Sunday, January 19, 2020

A Week at the Texas/Mexico Border

As I prepared to travel to the Texas/Mexico border for a week, quite a few people asked me about my expectations and hopes. I didn’t have much to say because I really didn’t know exactly what I had said “Yes” to doing. I didn’t know how many migrants we’d meet with harsher immigration policies in place; I didn’t know what the home looked like where I’d be staying; I’d never been in Texas before; I didn’t know if we’d cross over to Mexico; on and on the list of unknowns went.

The landscape at the Boerne monastery

Usually a laundry list of unknowns is extremely uncomfortable for me. But, as we made it through our three flights that ended in San Antonio, Julian of Norwich must have been with me. I truly felt, “All shall be well.”

Maybe it was that we were met with the usual Benedictine hospitality when the prioress from the Boerne community came to pick us up from the airport and then took us out for a meal. Maybe it was that the community of sisters welcomed us so warmly at the monastery, with a curiosity about us and joy to be with us. Maybe it was the 3-hour car ride to the border the next morning with two sisters from the community. All was well.

As you leave San Antonio and get closer and closer to Eagle Pass, the border city where we stayed, it gets flatter and flatter. You can try to imagine people fleeing from their homes and their countries into this unknown land, full of fear, questions, and full of so much more emotion. I could never, though, imagine the extent of the realities that would cause someone, or some family, to risk so much—me being from a safe place with so much privilege.

The view near the border

When we arrived at Sr. Ursula’s home, the Benedictine sister who lives and ministers there, we were immediately greeted by someone whose reality is the former. A mother and her two sons, who fled Honduras because of violence, live with Ursula while waiting a court date, while her husband lives in prison as he awaits his own. And while we immediately clicked with this mother who could not have been too much older than myself, I sat there in conversation wondering so much about her truth, her experience, and her future. Her two sons each have a truth of their own as they begin acclimating to a new school system, a new language, and a new culture. And for as much as we conversed, again, these are realities we could never fully appreciate or grasp.

Our day-to-day schedule was a new monastic rhythm for us. Later mornings meant later evenings; we weren’t living on our own schedule anymore. Perhaps the 8 o’clock dinners were the hardest part for me! I am usually in my pajamas by then, or close! We spent our days helping Ursula arrange donations, organize her food pantry, make beds for people staying over, unload trailers with items to give away—many tasks you might imagine. Then we would usually head across the border and into Piedras Negras, the Mexican city on the other side of the Rio Grande.

The Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo

When you cross the bridge, you see the river, called the Rio Bravo in Spanish, that migrants must cross to make it to Texas, and it doesn’t look too wide, or too dangerous. But then you find out that the water can be 10-13’ feet deep, and you hear the stories of people dying while swimming; you understand how it gets its Spanish name.

In Mexico, Sr. Ursula has an entire other ministry, one that spans helping in any way she can at a boys’ and a girls’ orphanage, a home for migrants, a home for people with disabilities, two soup kitchens, and other ministry work. It is an amazing network of people doing good, and Ursula helps to facilitate and sustain the work at these places. It was true gift to encounter these people who have significantly less still reaching out their hands in service to others. It was humbling.

At the girls’ orphanage

After the first day or two of living a different schedule, not doing things at the exact time we said we would, lingering and talking to others much longer than we would here, I found myself in one of those spiritual sticky situations where I had to quickly let go of my idea of how things would be done; I had to give up my desire to control and learn to simply be with Ursula in her ministry, helping her in any way I could. After that wake-up call, I found myself sinking into the experiences that followed with much greater joy and gratitude and much less anxiety. Of course, I didn’t know what to expect going into this week of my life, but I certainly took myself, and all my spiritual baggage, with me!

It’s hard to describe how much my time at the border meant to me, and having returned only a few days ago, it is something that is still very much unfolding and will continue. It surprised me how drastic the change felt coming back home to the Mount and back to work; there was definite new perspective—for which I am quite grateful. I know I have much more to say, especially about the beautiful monastic spirit that is Sr. Ursula (and, of course, about all the wonderful food! Olé!), but this is a start as I begin to embrace a new truth of my own that now includes having had this deeply meaningful and moving experience.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

This Day, and Probably Also Tomorrow

We are spending a week in Eagle Pass, TX doing ministry work at the U.S.A./Mexico border. I could not help but share this image of the sky looking westward into Mexico the other night, as well as this Mary Oliver poem that I came across for the first time while here. 

This Day, and Probably Also Tomorrow

Full of thought, regret, hope dashed or not dashed yet,
full of memory, pride, and more than enough
of spilled, personal grief,

I begin another page, another poem,

So many notions fill the day! I give them
gowns of words, sometimes I give them
little shoes that rhyme. 

What an elite life!

While somewhere someone is kissing a face that is crying. 
While somewhere women are walking out, at two in the morning—
     many miles to find water. 
While somewhere a bomb is getting ready to explode. 

Until I return...

Let us walk in the holy presence. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Clothing of the Monastery

I stood at the door of the Emmaus Soup Kitchen the other night alongside one of my sisters. After dinner there, we were both coming home to attend the memory service for our sisters Mary Bernard and Dorothy who died on the same date, twelve hours apart.

We often put out clothing or other items for our guests. That night at the kitchen were many pairs of white socks. My sister told me, “These were Sister Dorothy’s. Our guests like white socks.”

Benedict asks us to regard all goods as “sacred vessels of the altar.” For us it means taking care of our clothing, too. Benedict asks us later in the Rule to return our clothing “at once” to store “in a wardrobe for the poor.”

Thanks for continuing to teach me this way of life that Benedict gifts us, Dorothy!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Last Culinary Creation of the Decade!

My brain and my spirit aren’t really registering that a new decade is upon us, but I am in a celebratory mood nonetheless.

The end of this year (the Winter Solstice, to be exact) brought with it my friend’s 30th birthday. I had tried to get some hints and found out that she wanted a rainbow cake—you know, one of those cakes with six layers, each a different color of the rainbow?!

Well, voilà!

Happy Birthday, Breanna! And Happy New Year (and New Decade) to you all!

Let us continue to walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Come, O Radiant Dawn

Yesterday we prayed to the Radiant Dawn, Oriens, on the Winter Solstice. The truth of our human life is that we are constantly in-between. And yesterday’s celebration of the winter solstice has never made it feel more true.

The heavens welcomed two of our sisters, Mary B and Dorothy, twelve hours apart into the choir of angels, just in time for Christmas. It was a day of waiting in the in-between as we vigiled and prayed.

In the in-between I learned how to make empanadas with my friend who is Argentinian...a joy-filled experience that made me even more excited about the holidays. You can see how my cinching improved from bottom to top!

And the chapel is very much herself in-between as the Advent wreath still enjoys its place as the focal point of our worship, but the Christmas tree has also made its appearance.

And we enjoy what the winter light does for this space, especially as the Solstice brings back the sun.

So, as I reflect on all that it means to be in-between people, I pray for the grace to welcome both life and death, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, harvest and drought, certitude and mystery. May Mary-of-the Bathtub cleanse me of my close-mindedness as I practice saying “Yes” to it all!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, December 16, 2019

A Smattering of Advent Days

I think the winter decorations in the monastery (note: not Christmas decorations!) did their job this weekend. The snowpeople seem to have warded off the predicted storm, bringing us a lot of rain instead. (Go check out the new scene in the basement hallway!)

You can see that the rain even melted the lingering snow, and the birds have been enjoying their winter meals!

But the highlight of the weekend came with the opportunity to see Mannheim Steamroller perform on Friday evening at the Warner. I think my favorite song was We Three Kings, but you can hear their version of Fum, Fum, Fum below.

At evening praise tomorrow night we will begin chanting the O Antiphons, beseeching Wisdom to come and guide our way to knowledge.

The days are full of joy, indeed.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Paring Down

Although we in the monastery are not immune from the busyness of December, we do enjoy the peaceful calm of Advent as our chapel changes into a blue sanctuary, our songs often become simple mantras during prayer, and we try as desperately as possible to keep the Christmas decorations at bay. (Yes, I will admit that I did watch A Charlie Brown Christmas while visiting home last week!)

Here is a simple, yet profound poem from Irene Zimmerman titled Incarnation that reminds us to simply say “Yes!” during these days of waiting for the fullness of Christ to enter our world.

In careful hands
God held the molten world—
fragile filigree
of unfinished blown glass.

Then Mary’s word: Yes!
rose like a pillar of fire.
and Breath blew creation
into Christed crystal.

May your Advent days be filled with a peace, simple and holy.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

A Week at the Texas/Mexico Border

As I prepared to travel to the Texas/Mexico border for a week, quite a few people asked me about my expectations and hopes. I didn’t have m...