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

Saturday, January 27, 2018


"Put yourself in the way of grace."

Mary Oliver quotes this line from a friend of hers in the essay, Winter Hours, found in her book of the same title. I have been fixating on this line since the new year began. I love it. It implies choice in the matter, and it implies the reality of grace at work in our lives.

Tonight our community celebrated with our new sister, Kathy, as she chooses to put herself in the way of grace for the next year as a novice in the community. As I told her, I am a bit jealous of, but mostly joyful for her. The novice year is one full of grace because of its intentionality and sacredness. The purpose of the year is to grow with God, and all of its components (learning, time deepening relationships with community, exploring art, exploring self, and living in much silence/solitude) are beautiful ways of putting oneself in grace's path.

As our prioress reflected on a line from the Rule of Benedict, I reflected on my own year of grace that just ended not too long ago. My own experience was so wonderful (hence the jealousy). And its graces are only just beginning to show themselves in my daily life.

Sr. Anne reminded us in her reflections of a line from RB chapter 4, the Tools for Good Works, "Your way of acting should look different than the world's way." It is quite a countercultural/different choice to make a conscious decision to put yourself in the way of grace, rather than in the way of self-reliance or materialism. The graces of my novitiate come to fruition when I find myself demanding less and giving more, being more open to reality as it presents itself, while being able to have a better attitude about it. (Sometimes...still a lifelong journey to go!)

I am so, so happy that Kathy has chosen the way of grace for the next year and beyond. The way that allows God to be God in one's life while experiencing all the blessings that this way of living holds and unfolds. Blessings on Kathy as she journeys through this year.

May we, too, put ourselves in the way of grace.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(All this snow had melted when I walked past today!)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Some Thoughts on Authentic Living

My dear friend Jackie just started her own blog over at Monasteries of the HeartThought-provoking would be one word I would use to describe her most recent post, Some Thoughts on Calling. And it was these lines in particular:

Here’s the maddening thing, for me, as I try to figure out what exactly I’m doing with my life: even when you have a sense of what you’re called to, you can never know what it really means to choose it. We all commit ourselves to people, to places, to ways of life without any knowledge of what the future will hold: you can marry someone with perfect certainty that you’ll love him forever, and he could be hit by a truck the day after the wedding. Or you can take vows with a religious community a year before a Church Council permanently alters what religious life looks like, what possibilities it can encompass. More to the point: I don’t know what will happen to this community. I don’t know what will happen to me if I enter. Or if I don't. That is scary.

This is some real discernment if I've ever heard it. I have been doing quite a bit of my own reflecting on the topic of "calling" as I approach a new decade of life. Although I wasn't always aware in the moment, I spent much of my 20's listening to calls and trying to discern a response authentic to those calls. I became a teacher, forgoing use of my undergraduate degree. I tried to find a school that was the right fit for my teaching style. I entered the Erie Benedictine community when I still wanted more. It's only three items, but they are three big items, and I spent most of my 20's living through the life each situation presented (and maybe living through a few other experiences, too).

As I rested and reflected in solitude a few weekends back, I read an old journal of mine in which I wrote, "To risk everything for your passion..." I am currently re-reading a favorite book of mine, The Universe is a Green Dragon, which I first read at the start of my 20's. Brian Swimme writes: "The unity of the world rests on the pursuit of passion."

Our passions are so key; it is a gift to listen to Jackie as she discovers her own and as mine continue to unfold. Authentic living calls us to do this whole discovering thing together, in community. Authentic living tells us that we must pursue those things which allure us. Authentic living is filled with unknowns, but the promise enfolded in our trust of the process.

"Each person discovers a field of allurements, the totality of which bears the unique stamp of that person's personality. Destiny unfolds in the pursuit of individual fascinations and interests," Brian Swimme also writes. I like to ponder what might happen if we were to authentically pursue our collective destiny (because, as I've learned during my 20's, it's not all about me)—to ponder what might happen if everyone had a true opportunity for pursuit, if no one felt pressured by those who hold authority to forgo their dreams, if those who hold authority didn't hold anyone back for any reason, if we were to uphold one another through the challenges inherent in the pursuit. How beautiful to live authentically.

I am grateful for Jackie's writing, which calls me back to some of my own journeying through my 20's. I am excited for all that the next decade holds. I pray to live it authentically, in pursuit of and willing to risk for passion.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

We Belong Together

Even though our food remains plentiful throughout the winter, our four-footed and feathered friends don't experience the same abundance. So, we bundle up, slip (or forcibly pull) our boots on, and head outside.

Justice does not only extend to our fellow humans, my friends. This morning I was listening to an episode of On Being with Br. David Steindl-Rast as guest. What a beautiful description of our interconnectedness I heard:

Br. Steindl-Rast: I remember, the grace that Buddhists pray before a meal starts with the words “Innumerable beings brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us.” And when you put that into practice and look at what’s there at your table, on your plate, there is no end to connectedness. In the end, for instance — most people don’t think of it, but in the end, we always eat earth. We eat earth, not in an abstract way; in a very concrete way, this humus is what we eat. Or crystals: when we eat salt, it’s pretty obvious that comes out of the earth. That’s earth, directly. When we eat vegetables, well, the vegetables were nourished by all the nutrients in the earth, and then now we eat them, or the fruits of these plants. If you eat meat or fish, then they were nourished by vegetables, and they were nourished by the earth. Always comes back to earth.

But that is only one aspect. Most of it was grown, so people had to work on sowing it and harvesting it, packaging it, transporting it. There you have already a couple of thousand people whom you will never see, never know by name, never meet, and yet, without them, there wouldn’t be anything on your plate. [...] So all the farm workers, they have been working on getting this food to us, horizontally, with our people, our animals, our plants, the earth, and vertically, with the great mystery in which we are embedded, which those who use the term correctly call “God.” It’s not somebody up there. It’s more personal than it would be if there’s somebody up there. It is this tremendous mystery that — to which I am, as a human being, totally directed, totally related to, that makes us human. We are related to that which we call God. It’s tremendous reality.

Ms. Tippett: And this inextricability from — or this connection between gratitude and dependence and interdependence…

Br. Steindl-Rast: Interdependence.

Ms. Tippett: That any complex experience of gratitude would make us aware of that.

Br. Steindl-Rast: Well, the main thing is to think it — I think the beginning is — the starting point is to think it through. The moment you speak of independence, I can just say, what are you talking about? What is anybody talking about who says, “I’m independent”?

Ms. Tippett: Even from one’s enemies.

Br. Steindl-Rast: From every point of view, it is always a “Yes, we belong together,” a lived “Yes, we belong together.” So it’s a decision. It’s something that has more to do with the will than with your emotions or with your thoughts. It is the clear will: “I say yes to this embedding, to this connection with all, with all. I say yes to it.” And when I say yes to it, not just with my mouth, but I actually live that “yes.”

Let us say "yes" to all life, to all people, to all creatures, to Mystery, to all. Let us not exclude other people, other creatures, and especially other countries from our circle of compassion.

Let us walk in the holy presence.