by Sr. Judith Best
What Does It Take to Ride with Nuns on the Bus?
This is a question I’ve been asked so often these days. Let me try to share a few ideas.
It’s as close as I’ll ever get to being greeted as a “rock star.” I’m writing this from the country music capital of the United States, Nashville, I‘d like to answer it out of this country music context.
Yesterday provided a few hours of unscheduled time so two of us decided to visit the Country Music Museum in Nashville. Since I’m a mostly-Mozart person this was a moment of opening to something new. I noticed that the Nashville Symphony Hall performs on the opposite corner.
As we toured together, Eucharia, our sister from Nigeria, was humming the lyrics to Jim Reeves songs. I realized what a bond music is to all of us.
After my experience at ten Town Halls where we listen to stories of ordinary people, I could feel the resonance with the attraction of country music. Some of the quotations at the Hall of Fame spoke to me.
• “Country songs are the dreams of the working man.” Merle Haggard
• “Country music isn’t a guitar, it isn’t a banjo, it isn’t a melody, it isn’t lyrics. It’s a feeling.” Waylon Jennings
• “You ask what makes our kind of music successful. I’ll tell you. It can be explained in just one word. Sincerity.” Hank Williams
• “A good country song takes a page out of somebody’s life and puts it to music.” Conway Twitty
• “Country music is music with a lot of class. It’s just ordinary stories told by ordinary people in an extraordinary way.” Dolly Parton
So how does this relate to being a Nun on the Bus?
It’s all about crossing the street and meeting someone I don’t normally talk to in my ordinary life. So as I stood talking to clerks asking about the appeal of country music, one guy simply said: “Life is sad most of the time. Country music tells it as it is.” When I asked for a song that might be more hopeful, a young woman’s eyes brightened. “Kacey Musgraves’s ‘My House’ gives me hope.”
As I listen to Kacey sing about living in a bus, going cross-country, there is a relationship with our experience as Nuns on the Bus. So I’m writing this on the Bus en route to Senator Lamar Alexander’s office, listening to Kacey sing, “If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you.”
Let me be really practical in what I think it takes to be a Nun on the Bus.
• The ability to eat a boxed lunch while bouncing down the road.
• A certain amount of bladder control to make it to the next rest stop.
• Willingness to do strategy just before the event. This is a “stretch” for those of us into long-range planning.
• Respect and obedience toward our “handlers” who tell us how to exit the bus, set limits on our time to mingle with the crowds, follow orders to stay with the group, willingness to be interviewed, and speak publicly.
• Willingness to write reflections in a timely manner, lest you forget content as you move from a Senate office visit to on-site private conversations to Town Hall meetings
• Really believing that the strength of the United Sates is rooted in ordinary people caring enough about their neighbors to come together and work toward the common good.
• Believing that investing one’s valuable time and energy into upholding the values of the U.S. Constitution is a sacred trust, a mission to be treasured.
• Faith-filled focus that can welcome differences, opposition, a sense that the invitation to ride the Bus is a “call.” We begin with prayer each morning, sitting in silence, listening to a scripture text and responding with our hearts.
My “call” to be a Nun on the Bus was preceded by a change in a prayer that is part of the Catholic liturgy. Catholics say a prayer at Mass just before receiving communion, “O Lord I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Instead of saying the above I began to pray: “Oh God, I am ready to do whatever you tell me; please give me Mary’s (as Mary the mother of God) energy to be faithful.”
After several months of saying this prayer, the call to join “Nuns on the Bus” literally came while I was sitting in our botanical garden simply breathing with the blooming lavender. Suddenly my phone rang. It was Ashley from NETWORK, inviting me to be a Nun on the Bus. She knew me because I had joined the Bus in 2013, focusing on immigration. She asked if I’d be willing to write reflections as I had done earlier. The five-minute conversation left me energized, excited, and with a vague sense of wondering if I had the stamina to ride the Bus. After conversations with my community, leadership and family, I said, “Yes.” I continue to pray: “I am ready to do whatever you tell me.”
Soon we leave for a lobby visit to Senator Lamar Alexander’s office, followed by supper and our tenth Town Hall meeting. It’s been a great ride! Like a country music star, I want to “take a page out of someone’s life” and bring it to a politics of inclusion.