Thursday, December 31, 2015

So You Say You Want A Resolution?

Last year my friend and I joked that we would make New Year's resolutions to do things we really had no desire to accomplish, knowing the general success rate of these sorts of decisions.

This year I read a piece that Parker Palmer wrote for the On Being blog, one of my favorite blogs and my favorite radio show.

He said that as he was writing about resolutions, he made an easy typo, and "resolutions" became "revolutions." He then realized it wasn't a mistake at all and instead wrote about the revolutions of which he wants to be a part in the new year:

  1. The revolution against our fear of “otherness,” and against those who manipulate this fear for their self-serving ends. I want to stand in solidarity with those whose lives have been made even more difficult by the ignorance, cruelty, and shamelessness of the Donald Trumps of this world and their minions. When I hear people speaking against Muslims or Mexicans, to take but two examples, I need to say, “Your words are personally offensive to me. I am one with the people you’re insulting, and I can’t remain silent while you put my sisters and brothers down.” I may not change anyone’s mind, but I need to witness to my membership in the human community whenever I get the chance.
  2. The revolution against the state of denial in which most white Americans live, as when we refuse to acknowledge the power of white privilege and white supremacy in our lives. This revolution begins at home, in my own heart. I’ve never known a white person who was pulled over for “driving while white,” or tracked through a store for “shopping while white.” But I’ve known many who believe that the very idea of white privilege insults the way they’ve “worked hard and played by the rules,” and I can feel the same evasiveness in myself. If white people want to join the fight to bring racism down, we need to begin by coming clean about the benefits that accrue to us as long as racism reigns.
  3. The revolution against the nonstop attacks on our K-12 teachers and public schools. Most of the problems we blame on public education begin upstream; e.g., in the poverty that has nearly one-fourth of our kids coming to school too hungry for their brains to work well. So why do we blame teachers for children’s failure to learn — then double down on their burden by pretending to “solve” the problem with punitive, high-stakes testing? The only winners right now are those who want to force failure on public education in order to make privatization a more attractive option. I want to join with those who say, “Enough! This demonic scheme is crushing teachers and kids alike, and we will all pay dearly in the end. Let’s stop evading the real issues. Let’s deal with the upstream problems so teachers can help kids learn.”
  4. The revolution against gun-related policies driven by the delusional mentality of policy-makers and power brokers. There’s a link between mental illness and gun violence, but I’m not talking about the shooters right now. I’m talking about the people who have power over gun policy in this country. It’s urgent that we find some way to cure or at least contain the delusional minds that keep repeating “more guns” and “Second Amendment” as the way to end the terrifying torrent of headlines about yet another shooting. The murderous results of this madness were on display almost every day in 2015. I’m quite certain that this is not what the framers of the Bill of Rights had in mind. The “more guns” insanity poses a grave threat to public health, and if we can't cure it we must contain it by legal and cultural means.
  5. The revolution against the fantasy that a few of us can live secure private lives while ignoring our complicity in conditions that put many others at mortal risk. I’ve been contemplating the lessons to be learned from the well-known mental experiment of shrinking the world to a village of 100 people. In that village, demographers tell us, five people would control nearly one-third of the world’s wealth, and all five would be U.S. citizens. Of the 100 residents, 68 would live on less than $2.00 a day, and 50 would be malnourished. If that village were built on a hill, I would live up top in splendid isolation with the other four U.S. citizens. How long would it be, I wonder, before the folks at the bottom of the hill would rush our gated community not out of greed but simply to keep themselves and their children alive? Even if they didn’t, how well would I sleep at night?

I think part of the reason why I like Parker Palmer's idea so much more is in the word choice: resolve versus revolve. Resolving implies definite commitments. Revolving implies turning, changing. Perhaps some of the groundwork is already there.

It seems that if the revolutions that Parker writes about are to catch on, we would have to look to models of those who are already doing it, those committed to bringing about a kinder, more compassionate world.

In the new year, I want to take what's already being birthed inside me and continue to nurture it into new life. Why start from scratch if there's already good stuff there? Let my prayer be that God helps me see the kind, compassionate parts of myself and bring them forth in ways that serve others.

Where are the kind, compassionate places already inside you waiting for a revolution in 2016?

Happy New Year!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Friday, December 25, 2015

"and the darkness has not overcome it."

May your eyes and your heart be open to the Light that reveals itself to us at Christmas.

A blessed holiday to you, one and all!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Slowly, Slowly

Be gentle, Val.

No, these aren't words I heard as a baby getting ready to pet a bunny. These are the words I hear as a twenty-seven-year old receiving self-care advice from wise women who surround me.

Be gentle, Val.

I, like many others, have a hard time showing myself care and compassion. But, the past few weeks I have had no choice but to practice as I have been under the weather. God literally said, "Slow down, my child. Rest."

Be gentle, Val.

So, this Advent has been full in a different sort of way than my normal. I haven't been reading. I haven't been writing. I haven't been riding my bike or running to the lake. I can't give a lot of detail about how I've filled my days.

Be gentle, Val.

But, I have spent a lot of time with the Visitation, my favorite Bible story. Although Mary traveled "in haste" to Elizabeth, she stayed for three months. When I imagine what might have happened during that time, I have visions of nurturing, compassion, and relationship. I cannot imagine Mary or Elizabeth feeling rushed or moving from one task to the next. They were both pregnant with amazing Life, after all!

Although they are both undoubtedly models of courage, I also have spent time contemplating their tenderness and care. They knew how to slow down and be gentle. As I finally got back on my bike yesterday, I found myself singing one of our Advent tunes to myself.

The lion will lie with the lamb, and all will worship your name.

I envisioned my own lions greeting my lambs with peace and gentleness. Edward Hicks' Peaceable Kingdom came to mind.

And, when I checked my mailbox this morning, this quote was waiting for me:

"Mary herself did not completely understand what was going on in her life. She knew a call from God and she knew the power of God in her life. She knew commitment. But all the rest was mystery. There were no assurances - no blueprint - no security. There was only the sense of call and the will to respond. For those of us who want to be part of the birthing of Christ in our time, like Mary, we must go on, we must treasure the call of God, and we must be content to ponder in our hearts the mystery of God in life, the understanding of which comes only slowly, slowly."

And, which picture came with it? This one, of course.

Rejoice! Even though I am twenty-seven, God takes care of me as I take baby steps on my way toward gentleness. Slowly, slowly.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

With Christmas less than a week away, I am beginning to see more than Advent blue. Each day decorations and ornaments slowly show up around the monastery. There is much joy in being observant right now! On Friday, I helped a sister put up the tree in our hallway. This evening we will decorate our tree in the community room. And, look! It had to happen...our first real snow that accumulated to something, though not much. Remember that view out my window from August and October? Here is the December 20th version!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

An Almost-Christmas Blessing

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
By Dr. Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal's, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Matter of Perspective

Within the past few days, I have had two experiences stay with me.

One: Classrooms have shifted around at daycare as the East Coast Migrant program ended for the season. This means some children have new teachers. I was across the hall from the classroom where two of our sisters teach. I listened to one child who wanted to get the attention of his teacher as he said loudly, "Sister! Sister!"

Two: I walked to the lake on Saturday. I spend most of my time at the lake as close to the water as I can get without soaking my shoes. This time I tried something different. There is a steep hill right next to the water. So, I climbed. Once I reached the top, I was able to see a lot more lake.


By (literally) looking at a much bigger picture of the lake, I was reminded how important it is to always bring more and more into my image of God. God is the entire picture, no exclusions. Ilia Delio writes, "Only in embracing all can we become the arms of God."

And, this whole "Sister" thing.

Having my only experience of the moment be auditory, I was able to really hear the call that by choosing to enter into the Benedictine community, I am choosing to relate, in all parts of my life, as a sister - a sister to my community, a sister to the earth, a sister to the kids, a sister even to my enemies. That demands a very big embrace, and it isn't easy.

But, as a postulant, I am given the opportunity to witness women who are doing this. I am watching them act with tenderness and humility. I am experiencing them treating me with compassion and care. I am learning the devotion and attentiveness it takes to be present to life this way, to relate to life with love.

What an amazing perspective to have.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

lots of water

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The One Where Val Walks Into Chapel on Reflection Day

But I wasn't the only thing reflecting!

Check out our stained glass windows! Can you even tell where the glass ends and the walls begin?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

I Can(not?) Wait

Last night we had our second Advent vigil. Each week a sister offers her reflections, and in this week's reflection we were given three words to ponder: waiting, birthing, and gratitude.

I hold much gratitude for my experience yesterday. I attended an Advent retreat given by the poet, writer, and all-around lovely person, Edwina Gateley. The theme of the day was birthing God in the contemporary world.

Edwina reminded us that we are called to gestate. Growing into God's fullness isn't a day-long project. How often I believe that if I can just figure out this puzzle or that idea, then I will finally get the ever-elusive "it" and understand the Mystery of the fullness.

And so I read a poem, engage in a conversation, sit with my thoughts, work with the kids, all the while search, search, searching for the answer. And I cannot wait for those moments. I cannot wait to spend time with a friend. I cannot wait to find that poem that I've been thinking about all day. I cannot wait to take on that new adventure. I cannot wait. I cannot wait. I cannot wait.

But here's the thing. I can wait. There has yet to be a time in my life when I haven't had to wait for that time, or that poem, or that adventure. I try to rush to them because they are my hope for finally finding the understanding I so desperately crave.

And here's the other thing. We need opportunities to practice hope. If we didn't have to wait for the things we claim we cannot wait for, we wouldn't have to have hope. It would all just be here now. I would have already figured out the fullness. And then what...?

During this Advent time, I have an opportunity to practice my hope for fully embracing the Mystery, for knowing that the time with the friend, or the words, or the kids, or the adventure are only steps along the way of true hope, steps of growing into God's fullness. Each of them is only a tiny birth compared to Christmas.

So, now I hope to know that it is okay to not have everything I will ever need right now, to know that I have been given exactly what I need in this present moment, to trust that God always does that providing for me and for everyone else, to hope that I am able to trust that everything will be okay if I let go of the figuring a bit. The words from our responsorial are just the prayer for me.

For you, O God, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in You.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Art and Advent

Advent is a great time for me to use my favorite painting as prayer.

That painting is "The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner. Not only is it my favorite, but it lives in my favorite city, Philadelphia.

Robert Morneau also wrote a beautiful poem to go with the painting - called Fiat:

On her bed of doubt, in wrinkled night garment,
she sat, glancing with fear
at a golden shaft of streaming light,
pondering perhaps, “Was this
but a sequel to a dream?”
The light too brief for disbelief,
yet its silence eased not her trembling.
Somehow she murmured a “yes”
and with that the light’s love and life
pierced her heart
and lodged in her womb.
The room remained the same
     -rug still need smoothing
     -jug and paten awaiting using.
Now all was different
in a maiden’s soft but firm fiat.

Perhaps you, too, have a favorite piece of art to use as prayer during this Advent season.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

There Is Need of Only Rhythm

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside at his feet listening t...