Showing posts from 2016

Winter is for the Birds

One way I reflect on the past year is to go back through my journals. This used to be an arduous process because of the mass volume of them. (I don't know that we use the word "volume" to talk about typed journals though!)

As I worked my way through March, I rediscovered this poem that I loved. It spoke to me again today. Its title is Funny. The poet is Anna Kamienska. I know that I posted it on here previously during the Easter season.

What's it like to be a human  the bird asked
I myself don't know it's being held prisoner by your skin  while reaching infinity  being a captive of your scrap of time  while touching eternity  being hopelessly uncertain  and helplessly hopeful being a needle of frost  and a handful of heat  breathing in the air  and choking wordlessly  it's being on fire  with a nest made of ashes  eating bread  while filling up on hunger it's dying without love  it's loving through death
That's funny said the bird and flew effortlessly up into the …

Shadows of Darkness and Light

Yesterday the sun finally, finally, came out for more than a brief second. The results were glorious!

Capturing all the shadows became a fun adventure. After I looked at the second picture above, I realized that I received a card in the mail the day before bearing striking similarities.

It feels appropriate to have one sun picture and one moon picture as we celebrate the Solstice today. In fact, the title of the image on the card is "Winter Solstice." The light is returning. I had an experience of light between last night and this morning.

I was in our newly renovated sunroom last night. I noticed that there was a plastic turtle in the one pot, which I had never noticed before.

This morning I was reading a great piece from the "On Being" blog titled All Creation Waits. Gayle Boss writes about creating her own Advent traditions with her family, including making her own Advent calendar for her children. This calendar has animals behind "the doors" rather th…

In-Between Time

Much of the monastery still lives in blue, but then one turns the corner...

I love this! We are getting very close. In fact, the O Antiphons are beginning to adorn our "cloister walk."

Today we heard a great homily from Fr. Jim about Mary and Joseph, their relationship with God and their willingness to do the unlikely. He began by referencing Simon and Garfunkel's version of Silent Night with the 7 o'clock news being read simultaneously.

We had just heard something similar, listening to headlines interspersed with today's readings. Powerful, indeed.

It seems that we are here again, living in that unavoidable liminal space where the full paradox of light and darkness plays out. We don't know what comes next, but we keep moving forward. I loved Jim's last lines of his homily. "You must go into the unknown; after all, that's how we received our Savior."

These words are yet another call to echo Simon and Garfunkel, "Hello darkness, my old f…

A Worthwhile Read

I can't imagine I am the only one who does a quick pre-scroll check for an article's length before deciding if it's a worthy investment of my time.
So, I will keep this short and sweet. I read a longer-than-I-usually-read article about Obama from The Atlantic between last night and this morning. Though it is long, I have no regrets. Click on this sentence to read.
Let us walk in the holy presence.
image c/o

The Annunciation (by Denise Levertov)

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn,
Greece, VIc

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
                              Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
                              The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
                                             God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
                              Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
                    More often
those moments
     when roads of light and storm
     open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with rel…

Advent poetry

I think my favorite poem to read during Advent comes (unsurprisingly) from Mary Oliver. It is called, Making the House Ready for the Lord. I think I like it so much because it blends together Mary and Martha so beautifully. See what you think.

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
     still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
     uproar of mice -- it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
     and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances -- but it is the season
     when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
     while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
     in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
     come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know


Great Liturgical Season, or Greatest?

One of my favorite jokes Stephen Colbert used to do on The Report came during his "Better Know a District" segment. In these interviews with congresspeople, Colbert would ask the Democrats, "President Bush: great president or greatest president?" Hilarity ensued.

Lately I have been reflecting on perspective, how one word can have myriad connotations, how one person's pleasure is another's pain, you get the drift. Hopefully, the recognition of this reality leads me to less judgment and more dialogue. It's okay that someone has a different perspective, but it is good to understand how it forms and why someone holds that particular view.

It can also lead to humility, knowing we are only human and real truth rests with God. Heck, even the word humility has approximately one million different connotations. In my Advent journal that I am keeping, I wrote a haiku about perspective.

Mary – sweet and tame? Let me hear you say “Yes” to God.
One reason why I love Adv…

Stop. Look. Listen.

I've been told that the theme for novitiate is "Stop. Look. Listen." Thus far I have found it to be true that I have been able to do each of these in a more heightened way. I never realized how many birds stay as it gets colder!

A few weeks ago I was walking and noticed something new again.

This little leaf was just hanging on to the rail somehow; I didn't want to touch it for fear it would fall, but I was amazed at how it managed to stay put. For the first time (that I can remember, at least) I have noticed individual leaves detaching from trees, too. I am certainly learning a lot about presence right now. But rather than try to figure out what it all means, I will leave you with a poem, Content, from David Ignatow instead.

          I should be content
          to look at a mountain
          for what it is
          and not as a comment
          on my life.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Prepare the Way

It is amazing how overnight we transform into Advent people. It just feels like Advent now, with two hauntingly beautiful instrumental versions of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" at morning praise, Advent hymn books, and a particularly gorgeous Advent wreath adorning the center of chapel. Yesterday you didn't even have to look too closely to see the chapel turn blue. I was able to catch a few glimpses yesterday and this morning. Remember how I said it is hard to find new angles for stained-glass photos? Well, with mirrors underneath our Advent wreath, my work just got easier!
This Advent I am working on a special sort of journal for my art as meditation journey. It combines prose with haiku in a style of writing called haibun. In addition to the journal I am creating, I will play around here a bit too!
monastery in blue it's beginning to look a lot like Advent
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Curiosity and Gratitude

Two Saturdays ago I participated in a poetry workshop focusing on the works of Mary Oliver. It was a wonderful post-election pick-me-up. For me, the most powerful part was introducing ourselves while sharing our favorite Mary Oliver poem and our reasons for choosing that particular piece.

I shared At the River Clarion. While lengthier than most of her poems, Mary still seems to capture such a great depth of the human experience in one work. The sharing of each participant was a beautiful practice in listening; it moved me.

Recently, someone shared another favorite Oliver poem with me, What is the greatest gift? The first time this poem entered my life was five years ago upon receiving a copy from a mentor of mine. I also read it again a few weeks ago when it came to mind after listening to a reflection on the ways curiosity can be an antidote to judgment. Since it is a special time of thanks, I give gratitude to this poem and all the people with whom I've shared the words, who tea…

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Over the weekend, we traveled to Villa Maria, PA for another inter-community formation retreat. Our speaker was Amy Hereford, CSJ, a canon and civil lawyer; she spoke on the topic of becoming mystics and prophets in the modern age - quite a unique interdisciplinary kind of woman!

But when we came home, the monastery was without electric. It made for a quiet afternoon of Christmas card making. Tennessee Back Porch, a local band, had set up to practice for a concert, but perhaps couldn't accomplish much sans electricity. Fortunately, the concert is tonight.

This is the most wonderful time of year for our stained-glass windows in the chapel. It is difficult to find new angles for photos, but in this one, you can see some of the band's equipment. As they play their concert tonight, I humbly practiced a beginner's version of "O, Come All Ye Faithful" on the piano this morning!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The low road

I was having a conversation about coming together as community recently, and this poem came to mind. I hope it provides you some good reflection, too. The poet is Marge Piercy; the poem is The low road.

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for di…

Trust the Process

I am now two months into my novitiate. The words I received over and over during a conversation last week were: Trust the process.

They seem quite fitting on many levels right now, if you hear what I'm saying. I mean, I was going to write about how I feel about this election by telling you what happened when I was running today. There was a dog, and usually dogs have electric collars here; the big roads are right at the edge of many yards. This dog started to chase me with no collar in sight. I darted as fast as I could, turned around and yelled, "Stop!" at this evil-looking dog, as if it would understand me. Fortunately I outran it. But, the metaphor might be a little too trite! And, I've told you the story anyway.
During a very good homily this morning we received other words over and over: The work continues. I so desperately want to outrun so many devastating stories of hatred that I am already hearing with torches of love and justice. I want to do that work.

Dream Me, God

A friend posted these words from Dorothee Soelle on Facebook last night. I will be praying with them many times in the days to come.

Dream Me, God
It’s not you who should solve my problems, God, But I yours, God of the asylum-seekers. It’s not you who should feed the hungry, But I who should protect your children From the terror of the banks and armies, It’s not you who should make room for the refugees, But I who should receive you, Hardly hidden God of the desolate
You dreamed me, God, Practicing walking upright And learning to kneel down More beautiful than I am now, Happier than I dare to be Freer than our country allows.
Don’t stop dreaming me, God. I don’t want to stop remembering That I am your tree, Planted by the streams of living water.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Current Joys

As novices, one opportunity we have is Art as Meditation. For this, we work with a sister in community on some sort of creative endeavor. My current art as meditation is writing - specifically poetry. This brings me joy. It also partners nicely with other things that bring me joy.

The trees are just so golden right now. My eyes have been spending much time with this particular one outside my window. Since Wednesday its color has changed quite a bit; it has a much deeper color today. This is a picture from Wednesday.

That golden color brought about a haiku:

That Rumpelstiltskin
Seems to be at work again
Turning leaves to gold.

Another joy can be found right outside my window, too. Last week at our Halloween party, I won a prize during a game - "geometric chime" - it said on the box. I showed it to another sister who likes chimes. Outside our window it now lives along with suet for the birds. Of course, when I went to take a picture, all the birds scattered, but the current "…

Hidden Lives

I am currently reading and discussing James Martin's book, Jesus, with another sister in community. I love the Jesuit priest's writing, and I love sharing the journey with someone else as we read.

One chapter focuses on the hidden life of Jesus: those years of growing up in Nazareth before his public ministry began. Pondering the hidden life of Jesus provides for such a rich reflection. What were the most formative events during those years? How did Mary and Joseph's nurturing affect Jesus? How did Jesus come to recognize his true identity? Was he a bit rebellious?

Then, that easily extends into reflection on other people in our lives. What might have happened in her childhood that leads her to hold this worldview? Were his parents the most formative people in his life? Or maybe was it his teachers? Why does she deal with pain differently than I do? Hopefully this type of reflection opens us up to understanding and inclusion.

Over the past few days I have been watching the…

One Will

This weekend the community and oblates heard reflections on the theme of mercy during our community weekend. One of my favorite bits for reflection was the idea that mercy has a lot to do with our unmet expectations. When someone else doesn't live up to your expectations, how do you react? How do you treat that person? Are you bitter and resentful? Or, do you channel God's mercy and shower that person with compassion?

For me, so much of that has to do with letting go of my will, which is not always the easiest thing. As I reflected, I remembered a reflection that I wrote in response to a part of Macrina Wiederkehr's book, A Tree Full of Angels. In it, she writes about finding nourishment in the "crumbs" of our lives and our hesitations about embracing God's will.

Here are her words:

O Most Powerful One, O Indwelling One, I have no words to bring you into my heart; for already you have emptied yourself into my life. You came uninvited. You are here. But I am afraid…

One White Lily

found one white lily remaining in the courtyard waves the last goodbye

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday Afternoon Pick-Me-Up

It has been dreary and windy here for about the past four days. The willow tree even looks like it's been turned on its side because of the strength of the wind blowing!

In spite of all of this, there is always Dr. Seuss!

Follow this link to enjoy some true and bright wisdom.

Let us walk in the holy presence.


You Are Here

Our weekend at St. Benedict's Monastery in Bristow, VA afforded us a chance to spend some time in Washington, D.C. It was a quite a treat, and all those memories of childhood visits came racing back as we took in the Smithsonian museums.

I didn't realize that this blog post was writing itself through the pictures I was taking, but suddenly I realized a similar theme, which then became the title of this entry.

We began our adventure at the Air and Space Museum, which is my personal favorite, and you would know exactly where I was by plugging in some coordinates.

We also saw the first GPS from 1995. I didn't know that they even existed then, and I am sure that without a brightly-colored screen helping me, I would still be lost if I used this! (This one was used for flight.)

I also didn't know that farmers use GPS to help them for "precision agriculture."

Moving away from Earth, something that I found fascinating was a projection of very recent video on the surf…


The novitiate can be a time of a great growth in self-awareness, for better or least it has been for me during this first month. Yes, I am learning some things about myself where there is plenty of room for growth, but my gifts are also coming into fuller view. Yes, I am learning how critical I can be as an overthinking perfectionist, but I am also seeing where greater patience is paying off when I am able to catch myself first.

It will be interesting to return to Bristow, VA for a formation weekend tomorrow like we did last October with another year of life in the books. Perhaps I will gain some more self-awareness and perspective on the ways I have grown and changed since our last visit.

This morning I received some wonderful and wonderfully appropriate words, words which more-than-adequately describe my present moment:

I assumed whatever happened would be an opportunity for greater expansion of my life. There was never any question about each day being anything other tha…

Synchronous Poetry, Part II

A while back I wrote about "synchronous poetry" in my life; well, it happened again. While I was on retreat before entering the novitiate, one poem upon which I reflected was Covenant by Sr. Margaret Halaska, OSF. A few weeks after that, I came across it again in a book on the Enneagram as I paged through the section on Ones, my Enneagram number.
     The FatherKnocks at my door Seeking a home for his son: 
Rent is cheap, I say.
I don’t want to rent. I want to buy, says God.
I’m not sure I want to sell, but you might come in to look around.
I think I will, says God.
I might let you have a room or two.
I like it, says God. I’ll take the two. You might decide to give me more some day. I can wait, says God.
I’d like to give you more, but it’s a bit difficult. I need some space for me.
I know, says God, but I’ll wait. I like what I see.
Hm, maybe I can let you have another room. I really don’t need that much.
Thanks, says God, I’ll take it. I like what I see.
I’d like to give you the whole hous…

Home Furnishings

I am not shy about the fact that I have rearranged my bedroom six times in the year since I moved into the monastery; last week was the most recent shift. Abba Moses said, "Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything." I just happen to like to change my cell around frequently; it has pretty much always been that way.

This week I challenged myself to go for a run "around the block" each morning after morning prayer. The block is not quite your typical block, and it is just long enough that I feel happy when I reach the end. Today, as I worked against some strong winds, I spotted a table/shelf of sorts "on the curb" for the taking. It caught my eye enough to stop and take a look, but considering I was running, I figured I couldn't tote it along with me. As I thought about it some more I said to myself I would drive back once I finished running. If it was still there, it was meant for me. I had just the spot in my mind where it would fi…

Little Mercies

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Thérèse, the Little Flower. Yesterday was also the last retreat in the SOS series offered here at the Mount. Sister Carolyn has been leading them for 32 years!

I was grateful to participate in a few of Carolyn's SOS retreat days since I arrived here last year, and in fact, it was one of her Holy Week retreats that was a big part of my beginning the discernment process with this community.

The theme of the day yesterday was mercy. We reflected on having mercy for ourselves, for others, mercy's connection with nature, and with justice. I am never less-than-amazed at the wisdom that fills the space when participants begin sharing their own experiences.

The fact of the matter is that Carolyn has been leading these retreats longer than I've been alive. Imagine all the wisdom and spirit that has entered the world as a result - certainly a force of love to be reckoned with. I reflected on just the mercy shown to me throughout the day yesterday, and …


If autumn didn't give way to winter, it might be my favorite season. I resurrect my scarf collection in its fullness...while still wearing sandals; crisp apples are available; you can go for runs in the afternoon more comfortably; and, of course, trees.

What is to come...
The trees give us quite the display before they let go and surrender to the changing seasons. Yesterday as I sat outside, it was impossible to not feel the strong winds, which we've had with us for a few days now. I also noticed that the leaves were still holding strong to their branches in those winds; there is still a bit of dying-to-self to do before they are ready to fall to the ground.
As someone who experiences God in a big way through nature, it feels appropriate to transition into the novitiate as we transition into the season of autumn. Surely God will teach me many essential lessons as I receive the gift of more time to spend experiencing nature.
So, we bless the season (and the transition) with the …


It's not that I don't have ideas or questions to write here right now. In fact, I have so many of them.

Writer's block ensues.


Many things have happened in my life recently that have caused some big ideas to float around in my head, so I will just share them with you instead. I read this fantastic article about asking big questions in community. I listened to not one, not two, but three fantastic episodes of On Being. (Each number has a link attached.) We heard a Vietnam-veteran-turned-Zen-monk speak at the Mount. I have engaged in conversations about all of these things with others who hold big questions with me. I have also found some threads that connect through them all. All the while, I am transitioning into my new routine as a novice.

It makes me a little sleepy sometimes!

But, in my lectio during this time, I have been stuck on the word patience. I think it's the answer. It takes time to see how new ideas and questions might fit into the beliefs and values I…

Playing with the New

One of my first endeavors as I began the novitiate last week was something completely new: piano.

Yes, I played the viola for about one month in fourth grade and the flute for maybe a week longer in fifth, but playing an instrument is a totally foreign concept to me.

So, after learning all about middle C, I began playing songs such as Two Giraffes, Skipping and Stepping, and Our School Band. The first two songs, and I use the term loosely, came from a book for 5-7 year old beginners, but I am happy to report that I have graduated to the next age bracket! My teacher is a recent college grad who is completing a volunteer program through the Benedictine Women's Service Corps. She is living, praying, and working with us for the next nine months, and she is quite a wonderful musician. After listening to me trudge my way through some basics, she has been treating me to some more advanced pieces. Today I got to hear The Wells Fargo Wagon from The Music Man, which took me right back to fi…

We Take a Break From Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Amidst all the sad, frustrating, fill-in-the-blank-with-the-most-fitting-word news right now, I bring you a moment recently brought to me that put a smile on my face and some laughter in my spirit.

While on switchboard (the front desk) the other night, someone came up to me saying, "Who's on first - What's on second - I don't know's on third." Though I had heard of Abbott and Costello before, and watching it jogged my memory, I certainly had forgotten about it.

I am a big fan of wordplay. So, here are eight brilliantly written minutes of comedy to counteract all that other stuff, which is sadly and frustratingly being programmed to become the norm. Enjoy!

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Compare and Contrast

Comparing and contrasting was one of my favorites as a teacher: characters in a story, factors of different numbers, regions of Pennsylvania, anything really - it would go into a Venn diagram.

I recently came across something new to compare and contrast. Many people know the Mary Oliver classic Wild Geese, but the other day, into my inbox came Wendell Berry's own The Wild Geese. I hadn't heard of this poem before, but here's a chance for you to create your own Venn diagram.

Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.


Besides bicycles, another piece of art on my wall is a print of a painting by Julia Fehrenbacher titled "Beginnings."

It felt like an appropriate picture with which to spend some time as I began my novitiate year yesterday. I enjoyed the gift of much quiet time before evening praise last night when I was welcomed into the next stage of initial monastic formation. In this stage, I am a beginner, a learner, a starter on a monastic journey.

The entire evening (and day leading up to it) was so full of presence; as I reflect there is no one moment that stands out so much more than any others. Yes, there were the hugs I received from each sister. And yes, there were many sweet sentiments expressed in notes and well wishes. And yes, there was a lovely meal shared at the table. But it was the sum of all these moments that made the day so special.

Because of this it is a bit challenging to put the experience into words, and when I thought about it, it felt appropriate to feel that wa…

Sharing on the Journey

In our community room you will find a table that we call the "share table." On the share table you can place your old treasures so that they might become someone else's new treasures. There will you encounter quite a variety of goodies - clothing, books, cards, games, and more... You name it, and you could probably find it there at sometime or another. I am sure most sisters have a good story about something spotted on the table. In fact, the purse I now carry was a share table find!

Sometimes you also just receive treasures, like this gift that I received last year when I entered the postulancy.

Now, it is one year later, and I will officially enter the novitiate on Saturday evening. The journey of this past year has been quite a wonderful ride. So how wonderful that a few days ago I stumbled upon this treasure on the share table!

Quite the gift, I must say! They both now hang on my wall as lovely reminders of the journey I'm on. And here is my favorite view from my…

Words. Words. Words.

Many people know that I am a voracious journaler and have been since 2009. I was journaling before then, but it wasn't quite so frequently. I can still picture my fuzzy orange journal with Tigger sewn onto the cover from eighth grade. Now I keep a folder of word documents on my computer titled, "Words. Words. Words."

On retreat this week one thing I did was trace my salvation history, reflecting on the "big, out loud, up close" places and spaces where I felt God working in my life. To do this, I began reading some of my old journals, primarily from 2010 when I was doing big life discernment without really knowing what the word "discernment" was. That was the year was when I decided I would pass up using my business degree in favor of entering the world of inner-city education - a very important piece of my salvation.

To go back and read some of things that were happening inside me, where and how the Spirit was leading me, was very affirming of my jour…

Be on Your Best Behavior!

This upcoming week I will be retreating as I prepare to enter the novitiate. Behave while I am gone! To hold you over, a poem I love (by Tamara Madison) titled Behaving.

All day I have scowled and looked askance,
thrashing in a tide of hormones. I want
to make the world act the right way
and it has resisted. It will not see the obvious.
I want to tear out its eyes and place them
where they cannot help but see.

Until I go outside.

The warm, late-summer afternoon has spun down
to a balmy evening. A brassy sunset casts light
from somewhere in the sea. This light flows
around the trunks of sycamores arrayed in a row
and through their fluttering branches;
the air is tender on my bare arms and legs
and the world feels for this moment bathed in grace.

At last, I realize, the world is behaving.
At last, says the world, she is behaving.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Liturgy of Life

When Miriam Therese Winter came to present for our April community weekend, she talked about how we need to turn life into a liturgy. While the Eucharistic liturgy is most central to our monastic life, the Liturgy of the Hours is our daily form of communal worship. With its "hours" marked by different prayers (read more specifics here), the Divine Office, as it is also named, calls monastics to prayer throughout the day. As I reflected on our visit to our sisters in Port Allegany this weekend I realized that I found a liturgy of life there.

Early, early in the morning, you could look out the front window for a most beautiful view, including stars in the lingering darkness of the sky. Their chapel is in the front of the house. My favorite thing hanging on the walls is a favorite quote from The Little Prince.

Both mornings when we woke up, I got to fry up fresh eggs from the farm where our sisters live. With fresh coffee and peaches, plus good conversation, I couldn&…