Friday, October 30, 2015

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Opening up our home to eighty or so friends last weekend gave me a great opportunity for reflection, as do most of the things that happen to me right now!

When I first heard sisters refer to the Mount as "the house" (which was before I became a postulant), it threw me off a bit. What? The house? It sounded so weird. It's a monastery.


Now the Mount is my house, and I get it. We have a kitchen. We have a dining room. We have a living room. We have bedrooms. We have guest rooms. We have family rooms. We have a basement where we store things. We have friends over. We have chores.

We just have it all on a big scale. Because we have a big family living here.

I am slowly learning how slow the process of gaining a "wide view" can be. But, as you witness more and more diversity, it happens. Living in a different home makes it happen. And yes, helping with the process of setting up, welcoming, hosting, and cleaning up when we had our friends over for the weekend made that widening happen again for me. I spent some extra time in the kitchen. I showed some people where to find things. I helped to rearrange the furniture and clean the tables after dinner. I did all these things at my house, along with the rest of my family who lives here.

Experiencing change also causes that widening to occur. And as Elizabeth Dreyer, our presenter last weekend told us: "Think about no change in life; it's hell." I am grateful for everything that this change is teaching me.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

P.S. Speaking of change - the view from my window in late August and late October.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Precious Moments

Last month when we went on retreat, our presenter, Lynn Levo, CSJ, spent a great deal of time on the topic of intimacy: intimacy with self, intimacy with others, and more. It broadened my perspective on what intimacy is: opening myself up fully. But there are so many ways to do that; we can be intimate in more ways than just the first one that comes to most minds. There is intellectual, crisis, spiritual, communicative, creative, and aesthetic intimacy, among others.

I had heard the word broken down before. Intimacy: in-to-me-see. Lynn's presentation gave me an opportunity to reflect on what that really looks like in the daily, where Benedict reminds us we live as spiritual beings - in the nitty gritty of the day.

Something with which I have struggled here is that I find it difficult to articulate what makes my days so darn special and wonderful right now. Yes, I witness and partake in beautiful prayer and liturgies. Yes, I am so well supported on the journey. Yes, I have opportunities to pray in new ways. Yes, I am meeting some incredible people. Yes, I am doing meaningful work. Yes, I live across the street from a big body of water. Yes, all of these things would naturally fill my Spirit, but, yet, they fail to adequately capture what fills me right now.

Then, on Saturday evening, after the ceremony we had for our oblates, old and new, something (or things) happened. I shared a very touching conversation with a sister at dinner. Another sister asked me sincerely how I am doing. I helped a sister with a small task. One sister asked how I enjoyed the day. Another sister made sure I was ready to play the role of Bartimaeus during Sunday's liturgy and offered me quiet space if I ever need it. I hugged another sister, or two, or three, as we said good night.

Then, as I was walking back into the monastery, it finally came to me: what makes my days so darn special and wonderful right now is that they are filled to the brim with intimate moments. I am sharing so many moments of mutual care and love with my sisters. As my own monastic call to conversion occurs within this context of reverential relationships, I can only sing praise and gratitude to God.

We can develop a beautiful intimacy with each other when we recognize the importance of reverencing relationship. God, guide each of us to this level of intimacy with one another. How could we keep from singing?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015


This weekend at the Mount, you can feel excitement. We are holding our community weekend where our oblates join us and either begin or renew their commitment to live with Benedictine spirit.

This means that we have about 80 oblates here with us at the Mount today. A few people started arriving earlier this week, but we officially began last night. Our speaker is Elizabeth Dreyer, who wrote the book, Accidental Theologians. She is speaking about women and the Church. Her chosen themes for the weekend include:

Women, Tradition, Reform, Church, World, Conversation, Holy Spirit, Prophecy, Communion of Saints, Justice, and Hope

Not a bad list!

Another exciting part of a weekend like this is that our out-of-town sisters come home to be with us. So, with all of this, there is lots of beautiful energy filling our home right now! Yesterday afternoon, there was a knock on my door. One sister who lives out of town brought me a plant. She said that she and the other sister with whom she lives began a tradition of giving a plant to new members. What a lovely way to begin the weekend!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

a new friend for my "growing" collection!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Springing Up

I spent the first month of my postulancy spending time at many of our community's ministries to see where I might like to be on a regular basis. I went to our Neighborhood Art House; I went to our food pantry; I went to our Kids' Cafe; I went to our education center where we work with adults; I visited the office of the Alliance for International Monasticism; I explored a few other odds and ends. I experienced many people and places, and I gained a greater appreciation for just how much our community is doing for the city of Erie and beyond.

But, I also spent a lot of time at our childhood development center, Saint Benedict Center (SBC). Yesterday, as I discussed this coming week's gospel with my lectio partner, the phrase "sprang up" called her. She asked me, "For what do you spring up?" I quickly responded, "The kids." After visiting the first time, I also knew very quickly that I wanted SBC to be my ministry. The kids there are just great kids. They are creative, happy, curious, and full of potential.

Besides the awe that I have for children, the reason why I think I spring up for the kids is because it pains me to know that far too often the cards are stacked against them through no fault of their own; it is the reality of the system - unfair distribution of wealth, unfair education system, unfair, unfair, unfair.

But yet, despite so much, kids are so resilient. They fall and they bounce back up - literally and figuratively. I get to watch this each and every day, and it teaches me so much. I watch 1-year olds learning to walk and to eat with a fork for the first time. I watch 3-year olds fearlessly climbing up the playground bars. I watch pre-K kids learning the alphabet. I watch 2-year olds agreeing to share a toy. I watch so much potential. It stops me in my tracks sometimes. Am I doing everything I can to help these children recognize their potential?

So often in those moments I get curious myself - what will their futures hold? How will their potential develop and actualize? Given the realities of our society, where will these kids be in twenty years? It brings to mind a Mary Oliver poem called What is the greatest gift?

What is the greatest gift?
Could it be the world itself--the oceans, the meadowlark,
     the patience of the trees in the wind?
Could it be love, with its sweet clamor of passion?

Something else--something else entirely
     holds me in thrall.
That you have a life that I wonder about
     more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a life--courteous and intelligent--
     that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a soul--your own, no one else's--
     that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.
So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours
     more than my own.

I think these are important questions: What is the greatest gift for you? For what do you spring up?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

Over the weekend, we (in formation) traveled to Bristow, VA for an east coast Benedictine formation conference. The title of the presentation was "The Benedictine Way: A Journey To Wisdom." Our presenter, a Benedictine sister from the Pittsburgh community, provided wonderful reflections on the word "wisdom," which allowed us to make connections to our growing understanding of monasticism.

But, more than that, the weekend provided me with an opportunity to experience another Benedictine monastery. I made a remark to one of my sisters that you can feel the difference when you are in a Benedictine home compared to the homes of other orders; there is a sense of hospitality that I have yet to experience anywhere else. From the welcoming at the door, to the open recliner to watch Notre Dame beat USC (Go Irish!), and even a Mucinex for my congestion, I felt the Benedictine heart of hospitality in each experience throughout the weekend.

So, on the way home, when we reflected on what we noticed about their monastery compared to our own, I needed some time to think. Yes, there were differences in the physical environment, the prayer, the size of the community, and some other things, but I found the overall spirit to be one and the same - joyful, generous, and gracious.

Lately, I have been reflecting on the Christian life as one of non-judgment. It is so easy to compare and contrast; I must admit: a Venn diagram is one of my favorite teaching tools. That's okay, but often times as soon as I start noticing similarities and differences, I find myself entering into judgment - which way is right, which way is wrong - which way is better, which way is worse, and so on. But, the thing is, the one true similarity of all life is that God is pouring through it. That alone makes it good. That mark trumps any differences, and actually, makes diversity beautiful. We often hear about avoiding "either/or" thinking in favor of "both/and" thinking. To do that we need to put on the mind of Christ and get rid of the Venn diagram in our minds.

I just finished reading a book about lectio by Christine Valters Painter (which I highly recommend), and I found some words that spoke to this idea for me, referring to the prayer style of lectio:

This...means entering the profound mystery of God and allowing ourselves to move beyond...dualities. [...] We no longer have to reconcile opposites. We recognize how little we know of God, so we can't say God is this way or that way; God is both and neither. This path requires a radical sense of humility and embrace of our limited vision. God is beyond our ability to understand or grasp.

If we are willing to open ourselves up to the limited nature of our humanity and embrace the unknowing, we become free to move away from judgment. And, I don't really have to worry about it anyway - God already saw it all and said it is very good. Who am I to judge?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The still-blooming dahlias in the teaching garden at the monastery

 The very-cool stained-glass silos at the prayer labyrinth

The view from inside looking up

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thank You, Again, Stephen

Please do yourself a favor this weekend and enjoy the interview between Stephen Colbert and Oprah Winfrey from Thursday night's show. How wonderful that two celebrities openly shared dialogue about faith and belief on network television. We need more of this. Here is a bit of the interview.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Change in the Weather

I decided to go for a bike ride when I got home this afternoon. I was pedaling up the road, and the wind started rolling, the rain drops starting dripping. I started pedaling harder. I couldn't help but sing with Teresa de Avila, who we celebrate today:

Nothing shall disturb you,
Nothing frighten you,
Patience obtains all things,
In God you lack for nothing,
For God never changes,
God alone is enough.

I thought I would make it home before the sky broke open, but as I made my last turn, I was proven wrong. Evidence:

The weather has been changing fast; at dinner there was talk of the first frost! Yesterday I went for a walk during my reflection day. I think this picture of Lake Erie captures the season nicely.

This weekend, we will travel to Bristow, VA for a formation conference with other monasteries on the east coast. I will report back next week!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Turn, Turn, Turn

It is official - fall has arrived. My mother and grandmother have been visiting the past few days, and yesterday we were fortunate enough to take in some of the glorious colors as we visited a local winery, a local farm, and Findley Lake.

Findley Lake

fall colors

I have many more trees surrounding me here in Erie as compared to life back in Philadelphia, so it has been easier to pay attention to the changing colors. Monastics are called to conversatio morum, or conversion of life. Monastics recognize that each day is a new start, an opportunity to do better than yesterday. We are called to change and to grow. Trees are nature's way of reminding me of this call.

As my first class on monastic values has ended, I have started a class about the Liturgy of the Hours. We took some time to do lectio reading with parts of the Rule of Benedict relating to prayer. Often times, Benedict adjusts prayer according to the season. As I commented on living with the natural cycle of the earth, we began discussing the fact that we do not do that in today's world. We continued on to talk about how we might grow in mindfulness if we were to live by the seasons. Someone commented, "We'd learn to wait."

Wow - this comment gave me pause to reflect. If we actually waited to eat lettuce until spring or strawberries until summer or apples until fall, we might learn to wait; we might learn to be patient as trees, or flowers, or seeds waiting to germinate. We might learn to live in harmony with our earth.

Maybe as I am watching these trees turning, I, too, am beginning to turn a bit. Maybe I am changing and growing into someone more whole, more able to listen to God's call deep within.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Friday, October 9, 2015


My lectio partner and I met earlier this week. She had picked up a book of poetry, but later realized that she already had a copy. I benefitted! The book is called, Love Poems From God. Daniel Ladinsky compiled poetry from twelve different men and women, some of which include Rumi, St. Francis of Assisi, Hafiz, and St. Teresa of Avila - a pretty strong line-up!

This week's gospel reading brings to our attention the importance of relationship - relationship with others and relationship with God. I found these words from St. Catherine of Siena a comforting reminder of our relationship with our Creator. The title is The Foundation of God.

My perfect Lord sang,

"Less likely is God to condemn my hand's action
than condemn any

How could that be possible,
my heart thought?

And the Christ, knowing all minds, replied,

"Forgiveness is the foundation of God's

What are you doing to build relationships in your life right now?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Single Ray of Light

When writing a blog was still just an idea that I had, I was telling a sister about it while we were driving home one day. At that point I was still on the search for the right name for the blog. As we were chatting, I was telling her about some of the things that I was noticing at the monastery. She kept saying, "That's a blog post right there!" I hadn't thought of these experiences that way before she pointed it out. She was able to see the worth of each moment that I was sharing with her; I was grateful for her perspective.

To be attentive to the life around us takes practice. To recognize the beauty in all the life around us takes even more practice. On Monday night we wrapped up our monastic values class. Some values of monasticism include: prayer, work, community, peace, holy leisure, and stewardship. As Benedictines, our daily practices should cultivate these values in our lives. Being attentive certainly plays a role in this cultivation.

I think that being attentive also allows us to see the interconnectedness in all life. Saint Benedict is our example. To learn about the life of Benedict, one looks to The Dialogues of Gregory the Great. In one chapter, we read about an experience that Benedict had one evening where "he saw the whole world as in a single ray of light."

To see the whole world "as in a single ray of light" did not make his world smaller; on the contrary, it enlarged the world for Benedict. When we have purity of heart, we can call it single-mindedness. You read about it in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God." Seeing life in a single ray of light allows us, then, to be attentive to God in each moment -- what my sister did for me in the car that day.

Imagine being able to see God in all of life. When you think about it, of course it enlarges your world, and your heart; suddenly nothing can be excluded because everything has God's love poured into it. Inclusion requires a place and a space for all God's creation. For me right now, I am learning to see God in and through prayer, work, community, peace, holy leisure, and stewardship, among other values, as I cultivate a monastic heart that sees the whole world as a single ray of light.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

One Origin

I have been spending my weekend sitting in on a retreat offered here at the Mount called "Seasons of the Spirit." Our sister who facilitates these retreats put together a wonderful program on the topic of pursuing peace. We spent Saturday listening to perspectives on Rosa Parks, Thomas Gumbleton, the women martyrs in El Salvador, Thomas Merton, and Pope Francis.

We also did a communal painting activity where we sat in a group of four. Each person used a different shade of green as we passed papers around our table. We had to listen to what was already on the paper before we added our own brush strokes. At night we were treated to a documentary about Bishop Gumbleton, learning about his ministry of nonviolence.

It was a great experience, but it was a different experience for me. This was the first time that I attended a retreat as a member of the hosting community. My perspective changed as a result. So, I started thinking about the way that our identity affects our perspective. My perspective of the world might be different if I were a veterinarian instead of a teacher, a male instead of a female, a wife instead of a woman seeking religious life, a realist instead of an idealist.

We see this all the time in our society. The businesspeople often see the world much differently than the environmentalists. Liberals often see the world much differently than the conservatives. You see where I'm going. We can easily divorce ourselves from one another because of the way we identify.

But, what if, what if, we all claimed our true identity first and foremost, seeing the world through that perspective? Then, we would identify by and recognize our common humanity. If we could all see the homeless man or woman as human, too. If we could all see the immigrant as human, too. If, before any other identity, we could all see each other as human, I think we would treat one another much differently. I think we might unite.

How can we find our common humanity and use it to pursue peace in our world?

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Honest Truth

Thank you, Stephen Colbert. (Watch the first two minutes, in particular.)

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Only the Essentials

In the spirit of trying new things (like, you know, a whole new way of living!) I have embraced another change in my life. For the past three weeks, I have been transitioning out of shampoo and conditioner and into baking soda and vinegar. Before you call me crazy, I'm not the only one!

This move has prompted some interesting conversation at the dinner table as I explain my choice to sisters in the community. My reason for swapping out the shampoo is to go natural. Our scalp, as well as the rest of our body, naturally produces an oil called sebum; it is what makes our hair oily. Rather than using chemicals to get rid of those oils, I am using baking soda. I can't lie - the baking soda leaves your hair a bit gritty. This is where the apple cider vinegar comes in; it does a great job rinsing out and conditioning. The goal of this whole experiment is to balance out the sebum production, which can be elevated through the use of too much shampoo.

So - is it working? Well, I think so. From what I've read, getting over the three-week hill is a bit trying, but once you get to the other side, your hair is healthier. I do think that my hair feels better after I wash it with baking soda and AC vinegar, but it is an on-going experiment.

There is also the group of people who question what your hair smells like after conditioning with vinegar. Great question! It does dry fairly odorless, but I am also counteracting the stinky possibility with another experiment - lavender oil. When I told one of our sisters about this, I entered into another phase of this journey.

Our community is blessed with many sisters who have lots and lots of interests; this gives us some pretty cool ministries - one of them being Wellness. As our Wellness director introduced me to everything available through the Wellness ministry (much more than I could have imagined!), she showed me a book she had on the ministry's shelf called, Aromatherapy A-Z. The book gives suggestions for how to counteract illnesses or other issues with essential oils. Had I known that lavender oil can be used for ADD, allergies, anger, and anxiety, I would have had a school-year's worth stashed in my classroom closet!

I have enjoyed journeying through the world of natural hair cleaning. Next up, toothpaste!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

lavender fields discovered during a summer road trip