Sister Lois Barton, Sister of Saint Joseph, was a trusted friend, colleague, and always a willing partner in crime. Over twenty-five years, we together experienced many of the most extraordinary experiences of each of our lives. And because of the bond between us, we were able to share and more deeply explore these experiences in meaningful conversations. I believe we each have been a stimulant to each other’s spiritual growth.
Lois’ death is a deep loss to all who knew her. The light and love of her life, however, will continue to shine for those of us who follow.
Lois was a member of a number of communities in ways that always struck me as quite extraordinary. While obviously, it is not unusual for any of us to be members of various groups and associations, Lois had a profound way of fully embodying each community of which she was a member. In other words, rather than a fractional part of the greater whole, Lois herself fully represented the entirety of the whole. In this way, her “me” was transformed into the “we” of the community.
I was the recipient and beneficiary of this attitude when, several years ago, Lois and I teamed up with our friend and colleague Deborah Welsh to offer Wisdom Schools. Lois was the consummate team player in our work together. She was particularly gifted in assisting others to engage in the practical applications of Wisdom.
Lois was a dancer. Whether it was liturgical dancing or leading body movements in our Wisdom Schools, she always brought a willingness for embodied presence. At the same time, I know sometimes she would be conflicted because she never wanted to bring attention to herself. Her embodied work, like the whole of her life, was intended to support those around her. I remember in one Gospel of Thomas lectio group, we were stuck in a bit of a conundrum over one particular logion. Without warning her, I asked Lois if she could put body movement to the logion. She unhesitatingly did, and the group feel through to a deeper level.
I will always cherish a repeated poignant memory of Lois from our work together. In our Wisdom Schools, Lois was always given the honor of presiding at the closing contemplative Eucharist. This was always particularly touching to me because, as a male I could be ordained, but as female, she could not. While from the side I intoned the words I had written, Sister Lois through movement and gesture enacted the words of Consecration behind the altar. From her striking grace and clarity, the words and intention came profoundly alive. Some of you may remember:
Lord Christ, you have both declared and manifested your true identity—that you are the light shining on all things and the sum of everything. We have come to taste and know that everything has come forth from you, and that towards you everything is unfolding. There is no place where you are not: split a piece of wood or pick up a stone and we will find you there.
In the eye of my heart, I can still see Lois’ dramatic gestures expressing these words. I guess I always will.
Another set vivid memories from those years comes from our Holy Week retreats and Wisdom Schools. Often, Lois and I would enact, through music and movement, Jesus’ relationship with Mary Madelaine and, quite strikingly, her grief and love for Jesus. As you might expect, Lois’ Mary Madelaine was grounded, loyal, and loving.
And from the sublime to the ridiculous, I will also fondly remember the many times I witnessed Lois dutifully cutting the grass at the Spiritual Center in Windsor on her riding mower. She was as happy and fulfilled there as she was behind the altar or sitting with and listening attentively to a spiritual directee. I can see her now riding off into the distance…
Lois, we give thanks for all the ways you have been able to love us. We pray that you continue your love for us and your presence with us.