Transcendence, Enlightenment, etc.

My friend and I have been spending some time swapping messages about transcendence and enlightenment recently. Of course, we have yet to figure out how to achieve either, but this story we love gives us a good hint:

When I was twenty-one and on a Buddhist studies program in India, I ordained temporarily with two Burmese nuns. In the Theravada tradition, monks and nuns cannot eat after noon, so around 5 p.m. every day the nuns would gather to drink lemon tea and talk about the dharma.

At that point in my life, I was jazzed about enlightenment and the end of suffering. I spoke passionately and intellectually about my experiences of noticing impermanence during meditation. After I shared some such heady, proud insights, one of the nuns smiled.

“When I first ordained as a nun,” she said, “I was always hoping to get enlightened. But now, after forty years of practice, nothing has happened!”

Then she burst out laughing, overflowing with joy. “Nothing happens!”

The other nun joined in gleefully. …

What is a monk?

Isn’t this the million dollar question, the question that can help us unlock the future of our life as monastics, and specifically for us, as Benedictines?

Over the next five weeks, we are watching a series from Michael Casey, OCSO titled Monasticism in the 21st Century: A View From the Trenches. It seems Fr. Casey will be addressing the current situation where the monastic family finds itself, emerging features of the life, and how we form ourselves to live this life into the future. 
One issue the Cistercian monk raised was that it is difficult to define monasticism and the monk. Because the life is so dynamic and varied, it therefore carries with it a less-than-concrete definition. There are many orders, many ministries, many cultures, many, many, many. Because of this, there can be a lack of coherent vision about monastic life. 
He joked, “The monastery is about raising cows,” referencing some of the more agricultural communities. One sister sitting behind me misheard the quote, a…

The Truth

The lector read the lines of 1 Peter 5:5:

"And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for: 'God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.'”

She walked away from the ambo and said under her breath, "Yeah, you got that right."
Yes, the God opposes the proud and favors the humble. Now, more than ever, we need these lines as our truth.
This little moment happened at Sunday morning prayer during a recent formation weekend. We spent the weekend reflecting on the topic of liturgy and the Benedictine life.
Liturgy, the center around which our lives orbit as Benedictines, takes many forms, but I have spent much time recently in gratitude for the Liturgy of the Hours. Not just because of moments like this that make you smile with hope, but because each day I watch the same women walk into chapel to be faithful to the life they have professed to live. It would be impossible to live conversatio, stability, or obedience without…

Send Us Forth

Last Wednesday we took our signs and went out to protest Donald Trump and his policies during his visit to Erie. It was a powerful experience, and once I saw the lyrics to our closing hymn at Liturgy this past Sunday (Send Us Forth—Bob Hurd), our choice made even more sense.

We gather as holy church, proclaiming your holy word,
Challenged anew by your gospel. Empower us daily
To work for your glory, with all who hope in your promise.

Send us forth; may we be your compassion
And mercy to each person oppressed by injustice and need.
May our lives be a blessing and light to the nations,
A sign of the reign of God.

Our flesh, your dwelling place; our touch, your healing grace;
Our struggles, the work of your spirit. So may we be builders
Of the new creation, so may we be faithful disciples.

Let us vote on November 6th, and...

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Praying Mantis

Every morning I wake, dress in the dark, go downstairs.
I look out of every window.
I go out and stand on the lawn.
In the east, the slightest light begins
     flinging itself upward
and my heart beats (never an exception) with excitement.
(My gratitude to you, dear heart!)

Though it will all vanish utterly, and surely in
     a little while,
I know what is wonderful—
I know what to hoard in my heart more than the value
     of pearls and seeds.
There was the day you first spoke my name.
There was a white house at the edge of the harbor.
There was the swan, and the hummingbird.
There was music, and paper, and the tirelessly pursued work.
There were a thousand and again a thousand unforgettable days.

And still I’m looking at everything—
in the wide morning and the strike of noon
I’m humming, and clapping my hands
and I can’t stop 
not for any reason not even for the easiest thought.
And, anyway, what is thought
but elaborating, and organizing?
What is thought
but doubting, and crying out?

(In the dark, in the …

Into The Forest

Taking a break from technological connectedness this past weekend, we enjoyed a different type of connectedness heading off to the Allegheny Forest for a weekend of camping. Specifically we were at the Minister Creek campground, and with a site right next to the water, we couldn’t have asked for more. The sound of the flowing creek accompanying us in each moment gave me a sense of comfort that I only find with water.

I had been craving solitude of a different sort, but this was a totally worthy substitute. The weekend surrounded by dear friends, a fire, songs, trees, and simplicity afforded me a necessary respite from the usual busyness. And because nature is my favorite teacher of humility, I gained that sense of peace that one encounters through creation. I think I captured it in this semi-accidental photo.

Of course, we had the “dailiness of life” there, too. Dishes, shananigans, etc.

The weekend also provided the answer, yet again, to that question we never stop asking...
What’s i…

Running Into Morning

In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

—“Song For Autumn,” Mary Oliver
And just like that, autumn came. Yesterday we had to come in from playing outside because the temperature was too hot. Today, I wore a flannel.

It makes running much more pleasant. I went for an early morning run today, my favorite time to head out on the open road. Last weekend I did the same, but we were…