“The Healthy Restlessness of Incompleteness”: Groundings for a Synodal Future

By Sister Phyllis Schenk

We find ourselves in a time of all-encompassing unrest. There are great divisions in our world with violence and inflation; pandemic and immigration; political and religious beliefs which are poles apart. Those things we counted on in the past now appear uncertain. There is so much fear and insecurity. All our endeavors are moving at such a fast pace. Where is the firm ground where we can feel rooted and centered?

At one time in his life, the Jesuit paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin had those same questions. When nothing seemed certain or solid, he carried a rock in his pocket—the most unchanging thing he could think of—so he would have something secure to hold on to. When he died in 1955 his work was suspect, but today theologians who explore his work find there what they need to reconcile religion and science, evolution and faith.

I’m reminded of one of our sisters who was a wood worker. Sister Margaret Therese could hold a piece of wood in her hands, look at it closely, and imagine what it could be after she placed it on the lathe. The artist in her would let the wood speak to her as she reflected on how best to bring out the wood’s hidden beauty.

I imagine this is the way God deals with us. Our God tenderly holds this worn, insecure, fragile lump of goods—us—and sees the true reality at the heart of us. Our creative God calls us into a secure, ever faithful, covenant relation


ship as we are transformed, recreated, and gradually shaped by our experiences in life into what we are meant to be.

Just as you could see the delight in Sister Margaret Therese’s face as she shared her work with others, I can imagine God’s joy seeing what is hidden in the depths of each of us. Perhaps, then, rather than carrying a rock in our pocket, we might carry in our memory the thought of God looking on us and our unique human worth, seeing what is hidden in the depths of us.

Could that be the firm ground on which to stand as all our world swirls around us? Our prayer, our contemplation, our time spent nurturing our relationship with God is time well spent, the value of which cannot be taken from us.

In October of 2021, Pope Francis convened the whole Church in synod with a “Consultation of the People of God.” From the beginning he meant this to be a spiritual event—not a parliamentary style gathering. Priorities that surfaced from this consultation are included in a working document and will be addressed in the first session of the Synodal Assembly in October of 2023. A second session will follow in October 2024 as we continue to explore how to be a synodal Church. Pope Francis’ call to the world-wide Church to walk in synodality further steadies us as we experience the joy of our walking together with other Christians who turn to the Spirit to inspire us all to become disciples.

The experience of synodality, old as our Church itself, involves dynamic, constructive, respectful, and prayerful speaking, listening, and dialogue. Just as on the road to Emmaus, Jesus was revealed in the midst of the disciples, so, too, for us. By our listening to and sharing with one another, we encounter the Lord in our midst and are gradually transformed by the Spirit.

Our goal in speaking, listening, and in dialogue is to align ourselves with the Divine Movement within…within each of us. Although we evolve one by one, we also evolve together! If we cultivate a shared, common awareness of contemplative deepening, we grow together. This only happens when everyone at the table participates and contributes. We come to our best solutions—our best awarenesses—when all voices have been heard. Often the real value of one person’s contribution comes from the tangent that emerges from a different person after hearing the first contribution at the table. Both contributions are needed immensely. If one voice is missing we are poorer for it!

In our search for solid ground on which to stand and a center in which to come home, we come face-to-face with the healthy restlessness of incompleteness. Both can co-exist. There are always many things whose weight we are not able to carry. This feeling of incompleteness is a gift to be cultivated; a part of the Mystery of God.

In the first global synod session participants will be cautioned not to rush to offer immediate solutions. “As we accept our own vulnerabilities, it becomes the space for the action of the Spirit, who invites us to recognize the sign of her presence as we listen attentively to each other’s lived experiences, we grow in mutual respect, and begin to discern the movements of God’s spirit in the lives of others and in our own.”

As we experience the pandemonium of our present time, might we recognize the chaos as a space for the action of the Spirit? Might we ask ourselves, “What is God trying to teach us through this experience?” Might we share our insights and experiences of God with others as they share theirs with us? May God’s view of what is hidden in the depth of each of us be the security rock we carry in our pocket?


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