Sunday, March 18, 2018

Create In Me, O God

Psalm 51, a commonly-used psalm for the Lenten season, contains the oft-used line: Create in me a clean heart, O God. I cannot lie; I could use one of those. In today’s homily, our presider asked us a question I did not really care to answer because I knew the truth of my response: “Have you died this Lent?” Sigh. Not even close.

Sure, I’ve taken up my practices—meditation, giving away an item a day, Facebook fasting—in hopes that at least a slightly more pristine heart might appear. Yet, these practices have been completed on my terms. Is that really the point of taking them on? To die to self as I decide to die? While “meditating” this morning, I wondered about this all. Then, I told myself, “Val, just get back to the mantra.” The homily only offered an opportunity to continue my wondering, which only led to worrying, which only led to the cycle continuing.

A clean heart, yes, please. May my practices lead me there. What I might want even more, though, is a calm heart. Create in me a calm heart, O God. I would love a heart that isn’t so preoccupied with the status or progress of my “death-to-self.” A heart that trusts that as long as I am intentional, prayerful, and faithful then all shall be well.

I saw that calmness in nature the other weekend on a walk to the lake. The water appeared as still as Los Angeles traffic on a Friday rush hour.

To die this Lent, for me, would be to drop all the anxieties and worries about the journey. To live in the calm of God’s grace at work. Maybe my practices are helping take me there. Who knows? I can only live in hope. The first crocus I spot each year is my reminder.

All shall be well.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Short and Sweet

One thing I enjoy about Lent is the hymn booklet we use for the songs we sing at prayer. Compared to the booklets we use at Christmas or Easter (Advent has quite a few, too), there are more options for songs sung as mantras. These shorter songs easily enter into memory and are nice to have in your head during the season as we prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday.

Recently I came across a shorter, maybe mantra-like Mary Oliver poem that I hadn't read before titled, Whispered Poem:

I have been risky in my endeavors,
I have been steadfast in my loves;

Oh Lord, consider these when you judge me.

Then, I remembered two others that I often read. First, The Uses of Sorrow:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

And, We Shake With Joy:

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
house as they are in the same body.

These, too, like the mantras we sing in chapel, enter into my memory bank quickly, and I recall them from time to time. As for my favorite mantras at prayer?

A Listening Heart (Bob Hurd)
A listening heart give us, O God,
that we may always hear your voice;
a listening heart give us, O God,
that we may always follow.

Turn Our Hearts To You, O God (Barbara Bridge)
Turn our hearts to you, O God
with you there is healing,
wholeness and forgiveness,
freedom from fear, lasting peace.

Your Love Is Finer Than Life (Marty Haugen)
O God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you,
your love is finer than life.

Perhaps it is because I am focused on a mantra in my Lenten meditation practice, but these short sets of words are keeping me good company this Lenten season.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The birds are keeping me good company, too.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

“Our Blogs Wrote Themselves...”

I uttered as we took a look at the scene yesterday morning. What a storm it was! (Of course, I was most grateful for the day off, creating the coveted three-day weekend.) What astonished me most though was the change throughout the day as the sun appeared following the foot of snow that dropped overnight from Thursday into Friday. As quickly as it came, it went (at least some of it.) Check it out. This is the view around 7:15 yesterday morning.

The deer were clearly rummaging for the apples we put out for them:

And, it appeared as though we had white birches in our backyard! (That’s what happens when the heavy snow drops while the winds gust.)

But, here is the astonishing part. See our sister, St. Scholastica in the morning:

And the same photos taken about six hours later:

As for (what I remember to be in the summer months) the Rose of Sharon:

Wow! What a day! See what the sun can do!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Into the “Desert”

Over the weekend, we took a hike out to Gull Point at Presque Isle. For non-Erieites, this is the farthest point out that one can experience on the peninsula. A Google Maps marking shows us:

During the summer the area is closed, as it is protected for birds, but not on a not-quite-cold February day. Although the lake is still frozen in places (as you see), it was open in others:

Once we reached Gull Point, my friend commented that we chose to venture to the “desert” ourselves, in reference to this past Sunday’s gospel: Mark 1:12-15.

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The reign of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."

It does look a bit “desert-like,” no? Of course, there were also “angels” ministering to us.

And, we brought a furry one along, too.

A great afternoon was had by all—two-footed, four-footed, and winged alike.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Lenten Present

If you really want to find out how far you have to go on the journey, try meditating. Part of my Lenten practice this year includes spending fifteen minutes each morning and each evening on my meditation cushion in silence and with a mantra.

This all transpired as I read (and am still reading) John Main, OSB’s, Moment of Christ: The Path of Meditation. I have read a few books on meditation, especially during my novitiate, but this was the first one that really made me desire to put the practice into practice. Lent coming right around the corner probably helped, too. The purpose of meditation being simplification and presence, this all seemed a fitting choice during the liturgical season where we find grace to meet Jesus again in a new, deeper way.

So, I try to enter into the meditation experience while thoughts of the unchangable past and uncontrollable future work their way in and out of my consciousness for at least 14.8 of the 15 minutes. It gives me a better appreciation for the truth that we must we live our lives in the present. There’s nowhere else to be. Last year, during Holy Week, a sister reminded me, “This is your only Holy Week as a novice...savor it.” A call to be present if I’ve ever heard one. The present moment, this Lenten season, takes me back to Joan Chittister’s book, The Liturgical Year: the spiraling adventure of the spiritual life, which I read for a novitiate class on the topic. Joan writes:

It is this difference between Easter and Passover, this crossover point between one spiritual worldview and another, for which Lent is designed to prepare us. For the Jew, Passover is a sign of salvation, of “God with us” at a particular historical moment in the past. For the Christian, Easter is a sign of “God with us” in the past, but with us now also and at a time to come, as well. This single conscious concept is the life-breath of the faith, of life in Christ, of the Christian witness now and forever. Each succeeding year, Lent calls each of us to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications of the Resurrection in our own lives, here and now. But that demands both the healing of the soul and the honing of the soul, both penance and faith, both a purging of what is superfluous in our lives and the heightening, the intensifying, of what is meaningful.

Lent gives us an opportunity to practice the timelessness of God and of Love in our lives by giving up a bit of ourselves. Taking us out of the past and future to root us here and now, meditation seems to fit right in as a way to embrace that opportunity. From John Main:

Meditation is the way to illumination, to light and to life. Christ’s message is one of vitalization and illumination, complete enlightenment. The way to this is the way of single-mindedness, not being distracted by things that are passing away but ever more deeply committed to what is enduring, to what is eternal.

No wonder Benedict says, “The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent.”

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Learning by Teaching

Some years back I was walking down the street in Philadelphia (Fly, Eagles, Fly!) with a mentor of mine who guided me as a new teacher. I spotted a fortune from a fortune cookie on the ground and picked it up. It read, “One learns most from teaching others.”

If I didn’t I believe it then (Spoiler: I did.), I certainly do after spending the past few weeks in the company of infants at work. The room where I currently spend my days is full of seven infants ranging from two months old to just under a year.

One such darling is a premature baby who looks about half of her ripe, young age of eight months. Precious in every way, she pretty much steals your heart whenever you look at her. The other day I spent plenty of time looking at her while I fed her lunch—sweet potatoes. Since she is so tiny, her mouth is small, too. Eating takes quite a bit of time compared to those toddlers, but as I quickly realized that we wouldn’t be operating on my time schedule, I centered myself and entered into her presence, lingering over the meal. (Perhaps she was helping me practice for my own dinner that night!) We sat together as she ate spoonfuls no larger than the size of a fingernail until she decided she didn’t want anymore. The process of being attentive to this sweet girl certainly slowed me down a bit.

Patience is a virtue, and how grateful I am to learn it from these babes.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Niagara Falls in winter

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dreaming Ahead

The other morning I was joking with someone that once you hit the age of 30, soup and salad are the excitements of life.

Well, I've loved a good soup and salad for quite some time now, so I think I'll do just fine.

Someone else asked me what my dreams are for this next decade. A great and important question. I answered along the lines of continuing to become who I truly am, saying "yes" to what makes me happy and not to other people's expectations for me.

I realized how free I became when I made that choice for the first time--the choice to say "yes" to my happiness. I became a teacher. Making that choice opened me up for so much goodness that followed. And most of that goodness came in the form of meeting really wonderful people, some of whom became dear mentors in my life.

I do believe that each person has a central message in her life that she tries to proclaim; it probably centers around one's vocation. Some people's message might be "Love," or "Evolution," or "Spirit." I believe mine has to do with mentoring. I adamantly believe that we are not meant to walk our journeys without the wisdom of those who have journeyed farther and longer than we have. We actually do ourselves a disservice when we discredit those voices; their voices might not coincide with ours, but there is a definite wisdom that comes with living over time.

Part (or more accurately, a great part) of what made my 20's so beautiful was the cultivation of those mentoring relationships in my life. These were the people who helped me find the voice inside myself that allowed me to say "yes" to my happiness. How couldn't I be grateful? They taught (and continue to teach) me about the interconnectedness of all. They teach me about these lines from Gregory Norbet that we sang during Liturgy today:

Healing presence of God's Spirit,
within all humanity, teach us to live compassion freely,
to thirst for truth's integrity.

After listening to these words, I realized that another dream of mine would be to practice living this way--to be a healing presence through shared humanity, to live compassion freely, to thirst for truth's integrity. Mentors are my models for this way of living.

I guess I really do have quite a few dreams for the next decade, which is a great thing. One of them involves sitting down at a quiet restaurant with a dear mentor and ordering some soup and salad.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

a frozen, yet beautiful lake