Here I am in Beech Grove, IN attending the Novice and Director's Institute, NADI. Posting might be light for the next 1.5 weeks as I take in the experience of being with some of the other novices and formation directors from different Benedictine communities across the country.
Hold me in prayer, as I will hold you. Enjoy the irises, daisies, and salvia already in bloom!
We begin with Tracy Chapman singing "the title song":
Yesterday Carol Zinn, SSJ came to the Mount to speak to local women religious on the topic of "Religious Life for the Life of the World." Our bishop also responded, and I found the morning to be enlightening and hopeful.
Sister Carol emphasized that religious life is not just for our congregations or communities, nor is it just for the Church. No, this life that we live is a life offered for the life of the world; it is a life that is a particular take on the gospels. I found these ideas connected well with what we heard from Nancy Schreck two weeks ago at Villa Maria. The vows that make up religious life are the deepest articulation of who we are; they offer a different way of being in the world. And, similar to Nancy, Carol stressed that this is a life of going to the people of God on the peripheries - Carol went so far as to call them her mentors. I liked that.
For women religious, this going to the peripheries is difficult; we live a very comfortable life, which Carol attributed to our level of education. So, how do we truly go to the edges? She pointed us to Pope Francis: we live lives rooted in gospel joy. This joy roots itself in three things: living as if God is in control, living in the knowledge that in the end "all shall be well," and living the choice to praise God in all situations. Those on the peripheries are often witnesses of this joy.
Yes, this is what religious life is in an authentic form - a joyful life of living with those on the margins, but the second part of her reflections reminded us of reality: religious life is at a turning point. For Carol, it is not enough to simply change; we must embrace transformation. And we do this by "leaning into the rhythm of the Paschal Mystery": live, die, and rise. Something new is emerging, and while we can have no idea what that "something" is, we can embrace what is coming. Her image was a helpful one: a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
Carol made a point of saying that if you know what is coming, it is change, it is not transformation. But we still must put our imaginations to work. What is the metamorphosis that we are called to in 2017? What is it about this "life for the life of the world" that must transform? What new witness can our vows offer to others? How do we push the boundaries of showing others that it is possible for strangers to come other and live as one in a world that desperately needs an example?
Well, as it has been said with every presenter I've heard speak on the topic: I don't have the answers, but I have excitement for engaging in the conversation.
This past week, we reached the end of the study of the Rule of Benedict -- formal novitiate study, at least. For my homework, I read a sort of summary of the themes in the Rule: table, oratory, authority, mutual service, and a few others.
One idea in the piece I read from Margaret Malone, SGS's book, One Heart, One Soul, was about how monastic communities might give witness to a different way of being in the world. In this part, she references Roger Housden's book, Seven Sins for a Life Worth Living, listing each of the sins and the implications of "committing" them:
1. The Pleasure of All Five Senses (Sensuality) – because then we will treasure and savour all of God’s creation, and live fully the implications of the incarnation and our sacramental sense.
2. The Pleasure of Being Foolish (Foolishness)– because then we will relax and enjoy our lives, and not be caught up in competitiveness to be always successful and always on top.
3. The Pleasure of Not Knowing (Ignorance) – because then there will be always something to learn, and we will be good disciples who can be taught. Then we will have what Jean Leclercq calls the Love of Learning and the Desire for God.
4. The Pleasure of Not Being Perfect (Imperfection) – because then we will always know ourselves in our full humanity, and we will learn humility.
5. The Pleasure of Doing Nothing Useful (Uselessness) – because then we can know true sabbath and real leisure and will have the right atmosphere for prayer.
6. The Pleasure of Being Ordinary (Ordinariness) – because then we can be content with who we are and be peaceful about accepting it.
7. The Pleasure of Coming Home (Prodigality) – because then it must be that we are happy, know we are in the right place, know acceptance no matter what, know we can return, and know we belong.
Don't these sound so much better than the Seven Deadly Sins?!
Let us walk in the holy presence.
The Pleasure of Living in Full Bloom
The Pleasure of Being Patient Until the Hummingbirds Arrive
The Pleasure of Being One Small Part of One Great World
Two weeks ago we had our spring community weekend. Our presenter, Edith Bogue, OSB, used the theme of a camino to talk about how to enter into the future of religious life by intentionally preparing while also staying open to the unexpected. She had a great presentation, using the artwork of the Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig a few times along the way.
I recognized the work because I recalled a combination of a picture and poem of his that I received via email a while ago:
When the heart Is cut or cracked or broken, Do not clutch it; Let the wound lie open. Let the wind From the good old sea blow in To bathe the wound with salt, And let it sting. Let a stray dog lick it, Let a bird lean in the hole and sing A simple song like a tiny bell, And let it ring.
A quick Google search will bring up some great results from the artist. Here is another favorite - The World That Nobody Holds.
This past weekend, the women in initial monastic formation travelled to Villa Maria, PA for a weekend on the topic of obedience called "The Love of God Impels Us." We, with the wonderful and insightful presenter Nancy Schreck, OSF as our guide, explored the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience as they relate to religious life in present times - with a focus on obedience. We no longer live in the days of depriving ourselves of goods, suppression of emotions, or unquestioning submission to power, after all (and thank goodness!).
Sister Nancy gave us a new framework for examining the vows - through living them out as prophets and mystics - as people of action and of contemplation. She reminded us that the vows are the clearest articulation of who we are as women and men religious, but it is our rootedness in God's love for us and our love for God that gives us the energy and hope we need to live the vows now and into the very unknown and very likely messy future.
The vows call us to different way of living and being; Nancy called it "an alternative world view, a little pocket of life as we believe it could be, as we understand what the Reign of God is about." To help us reflect on this alternate view, she shared with us a song by Kathy Sherman, CSJ, Because We Love God. I think the lyrics give a more-than-adequate basis for a view of the life we want to live as vowed women and men religious: Why do you feed the hungry? Why do you comfort those that sorrow? What is the source of your passion, your joy? Why are you calm in a storm? Why do you hunger for justice? Why do you give your heart away to the weary, the poor, the unloved, the unfree? Why do you do what you do?
Because we love God; because we love God and all that belongs to God. Because we love God we are who we are and we do what we do because we love God.
Why do you forgive those who hurt you? Why do you call the stranger friend? What is the hope that you cling to at night? Why is your dreaming so bold? Why are you friends with the outcast? Why does your table welcome all? Yes, and why does your fire never burn out? Why do you do what you do? Because we love God; because we love God and all that belongs to God. Because we love God we are who we are and we do what we do because we love God.
Why do you bless the children? Why are you concerned about the future? Why do you protect Earth and all her creatures? Why is your vision so wide? Why do you love without boundaries? Why is your song a song for all? And why do you dare to believe that all are one? Why do you do what you do? Because we love God; because we love God and all that belongs to God. Because we love God we are who we are and we do what we do because we love God.
Of course, this isn't only a question for women and men religious. We are all called to be obedient to God's voice. We are all called to examine the ways we live lives of care and love for ourselves, for the other, and for creation as a reflection of our love for God. How do we allow the love of God to impel us to create the Kingdom here and now?
Let us walk in the holy presence.
(After seeing geese get mean with each other during a morning walk, I spotted two other geese caring for the children!)
(I thought this tree perfectly embodied the color "spring green" - magnificent!)