Sunday, September 10, 2017

One Year Later

It seems like many of the quotes and poems I have been reading lately are quintessential summaries of my novitiate experience.

“When God comes into our midst, it is to upset the status quo.” (
Kathleen Norris)

Today officially marks one year of God upsetting my status quo. The novitiate has been a time to reflect on some of my patterns, both those that are healthy and those that need some developing (if you will), as I grow in this monastic life. God has certainly swooped in in new ways calling me to a fuller way of being. Though it is often hard to point out growth in the day-to-day, I do trust that I have gentled a bit and learned a lot over the course of this graced year. Here's a poem by Kay Ryan called New Rooms.

The mind must
set itself up
wherever it goes
and it would be
most convenient
to impose its
old rooms—just
tack them up
like an interior
tent. Oh but
the new holes
aren’t where
the windows
went.

As I re-enter "the normal routine" in the upcoming weeks, I will try on this new view that has been building inside me, hoping not to return to those old spaces. I will try to stay attuned to the deep gratitude I have for life and for the beauty that surrounds me, both in nature and in other human beings. Our dear Mary Oliver speaks of this, and I would be remiss if I didn't include a poem of hers as I end an important stage of my life. Long Afternoon At the Edge of Little Sister Pond:

As for life,
I’m humbled,
I’m without words
sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen –
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of holiness.

Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.
It suffices, it is all comfort –
along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can’t wait to be the hummingbird,
can you?


Hummingbirds have been a symbolic animal for me since I entered community, so it was fitting that the image at the top of worship aid for Liturgy this morning was two hummingbirds drinking sweet nectar. What a beautiful day! What a beautiful year! Praise God!

I will be back after I return from some time away visiting family and friends.

Until then...

Let us walk in the holy presence.


(from fineartamerica.com)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

O Happy Labor

We used our extended weekend to take a bike ride out to Findley Lake. Elevation gain you might ask? Over 1300 feet! Needless to say, the ride home was much more pleasant.

Here are some snapshots from the journey.

starting out 

gaining momentum

 a rather deceptive gradual, gravel-filled incline that paid off with a lovely lake view

joy after fixing my broken chain...thanks to the able mechanics!

destination: half way: Findley Lake 

nourishing ourselves with nature's bounty on the return trip 

fin.

May all be blessed with work that brings dignity to the human soul.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Psalmody

O Love, my Beloved,
How powerful is your Name
          in all the earth!
You, whose glory is sung in heaven
     by the angels and saints,
Who with the innocence and
          spontaneity of a child,
Confound those who are mighty
          and proud,
You comfort the unloving and fearful.

When I look up at the heavens,
     at the work of Love's creation,
     at the infinite variety of your Plan,
What is woman that You rejoice in her,
And man that You do delight in him?
     You have made us in your image,
     You fill us with your Love;
You have made us co-creators of
          the earth!
     guardians of the planet!
     to care for all your creatures,
     to tend the land, the sea,
          and the air we breathe;
     all that You have made,
          You have placed in our hands.

O Love, my Beloved,
How powerful is your Name
          in all the earth!

Most of the time I know what I am going to say here a day or two before it's time to write. Today, I had no clue. All day I sort of waited for the lightbulb to go off. I figured I would find a line from a psalm at evening praise and use that, but when we began with Psalm 8 tonight (Nan Merrill's version is above), something else happened. Someone was walking to her prayer seat, and while we were reciting, she was reciting the lines from memory as she walked. How beautiful? One of my favorite things about the monastic life, one so deeply entwined with the psalms, is that this holy poetry becomes a part of us. This moment tonight reminded me of something I just read from Kathleen Norris (Amazing Grace, again):

It interests me to find so little God-talk in monasteries. This sometimes disappoints the more pious (or romantic) candidates who assume that monks spend all their time discussing visions and are shocked to find them evaluating the World Series instead. I suspect that the ample spiritual wisdom to be found in monastic communities comes not from pious chatter but the discipline of the psalmody. Immersing people so completely in poems that speak vividly of the human in relation to the holy seems to serve as a corrective to religious code language.

It is only a month until the baseball playoff season begins, right?! (I know Notre Dame won their opener yesterday! GO IRISH!)

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On St. Augustine

Things take the time they take. Don't
     worry.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
     before he became St. Augustine?

I begin with this poem from Mary Oliver seeing as we celebrated the Memorial of St. Augustine on Monday. On Sunday I happened to open up and begin reading an incredible book, Jesus the Teacher Within, by Laurence Freeman, OSB. The book (not coincidentally, I'm sure) centers around the question Jesus asked in Sunday's Gospel: "Who do you say that I am?" The premise is that we must continually ask ourselves that question of God, Jesus, and ourselves as to grow in true Self-knowledge. I am enjoying it very much so far, and when I came to a few lines about Augustine, I figured it would be timely to share them with you.

"St Augustine was fascinated by the question of self-knowledge, aware no doubt of how hard he had worked to gain it himself:

'A person must first be restored to himself, that making of himself as it were a stepping stone, he may rise thence to God.'

In his Confessions St Augustine was the first Western writer to define the sense of personal identity as intimately interior, self-conversing, seeking and anxious. He initiated the autobiographical narrative style that we take for granted as the way we think and talk about ourselves. Describing his search for himself as a search for God was not a mere literary device. His self-concern was given meaning because it pointed towards an ultimate self-transcendence. By self-analysis and writing he advanced towards self-knowledge in the telling (and invention) of his story and by the sharing of his hidden personality. This seems all quite familiar to us today, in the culture of the television chat show, as a means of understanding who we are. Yet there is a difference in motivation. However self-centered his autobiographical self-awareness might appear at times, it was led by a consuming passion to know God. This was the God he said was closer to him than he was to himself and who knew him better than he could know himself. He could therefore pray that he would come to know himself so that he could know God. It was a sublime kind of egotism waiting for an ecstatic release from the ego."

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Look at the Wildflowers

From Matthew 6:26-34 (The Message translation):

Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to God than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion - do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen - don't you think God'll attend to you, take pride in you, do the best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way God works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

These verses are definitely some of my most treasured lines of Scripture, because I need to hear them the most.

Lately, I have been doing some heavy reflecting as my novitiate year nears its end. I have gone back into old journals and found that, even though I don't remember some things at all, I was dealing with all the same stuff back then but it was just in a different, previous year of my life. I was writing about fear of failure, lack of trust, and other issues that put on full display my humanity. So when these lines from Rainer Marie Rilke came into my email the other day, I had a little chuckle.

And you wait, keep waiting for that one thing
which would infinitely enrich your life:
the powerful, uniquely uncommon,
the awakening of dormant stones,
depths that would reveal you to yourself.

In the dusk you notice the book shelves
with their volumes in gold and in brown;
and you think of far lands you journeyed,
of pictures and of shimmering gowns
worn by women you conquered and lost.

And it comes to you all of a sudden:
That was it! And you arise, for you are
aware of a year in your distant past
with its fears and events and prayers.

-Remembrance

It [life] has all already been, currently is, and will be in the future. Because it's not just the trying stuff that I am encountering as I look back, but it is also the joys. So (again) the call is to trust, to believe that each moment is enough, that God gives me exactly what I need, that faith in the Divine is where I should place my attention. Present moment--wonderful moment, indeed.

Let us join with the father of the boy possessed by a demon: "I do believe. Help my unbelief."

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

From Teilhard de Chardin

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Graced Beauty of Surrender

The past few days I have been struck by the flowers in our gardens. No longer at their peak, they have assumed an altogether different sort of beauty. I first saw it when I noticed the hydrangea bushes losing their familiar vibrant colors in favor of some new hues.


As I study the monastic vows, I am reading about this sort of surrender that nature demonstrates to us so well. For we humans it brings along some extra baggage though. The prioress of the Benedictine Sisters in Bristow, VA, Cecilia Dwyer, quoted Charles Cummings, OSCO in a piece of writing on obedience:

The mystical death-experience of total surrender issues in an experience of exhilarating freedom, a rebirth into a new place of life. But total surrender is frightening and arouses my anxiety and resistance. The anxious feeling I have is a sign that I am being invited to move beyond my present state of complacent existence into a new and closer relationship with the hidden God.

This feeling of fear is not foreign to me, nor to any other human being, I'm certain. In these moments, and in my better moments, I remember to look to nature for a sort of balm for my spirit. It is nature that continually teaches me that we simply must give ourselves over as we are; there is beauty in that. Today I went out and tried to capture the beauty of total surrender in a few photographs.






I am most often one with eyes fixed to finding beauty in the ideal, but today I found it in reality. Our fears are real, too, and we must pay attention to them, but we must also pay attention to the promise they hold. Kathleen Norris writes in Amazing Grace:

Yes, it [fear] can stymie us, but it can also set us free. It is fear--in the old sense of awe--that allows us to recognize the holy in our midst, fear that gives us the courage to listen, and to let God awaken in us capacities and responsibilities we have been afraid to contemplate.

So, yes, fear is real, but Christian fear must push us to look beyond, to believe in the God of all creation. This God calls to us: "Do not fear; I love you; you are mine." To what else would I rather surrender? What else could be more beautiful?

Let us walk in the holy presence.