Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Many Names of God

In our community when you are the prayer leader, you begin the Prayer of Jesus as part of the role. This means that you are the one who addresses God, beginning the prayer with a title of your choice.

I'd say that the most common choice is "Loving God," or, to change the syntax a bit, "God of Love." Loving Creator also shows up often, as well as God of Compassion, or God of Mercy, or Ever-Faithful God, or God of Our Longing. Sometimes we get less oft-used titles: "Abba," "Divine Source," or "Mother/Father."

The other day I started thinking about this practice, and it became more and more beautiful as I reflected on it. By listening to the different images that our sisters have of God, we experience a more complete image of our Creator, one that includes more than just our own perspective. Maybe the prayer leader feels especially in need of mercy or forgiveness that day and chooses the fitting title. Maybe the choice was just the title that I needed to hear that day to be reminded of the many natures of God.

It was actually in taking a college course on Islam that I began to appreciate my own faith in a deeper way. We spent one particular class talking about the fact that there are an infinite number of titles for God, ones that I would have never thought of before; up until that time I had only thought of God as Father, as I had been raised with that language. But, I can also remember the first time that someone referred to God as "She."

Today when I look out my window I see the God of Ever-Renewing Verdancy. Spring is finally here! What is your name for God today?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(See all those buds being patient!)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Leaping in Joy for Spring

I cannot dance, O God,
unless you lead me.
If you will that I leap joyfully
then you must be the first to dance
and to sing!

Then, and only then,
will I leap for love.

Then will I soar
from love to knowledge,
from knowledge to fruition
from fruition to beyond
all human sense.

And there I will remain
and circle for evermore.

Mechthild of Madgeburg


Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cenobitic Living

Benedict is pretty clear: Be a cenobite.

When I first entered community, I have to admit, I hadn't heard of the word cenobite before, but after the Prologue in the Rule of Benedict, Benedict goes straight to a description of the different types of monks in Chapter 1.

"First, there are the cenobites, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and a prioress/abbot."

Sounds good...rather straightforward. Then, he goes on to explain the hermits. Following the hermits come the sarabaites, "the most detestable kind of monastics." According to Benedict they do "whatever strikes their fancy." Doesn't lend well to obedience, does it?

But, it gets worse. Fourth and finally come the gyrovagues, those monks who never settle down. "In every way they are worse than the sarabaites," says Benedict. If you do the math, then, gyrovagues are worse than the most detestable kind of monastics. Yikes! The chapter concludes:

"Let us pass them [the other monastics] by, then, and with the help of God, proceed to draw up a plan for the strong kind, the cenobites."

Cenobites seek God in community. Another part of novitiate involves having conversations about current events with the cenobites in this community...aka my sisters.

A few months back, my conversation partner and I were reading a piece about the movie, Into Great Silence, a film chronicling the lives of a community of Carthusian monks in the French Alps. Laurence Freeman writes:
It [the film] is a love story. This is the secret of the film. The monks seem happy but are not in love with each other. If they love each other it is because they are in love with the same invisible yet apparently ever-present person. Unnamed, unseen, even unspoken to, God plays in every scene. At first, one assumes it is the visible actors who are the lovers. Slowly it dawns that they are mirrors. The love we speak of is not our love for God but God's love for us.
We seek God most fully with others. I am learning more and more how true this is. Sitting down for these conversations is one way I am learning this. So, how wonderful it was to receive a quote from this month's conversation partner yesterday. This is what triggered the above-quoted words to come to mind. From the book series, The Hawk and the Dove:
Something is restored in both of them as they part company. Brother Damien, walking back to the claustral buildings of the monastery, reflects that though he came out of the world to this place to draw closer to God, the main thing he's found himself encountering is raw, uncompromised humanity - not least his own. He thinks maybe those two things aren't as distinct as he always assumed.
Sure, it isn't always easy. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Benedict, whose fellow monks tried to poison him. "Raw, uncompromised humanity" is far from perfect, but Benedict knew, and these writers seem to agree, that the best way to God is to share life with others. And, if my time in this community is any indicator so far, I agree with Benedict: Be a cenobite.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Simple Delights

An essential part of novitiate is learning presence. By not having an external ministry in the community, there are many opportunities for it. The other day I popped into the room of one of our sisters. She happens to be the other slice of bread in the community's age sandwich - we are seventy years apart!

I thanked her for some photos she sent me the day before. At 99 years of age, she loves her iPad and capturing special moments on it! I looked at the wall of her room, and I saw this:


She explained to me that it was Mary having tea! It made me smile quite a bit, and she told me that another sister in our community gave her this unique tea set. What a simply joy she shared with me! Then, she asked me if I could take a picture of her so she could send it to her friends. Today I asked if I could use it on my blog, and she said yes.


What a great photo! Today she was looking through a home design magazine to which she subscribes. She not only shared with me pictures of fancy living rooms and kitchens, but she also shared her simple delight with me. She loves paging through the magazine and reveling in the creativity of the designers who put these rooms together.

'Tis the gift to be simple.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Committed to Refugees

Our community has a corporate commitment that gives focus to our vision and work. Our commitment reads:

"As Benedictine Sisters of Erie we commit ourselves to be a healing presence and prophetic witness for peace by working for sustainability and justice, especially for women and children."

As a novice, we work on a project that aligns with this corporate commitment. After a few ideas, one fell into my lap that combines a few things which are right up my alley.

I am participating in a project called "Young Peace Journalists." The youth coordinator of Pax Christi International coordinates this effort to give voice to refugees internationally. There are about twenty of us, all under 30, from the following countries: Portugal, Democratic Republic of Congo, England, Kenya, Germany, The Netherlands, South Africa, Papua New Guinea and the US.

All of the participants have connections to refugees where they live. Through Pax Christi we are learning some basics of journalism that we will use to interview a local refugee (or more) and write his/her story for Pax Christi's "Peace Stories" blog. It has been quite an experience to connect online with people from all these countries for the trainings. (Time zone adjustments, included!) It is also wonderful to see some people who are still in high school already brimming with a passion for social justice.

The Atlantic ran a story about refugees in Erie late last year. In it, we read about the ways that refugees contribute to a local community. I am excited to help represent this part of the world, especially as Trump's second attempt at a travel ban goes into effect. (Also from The Atlantic, here is a precious video of the children in a family of Iraqi refugees.)

This is the second group of Young Peace Journalists. You can read some of the stories that have already been written at Pax Christi by clicking here.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Transfigure Us, O God

One of my Lenten practices has been to read a chapter of Joan Chittister's, In Search of Belief every morning. In each chapter of the book she writes about a phrase of the Creed, breaking down the prayer. This morning I read, "He Was Conceived by the Holy Spirit."

Here is the quote that received a few underlines:

"The Spirit opened Jesus to a world beyond his own."

I thought about the implications of this, which brought a line of poetry to mind, as well as a few verses from Scripture. First, the poetry:

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God."

Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us that sacred presence immerses this world, and we know this is true because Jesus, the Christ, came to share his humanity, as well as his divinity with us. It was the Holy Spirit that allowed Jesus to do this, to enter into the world. So, I also thought of the oft-heard Philippians 2:5-11:

"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God."

We certainly aren't going to be able to move beyond ourselves and stop grasping our old, tired ways without some grace much greater than ourselves beckoning us forward. We certainly aren't going to be open to the Spirit at work in us without listening to grandeur of God all around us. This all fits quite nicely with today's Gospel. We must be transfigured if we are going to allow the Spirit to get to work in our lives.

Last night we heard a lovely reflection on the Transfiguration during our Lenten vigil. We were reminded that we must be transfigured in order to bring about the reign of God. Interspersed with the reflection was a beautiful music meditation.


Break us away from ourselves, God. Break us open to Your world, filled with Your Spirit.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

To Pray These Words Each Morning

Neither I nor the poets I love
found the keys to the kingdom of prayer
and we cannot force God
to stumble over us where we sit.
But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway.
So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting,
making friends with the habit of listening,
hoping that I’m being listened to.
There, I greet God in my own disorder.
I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions,
my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble.
I say hello to distraction and privilege,
I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus.
I recognise and greet my burdens,
my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story.
I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story,
my unloved body, my own love, my own body.
I greet the things I think will happen
and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day.
I greet my own small world
and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day.
I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day,
and hope that I can hear some stories,
and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead.
I greet God,
and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet.
Hello to you all, I say,
as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast.
Hello.

-From Pádraig Ó Tuama, the most recent guest on On Being. Listen here - it's wonderful!

Let us walk in the holy presence.