A Master Listener

INTERVIEW BY MARIE-CLAIRE MARCOTTE

Margaret Rose Dick, born in 1937, first joined the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in 1955, a month after she graduated from high school, and has been a member of the community ever since. Her ministry highlights—Teaching and School Administration, Parish Ministry, Spiritual Direction, Retreat and Renewal Workshops (Enneagram and other). Her studies—Berkeley, California (liturgical studies); Chicago, Illinois (spiritual direction); Tantur, Jerusalem (ecumenical and biblical). She is a Co-Founder and Co-Director at the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer with Glenn Zimmer since 1995.

I make the drive from Regina Saskatchewan to the Qu’Appelle Valley where Margaret lives. The Qu’Appelle Valley got its name from a Cree legend dating back to the 1800s when it was believed that one could hear the voice of a human (or spirit) calling from the valleys, “Kâ-têpwêt?”—meaning “Who is calling?” (“Qui appelle?” in French). People passing through the valleys would respond, and the valleys would echo back.

Margaret and I find a spot outside on her patio. In front of us are the valleys, possibly echoing stories they’ve heard at some point in time. Margaret’s smiling eyes scan me, my laptop. She looks out at the hills and lets out a little sigh.

I don’t know about this interview.

(I try to reassure her.)

You can see this as more of a discussion. Not an interview.

Fine.

Do you know why I asked to speak with you?

Oh someone put you up to it I’m sure.

(She smirks.)

Well this issue of She Said Notes focuses on story tellers and takers. Margaret, as a Spiritual Director, you listen to many people’s stories.

So many.

In a sense, your work is listening. Taking stories.

Yes, I suppose that’s right.

Can I call you a master at the art of listening?

(Margaret seems a bit perplexed by this grand title.)

Oh, well I… I don’t know.

Okay, let’s go with Spiritual Director. What is a Spiritual Director?

Someone who has openness with another person. It’s someone who is there when people need help, when they need to see what’s really happening inside of them. People usually seek out help when they want advice, when they want to put things in a different position, usually one they’re not used to. I suppose you could say that I help them lead the life they were meant to live, the life that their heart and spirit wishes to live.

Hearing you say that just gave me shivers.

Oh. Well.

(Margaret raises her shoulders.)

Some people are anxious when they come see me and don’t feel that comfortable in sharing. I try to get some of their worries and questioning out in the open where they can take a look at all of it.

Are you a natural listener?

I don’t remember people telling me I was a natural listener… I left my home, family, and friends and became a nun immediately after grade twelve. And at that age, what do you even know? You know very little. As time went on, people would naturally come to me and start sharing their stories and concerns. So as time went on, I felt more confident with my role as a listener. The big thing is making the other person feel comfortable so that they can feel free to say what they need to say. If someone comes to me and wants to share, I must share a lot of myself as well by being present and open.

Sounds like it might get exhausting. Listening is a lot of work!

(Margaret laughs. It’s not easy to make Margaret laugh but when she does, her eyes sparkle, becoming an even deeper shade of blue.)

Yeah it is. It is a lot of work.

When do you know your work with someone is done?

Usually the person in question knows inside of themselves what’s good for them. They know when the work is done.

How many people can you see in a day?

In my earlier days… (She laughs a sweet self-deprecating laugh)… I could see two or three people a day, and often enough even more. Frequently, especially when I first came to Queen’s House [in Saskatoon], I would spend the entire day meeting with people, along with working with some of the staff—which really was another kind of spiritual accompaniment.

As an artist, listening to others’ stories, to the world around me is integral to my work. I consider your work to be so creative.

(Margaret stares at me as though I’m a strange tropical bird she’s never seen before.)

You wouldn’t consider your work to be creative?

No, no. Oh dear.

Where have you felt the most creative?

Maybe with my recipe book. I started cooking very late in life. When I moved to the Qu’Appelle House of Prayers I was suddenly in charge of a kitchen and sometimes feeding up to twenty people. All of a sudden I became a ‘chef.’ Oh God. Oh my gosh. I started assembling recipes I liked and it turned into a cookbook.

(Margaret shows me her cookbook. It’s a thick book filled with eighteen years worth of recipes. They’re all still in very good condition. She points to a recipe.)

This one is popular. Garbanzo bean chocolate cake. People have so many allergies now. (She smiles as she points to another.) Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Pudding Cake.

(We spend a good half hour talking about food before I steer us back to our theme!)

Has it ever been a burden to carry someone’s story?

I don’t think so. I can’t solve someone’s problem. Sometimes even they can’t.

Where do all these stories live in you?

(Margaret taps her heart.)

How do you prepare yourself to listen to others?

I find I have to let go of something else to be present to the other and the now. I always take some time to get down inside of myself and then try to be open and to listen. I want to be present to the person who’s talking to me.

Do people share their hopes and dreams with you?

No, it’s mostly, “such and such a thing happened when I was at work. What do I do?” Or, “I’ve always wanted to do this… or be this…”—usually it’s something they really really want and they don’t know how to get there.

How much talking do you end up doing?

Not that much. Sometimes people simply want reassurance from someone else or to hear that what they’re experiencing is okay. People want to be listened to.

Do we not have enough listeners in this world?

I don’t know. I often think of people who survive disasters like in Fort McMurray. Where do those people go for help? I’m not sure they will seek spiritual direction. But they must feel stuck. “Why me?” A lot of people feel stuck. “Why am I here? What is it all about?”

Do you feel clear about your place in the world?

Yeah. Yeah, I feel clear about it. My sisters and brothers might think I’m crazy but no, I’m in the right place. I am often surprised how things turned out, all the things I have done, often doing things which no one else in my community was doing, often helping start things that were new, different, and—I guess—creative. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am so grateful.

Any parting words on listening?

Listening is so intentional.

As I drive back to Regina I think about all the stories Margaret holds inside of her. I would go crazy if I didn’t put them down on the page. I think Margaret’s stories must come out in other subtle ways—through her cooking and gardening and how she loves and takes care of her cat…

How do you let your creativity pour out?

 

In Interviews

From Story Tellers and Takers

 

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