When I first mustered the courage to introduce myself to Shawn Chapman, the Holy Spirit brought me out of a desert and began to breathe new life into me.
There was something so refreshingly authentic about her. I had first seen her in the adoration chapel when I took my Mother in law’s hour which overlapped with Shawn’s (later I would come to learn that Shawn had been friends with my husband’s eldest sister years and years ago). I eventually found out more about her life through mutual acquaintances, and learned of the deep sorrows and joys which have made her such an inspiring soul.
I had true admiration for Shawn. The fact that she wore a sari and had a nose ring but bore no apparent Indian descent was fascinating to me. Without knowing very much about her, I loved how she dwelt in such purpose wherever I saw her. As an Extraordinary Eucharistic minister at Mass, as an adorer in the chapel, a youthful mother of teenaged girls, a true friend of chickens. To see her reverently lying prostrate on the ground in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament (when no one else is in the chapel), and then another day discover her blowing bubbles in a crowd of people or “planking” in her backyard with one of her chickens on her back, one might begin to fathom the wonderful depths of mystery that is Shawn Chapman.
(For those who have read her work here on ACNM, you know what I mean. The fact that I am even attempting to put this into words is ludicrous).
Feeling at the height of awkward weirdness, I wrote to her “would you be willing to correspond with me, like a pen pal, as a sort of spiritual director?” Shawn had recently suffered the loss of two very important people in her life, but she took a chance on me for some reason. “I haven’t done this formally,” she responded “but yes, I’d be glad to talk with you. You’ll be appalled, and I’ll be edified,” she said.
She would bring me a flower each time we met, oftentimes a rose. I remember as I talked to her, I felt I was in the presence of a mystic. Her body would be beside me, but her soul was on a mountaintop, touching the very heart of God. As a Secular member of the Carmelite order, she helped me learn how to guard my spiritual life as a mother of young children, she encouraged me to delve more deeply into my favorite forms of prayer, and to bring Jesus into the midst of my day – to my inner chapel. She helped me see the labor-intensive, and insanely repetitive tasks of child-rearing through the lens of the corporal works of mercy. She helped me see that I don’t have to fit a mold. She inspired me in her generous acts of love, in taking in a family to care for them in a time of need. I said “you are amazing!” and she replied “Jesus just wouldn’t let me say ‘no.'”
In our correspondences, with eloquence that only the Holy Spirit can inspire, she might introduce me to what St. Teresa described as “the room of self knowledge” or the “royal road” and in the same sentence, she might say brassily “now write me a letter, you punk!” We would pray for one another, and share challenges throughout the week. While she was already an accomplished writer (in fact she was in the middle of writing a book) I encouraged her to start blogging. I wasn’t alone in knowing that if just one person could benefit from her spirituality as I had, that the world would be forever changed.
When I think of deep suffering, and steadfast faith…. when I think of the wisdom of the saints and sacrifice made willingly… when I see beauty and dignity in unexpected places….when I think of joy and hope persevering… when I linger in the fragrance of a rose… I see Shawn.
When I see Shawn, I so clearly behold my Friend, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And because of all of that, I hope she won’t be too mad at me for writing this down and sharing it.
“You do a lot for me. A lot of this is even just that you are such an exemplary Catholic I can’t figure out why you want me to do anything for you. And I have just had the feeling that this is the Holy Spirit since the beginning. So it’s helping me too. I’m honored you have felt drawn to me and it gives me hope the Christ really does continue to work in me even though I have felt so disoriented vocation wise. Your inspiration shows he still has things he wants me to do like help this special soul of his in whatever way he shows me. Sometimes it’s hard to obey Jesus but this time is easy and fun.
grace and peace,