Reflection for Vigil of Sister Michael Kaliher

Reflection for Vigil of Sister Michael Kaliher, OSB
November 18, 2013
By S. Edith Selzler, OSB

Last Thursday morning, as guest speaker in S. Madelyn’s class, I forgot to prepare a prayer, but providence found help on the very sheet I was to hand out – S. Michael’s poetic reflection on autumn leaves. How appropriate! She wrote thus: (read poem attached). These closing words came a few hours before she did find her rest in God. Oh not just rest, not for Michael! How ecstatic she must be to see now with new good eyes the wonders of God she always tried to draw, paint and sculpt in all her artwork.
God’s providence was still at work on Saturday morning. I set up the books for Evening Praise and had some moments to read the Sunday reflection in Give Us This Day. Bishop Sklba of Milwaukee wrote thus: “It is profoundly Catholic to treasure fine art. These objects in some fragile fashion reflect the overwhelming beauty of the God of the universe and the divine plan of cosmic redemption.” How great her gift to us and to the church, that the deep power of her contemplation and prayer worked through her imagination and hands into visual art pieces and exquisite poetry.

Sister Michael’s person also proclaimed God in joy and in depth, in her solitude and in her compassion for all, especially troubled children. I remember when I had her as art teacher in Junior High. She was the first Sister I saw as a real and unique person, not just floating black and starched linen with a person-like entity inside. Her vibrancy, enthusiasm and challenge to think, see and feel differently when creating artwork evoked a longing in me to create more and always. She called us all to be fully human through this capacity, and she shone as fully human herself.

Again I experienced her as teacher at Mary College where she taught potential teachers to teach art to children. This was different. Adults somehow unlearn to be freely creative, far too conscious of being judged and graded. It actually took more patience, compassion and affirmation with college students than with younger students.

Her compassion, patience and much daring took her to India where she had to work with potters who spoke a different language. She learned enough phrases to manage, but many cultural and environmental differences presented challenges that her hindsight spun into many humorous stories, though sharing her residence with lizards and rats couldn’t have been so funny at the time. Her generosity bore fruit in greater productivity and quality of the village’s pottery wares.
How God graced her in these last years when she could no longer stand at the easel nor see what she would want to do there. I can’t imagine the pain of those losses, but she bore them with patience. Yet once in a while, even just a couple weeks ago, she would give creating visually one more try, as when I rounded up for her the gear for water coloring. She enjoyed listening to taped books of varied types, religious and historical her favorites. She also enjoyed sharing her thoughts about them, both serious and humorous, especially over coffee.
She spent much time in prayer and contemplation, always her source of inspiration. Fr. James Behrens says, “Perhaps the way to see God’s reign in our midst is to look about with second sight, a different way of looking. It is a seeing that some blind people know with joy. And it is a seeing that eludes some with near perfect vision because they have yet to see more deeply.” Out of her seeing more deeply flowed her poetry about her memories of beauty in nature, her mirror of God’s presence, as we heard Sirach write so wonderfully.

And she had her memories of precious times with family whom she loved intensely, and with friends and community. Thanks to modern media she shared those delightful pictures of little Jacob so recently, thanks to the thoughtfulness of her family.

We shall miss her sense of delight, but that is more perfect for her now. Her artworks in paint and poetry remain with us to treasure more dearly, and more so do we treasure her memory. And her beautiful voice we loved to hear when she was cantor at prayer now soars with full heavenly joy. Still, I wonder if she had a moment of heavenly glee over the stir she caused with her quick getaway.

I stood.
Watching frost-seared leaves
Spangle autumn hues
in warm weathered winds.

One leaf made way.
Lofting on gentle breezes,
Feathered its way
Past leaves limb-locked.

I thrilled
In its capering descent
Sashaying its gentle way
Till quietly it curtsied,
Then earth-moored
Lay in stillness,

O Lord of all seasons
May I be like that leaf
Free-floating in your love
While lifted
Turned and tossed

To be gently laid to rest
Within you.

Sister Michael Kaliher, OSB


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