Sunday, November 16, 2008

More on my Talk

So, I am still working through all of this. One of the things that the retreat director did on this retreat (which I did not know about) was institute a "witness response bag." Each talk title had a small bag set up on a table. Anyone who wanted could slip a note (signed or anonymous) in there to express their thoughts or feelings on the talk.

One of the team members dropped my bag off this afternoon... actually while I was just finishing up this post. I had about a dozen notes in my bag.

I posted the previous message, and then sat down to read through the notes, not really knowing what to expect. I mentioned that my talk was more open and honest than any I have ever done. I completely exposed myself... my faults, my weaknesses, my sins. I stood in front of this group of women (only a few of whom I actually knew well), and talked about times I have judged, gossipped, and been mean-spirited to people in our parish, to women in that room. I apologized for all of it. And I meant every word. It was incredibly difficult and deeply humbling. It was by no means the easy way out. But I did it not just for me, but because I feel very strongly that my parish community needs a bit of shaking up... we haven't been a very "christian" community lately, and I want to change that in the only way I can... by changing myself and hoping that my example inspires others to do the same.

I was feeling very exposed yesterday afternoon. I think I would have felt less exposed if I had actually taken all of my clothes off. Several retreatants, and many of the women on the team, came up to me and told me my talk was really powerful. But it did little to ease how I naked I felt. Last night, I sat on the couch with DH and tried to put my feelings into words, but mostly they came out as tears instead.

I have never given a talk like that before. I don't know if I could ever do it again. On the one hand, I am really proud of myself. Sounds weird... I am proud of humbling myself so well, but I am. I knew it was going to be hard, but I felt it was critical that I give this talk. Several times in the past week, I'd thought of rewriting the talk into a more traditional, "how my community shaped me" talk rather than the "what is a christian community, and how can I make my community more christian" version that I gave. But I never let myself do the rewrite. I believed that this version was too important, that this time in our parish was too critical for me to take the safe and easy route.

So it was with curiousity and a bit of trepidation that I sat down with my bag of notes.

I am so deeply grateful to the retreat director for implementing this idea. These notes were the feedback I was most needing. I know that many women said affirming things to me yesterday, but as I expressed in my other post, I was struggling to believe that it was little more than ego stroking. Here, these anonymous notes, these helped me to see the power of my talk. Several women told me the words I said were the exact words they needed to hear. One woman said she was hoping my example would help her to put down her stone too (I had quoted Jn 8:7 "Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone at her" and had pulled a stone from my pocket and promised to retire it, with their help). Another woman told me that my talk had gotten her into confession last night. Note after note, women expressed the same thoughts: this judging that we do of each other, we all do it. And we need to stop.

So tonight, I am praying for the courage I need to cooperate with God's Grace... to make good on the promises I made to my parish community yesterday. And I am praying that the women who took my words into their hearts will do the same. If each of us just does a little bit, I believe we can change the tone and the heart of our community.

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