Sisters at Play?
The secret ingredient for a wholistic life.

Sisters at Play The secret ingredient for a wholistic life

Many readers of Just WORDS know the Springfield Dominicans through ministry. You seldom see the sisters at play. Yet, leisure pursuits are an important part of a well-rounded religious life. In fact, the guidelines for community life mention leisure twice. The first reference is about recreating together “because we view leisure and healthy relaxation as indispensable for preserving community life and renewing ourselves.” The second reference speaks of leisure for the sake of balancing prayer, recollection, study, and ministry.

Leisure, as I’m using the word, means the time at one’s discretion, free time. Some of you may be thinking, “With my job, who has time for leisure?” Sisters, too, are tempted to overwork. It is true that for economic necessity some people are not able to use leisure for anything but rest. However, for most of us, most of the time, it is a matter of making choices about how we spend our time. Even God rested on the seventh day.

Baseball in the convent

Reading, gardening, athletic activities, and playing games are some of the ways that Springfield Dominicans use their leisure. I conducted an informal survey of the community to see how various sisters play and what value they ascribe to leisure. A few local houses, or convents, set aside a special time to play cards or engage in a group activity on a regular basis. More typical, however, are the spontaneous activities in which sisters are free to participate or not. For example, baseball fans are about equally divided between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. A smaller but equally dedicated group follows the Chicago White Sox. Throughout the season it’s not unusual to find sisters gathered to watch a game. Some die-hard baseball fans relish the opportunity for a trip to the ballpark.

Card game—like canasta, three-thirteen, and hearts—are some of the sisters’ favorite kind of fun. Dominoes are popular, too. Sister Brendan Gibbons said that at her last mission she and Sister M. Anton Uthe played dominoes for a while every Sunday evening. “It is usually a game of luck rather than skill,” said Sister Brendan, “so it is just relaxing and fun.”

At St. Rose Convent in Springfield, one of the larger houses in the community, sisters gather occasionally on weekends to watch a movie and enjoy popcorn or pizza. It’s not unusual for the discussion to lead to reflection on spiritual themes.

Sisters in the wild

Leisure is an important aspect our life together, in part because it provides opportunities for solitude, which is necessary for a Dominican life of action and contemplation. Several sisters love to spend time outdoors. Sister Elyse Marie Ramirez, Oak Park, Ill., and Sister M. Alberta, Springfield, Ill., each keep a small garden, but the sisters who live with them reap the produce of their labor in the lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables from the small pots.

Many sisters enjoy spending time near the water. Several community-owned retreat locations make that possible. Over the years at lakeside houses in Illinois and Mississippi, sisters have enjoyed thousands or hours relaxation, fun, and prayer.

Sisters often use leisure as a time for prayer, spiritual reading, and reflection. Sister Patricia Seelbach likes to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, often in the wee hours of the night. “It is beautiful,” she says, “to be alone with Jesus early in the morning or at night time.” Sister Mary Alice Mannix makes rosaries, sometimes shaping fragrant beads from fresh rose petals from funeral bouquets. “I see this as a bereavement ministry. As I make the rosaries or flowers, I make each bead or flower a prayer,” she said.

A desire to play

For some sisters, spiritual refreshment comes from more vigorous forms of leisure. Sister Katrina Lamkin likes to bike and cross-country ski. Tennis is Sister Alverna Hollis’ favorite pastime. “When I’m focused on the point, anticipating the strategy of my opponent,” she said, “all concerns of everyday life are far from consciousness.” Sister Alverna says she relishes being outdoors, breathing in the fresh air, and says it’s a “golden opportunity” to mix socially with the Koreans, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Japanese, and Thais who frequent her neighborhood park. In La Oroya, Peru, the sisters play volleyball with some of the parishioners and priests. “I think all of us find it relaxing,” commented Sr. Ann Elizabeth Little, adding that it is good to do something with the people other than work.

The desire to play, as well as to work, is part of God-given, human nature. Leisure renews the human spirit and deepens the bonds within family or community. In western society the temptation to overwork is a constant danger. I once heard a presenter a parish mission say, “God loves wasting time with you.” Leisure, if we allow it, can bring us closer to the divine, to ourselves, and to all of creation.

First published in JUST Words, Vol. 3, No. 3, Summer 2003.

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