Sunday, January 31, 2016

Of Time Made Holy

Some of my current formation reading has taken me deep into the heart of monastic liturgical prayer. I read about the tradition, the evolution, the purpose, and through my reading, I have gained a deeper appreciation for our celebration of the Eucharist and for the Liturgy of the Hours.

I also wrote earlier about my class on the psalms. I just wrapped up that class this past week, and one of my assignments was to embrace my inner David and write a psalm of my own.

At first the task seemed a bit daunting, but the psalms use practically every emotion to convey what we want to say to God.

So, I thought about what I want to say to God and worked from there. What do I most deeply desire God to do for me? What do I want to say? Here is what transpired.

Praise to You, O God, for the love you bestow upon me.
Blessed are You, O God, for the blessings you lavish upon me.

Gift for the world – Light in our midst –
Song of our hearts – Joy without end –
All glory be Yours.

Turn me into a gift for the world.
Turn me into a light in the darkness.
Turn me into music for oppressed ears.
Turn me into boundless joy.

I desire to become, O God.
I desire to live into Your truth.
I desire to create life with you.
May my desire be the spark.

For I know that in my becoming,
And in my living and creating,
You, O God, delight.

Your delight in me is beyond measure –
Numberless as the stars and the sand,
Great as the heat of sun,
Alive as the seed bursting through soil.

Eternal One, make my desire eternal.
And in my endless desire, hear my praise for You.
For I know that my becoming, my living, my creating,
Are all wrapped in You.

May my praise always be alive,
As the seed bursting through the soil.
May my praise always blossom,
Into a life lived in gratitude for You.

Gift for the world – Light in our midst –
Song of our hearts – Joy without end –

All glory be Yours.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Courageous Freedom

Community is wonderful for many reasons. One of the reasons can be explained by a couple of lines from the Prayer of Oscar Romero:

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

The past few days I have received another gift of community: blog ideas.

My most recent post about homemade toothpaste was prompted by a sister's suggestion. I have another entry formulating in my mind that came about through conversation as well. And, on Sunday, as I was singing a song down the hallway that we sang during Liturgy, someone said to me, "Sounds like a blog post!" It just happens to be that the lyrics to the song are:

We are many parts. We are all one body. And the gifts we have, we are given to share.

Yes, it goes right along with the second reading from Scripture (First Corinthians), which we heard this past Sunday:

Brothers and sisters:
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

You can see that while I am learning and witnessing what it means to live community during my postulancy, I am given much fodder for reflection, especially while also witnessing our current political climate where community appears nearly impossible at most times.

So, I started to think about what makes community hard. For me, one answer is trust. As a perfectionist who always like to do her best, it can be really hard to give over control and trust that someone else will get the job done and maybe even do it better than I could, to say that this is the time for feet to do the work, not the hands. Oh, so much vulnerability involved!

Nonetheless, it is a freeing idea, as the prayer reminds us, "There is a sense of liberation in realizing that." It is much easier to walk on our feet than to walk on our hands, after all. I often wonder when those who lead our country will begin to recognize the freedom, too. Perhaps it might happen if the leaders on both sides of the aisle can admit that they cannot all be the best at everything and agree to work together. That would take some major courage and vulnerability on their part.

But this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, right?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Natural Evolution

On any given evening, there are many conversations to encounter in our monastery's dining room. Some are a bit more "standard" than others, but the other night we had an interesting and winding conversation over dinner. Topics ranged from Golden Snow Globe, a website that keeps track of the snowiest cities in the U.S., to natural products. This began when I said, "I just finished using my first container of homemade toothpaste."

Now, I have been joining the all-natural bandwagon in a few areas of my life recently. Toothpaste was an easy next step given the ingredients I already had on hand and how easy it is to make. I just mixed equal parts baking soda and coconut oil; then, I added a few drops of peppermint essential oil, and voilà!

Last time I just mixed up the toothpaste in a tupperware container, but this time I got a bit more sophisticated about it. I put the ingredients into a sandwich bag. (This made the mixing process much more fun!) Then, I cut a small hole at the tip of the bag, and voilà - a tube of toothpaste. (Which I then put inside the tupperware container.)

As my use of natural products evolves, as well as the storage I use for them (my shampoo and conditioner currently live in ketchup and mustard squirt bottles), I am gaining a bit more of an appreciation for what we can create ourselves.

I am also thinking of a quote I heard on a retreat once. Evolution is God learning. I love that one.

This morning I finished re-reading the wonderful book, Atchison Blue, about the journalist Judith Valente and her time at Mount Saint Scholastica monastery. In it she writes: In the Benedictine worldview, success lies in the process, the small steps of becoming.

We are all becoming something new in our own ways all the time. I am becoming a bit more natural with my use of homemade shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste, but more so, I am becoming a bit more myself in the process of becoming a Benedictine. Isn't evolution wonderful?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Morning, Noon, and Night

Just like other students, I, too, returned to class in the new year.

This time the subject is the Psalms. You see, the Psalms are one of the biggest parts of monastic life. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is how we pray as a community, which means that over the course of five weeks we pray just about every Psalm together. We pray three times a day, though there are traditionally seven times for prayer in a single day.

In my class, we have talked about the image of the Psalms seeping into our bones, allowing them to slowly become part of us. It is a beautiful image of gradual conversion.

With one hundred fifty psalms from which to choose, it is hard to choose a favorite as I am being exposed to them in a much more intimate way than ever before. I used to have (and still probably do have) a personal fondness for Psalm 27, but the simplicity of 131 speaks to me tonight. Here is Nan Merrill's take:

Most gracious Presence, let me not
          be arrogant,
     nor boast of my virtuous deeds;
Let me not seek fame or set my heart
     on the riches of the world.
Help me to calm and quiet my soul,
     like a child quieted at its
          mother's breast;
     like a child that is quieted,
          be so my soul.

I shall be at peace in You,
          O Breath of my breath,
     from this time forth and

Do you have a favorite Psalm? Feel free to share with me!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Matter of Perspective, part deux

At dinner last night, one of our sisters said she wished we could sing Christmas music as long as we get to sing Easter music.

I agree. The music makes me joyful, as it should. It is the season of joy - the joy of knowing that God is here with us.

I recently read a fantastic piece by Sr. Ilia Delio titled Mercy and the Humility of God. In it she writes, "Yet, this is the mystery of Christmas — love bending low, so low as to be humble and hidden in the visible faces of you and me."

This means the way of love is the way of bending low so as to encounter humanity face-to-face, to come into communion with humanity face-to-face - as God did at Christmas.

Now, I have to admit, I am getting a bit worried that you all might be thinking that my blog is simply a way for me to post all the pictures that I take at the lake. Well, the truth is, the lake is such an important part of my spiritual life, a way for me to come into communion. So, I share that here in my writing. And this past week I came into communion in a big way.

About a month ago, I wrote about the perspective I had climbing a hill at the lake. Since then, winter has arrived in Erie, and getting to the top of hill has been a bit of a challenge. The other day as I approached the lake, I could barely even tell the water was there.

So, I got a bit closer...

And, a bit closer...

And, a bit closer yet...

Wham! Full communion with the lake! But, this couldn't have happened if I didn't get up close. While in that previous post I recognized the importance of a "wide view," recently I have been paying attention to the other side. As Benedict says, "Balance." I have been using this "up close" reflection the past few days as I ponder mercy and communion. 

As we move closer and closer into the circle of God's Love, the circle of mercy and relationship, we recognize that we cannot enter without others. But, often times, at least for me, that's hard to do when I don't get up close. As a human that means listening, forgiving, and touching, among other things.

As I begin to listen more and more to someone's story, as I practice forgiveness, and as I take someone's hand or give a hug, I practice mercy and build relationship. I do the work of Christmas.

Let us listen, forgive, and touch so that we might grasp in some way the mystery of Christmas. As Delio writes, "Only a humble God who bends so low to pitch it all away in love can heal us and make us whole."

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Weather is NOT a constant

While I slowly learn that change is a slow, gradual process, nature is not aiding in my learning.

Here is the lake on Sunday:

And here is the lake on Tuesday:

Quite the time of year to decide that I want to go for a walk after ministry each day!

Stay safe and warm!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Constants and Variables

There are some things in my life that I like to stay constant: time for lectio, reading poetry, opportunities for solitude, encountering nature, interaction with kids. They all help me experience God.

And, there are some things that I didn't know I didn't need to be constant: journaling daily minutiae and Internet time.

I recently decided that I would "restructure" my days to give myself more time for those life giving experiences that I mentioned first. That basically means learning to keep my laptop closed. Until I tried this restructuring, I didn't realize how much time I spent clicking from link to link online, engaging my curiosity about trivial things. Do I really need to know the top 50 restaurants in the world? While intriguing, probably not.

It is taking a conscious effort to hold back when I feel the urge to get up from the chair to investigate something about which I am reading, instead staying engaged in what I am doing in the present moment. A very conscious effort. But, like I said steps.

So, there are things I am willing to change. But, what happens when the things I like to be constant have to change?

My main form of reading poetry had been a wonderful online project called A Year of Being Here. Each day I received a new mindfulness-related poem in my inbox and savored the words, but the project ended on the first day of the new year. When a new poem did not arrive on the second day of the year, I felt a bit sad. So, I had to create a new constant.

With some of my extra morning time that I don't spend checking Facebook, I decided that I would start reading a Mary Oliver poetry book cover-to-cover. Maybe I will make it through my entire Mary collection, maybe not. (It's a pretty big stack!) Either way, I am enjoying my new constant so far.

Maybe you'll enjoy this poem, too. It's title is Bone.

Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what the soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape --

and so, last week,
when I found on the beach
the ear bone
of a pilot whale that may have died

hundreds of years ago, I thought
maybe I was close
to discovering something --
for the ear bone

is the portion that lasts longest
in any of us, man or whale; shaped
like a squat spoon
with a pink scoop where

once, in the lively swimmer's head,
it joined its two sisters
in the house of hearing,
it was only

two inches long --
and I thought: the soul
might be like this --
so hard, so necessary --

yet almost nothing.
Beside me
the gray sea
was opening and shutting its wave-doors,

unfolding over and over
its time-ridiculing roar;
I looked but I couldn't see anything
through its dark-knit glare;

yet don't we all
know, the golden sand
is there at the bottom,
though our eyes have never seen it,
nor can our hands ever catch it

lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts --
certainties --
and what the soul is, also

I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,

but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
through the pale-pink morning light.

Are there any constants calling you to change right now?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Eucharistic Play

On Monday I returned to my ministry at SBC. After the holidays, people often go on diets or try to eat less, but for me, that will be a challenge of sorts.

You see, just about every day with the kids I receive some sort of plastic meal - spaghetti, bread, pizza, milk - you name it, and it's been offered. And, on top of that, there's always seconds, or thirds, to go around.

Play is the most important part of the day for any young, budding chef...I mean, kid. It's not just chefs - it's construction workers, archeologists, doctors, homemakers, and librarians, but for me, there's something very special going on at the Little Tikes kitchen each day.

During one of our formation classes we joked about people associating Benedictine hospitality with tea and cookies because you knew when you showed up at the door of the convent, they would be offered. I joke that the teachers at SBC practice perennial hospitality as we engage in a steady cycle of feeding kids and subsequently changing diapers or taking them to the bathroom most of the day.

But, by allowing kids to play "kitchen," our children practice hospitality, too. As I was "eating" my fifth plate of purple Play-Doh spaghetti and meatballs yesterday, and the sixth helping was entering the aluminum oven, I heard the question again, "More?"

Of course. More, please!

Today, as I recalled the memory of yesterday's feast, waves of Eucharist passed through me. By feeding the crowds with only a few handfuls of Play-Doh, our children are learning to be Christ to the other. How could I say no to another helping?

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

my diet

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Epiphanies and Seagulls

Today we were blessed with a liturgy full of music and life as we celebrate the Epiphany. The second verse of the gathering hymn went like this (from the song, As With Gladness):

As joyful steps they sped
to that lowly manger bed,
there to bend the knee before
one whom heaven and earth adore;
so may we with willing feet
ever seek the mercy seat.

We were also blessed with a homily that reminded us of the way that strangers came together, following a sign, to see the newborn Christ. The final line of homily was: "There is no turning back, only moving forward."

I went for a walk between liturgy and noon dinner. A lot of wind has accompanied the snow we received over the weekend, creating some great waves in our Great Lake. The seagulls were waiting at the shoreline, and as the water got close, they would take off. With the wind blowing against them, they appeared to be floating in place mid-air - a very cool sight to witness, and inadequately captured in the clip that follows. Whether they were attempting to move forward, or were just having fun, I'm glad I caught a glimpse.

It reminded me of a poem called "Blackbirds" by Julie Cadwallader-Staub. When I replace the word "blackbirds" with "seagulls" and think about the events of the Epiphany, it gives me a bit of hope to move forward, too.

I am 52 years old, and have spent
truly the better part
of my life out-of-doors
but yesterday I heard a new sound above my head
a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air

and when I turned my face upward
I saw a flock of blackbirds
rounding a curve I didn't know was there
and the sound was simply all those wings
just feathers against air, against gravity
and such a beautiful winning
the whole flock taking a long, wide turn
as if of one body and one mind.

How do they do that?

Oh if we lived only in human society
with its cruelty and fear
its apathy and exhaustion
what a puny existence that would be

but instead we live and move and have our being
here, in this curving and soaring world
so that when, every now and then, mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives
and when, even more rarely, we manage to unite and move together
toward a common good,

we can think to ourselves:

ah yes, this is how it's meant to be.

Let us walk in the holy presence.