Tuesday, December 27, 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 air

For the past few weeks I have taken up a new task of helping to feed the animals - throwing out rotten apples for the deer and replacing suet for the birds. One gift of the novitiate has been extra time to watch the animals outside. The birds, too, received a gift - a Christmas gift!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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 than cartoons or chocolates. She also included a story for each animal that she would read aloud.

"Pregnant with my second child, I set about making an Advent calendar. The pictures I found myself drawing behind the little cut-out doors were of creatures. Behind door number one, a turtle at the bottom of a pond. Behind door number two, a diamond-skinned snake. Then a loon, a wild goose, a bear, a doe, a crow ... As a companion to the calendar I made a little book. Each December day after Kai opened a door, I read a bit of a poem or song or natural history that linked the creature behind that door to the heart of Advent:
“Turtle is buried now in mud at the bottom of the pond. Encased in darkness, she is utterly still. She waits...”
I drew a turtle behind the door of December 1 because, days before, my son’s godmother had sent me her meditation on turtle as a symbol of the soul in its dark season."

The turtle "as a symbol of the soul in its dark season." That description brought me light as I thought about the turtle I spotted only a few hours before. I think about myself in these final days of Advent.

Val is utterly still. She waits.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

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 friend." Yes, the meaning is different, but we must embrace the darkness. Last weekend we talked about the protection that the womb provides.

Emerging from the dark womb, we encounter light. Even better than Santa, Jesus is just around the corner.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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 flickr.com

Sunday, December 11, 2016

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 relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                   God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
                                   only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                              Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                              raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                         consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
               courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

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

     that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

a few weary sunflowers

Sunday, December 4, 2016

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 Advent so much is the gospel passages about Mary. If there ever was a good role model for openness, she is certainly it!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

another perspective on our Advent wreath

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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 teach me to be open to all life.

Blessings of Thanksgiving to you all.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

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.

(the wild geese announcing our place in the family of things)

Monday, November 21, 2016

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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 dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

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.

But, I am currently living in a different space as a novice. For the first time since I graduated from college I do not have direct, daily contact with inner-city kids. That reality struck me as I realized how much I want to be in a classroom post-election, teaching kids what community looks like and how we form it with love.

Here is where the trust comes. Whatever is happening to me during this novitiate is teaching me exactly the skills I need to continue the work. The presence that I am learning through some quieter ministries, the stillness that brings me focus, the listening that gives me perspective - I need all these things if I want to do loving work.

I, too, have to trust this election process, as much as everything inside me resists it. I have to trust that it is calling us to greater, better work for those who suffer at the hands of hatred. I have to trust that the work of God continues and is bigger than any of this. I have to trust that love will always trump hate.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

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.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

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 "double feature" on the shepherd's hook brings me joy. Now that I am back inside there are about a dozen birds hanging out.

The other morning it had been raining. When it stopped, this poem came.

The bird outside my window
Bellows a sound more jarring
     than usual.
"What's wrong?" I ask.
"Oh, nothing," he replies.
"I just want to make sure
everyone can hear me say
that the rain has stopped."

Praise God for life's small joys, which seem so big at times.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

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 shamrock plant in my room come back to life. I had re-potted it with poor results. Another sister had recently cut her own plant back, and it re-sprouted, so I tried the same. Here you can see the difference in just one day -- just imagine the hidden life happening underneath the soil!

Observing this reminded me of a poem called "Fueled" by Marcie Hans.

by a million
wings of fire-
the rocket tore a tunnel
through the sky-
and everybody cheered.
only by a thought from God-
the seedling
urged its way
through thicknesses of black-
and as it pierced
the heavy ceiling of the soil-
and launched itself
up into outer space -

May we clap for and celebrate all those hidden experiences that make us who we are.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

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 to reach out and touch you.
I am afraid of falling in love.
Don't you see that if I fall in love
I will have to surrender to your embrace.
I will have to let you love me as I am,
with all my imperfections.
I will have to give you my will.
O God, I love my own will!
I am not ready to give it up.

And here is a part of the response I wrote:

My will, God?
My will is to be impressive,
My will is to be right,
Usually in someone else’s eyes,
Not in the One’s eyes,
Your eyes,
The only eyes that can truly judge me,
Which judge me with love, always,
Which judge me with mercy, always.

And, You,
You have ideas for me, God,
Great ideas –

Because your will?
(Not that I need to be right about this,
But I think I’ve listened enough to know.)
Is to reassure me
that I am impressive,
in your loving, merciful eyes,
That I am enough,
in your loving, merciful eyes,
That your will is what is right.

Help me fall into your will
In every moment,
Your will of love and of mercy,
Let your will be my true crumb,
So that I might recognize my loaf as Yours.

Let us fall into God's mercy.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

One White Lily

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

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

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.

(c/o brightdrops.com)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

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 surface of the moon.

We moved over to the Museum of Natural History next, where we saw a great IMAX about our national parks. Then, we were off to American History, where we were reminded how far we've come with technology over the years.

And, as we journeyed back to the monastery, I got to see a feature on Google Maps that I hadn't seen yet - notifications when you reach a new state - the GPS equivalent of honking your horn!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


The novitiate can be a time of a great growth in self-awareness, for better or worse...at 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 than an unmitigated gift, a daily occasion holding countless possibilities of growth and newness. (Joyce Rupp)

How can we hold an attitude like this throughout our entire lives? Awareness seems pretty important! Here are a few things that raised my awareness of the nature world on recent walks.

(I could hardly believe my eyes! I could see the eyeballs on this praying mantis!) 

(The clarity of the lake water gave me pause.) 

(The colors of the morning sky never cease to amaze me.)

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

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 Father
     Knocks 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 house
     but I’m not sure –

     Think on it, says God. I wouldn’t put you out.
     Your house would be mine and my son would live in it.
     You’d have more space than you’d ever had before.

     I don’t understand at all.

     I know, says God, but I can’t tell you about that.
     You’ll have to discover it for yourself.
     That can only happen if you let him have the whole house.

     A bit risky, I say.

     Yes, says God, but try me.

     I’m not sure – I’ll let you know.

     I can wait, says God. I like what I see.

I cannot imagine a time in life when this poem wouldn't be a good reminder and reflection. It feels especially fitting in these beginning weeks of the novitiate - a reminder of God's infinite love for me and an opportunity to reflect on the call to return everything to my Creator. Noticing God at work in my life always leads to new questions arising in my heart.

Do I live out of a response to God's love for me?
Am I living a life in which I am answering my call?

I imagine I'll be encountering this poem a few more times down the road!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

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 fit in my new arrangement.

Now, I'm sure you're dying to know: Was it still there?

You betcha! But, there was a problem. The table had a third short shelf on the other side making it symmetrical. And, as you can see, I couldn't open my desk drawers with it there. I realized that I could remove that side because of the way it was assembled. Off I went looking for a screwdriver. When it wasn't the size I needed, I found one of the wonderful guys who works for us, and he had just the tools I needed to help me out. After a nice wiping off, it is a welcome addition to my monastic cell!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

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 I was overwhelmed.

St. Thérèse was so overwhelmed by God's love and mercy that she knew her calling before the age when we can legally learn how to drive here in the U.S. She knew that the path to God was found in little ways of embracing God's will over her own. She knew how boundless God's mercy is. And, another fact of the matter is that we most often experience mercy in little ways rather than big ones: someone holding a door for another, a friend making sure you are okay after a long day, finding just the right words to fit a situation, a cup of hot coffee on a cool morning - the list is just as boundless.

Even when I am in the worst of moods, which, yes, does happen from time to time, I am grateful that it doesn't often take long before I am able to recognize God's mercy working in my life again. That is grace at work. Another grace yesterday was Carolyn's reminder: "Mercy, forgiveness, and justice all fall under the umbrella of compassion." Ah yes, the ever-important compassion.

I have been reading some Thich Nhat Hahn recently, and I came across this fitting quote this morning:

When your mind is liberated your heart floods with compassion: compassion for yourself, for having undergone countless sufferings because you were not yet able to relieve yourself of false views, hatred, ignorance, and anger; and compassion for others because they do not yet see and so are still imprisoned by false views, hatred, and ignorance and continue to create suffering for themselves and for others. Now you look at yourself and at others with the eyes of compassion, like a saint who hears the cry of every creature in the universe and whose voice is the voice of every person who has seen reality in perfect wholeness.

These words were a bit of mercy today, and I carry them with me as I continue the journey of liberation from everything holding me back from communion with the universe. I pray that you, too, will experience some little piece of God's mercy that will free you in a big way.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


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 words of Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr:

An Autumn Blessing

Blessed are you, autumn,
chalice of transformation,
you lift a cup of death to our lips
and we taste new life.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of the heart's yearning,
you usher us into places of mystery
and, like the leaves, we fall trustingly
into eternal, unseen hands.

Blessed are you, autumn,
with your flair for drama
you call to the poet in our hearts,
"return to the earth, become good soil;
wait for new seeds."

Blessed are you, autumn,
you turn our faces toward the west.
Prayerfully reflecting on life's transitory nature
we sense all things moving toward life-giving death.

Blessed are you, autumn,
you draw us away from summer's hot breath.
As your air becomes frosty and cool
you lead us to inner reflection.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of so much bounty.
You invite us to imitate your generosity
in giving freely from the goodness of our lives,
holding nothing back.

Blessed are you, autumn,
your harvesting time has come.
As we gather your riches into our barns,
reveal to us our own inner riches
waiting to be harvested.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of surrender,
you teach us the wisdom of letting go
and you draw us into new ways of living.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of unpredictability.
You inspire us to be flexible
to learn from our shifting moods.

Blessed are you, autumn,
feast of thanksgiving.
You change our hearts into fountains of gratitude
as we receive your gracious gifts.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


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 already hold. You've got to try 'em on a bit. Patience.

So, it feels pretty safe to assume that God's message to me came through an Internet search I was doing this afternoon as I looked for some words.

I will take that blessing and be patient with it. May these months be the same for you, in whatever way you need them to be.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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 fifth grade chorus!

I thought piano would be a good undertaking for me because I knew that if I used my head too much, it wouldn't work. That has already proven true. When I don't sing along, I get lost looking at the notes on the page, and I quickly make mistakes. When I do sing along, my head has somewhere else to go. Today I even decided what might make more sense for a brain that works the way mine does. I mean, shouldn't all the C's either be on lines or in spaces, not both? Then, I decided to figure out where the note "Z" would be on the keys; "Z sharp" was our next finding!

One comment I received when I said I was learning the piano was, "It will be good for you to do something that doesn't come naturally." I think this is true; for a perfectionist, playing it safe is often the best solution, not playing an instrument where letting go and letting the music lead proves better.

So, say some prayers for me (and for my teacher!) as we embrace lots of newness in our lives!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

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.

(c/o youtube.com)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

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.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wendell Berry
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

Similarities? I love 'em both!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(c/o teachbytes.com)

Sunday, September 11, 2016


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 way. As we begin something new, just as when children begin life, we don't yet have the words to articulate our experience.

As someone who loves words, this could easily feel frustrating, but here in this moment, I am okay with it. Yesterday just was, and what it was was the just-right beginning as I continue to articulate who I am by living my monastic journey.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

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 journey on two wheels yesterday morning.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

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 journey so far. I knew that entering corporate America would not be authentic, and I knew that teaching was calling me. I knew my faith was forming, and I knew God was working in real ways. Going back into these memories was a beautiful experience for me; I felt so blessed by the gift of life during that time.

I felt that same way during my retreat this past week. God's presence was so close and so personal, as I very much experienced continuous moments of salvation throughout my days among the trees. One evening I opened up some old files that I had saved on my computer: one was a poem about a topic we had discussed a few nights earlier, another was an article about the Rule of Benedict that I saved to my computer way back in 2011 before I even knew who Benedictines were, some were my own words that reminded me of the Spirit that has always been present and moving in my life. It was amazing to re-discover all these beautiful words.

And then Friday came. It was time for me to pack up and return back to the Mount. As I walked along the trail, I saw a stone that looked a bit out of place for the surroundings. I looked down and noticed something written on it. I looked a little closer, and there it was --

God is always at work saving us with Love. That often happens through relationships with others, with nature, with whatever brings us to fullness. But, the silence and solitude of retreat allow us to experience the Divine in even deeper, truer ways. Thank you all for your words of support and encouragement as I continue the journey; I am grateful.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

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't have asked for a better breakfast! That long, thin, white line that you see horizontally across the center of the picture is bales of hay wrapped up.

On Sunday morning, we traveled to the small town of Genesee for Mass. Our bishop was presiding, and the community had a lovely gathering with hospitality after the liturgy ended. I think it was the smallest parish I've ever seen; I stood in the last row of pews to take this picture!

In the middle of the day on Saturday, we traveled into town to buy corn from a local grower. I was grateful to feast on so much fresh corn over the weekend. We also feasted on fresh tomatoes from the garden. Yum!

We were able to take two walks along the road Friday and Saturday afternoon. Going just a little north, we came across a church with an old cemetery. You could barely even read some of the tombstones since the dates were from the 1800's.

Yes, we did pray, too! It was actually my favorite thing about the weekend. This was because we prayed from the same psalter that we use at the Mount, at the same time that our community prays. It created an authentic connection that was quite powerful for me. The family dog, Ben, the most gentle dog I've ever met, even came inside to pray with us!

Before we retired, we played a few games, including a favorite: Rummikub. Then, before we went to sleep, we prayed a short version of Compline, which included the Salve Regina. Of course, as we played games, we could always see some life outside the window. Here are the alpacas that live on the farm.

One sad part of farming has to be separating the mother cows from the calves. This just happened to happen on Saturday during our stay. Throughout the entire night, we could hear the mothers crying for their children - so sad! You can see some of the herd closer and in the distance.

What a liturgy we experienced!

Let us walk in the holy presence.