of humor.
I was there for the whole lecture, but I was really there for the chance to hear any juicy tidbits about Sister Helen’s spiritual life. I want to know how she relates to God. What kind of prayer life does she have? What is her relationship to the Church as an institution and to Catholicism? I want to know where she accesses this joy despite the very serious and difficult work. I want to see for myself what a sister, whose spiritual commitment is so public, is like to hang out with for a couple of hours. Is she nice? Relatable? Is she grounded?
Here’s what I noticed.
She is very much herself. Her personality and her human-ness came through during the lecture and I get the sense that it flows through all the work she does. She’s not lecturing from some higher plane. She’s down here with the rest of us.
She looks for balance. She says she relaxes. She plays cards and drinks beer. She puts effort into her friendships, appreciates her sisters, and gets enough sleep. She said that when she’s on a plane, she doesn’t talk to anyone. She likes that she can be anonymous in airports.
She spoke openly and freely about her personal experience – but it wasn’t about her. She talked as though the real work was coming through her. She talked about God’s grace and Jesus and the Gospel. She talked about the victims and those suffering from acts of violence and how important it is that we don’t leave them alone. She said those who find forgiveness and love are the real heroes of her stories. She was talking and it was her experience, but it wasn’t all about her.
She said something that really touched me. As in, when she said it, I felt a big gut-response to the words. She said, truth springs from the earth, so if we want to get close to the truth, we have to put our feet on the ground. Of all the calls to action, this one got me. And she is a living example of what she is asking others to do.
She’s on a first name basis with Jesus. Her relationship to the divine is personal and intimate. Sister Helen said that when she first agreed to write a letter to a man on death row, that was “sneaky Jesus #1.” She had no idea where he was leading her. She was willing to open her heart to write letters, which was all she could handle at the time, so that’s what she got. Sneaky Jesus #2 was when she agreed to be this man’s spiritual advisor. It was another single step, and look where it led – it led her to know and fulfill her dharma.
I’m interested in these personal faith stories because I’m still wondering and exploring my own — a story that unfolds a tiny bit more every time I practice yoga, every time I kneel at church, every time I feel some knowing that moves through me, every time I say yes to something that I can’t really explain. It was an honor to spend time in the same room with Sister Helen and to see, so palpably, that she believes her life is guided by something divine. The way she tells the story, it’s because 20+ years ago, she was willing to open to the moment, to what she calls God’s grace, and follow her life in the right direction.
I’m happy to announce my upcoming class in Austin, TX:
Healing from Addiction with Yoga
– Cultivate a positive relationship with your body
– Develop tools to support you in every phase of recovery
– Foster well-being
and emotional stability in a supportive small group environment
COMMUNITIES FOR RECOVERY
May 10th – June 14th, 2016 (6 weeks)
! FREE !
Please contact me to reserve your spot or to find out more
Registration now open!
Ojai Women’s RETREAT
AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th!
REAL LIFE. REAL TOOLS.
AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016
This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.
We teach Yoga, Ayurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.
Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris
Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments to receive your discount. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)