Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Spot the Difference

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things was page 14 of the Highlights magazine. It was the page that had the photo where you had to find the hidden items within the photo. I LOVED IT! I also enjoyed the side-by-side photos where you had to spot the difference. These were always fun challenges for me! Here's a similar story...I was excited to post some photos that I took in the woods less than a week ago. I love the way the sun looks when it comes through the trees, especially when they're barren.

But, as of yesterday, they don't reflect our current reality. Here's the "side-by-side" that reflects what we're seeing now.

We've had some pretty steady snow since Sunday night, and we are blessed that we don't have to go out in this weather. Everyone seems to be enjoying the landscape with the beauty it provides. A snow storm always makes me think of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems.

The Winter Wood Arrives

I think
     I could have
          built a little house
               to live in

with the single cord—
     half seasoned, half not—
          trucked into the
               driveway and

tumbled down. But, instead,
     friends came
          and together we stacked it
               for the long, cold days

that are—
     maybe the only sure thing in the world—
          coming soon.
               How to keep warm

is always a problem,
     isn’t it?
          Of course, there’s love.
               And there’s prayer.

I don’t belittle them,
     and they have warmed me,
          but differently,
               from the heart outwards.

     what swirls of frost will cling
          to the windows, what white lawns
               I will look out on

as I rise from morning prayers,
     as I remember love, that leaves yet never leaves,
          as I go out into the yard
               and bring the wood in

with struggling steps,
     with struggling thoughts,
          bundle by bundle,
               to be burned.

Hope you're all safe wherever you are—

With prayers for peace and unity—

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Joy is Not Made to be a Crumb

Yes, we are in quarantine here at the monastery, with positive cases. (You can read the statement from our prioress on the front page of our website.)

Many are pitching in to keep things going (and keep stomachs filled). Needless to say, this is a unique time for us. Certainly it is a unique time for someone discerning a commitment to this life and this community. In my lesser moments, I get down and anxious, but in my better moments, I recall the parts of the Rule of Benedict that should underlie our behavior and actions during such a vulnerable time.

Good Zeal (Chapter 72) is essential always, but in a new light, right now.

Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which members must foster with fervent love: "They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Romans 12:10)," supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what she judges better for herself, but instead, what she judges better for someone else. Among themselves they show the pure love of sisters; to God, reverent love; to their prioress, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.

For me to try to live with good zeal, I try to focus on joy and gratitude. Spotting a rose in winter helped me this morning as I went for my walk.

And there's always Mary Oliver's poetry. (Titled Don't Hesitate)

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

And this funny meme that my friend sent me, gives me a good laugh—laughter being another "essential" during this time. (Source unknown)

I hope it gives you a smile, too.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas in Quarantine: Some Reflections

On Monday morning I got the call that I had been exposed to someone who tested positive. Just before that, I had been running through a list of Christmas “to-do” things in my mind, a list which suddenly evaporated. The new list that began running through my mind was just one question, “Now what?” on repeat.

After a dozen-or-so phone calls to get the logistics settled, I gathered my things that I could gather in the moment and headed into the world of quarantine, a world which has become so familiar to so many during these months of 2020.

My brain obviously needed to do some readjusting—Christmas in quarantine was my new reality—so, developing some acceptance became important. I felt okay with it, but also wondered how I would feel once reality actually set in.

Texts and phone calls checking on me, seeing how I was managing that reality, began sounding on my phone. Still, I felt okay and tried to convey that as best I could.

You see, I am pretty bent toward solitude by nature; I thoroughly enjoy time spent alone in silence. But, I am also part of a community. Indeed, I have chosen to pitch my tent with others; it was not a decision forced upon me. I find greater joy living the truth of our human connectedness than I do living a solitary life, as challenging as it can be at times. So, there is the basic assumption that these are the people with whom I will celebrate life and all the moments that we collectively acknowledge give meaning to it. Certainly Christ’s being born anew in our world is one of those things. Certainly this year we seek glimpses of that birth more than ever.

On the second day being in quarantine I made a list of all the communal traditions that I would miss—not just physically miss being present for, but emotionally miss in my heart—the songs I wouldn’t hear, the rituals I wouldn’t experience. Reality was a bit more difficult to stomach.

But, so many have checked in via the world of virtual connection, a world that, too, has become oh-so-familiar during 2020. People have dropped off the things I have needed (or just wanted) and have done things for me at the monastery that had been on my “to-do” list before Monday morning. I feel far from isolated.

And, this extra quiet gives me more time to connect with those who have been truly isolated since March, or whenever the pandemic began affecting the normal routine of their lives. It gives me a different opportunity to connect with the families and communities worldwide who have suffered losses beyond belief, whose new reality may never fully set in.

I had sent a favorite Mary Oliver essay of mine to a friend along with her Christmas card. The piece is titled Winter Hours, and I try to read it each year as the season returns. After she finished reading it, she sent me a favorite paragraph, which just happens to be the one that I always highlight, too:

Sometimes I think, were I just a little rougher made, I would go altogether to the woods—to my work entirely, and solitude, a few friends, books, my dogs, all things peaceful, ready for meditation and industry—if for no other reason than to escape the heart-jamming damages and discouragements of the world’s mean spirits. But, no use. Even the most solitudinous of us is communal by habit, and indeed by commitment to the bravest of our dreams, which is to make a moral world. The whirlwind of human behavior is not to be set aside.

That paragraph is such truth for me. I often think about how I could live a peaceful and contented, productive life as a hermit. The pleasure I can find in my own company is a pleasure I have felt during most of the solitudinous stretches I have experienced in my life. And sometimes when I let my brain begin wandering in that direction, I get carried away with the possibility. But, more often and more strongly than that, the words and wisdom of Benedict begin echoing through me. He says, in other words: we are called to journey together; we are called to support one another; serving our sisters and brothers is real love; our prayers rise powerfully together; the work of conversion happens communally. In my five years in Erie, his wisdom has become my truth.

I know that wherever I am, wherever we find ourselves this year, that Christ is being born anew in our communal world. I know that I am connected to that world, and in a special way, with my sisters tonight as the traditions we celebrate together unfold in our monastery in adapted ways. Christ—whose name, for me, is synonymous with light, with love, with compassion—overcomes darkness. Let us celebrate our faith so deeply this year.

Let us walk in the holy presence. Merry Christmas.

enjoying an adapted Christmas tree, created from my surroundings

solitudinous spaces

what I'll miss the most...singing Emanuel with my sisters at Vigil prayer

Friday, December 11, 2020

Where Does the Story End? (A Willow Update)

"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story."
Orson Welles

I recently devoured the memoir, Memorial Drive. The book tells the story of a daughter whose mother was murdered by her step-father. I couldn't stop reading it. I found the above quote at the end of one of the chapters.

Earlier that day, one of our novices told me some much-appreciated-during-these-days exciting news. To catch everyone up, remember our beautiful willow tree in the "backyard" that succumbed to wind a few weeks ago? Well, after it fell, two of the novices went out to salvage some of the branches and see if it would be possible to re-root the tree.

They did some research on care and length of time for re-rooting. They put some of their gatherings in different places to see if conditions would affect growth. (Such scientists!)

Well, Jackie reported to me that, indeed, the branches have grown new leaves! There seem to be hints of roots beginning to become visible, too!

Resurrection at its finest. This also reminds me of one of my favorite passages from all our prayer periods of the year, from Friday morning Tenebrae during the Triduum. The words are:

Even the bleakest life
sustains the consciousness
that somewhere, somehow,
there is going to be a resurrection,

a rebirth of life, of joy, of beauty,
that will never fade.

There is going to be a resurrection,
a rebirth of joy,
of beauty that will never fade.

This re-rooting is giving us "nature nerds" a little joy during an otherwise bleak time. These words re-new my hope during an otherwise bleak time.

Thanks for the good news and for reading poetry to our new trees daily, giving them the CO2 they desire, Jackie!

I love this photo because you can see Amma Willow in the background,
through the window...with some beautiful sunshine, too.

It's easier to see those few new leaves in the photo on the right.

We think these could be new roots!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Happy New Year—Always We Begin Again

We are less than 24 hours into Advent, and I am officially in love with our new wreath. Designed by our novice, Jen, and assisted by one of our maintenance men in its construction, the wreath is a spiral that winds its way up to Christmas, a holiday with symbolism we so desperately seek this year.

Since Advent starts the new liturgical year, can we just say that it's 2021 now?! Please?!

What is so beautiful about the Advent wreath is not only the structure, but also its symbolism. When we walked into chapel for our first vigil last night, there was a paper with an explanation of the wreath for us to read. (Kudos to whomever wrote this...I don't know where to give credit.)

Symbols surround us. This Advent season, the Advent wreath is one that invites us to remember that we are one (the circle) and that each candle invites us to focus on a specific attribute: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace.

We have inserted the spiral into the center of the wreath to call to mind one of the most ancient symbols in nature, science, and the spiritual journey.

In many ancient cultures the spiral depicts the path that leads the soul to evolve and move toward knowledge of the path of enlightenment. It is also a feminine symbol which is linked to the generative force of the universe and the mystery of birth.

Even science has confirmed that the universe moves in spirals. If you look, spirals are everywhere: from shells to the movement of electrons, from fingerprints to the shape of hurricanes.

The Advent wreath invites you to move around it as it has a different perspective from every point of view. May your Advent journey invite you to do the same.

Great...right? Here are a few more angles that I photographed as the light poured in this morning. Again, this is the best time of year for standing in awe at our stained-glass windows in chapel.

And, of course, what would a new year be without a new baking endeavor. Inspired by the finale of the Great British Baking Show, I decided to try making something I haven't tried before...puff pastry...in the form of pain au chocolat. You have to make dough, and then laminate it with butter by folding and resting the dough three times, creating 81 flaky layers through the gift of exponential growth. I began the process on Friday evening, and they came out of the oven this morning. Yes, they were delicious.

(Yes, that is a slab of butter.)


May your Advent be full of renewed hope, love, joy, and peace.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Parable of the Talents

These are the reflections I offered on the gospel (Matthew 25:14-30) during yesterday's Liturgy of the Word.

My favorite poem comes from none other than my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. In the poem, At the River Clarion, she begins, “I don’t know who God is exactly.” And she continues, “But I’ll tell you this.” Then Oliver writes about God being part of all creation: the good/the bad, the happy/the unhappy, and so on. She tells us that “we do not live in a simple world,” and a few lines later that “we receive, then we give back.”

I stood up here about eight months ago as I reflected on the Samaritan woman. I told you all that I wanted to practice seeing creation outside a binary view: no good and bad; no right or wrong. I told you that doing this required a movement out of my brain and into my heart.

Well, I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: In my lectio with The Parable of the Talents there is the obvious interpretation toward which my brain instinctively leaps: Use your gifts and don’t squander them, lest something bad happens. There is also the less obvious, like the interpretation Benedictine Abbot John Klassen offered us during our 2018 retreat: Maybe those two servants who doubled their talents took advantage of others to multiply what had been given, and the third servant wasn’t interested in playing the same games. And then there’s the movement into my heart in which Jesus challenges me to go deeper with the parables, not to simply say that I will be punished if I do not use my gifts, or that the older brother should have been less resentful when his younger sibling returned home. We do not live in a simple world.

I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: I hear the third servant say to the master, “I was afraid,” and I connect because I know how often fear becomes the reason I choose to bury my talents: fear of being overextended, fear of not using my gifts perfectly, fear of feeling as though my talents aren’t as useful or as important as someone else’s. It is in those moments when I choose fear that a voice of God enters into my head, saying, “You wicked and lazy servant.”

I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: Those words are not the voice of God. Rather, they are a voice of God that I allow my brain to manifest when fear overtakes love. They are a voice of God that enters my brain when my trust in the goodness of creation, and the piece I am of it, wanes.

The Parable of The Talents is not about God judging me for my choices. That’s a simple way for my brain to explain away my own judgments of how I use, or fail to use, my gifts, and we do not live in a simple world. For me, this parable is about what happens when I bury my talents in fear. And in those moments, God does not punish me and send me away. No, what God does is beckon me closer to the Source of Love; God uses the Holy Fire deep within to illuminate more clearly all that I have received, and to ignite me to give it all back. At least that has been my experience thus far. But, that beckoning does feel like a punishment when I would rather take the easy road and ignore the sacred wealth I have received.

I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: God has entered our human existence in the fullest way. And if God is here in our midst, and we take that truth seriously, then we, too, must become that beckoning divine source for one another in community. We must challenge the fear-based behaviors around us. When we challenge with love, it is not a punishment, but rather a call to the conversatio that we have vowed to one another.

I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: I have no idea how God is going to continue challenging me to use my talents. But I know that if I believe in a God who will call me a wicked and lazy servant, I will be fearful to use them. I believe that our God, who is here and now, and who will come again, we know not when, is an all-encompassing pulse of love. There’s no possibility for any of us to be wicked and lazy servants in the heart of that Love. The voice of God says to us, “Your pulse beats in rhythm with mine. You can trust what you have received, and give it back freely. That’s all it takes for a job well done.”

May we continue to live in the Love of God.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

P.S. Pray for our beloved Amma Willow. The intense wind in NWPA uprooted her yesterday.

Spot the Difference

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things was page 14 of the Highlights magazine. It was the page that had the photo where you had to fin...