Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Sacred Future

There are three different orders of women religious in Erie: the Benedictine Sisters, the Sisters of Mercy, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph. This past Thursday many of us joined together, along with others, to listen to a panel of women and men religious discuss religious life and its future.

A Benedictine sister, a Mercy sister, a Cistercian monk, and a Franciscan friar comprised the panel and answered the questions of what brought them to religious life, what religious life means to them, and where they see religious life headed in the future. All four provided wise insights, especially for me as I enter into this new way of life.

One highlight for me was hearing again the Pedro Arrupe, SJ quote that many Jesuit-educated
students know and love:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

It was obvious that the entire panel had fallen in love with God, and, furthermore, recognizes that staying in love is a lifelong journey. That journey involves answering the question (many times over) of what the vocation is to which God calls us. The joy that both God and their vocations bring them were also obvious.

I am often asked about my choice to enter religious life at a time when vocations, in that sense of the word, are on the decline, but my answer feels consistent with the panelists' answers as to where religious life is headed. Truth is -- we don't know, but we are excited. (The Cistercian monk wisely said: "We don't know where God's going to lead us, and it's probably better if we don't.") But, if we trust that we have fallen in love in the way that Arrupe describes, then we pray to trust that God will lead us exactly where we need to be.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

savoring the remaining warm weather at the lake on Sunday

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Peace on Earth

Today marks the final day of our Pope's visit to the United States. I loved watching him emerge from the airplane yesterday and step foot in my dear Philadelphia. I am also grateful for his message last night at the Festival of Families:

"All that is beautiful leads us to God. Because God is good, God is beautiful, God is true. Thank you all those who have offered their witness."

His message of love and mercy can transform if we become the hands and feet of Christ, like St. Teresa reminds us.

Yesterday afternoon I participated in an event called "On the Move." It was an opportunity for the community to join together and offer witness to the fact that we, as Christ's hands and feet, are called to be stewards of our earth. Groups came from the north, south, east, and west and met in a plaza where we celebrated with music and addresses that united us with one another and with our planet. As our group walked from the east, we chanted together, "Peace on Earth. Peace in our city."

Like the Pope, another prophet calling us to be witnesses was Oscar Romero. His prayer reminds us that we cannot do everything, but what we can do, we can do well. I believe "On the Move" was an example of that - a community doing its small part to raise awareness of the work that builds the Kingdom. From our Art House students who created paper butterflies and peace flags to the sisters who joined the walk and to those who spoke, I think our Pope would have been proud of our celebration.

Where does Christ call your feet to move and your hands to build? How do you offer witness?

UPDATE: So cool! Francis on campus!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Planting Peace

Friday, September 25, 2015

One Month

Today marks one month since I moved into Mount Saint Benedict to begin my postulancy. What an amazing journey with this community so far!

Two days ago when I was reading the Gospel reflection from Notre Dame, I read these words about Jesus:

He knew that if his followers had to rely on others, they would come to rely on God.

After sharing this line with a few sisters, I had fruitful conversations about learning to trust and what it really means to rely on God. Jesus sends out his disciples to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God. He also calls them to take nothing with them for the journey. So, we are called to do the same. This is scary stuff! So far, for me, community makes it seem more possible. I have been so grateful for the love and support of the sisters in this community.

This morning I was absolutely peaceful and joyful during Morning Prayer, reflecting on these beautiful Benedictine women. Then, I read this line in the Psalms:

Happy are they who rely on God.

As I looked at all the sisters sitting around me in chapel, it just made sense.

And this morning, our community needed to rely on one another as there was a fire at our soup kitchen. Fortunately no one was hurt and the damage appears to be fairly contained. Please keep the community and especially those we serve there in your prayers. We need to rely on community in times like these, and you are part of our community, too.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Slowing Down

In addition to the Liturgy of the Hours, another prayer form at the heart of Benedictine life is lectio divina. Lectio divina is a slow, prayerful reading of Scripture that incorporates meditation and contemplation. There are traditionally four parts: lectio (reading), meditatio (reflecting), oratio (praying in response), and contemplatio (resting with the words). Benedictines devote themselves to daily practice of this form of prayer.

Lectio divina was the topic of our monastic values class tonight. Our teacher, one of our sisters, shared with us a fifth category that we might consider adding: incarnatio (becoming the word). If we do not allow the words to convert us into more loving, more compassionate people, then what?

Each postulant is paired with one sister in the community to be her lectio partner. We meet once a week and discuss Sunday's Gospel. Throughout the week we pray with the piece of Scripture and bring our reflections with us into sacred conversation. I had my first lectio meeting last Friday; having a conversation partner greatly deepened my insights. It was a wonderful experience.

Now, people who know me probably know that doing things slowly does not come naturally to me, so quieting myself enough for lectio time has definitely been a practice, in more than one sense of the word. But, as God always does provide, I have been given models the past two days.

As I continue exploring the different ministries of our community, I have spent Monday and today at our education center. This is a center that offers programs for refugees from a handful of countries. We help refugees learn English and gain skills that they will need for the workplace, among other things. But, above all, we give them love and a safe environment.

On Monday, I was working with two women from the Congo. They are learning English after never having received any formal education. We worked on pronouncing sentences together and answering simple questions like: What is your name? Where do you live?

The women had a very difficult time pronouncing the sound that the letter R makes. They watched my mouth as I said words with R's in them, and so on. Eventually we were all sitting together, laughing at ourselves and the weird noises we were producing. There was certainly no language barrier involved in the joy we were sharing.

But, as I continued slowly reading with these beautiful women, who were so full of patience and perseverance, I thought, "This is slow, prayerful reading if I've ever experienced it." Perhaps each time I enter into lectio I need to encounter the words anew and let them become part of me, continually learning and growing from the experience as I have been watching these refugees do. God does provide.

Where is God providing for you? What words stay with you, calling you to conversion?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

And because lectio does not happen only with words, here is last night's sunset to enjoy as prayer.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A (Sun)day in The Life

Each time that I talk to someone from home, I want to be able to convey how much happens each and every day here at the Mount - our monastery. And even if I were able to talk to everyone that I wanted to each day, I would not be able to tell them everything that is happening. So, I figured I would give you a rundown of my day today so you might get a glimpse of the amount of life lived in a day.

(Note: Today is Sunday, so that makes it a bit different from the weekdays, but I will try to do one of those rundowns in the future.)

I began my morning by listening to the latest episode of On Being, my favorite radio show. While listening to that, I received a text from a friend asking if it was too early to talk, and it wasn't. So, I talked to her for a bit.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, our community prays together at 8:30am. Today was the first day that I read Scripture at prayer. As I got a bit nervous, it was good to remind myself that I didn't live or die by how well I read. (While this might sound ridiculous, it is a big deal for someone who is quite hard on herself.) We celebrate Sunday Liturgy at 9:30am, so I continued onto that. The Scripture readings today were particularly thought-provoking as our two readers read the Old and New Testament side-by-side. In addition to today's Gospel and a great homily, these words provided a wonderful opportunity for reflection on conversion. When I missed one of our sisters at the Sign of Peace, I said sorry. She replied, "Don't be sorry. Be happy." The spirit here is beautiful.

After Liturgy, some members of our community (and others who joined us) watched a documentary, The Francis Effect, together. The film highlighted ways that Pope Francis is changing the Church; it was wonderful to re-witness those moments immediately after our pope was elected and asked for our blessing. Before our noon dinner, I shared a moment with one of our sisters in the chapel who reminded me of the support I am receiving right now. This was partnered with another sister who made sure that her prayers for me were working. We sat together at lunch, and she promised to double them up if needed.

I noticed how glorious the weather was while we ate lunch, so I wanted to take a bike ride. The blue sky was gorgeous, but the strong east winds were less exciting. One of our oblates had a picnic this afternoon, so off we went. It was another opportunity to enjoy the remaining moments of summer weather. There, I shared lots of beautiful conversations with many people. We returned to the Mount for 5:30, as that is when we hold evening prayer most nights.

I enjoyed dinner with our two other postulants after prayer. We came home and saw a sister walking her dogs, so we chatted a bit. Now I am watching the Emmys while I write everything that came before. Wow!

No day here is quite the same, and I know I missed so many small details, but I hope this gives you a better idea of how much life, love, presence, and spirit I experience here. And, most exciting of all - tomorrow is a new day!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Because I Could Never Confine This to Only My Own Words...

Any Morning
William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

I think this poem a perfect prayer for the morning. Have a wonderful day!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

the view out my window - another perfect prayer

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Heard It Through the Grapevine

If I were to list all the things that give me joy here in Erie, the list would be long. We can save some of the list for later. But, right now, I need to write about something that is happening right now.

As most of you know, I have only been riding a bike for one-ninth of my life. (Thanks to Meg and Chris for getting that statistic rolling...on two wheels!) Riding my bike gives me great joy. I love the feeling of freedom I have when cruising along.

It is sometimes difficult to feel free when riding your bike in the city with stop-and-go traffic, but our monastery is situated outside the city limits - in Harborcreek Township. There are plenty of open roads with little car traffic. And in our region along the coast of Lake Erie, vineyards are everywhere, including right around the corner. I only have to ride about a mile before I begin encountering grapevines.

And this is the season of ripening grapes. So, right now, as I pedal along these back roads, I get a special treat - the smell of grapes. It really is wonderful how far the smell lingers along, and the scenery is beautiful. As I ride, I offer to God a little prayer of gratitude for this gift.

As an added bonus, one of our volunteers at the food pantry brought in some fresh Niagara grapes for us to sample on Tuesday morning - yum! I would hate to savor all this goodness myself, and while I cannot reproduce the delicious scent, I can share a few photos that I took on a ride yesterday morning. For best results, sniff a bottle of grape juice while looking!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, September 14, 2015

True Signs

While on retreat this past weekend, I came across some words that I had been encountering back at home. The first was a quote from Aquinas, "Grace builds on nature." The second was Psalm 139.

At the social after our first session, we had a chance to chat with our presenter, Lynn. I mentioned these encounters with words as we talked about truth. She reminded us that truth will keep presenting itself over and over again. So, I know these are probably important words for my journey right now.

Of course, when I got home from retreat, I re-encountered words from her presentation, a quote from the Cheryl Strayed book, Wild (a great read, by the way):

It was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without being able to say precisely what it was...It was my life - like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.

The only way to encounter truth, it seems, is to take time to notice, to be present. How would we know what is revealing itself to us if we aren't paying attention?

At the monastery, one thing to which I've been paying attention is this one last bloom on a hydrangea in the courtyard:

It reminds me that summer still lingers, although the breezes are getting cooler. I had wanted to write about the hydrangea even before I officially started writing the blog. Tonight, my fellow postulants and I had our monastic values class. I looked over at the cover of the Joan Chittister book, The Monastery of the Heart, and what did I see?

Hydrangeas, of course.

What signs do you see in your own life pointing you to truth?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fully, Freely, Lovingly

This weekend, I received the great gift of hearing Lynn Levo, CSJ present at an inter-community retreat for women and men religious in formation. The theme of the weekend was exploring how to live fully, freely, and lovingly through our first vocation - being human, while also learning how we express ourselves as humans who are living a consecrated life.

I was most grateful for Lynn's openness and vulnerability; she was a living, breathing model of the weekend's theme. More than once she reminded us of our call to communion with ourselves, with God, and with others, defining communion in two ways:
1. To be one with without losing yourself
2. To be one with diversity

In relation to communion, Lynn also said more than once, "I cannot be me without you. You cannot be you without me." We need each other. And I will certainly need more than one entry to write about my weekend as I reflect on all I heard.

I am so grateful for all the awareness I gain from walking with my family, friends, strangers, and now, my new community. You are Holy Presence in my life. So, I will leave you (until I write more about the weekend later) with this poem from Mr. Rogers that Lynn read to us:

It's you I like,
It's not the things you wear,
It's not the way you do your hair--
But it's you I like.

The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you--
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys--
They're just beside you.

But it's you I like--
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you I like,
It's you yourself,
It's you, it's you I like.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Finding enough space to share while walking around the grounds.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I Have Called You By Name

Hello, Nation! (Yes, I am excited about Stephen Colbert's premiere on the Late Show; some things don't change.) This, too, is a premiere of sorts for me - a new adventure within a much bigger new adventure.

It has now been a week and a half since the Benedictine Sisters of Erie officially welcomed me into their community as a postulant. When friends back on the east coast of Pennsylvania asked how they would know what was happening in my life, I said I was thinking about writing a blog to update everyone.

Blogs are a wonderful, potentially creative way to inform many people, but blogs need names. And, with hopes that this might be something that lasts over time, I wanted to be sure that I chose the perfect title.

I received a few suggestions and came up with a few of my own, but I figured I would know when I found "the one," just as I had known that I found "the one" worth exploring when I encountered this particular community.

We, as a community, pray the Liturgy of the Hours together three times each day: morning, midday, and evening. This involves singing and reciting Scripture from the Psalms and other books of the Bible. On Sunday morning, as we were praying together, one verse (from Isaiah) stood out among the other verses:

Let us walk in the holy presence.

I remembered this line from a vocation visit while I was still seeking with the Erie Benedictines. I wrote it down back then. I remembered thinking that the image of this verse was beautiful. Then, I knew I had my title:

Walking In The Holy Presence

So, this is the premiere of my blog where I will tell you all about my journey. The title will also serve as the theme for my writing: to let you know where and how I am walking in the Presence of God through my new vocation. When you walk, where do you feel Holy Presence?

I hope you will join me on the path!

Let us walk in the holy presence.