Sunday, November 29, 2015

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Christians are so countercultural that we begin our new year a month early. Advent is my favorite liturgical season, and we entered in at the Mount last night with our first prayer vigil.

As goes the tradition here, the newest postulant carries the candle during the first week, and I happen to be the newest postulant. The experience helped bring me in a little closer to the season of hope, patience, preparation, and holy waiting.

The easy reflection during Advent is to remind ourselves how desperately our world longs for the love of Christ to be revealed. I'd be surprised if you didn't hear words along those lines at least once each year during the season.

But, the harder thing for we humans, I believe, is to trust the words of the song we are singing here in our chapel each week:

We are here, here in the presence of God.
We are on holy ground.

Sure, our faith tells us this is so, but do we actually trust our faith enough to do the hardest thing? Do we trust our faith enough to be as bold as Mary and say "Yes." Yes, yes I will live on this holy ground. Yes, I will live into everything that my "Yes" demands of me. Yes, God is here.

Because, then, everything around us might still look the same, but we won't be the same. Our "Yes" is a yes to see the desperate world with new eyes -- eyes of hope and of love that turn us toward Christ.

The season of Advent, for me, becomes an opportunity to be patient with myself as I turn closer and closer to Emmanuel. I looked up synonyms for "preparation" in a thesaurus: education, groundwork, anticipation, foresight, and formation. "Formation" obviously speaks to me quite loudly right now, but all these words signal the truth that the turn won't happen overnight.

So, we light one candle the first week and see the light that it gives us to guide our turn. Then, we are given another light, and another, and another. This is why we wait. We wait until there is enough light to illumine the Holiness within us so much so that the ground on which we stand shines with Holiness, too. Yes. This is what we do. Yes.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

the chapel windows are particularly glorious this time of year

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanks Giving

To the younger,
Thank you for revealing God.

To the wiser,
Thank you for revealing God.

To peers,
Thank you for revealing God.

To strangers,
Thank you for revealing God.

To the green earth,
Thank you for revealing God.

To the blue sky,
Thank you for revealing God.

To changing trees,
Thank you for revealing God.

To places of desolation,
Thank you for revealing God.

To all life,
Thank you for revealing God.

God, I give you thanks,
For connecting me to you,
In relationship,
With all your creation.
Amen.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(c/o waaytv.com)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

How Annoying?!

I did not know the topic of our presentation before we went into our weekend with Sister Simone Campbell. I do not know why I did not put two and two together either. But, we spent the weekend immersing ourselves in the world of Catholic Social Teaching...of course. Sister Simone immerses herself in CST; she lives and breathes it.

There are some key principles that make up Catholic Social Teaching: honoring the dignity of every human being, using the government to promote the common good, living out our obligation to one another, and caring for all God's creation, among others.

Throughout the weekend, we talked about the principles that make us feel most enthusiastic, as well as those that make us most nervous. We searched for the principles of CST in recent news articles, as Sr. Simone likes to "pray with the news." We had conversations with members from other communities, as well as among our own, about the way that our charisms align with these teachings. It was a rich weekend in many ways.

I walked up to lunch with Sr. Simone on Saturday, and I told her how all this talk reminded me of the importance of grounding ourselves in community and prayer. There is no way to sustain the energy for this work without it. It was more than apparent that Simone roots herself in both of those, as well as deep listening. (Naturally...her community follows the Rule of Benedict, which reminds us to "Listen with the ear of our heart," after all!)

I also noticed that there were a few lines that Simone repeated over and over throughout the weekend. "Good point!" "How cool is that?!" "Holy moly!" "How annoying?!"

I thought about everything that we are being called to do. The list is not short. Just within our community, Sr. Simone called us to keep alive our long memory, to have intergenerational discourse, to touch the pain of the world as real, and to have abundant hope. But, then, we have to go out in the world and do that with all our brothers and sisters.

It feels so, so daunting to think about the work that goes into truly living out Catholic Social Teaching. Even more than that, it can feel annoying when we have to continually face so much working against us -- The government doesn't actually work for the common good. People only worry about themselves. The world is already so lost. And on and on and on.

So, we need weekends like these that remind us of our abundant hope. Community and prayer are our backbones, and it's a lot less annoying to face everything in front of us when we know that we are not doing it alone. We are doing this with God and with each other.

How cool is that?!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nuns in the Van

This weekend the formation crew will take another road trip to Villa Maria, PA for a retreat given by Sister Simone Campbell. If you have heard of Sister Simone, it is probably because of Nuns on the Bus or her work with the NETWORK lobby. I am looking forward to the weekend.

Until I am back and able to write, here is a great poem: Memo to Self Re: Meditation by Ron Stone. It relates nicely to humility, my current topic of reflection. I hope you enjoy.

Right now you don’t have to parse the entire
universe in infinite, particulate detail;
for just these few minutes merely sit and become
only breath, that is to say, spirit.

Now… what you see is a world without you,
as it was before you were born and
will be when you’re no longer here.
Are you amazed that it goes on without you?

Slowly learn the lesson about who you are:
dust of the earth, dust of a star.
The stuff that is you has always been here
fulfilling its purpose in losing its Self.

Until you.

Now it’s become human body and brain;
it believes it’s an I and stands apart
from the rest of creation, asserting its right
to be Lord of All, whatever the price.

But you know in these moments the price is too high,
far more than our planet is able to pay.
In your ego-fed effort to have it your way
you have "become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

The world doesn’t need you the way you need it.
For these next few minutes, let go and just be,
and become not an ego in charge of it all
but a part of the Whole in search of your place.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We Are Climbing Benedict's Ladder

At the lake this morning, I noticed:

The waves meeting the shore;
The leaves meeting the ground;
The water meeting the horizon.

No wonder nature helps me feel connected. No wonder it revives me.

My evening on Monday revived me, too. We had the first of a two-part formation session on the topic of humility. One of the first questions: What do you know about humility?

Uhh...

Well, I can easily answer the question by telling you about the roots of the word: humus, human, and all of that, but what IS humility?

Benedict devotes an entire chapter of the Rule to humility, so we know it must be important. But, what IS humility?

After we dove a little deeper and received a little guidance, we were able to say that humility is recognizing, trusting, and acting on the presence of God. We recognize God not only in ourselves, but in others, and in the world around us. We do not receive God after we work and work on our humility; no, God is here...now, calling us into relationship. The humility lives right in that.

In chapter 7, Benedict writes about the twelve steps on the ladder of humility. The first step is to consciously place my whole self in God's presence, and we go on from there. After ascending up through the twelve steps, we arrive "at the 'perfect love' of God which 'casts out fear'." So, without even going into further detail, you can probably tell that humility is the journey of a lifetime.

Besides recognition, humility also demands trust. Not only do I need to trust the God in others, but I also need to trust my own journey as just that: a journey. Things do not always make sense in the moment, but I can trust that they fit into my story.

And once I am able to trust God's presence, I suddenly become free to act, knowing that God is holding me up and calling me forward. That thing that didn't make sense a year ago, a month ago, or even a day ago suddenly becomes clear given the moments that followed and the choices I made. I can act with the understanding that all my actions are part of a bigger picture.

Now, why did all of this revive me? So, so often I compartmentalize a moment in my life. I take it out of context and try to write my own text. "This happened because..." "She reacted this way because..." "It could have been different if..." No. No. No. When I do that, I remove it from the whole, the truth, where it naturally belongs. I forget about humility. These moments belong to God, not me. God's picture is BIG; I am such a small part of that picture.

Just as the waves meet the shore, just as the leaves meet the ground, just as the water meets the horizon, one moment meets the next. They are all connected in the flow of God. May we live in the flow. May we trust the flow. May we humbly join the flow.

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Let Us Walk In Holy Peace

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

-Warsan Shire

Sunday, November 15, 2015

To Be of Perfect Use

This week I had the opportunity to revisit the Enneagram. For those unfamiliar, the Enneagram is a model that uses nine different categories to describe our personality types. While we probably have a little bit of each type influencing us, we have one basic personality type that describes us best. These types help us better understand the motivations behind our behaviors.

So, for instance, I am a One on the Enneagram, which means I am a Reformer type. The other eight are types are: Helper, Achiever, Individualist, Investigator, Loyalist, Enthusiast, Challenger, and Peacemaker. As with any personality there are plusses and minuses about each type, and we try to work our way toward becoming the healthiest parts of whatever we are.

I first encountered the Enneagram a little less than a year ago as a member of a Contemplatives Leaders in Action cohort, but I revisited it this past week as part of my monastic formation. As my teacher, a sister in our community, pointed out, God is the best parts of each personality type, and we have each of the nine types in our community here.

The reformer, as I am, is also known as an idealist or advocate depending on how that person leans in other types. Descriptors of this type include being principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic. Perfectionistic. I don't doubt that anyone who has met me, even for just five minutes, might be laughing right now reading that word. Let me in a cluttered space, and everything will return to being organized in right angles in no time. Give me a piece of paper to fold in half, and the crease will be exactly down the center; if it isn't I will ask for a second piece and discard any evidence of my first attempt. I even use the word "perfect" to describe anything that brings me slightly more than minor delight.

While not everyone buys into the Enneagram and other personality-type models like the Myers-Briggs, I think they are useful tools for self-awareness and other-awareness. When we recognize that not everyone cares about maintaining an orderly space or doesn't self-critique so much, it can help us be open to different ways of being that are not our own.

You can read more about the different types, if you'd like. As for me, and the other Ones out there: "Ones are people of practical action—they wish to be useful in the best sense of the word." But, I do think that is true for all the types - we wish to be of use. God wishes us to use our specific gifts for the greater good. Again, on Friday night, we were reminded of the need to do that after the attacks in Paris. It reminds me of the poem titled To be of use by Marge Piercy.

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Let us each listen deeply to the ways we can serve.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Knowing Your Roots

Our novices just returned from a visit to one of our out-of-town ministries, as well as a visit to St. Marys, Pennsylvania. This small town is home to some big Benedictine history.

St. Joseph Monastery is located in St. Marys. Benedicta Riepp, a Benedictine sister, founded this monastery when she came over from St. Walburga Abbey in Eichstatt, Bavaria. The monastery is the first in the Federation of St. Scholastica, of which the Erie Benedictines are a part. (We are actually the second monastery.) So, basically, we are talking about the roots of our family tree. The community there has since dissolved, and three of the sisters joined us here in Erie.

When the novices returned yesterday, they had a gift for me. They brought me a medal of St. Benedict from the motherhouse there. Much bigger than the one that I wear around my neck, I was grateful to receive something that connects me to the larger history of Benedictinism.

Each and every day I am learning more and more of the history into which I am entering. Whether through reading, hearing a story, or asking a question, I am also growing in appreciation for all that history means: the hard work, the dedication, the change throughout the years, and the spirit of community that connects our sisters across the ages.

All of these things come together to create our Benedictine tradition. One tradition that I love is hearing the names of the sisters who came before us. You can easily read those names on our necrology board, but if it is the anniversary of a sister's death, we remember that sister's life in a special way during evening prayer. Hearing the year in which the sister died adds even more to my appreciation of the lineage.

In this month when we celebrate the Communion of Saints, I, too, am reflecting upon the Communion of Sisters that we share as Benedictines. How exciting to enter into the history!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ordinary Time

This past week I have been grateful for a light schedule. Compared to the month of October, the first week of November was calm. As we prepare for Advent, preparing for the coming of Christ, I have had more time to read, bike, get creative with card making, and catch up with friends from home, which has meant more time to pay attention to God living inside me. I think this is the gift of ordinary time.

I have been paying attention to a lot of words in the daily, too - a sort of living lectio, if you will. Today, during morning prayer, I focused on these words that we sang:

"Open wide the gates. The Holy One will come in."

And during Liturgy, it was these from our communion hymn:

"I, myself, am the bread of life."

Sometimes it is really easy to pass over words and pass through prayer. I know I am guilty, especially when I have other thoughts, or whatever comes next, on my mind. So, this bit of slow down this past week has been a great re-focus for me, because while the extraordinary can be just that, the ordinary can be, too.

Rather than write more, I am going to let this post off the hook now, too. Just go back and pray with those two sets of words, if you'd like. Pray with the God living inside you. Happy Sabbath.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mind, Body, Spirit

Postulants and novices in our community have the privilege of receiving one day each week that is set aside for reflection. That means we do not go to work at our ministry that day, but rather we take time to sit with and be present to all the emotions, all the thoughts, and all the wonderments that come our way through living a monastic life.

We meet with our formation director and perhaps catch up with another person or two, but other than that, the day should be one where we focus on the balance of mind, body, and spirit. Benedict reminds us often of the importance of balance -- ora ET labora.

Wednesdays are my reflection day. And, it just so happened that yesterday it was 72 degrees and sunny in Erie...in November! What a delight! I was able to spend almost all of daylight outdoors. What a delight!

I find that if I am renewing my mind, body, or spirit, I cannot compartmentalize. If I am renewing one, I am usually renewing another one, or two, simultaneously. For instance, my bike ride yesterday morning refreshed all three. My time at the lake with my lectio partner was the same thing as well.

While by the water, we shared conversation about a poem called Hokusai Says. The poet is Roger Keyes. I think that if we were truly able to live these words, we'd find a pretty amazing balance in our lives.

Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says Look Forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself
as long as it’s interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive—
shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.
Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.
It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your verandah or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
are life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.


Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Blessing the Future

Many people have been asking: Do you miss teaching?

No, I don't.

That is because I am still teaching through my ministry at Saint Benedict Center. Yes, you have to make the distinction that it is no longer my classroom, but the kids are still kids, and they are great.

It is the standard teacher cliché to say that we are the ones who do the learning, and I do think that it is true, but since arriving at SBC, I have noticed something else happening in the classroom, too.

Mutual relationships have been a topic of reflection for me recently. As I enter into community, I am forming new relationships, and mutuality has to be a part of that. In some ways, mutual relationships are impossible in the classroom for all the obvious reasons: age, authority, etc. But, there is still some mutuality to be found. For instance, there can be mutual respect between a child and the teacher.

There can also be mutual blessing.

When I became a postulant (just over two months ago now!), I received a medal of St. Benedict to wear. Since I have started working at SBC, the children have taken to taking my medal into their hands and playing with it throughout the day. Some like to make sure the clasp is at the nape of my neck; others just like to hold it. I don't know how many little hands have touched it at this point.

One day, as one of the kiddos was holding the medal, I realized that what all these kids are doing is blessing my future. All their presence, all their love, all their joy, and all their spirit get poured into this visible symbol of where I'm headed as a Benedictine monastic.

So, in turn, as I take a child into my hands who is having trouble napping, or take the hand of the kid who is walking up the stairs, or reach out to calm the child who is moving through the classroom a bit too fast, I try to do the same -- and bless their future.

For the children whose parents cannot support them for whatever reason, may they find themselves learning in an educational system that gives them an opportunity to be successful. For the young girls developing their sense of self, may they be valued as equals in our male-driven society. For the energetic kids with lots of youthful passion, may they have teachers who recognize and match their love of learning.

May we bless the bond of mutuality that we share as God's Beloved.

Let us walk in the holy presence.