Only a few minutes pass from the 5 a.m. alarm that wakes Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, to the time she begins meditating. It’s an “anchor point,” says the 72-year-old DC-based lobbyist who rose to fame with the Nuns on the Bus advocacy tour and multiple appearances on The Colbert Report.
Given her high demand and rigorous travel schedule, “naps are required,” she says. So is the occasional catch-up day, like last Saturday, when she didn’t break the 1,000-step mark on her FitBit. (Her one-day record: 20,949 steps.)
But what recharges Sister Simone more than dark chocolate or hot baths is the sense of connection with others. “I’ve learned that when I feel burned out,” she says, “it’s because I think I want more control than what I have, and the fact is, I’m only called to do my part. As long as I’m engaged with everybody else’s part and aware of the needs and heartbreaks of others, it’s a well of energy. I don’t have to fix it, I just have to welcome it. Hug folks, care about them.”
That connection is the sure bi-product of National Catholic Sisters Week, which she considers a much-needed campaign. “What has been missed, I think, is the huge contribution that sisters have made to the broader society as well as to the church, and drawing attention to that is really important.”
She’s headlining an NCSW event held March 9 at the Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center in Marriottsville, Md. The day-long retreat is called “Nourishing Prophetic Imagination: Religious Life in the 21st Century.”
The concept of prophetic imagination, she says, “has been at the core of my religious life: being in relationship with my sisters and therefore supported and affirmed in living the Gospel in a more intense way.”
In her presentation, Sister Simone will explain the five characteristics of a community that nurtures prophetic imagination and then lead a discussion about how the experience of prophetic imagination enhances a person’s commitment and engagement. The retreat will include a period of contemplative intercessory prayer and an afternoon break-out session to apply the conversation to the modern day – a troubled time, she feels, that has never been in greater need of prophetic imagination.
“Scripture shows us that prophetic imagination, which we sorely need, only exists in community so the communal nature of it really is juxtaposed to our rampant individualism in the U.S. That’s one of the biggest challenges.”
She hopes the retreat will bring hope to those in attendance. “My prayer is always what I call the Pentecost prayer: may they hear what they need. It wasn’t that the apostles of the Pentecost learned all these languages; it was that they heard what they needed.”
When she looks back on a half century of religious life, Sister Simone can’t help but marvel over all that it has enabled. “My consistent commitment to justice has been possible because of the nourishment of community,” she says.
Still, there is more to do. Next up, she says: changing the conversation about poverty. “It’s so last century when you say people are lazy. Get with the program: 21st-century poverty is about low wages and struggling families and impossible housing costs.”
This she knows to be true, no matter the period, the president, the problem: “We’re called to be God’s love in the world.”
When you answer that call, she says, chuckling, prepare for one outcome: “surprises!”