Sunday, January 20, 2019

Mary, Mary–How Does Your Garden Grow?

I did post on here last week about the death of our beloved poet, Mary Oliver. But, I still feel I must give her a more proper tribute.

I thought about going back and figuring out how many of the posts I've written have included a Mary poem, but I will just hypothesize that it's a pretty high ratio.

I remember first befriending Mary Oliver; it was my first year of teaching. A friend gave me a book of poetry with words inspiring for teachers. Obviously Mary featured prominently. Wild Geese, The Journey, The Summer Day–all of these poems would help an educator through the highs and lows of the school year; they certainly did that for me.

But, it was just the beginning. I don't even know which book I bought first...maybe Why I Wake Early. My mentor and I would read her words together, reveling in the sheer beauty of simple diction and deep attentiveness. We'd often say, "How does she do it?" after a healthy pause when finishing a read aloud.

As I was coming into my own appreciation for nature, walking in the Wissahickon Park and sitting at the shores of Lake Erie, Mary was nearly constant company. While my favorite poem has been At the River Clarion for quite some time, I have also been taken by her essay, Winter Hours, since first reading it last year. Here is an excerpt, appropriate to re-read in the immediate days following our own recent storm here in Erie.



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 dreams, which is to make a moral world. The whirlwind of human behavior is not to be set aside.

I'm not sure any of us will ever be able to write about you, Mary, in the past tense. I'm not sure any of us can count the number of times your poems consoled us. Your words sustain us on our journeys, dear friend. They live on inside so many of us. We are so grateful.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The current collection, which has grown over time!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

“When I Find Myself in Times of Trouble, Mother Mary Comes to Me.”

Mary, we will surely miss you.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch


only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts


and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Thank you, Mary Oliver.

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Life, Life, and More Life

Life abounds at the Mount right now. Appropriately enough, I guess, since we have just been gifted with a season of Incarnation.

Yesterday two new postulants formally entered the community by knocking on the front door of the monastery. We welcome Jennifer and Jen as they continue to seek God with us. Benedict reminds us in chapter 58 of the Rule that seeking God is what matters, first and foremost, in a monk's journey. May they find what they seek, and may we all uphold them in that journey. I loved catching a few candid glimpses of the moments leading up to the Ritual of Entry.



We also enjoyed another evening of Mindful Eating last night, a project I help coordinate with three other lovely women. It was an evening of mindful snacking, which had me on my feet from 1pm until 8pm to prepare and share. The end result was totally worth it--lots of happy faces and full stomachs! The tables are always decorated so beautifully. I am grateful to those who have the talent to make a table come alive. Here's the set-up, complete with fun creatures.



And finally, life abounds on my "meditative plant table" in my room. The paper whites are growing inch-by-inch. The jade plant grows centimeter-by-centimeter. It all makes a smile grow on my face. I love the gift of green in my room.


We are blessed by the seeds of Christ planted in and around us during the Christmas season, but now, and I think others would agree, we are grateful for the return of Ordinary Time when we have space to watch those seeds begin to grow with the sense of normalcy and dailiness with which this "ordinary season" gifts us.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, January 7, 2019

New Beginnings

On Saturday evening we began our journey through the Feast of Epiphany at Vigil prayer. It is definitely one of my favorites, especially with the handbells accompanying during the opening processional; it's just beautiful.

But the thing that caught my eye this year was a little stink bug who somehow got stuck on his back by the poinsettias and candles in the center of chapel. Probably having come in on our Christmas tree, or simply some other way seeking warmth, he struggled the entire time to get himself turned over. That's one of the fun parts of sitting in the front row of chapel--catching these little glimpses.

I had every intention of going over after prayer ended to help him out, but as soon as the recessional began, I saw him begin to scurry away. He got himself going the right way on his own, and off he went. Although it was a stink bug, it was rather precious to watch his little journey--a bit epiphanic for myself as it brought to mind a Mary Oliver favorite, Song of the Builders.

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.


There are many small epiphanies along the way that help us seek our true work for building the universe. I didn't even know how stink bugs help to build the universe before a quick Google search. It seems that in some cases they don't (like if myriads were to come into your home for warmth), but in other cases they themselves help control pest problems in crops.

I think this Mary Oliver poem is a worthy reflection for Epiphany and as we enter into the new year. May you each travel your own way.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

an overcast day at the lake.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Simple Joys

Besides the chickadee visiting my window feeder (which I have yet to capture on camera), there have been simple joys abounding between Christmas and New Year’s at the Mount, as well as a visit home in between the two.

One of my favorite yearly joys: the lights on the bare magnolia tree in the inner courtyard that shine each night.

Trying a new vegetable: I tasted for the first time tat soi, a relative of bok choy, while cooking a meal full of flavor with a dear friend at home.

A new, silly pair of socks that came as a gift (and wearing someone else’s slippers when one doesn’t pack her own!)

The best, most appropriate card that I received—given by a friend, made by an artist in Minnesota.

A unique variety of Poinsettia in the Eucharistic chapel...additionally the sister that also spotted it and bent over to give it a big kiss in gratitude for the beauty it shares with us.

A celebratory set of ribbons adorning my shoe collection outside my door!

May your year be full of simple joys. May you be present to them. May your gratitude run deeply for them. Happy New Year!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Christmas Miracle, in verse

A gift certificate,
So, a Christmas dinner—
Rescheduled once or twice.

Two friends,
Open a door of books
And a bottle of wine
To enter into conversation
And communion.

Still hungry?
Ice cream, always.
McDonald’s—
The simplest of cones.

Christmas gift exchange—
Why not?

In the parking lot on 12th Street,
Unwrapped gifts
Wrapped discreetly—and quickly—in scarves,
Also newspaper and blue ribbon.

Thoughtful and simple,
Coffee, Marian images.
A Christmas moment
To remember.

The miracle of friendship.


Yes, my dear friend and I ended up exchanging gifts in a bit of an impromptu manner last week. It was perfectly us, especially as Annie Lennox’s incredible version of The First Noel and First Aid Kit played in the background.

Christmas is here. God is with us, indeed.

Merry Christmas to you, one and all. Many, many blessings and miracles be with you.

Let us walk in the holy presence.



I saw a sister of mine come into the community room sans shoes. I pointed this out to her. She said she was hoping someone would notice. Look at those socks! Ho, ho, ho!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Loved Like That

A friend of mine recently shared a poem by Marie Howe with me. It is called Annunciation.

Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel it
I know it is—and that if once it hailed me
it ever does— 
And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,
as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t—I was blinded like that—and swam
in what shone at me
only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.

Beyond being a gorgeous piece of writing, it's just the right poem to take me into Christmas. The monastery is doing a great job of keeping us in Advent though. Not too many signs of Christmas have popped up yet, besides a bit of fruitcake, a few wreathes, and other smaller signs. We do try to make an effort, but Friday night the tree will come to grace the center of the community room; we will decorate it, bless it, and sing carols around it, as the most senior sister turns on its lights. It's one of my favorite traditions, among the myriad ones that come alive each year at this time in the monastery. It definitely is starting to feel of that "in-between time" as Advent ends and the Christmastide begins.

It's nearly impossible for me to feel anything less than deep, deep love as we join to celebrate with our community of Oblates, friends, and family. Christmas affords us a significant time to treasure the beauty of being human, of being so deeply loved by God. As we will sing in what might be my favorite tradition--Christmas Eve Vigil prayer--"Emmanuel, Emmanuel, who we are that you have loved us so well?"

May we turn in that direction, always tilting toward Love.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

a lovely Christmas scene at a recent dinner

Mary, Mary–How Does Your Garden Grow?

I did post on here last week about the death of our beloved poet, Mary Oliver . But, I still feel I must give her a more proper tribute. I...