Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Moment at Heart

I get tired of reading all the reflections on how busy we are, and perhaps I shouldn't spend my time reading them, but...

I did read a piece on my dear On Being blog yesterday by Omid Safi titled, The Disease of Being Busy. What was different about this reflection for me was that he suggested something that I believe might actually help us pause, might not stop making us busy (since it feels inevitable at this point), but might just help us grow in compassion for others, too. Safi writes:

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this
haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

Wow. How is your heart doing at this very moment? Imagine what might happen to us if we asked that question...and listened.

Over the weekend I was talking to a friend about the courage it takes to share yourself; she referenced this blog in particular. It can be challenging to know which parts of my life I want to share, and certainly risky, too. This question, "How is your heart doing right now?" holds much vulnerability in the answer, as well as for the listener who might not be prepared to hear a given response. It takes courage (or heart!) to engage the question.

If I were to tell you about my heart right now, I would tell you about a heart in transition, a heart trying to hold the sacredness of my novitiate year while also holding the sacredness of being with children. I love being in both those places, and I am in liminal space as I dance between the two. This reality also presents the mystery of being created for Love, which I experience in both places, while also being a limited human being, who can only be in one of those places. Oh, if we could only have it all.

And, I think that is what our hearts struggle with, no matter what form it takes: being a whole heart created by God while also being wholly human. It's messy, and it keeps our lives full as we try to do it all, but maybe sharing our unique heart space at any given moment is the real answer. Maybe feeling more deeply connected to someone else in the messiness and busyness of life is the best we can do.

How is your heart doing at this very moment?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Listen With the Ear of Your Heart

For the past two weeks, it's been parent-teacher conference time at Saint Benedict Center. As I meet with parents and learn more about the whole picture of their children and their development into human beings, I have been reflecting on the ways I am also learning about the nature of God.

Parents are very excited to tell you about their children; I have learned how important it is to let them talk as I make sincere attempts to practice Benedict's art of "listening with the heart of your heart." I try to do this instead of immediately posing questions that will reinforce some of my preconceived notions about the child--something which I have practiced much during my brief time as a teacher.

I was sitting with one particular parent, and all of a sudden it dawned on me.

Having these conferences, I see how it is not just the parents who want to tell me about their children; God is always trying to speak to me about Her creation. Parents want an opportunity to be heard, so does God. God puts the lessons right in front of me; it is me who has to get quiet. Of course there is a place for clarifying questions and personal observations, just as there is a place for daily prayer.

Mary Oliver reminds us in a poem that I quote most often, At the River Clarion:

I'd been to the river before, a few times.
Don't blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don't hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don't hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it's difficult to hear anything anyway, through
     all the traffic and ambition.

As I learn to make space to visit the river she describes, as I imagine who these 1 and 2-year olds will grow up to become in their already budding personalities, as I grow in relationship with life, I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to the daily lessons around me.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

More from Ken Wilber

From No Boundary:
________________________

Perhaps we can approach this fundamental insight of the mystics—that there is but one immortal Self or Witness common in and to us all—in this way. Perhaps you, like most people, feel that you are basically the same person you were yesterday. You probably also feel that you are fundamentally the same person you were a year ago. Indeed, you still seem to be the same you as far back as you can remember. Put it another way: you never remember a time when you weren’t you. In other words, something in you seems to remain untouched by the passage of time. But surely your body is not the same as it was even a year ago. Surely also your sensations are different today than in the past. Surely, too, your memories are on the whole different today than a decade ago. Your mind, your body, your feelings—all have changed with time. But something has not changed, and you know that something has not changed. Something feels the same. What is that?

This time a year ago you had different concerns and basically different problems. Your immediate experiences were different, and so were your thoughts. All of these have vanished, but something in you remains. Go one step further. What if you moved to a completely different country, with new friends, new surroundings, new experiences, new thoughts. You would still have that basic inner feeling of I-ness. Further yet, what if you right now forgot the first ten years, or fifteen years, or twenty years of your life? You would still feel that same inner I-ness, would you not? If right now you just temporarily forget everything that happened in your past, and just feel that pure inner I-ness—has anything really changed?

There is, in short, something within you—that deep inward sense of I-ness—that is not memory, thoughts, mind, body, experience, surroundings, feelings, conflicts, sensations, or moods. For all of these have changed and can change without substantially affecting that inner I-ness. That is what remains untouched by the flight of time—and that is the transpersonal Witness and Self.

Is it then so very difficult to realize that every conscious being has that same inner I-ness? And that, therefore, the overall number of transcendent I’s is but one? We have already surmised that if you had a different body you would still basically feel the same I-ness—but that is already the very same way every other person feels right now. Isn’t it just as easy to say there is but one single I-ness or Self taking on different views, different memories, different feelings and sensations?

And not just at this time, but at all times, past and future. Since you undoubtedly feel (even though your memory, mind, and body are different) that you are the same person of twenty years ago (not the same ego or body, but the same I-ness), couldn’t you also be the same I-ness of two-hundred years ago? If I-ness isn’t dependent upon memories and mind and body, what difference would it make? In the words of physicist Schroedinger, "It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings. The conditions for your existence are almost as old as the rocks. For thousands of years men have striven and suffered and begotten and women have brought forth in pain. A hundred years ago, perhaps, another man sat on this spot; like you he gazed with awe and yearning in his heart at the dying light on the glaciers. Like you he was begotten of man and born of woman. He felt pain and brief joy as you do. Was he someone else? Was it not you yourself?"
________________________

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coping With Reality

This weekend we returned to Villa Maria, PA for an intercommunity formation weekend as we do a few times a year. This time we heard a Marist brother, Br. Don Bisson, speak on religious life as a container. He meant “container” in the sense that it becomes the space and shape that holds our discernment. So, if I chosen to live the monastic life, that is the container that informs my choices.

He spent Saturday morning talking about the process of individuation and transformation that religious life uniquely offers. Each person, consecrated or not, enters into the life process of moving from False Self to True Self, as Merton put it. (Br. Don uses “Coping” instead of “False.”) But, by entering religious life we enter into that process of conversion in a heightened and conscious way.
I loved his use of the term “Coping Self,” as it felt a gentler way of naming our rough edges that need some smoothing on our way to God. He reminded us to be grateful because what we did to cope got us to where we are in our journeys; befriending the gifts received leads us to awareness of God’s grace at work in our lives.

It is no secret that my Coping Self is a strong perfectionist, one who struggles with reality in favor of living in a self-created idealized world. Going back to work with two-year olds is surely helping me live in reality these days though! 

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, God, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. [...] Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I am reading Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber right now (highly recommend!). He speaks of the path that we heard about this weekend, as well as the yoke we seek en route to our True Self:

Well, we might say that there are several "paths" that constitute what I am generically calling "the Path" [...] For example, in Hinduism it is said that there are five major paths or yogas. "Yoga" simply means "union,” a way to unite the soul with Godhead. In English the word is "yoke.” When Christ says, "My yoke is easy," he means "My yoga is easy.” [...] But maybe I could simplify the whole thing by saying that all these paths, whether found in Hinduism or in any of the other wisdom traditions, break down into just two major paths. I have another quote here for you from Swami Ramdas: “There are two ways: one is to expand your ego to infinity, and the other is to reduce it to nothing, the former by knowledge, and the latter by devotion. The Jnani [knowledge holder] says: ‘I am God—the Universal Truth.’ The devotee says: ‘I am nothing, O God, You are everything.’ In both cases, the ego-sense disappears.” The point is that, in either case, an individual on the Path transcends the small self, or dies to the small self, and thus rediscovers or resurrects his or her Supreme Identity with universal Spirit. And that brings us to the fifth major point of the perennial philosophy, namely, that of a Rebirth, Resurrection, or Enlightenment. In your own being, the small self must die so that the big Self may resurrect.


Yes, Reality tells me: Jesus is the Truth. We are the Beloved. Coping with that is easy.

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Song for Autumn

I am finally willing to admit autumn is here. We haven't taken the kids out for playtime in a few days, and I have upgraded my coat. While I cannot admit that this is my favorite time of year, the colors are rather beautiful, and this poem from Mary Oliver makes it a bit easier, or at least it gives me something to ponder about the season.

Song for Autumn

In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Living Stories

This weekend was our community weekend. Dr. Diana Hayes spoke to the community and our oblate community on the subject of race. She shared personal stories and encouraged us to share who we are, too.

The story that moved me most came near the end of the day on Saturday. A gay woman told us about a group to which she belongs that advocates for the rights of LBGT elders in the community, while providing them safe space, too. A similar group of young gay people invited them the night before to celebrate Halloween together. She noted that the younger gay community did not seem to have the same prejudices that the elders had; they were more open to intermingling among races, ages, and genders. She said it was the best party because, it seems, it was true community.

In community we celebrate together, support one another, and strive to live right relationship authentically. Today's Gospel reading reminded us of just that: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Our presider reminded us how much that second commandment depends on the first, on developing one's own relationship with God. What I loved about his homily today was that as he shared those words with us, he realized he had nothing more to say. He sort of stopped and admitted, "I don't know what else to say," so he left it at that as he left the ambo. It was such a humble moment. There is only so much talk that we can do; then we have to go live.

I hope we all have opportunities to live stories like the one shared on Saturday, one that enlivens not only those present but those who hear the story, too. We need stories like that more than ever, and we won't be able to share them if we don't start living.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Geese getting on with living as I was getting on with running

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Back in the Classroom

On Monday I returned to full-time ministry at Saint Benedict Center with my dear 1-2 year olds. So far it has been wonderful; the past three days have been filled with runny noses and running feet!

I have always done a bit of pondering about the nature of God via classroom contemplation, and now the experience continues after a brief hiatus called novitiate. I think about what teachers offer to their students: compassion, mercy, instruction, and wisdom. But, while I often run out of all of those things (sometimes by 9am), God doesn't.

But I have also noticed that novitiate did work some conversion magic as I have found that I am more willing to be patient with these young explorers. It is exciting for me since I used to spend a lot more time worrying about small stuff in the classroom. To think of the infinite patience God has for us is magnificent indeed. May we bring that patience to everyone we meet.

Here is a Mary Oliver favorite on contemplation called Song of the Builders:

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.


Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

At the River, Life

It's that wonderful time of year when you can still comfortably wear shorts to go for a run while also crunching leaves as you move along the pavement.

This time of year is also wonderful for a different reason now. Yesterday I made my first monastic profession--promising stability, obedience, and fidelity to the monastic way of life with the Erie Benedictine community.

I certainly do not have adequate words to describe the day yet, as the experience has only just begun to soak into my Spirit.

I do know that I am grateful that family and friends arrived safely on their journeys to be here with community for the celebration. I do know that I am grateful for the warm cup of coffee I drank in the afternoon. I do know that I am grateful for the quiet moments of reading Mary Oliver poetry right before the ceremony. I knew I had to read At the River Clarion, my Mary favorite poem, before the evening began. I am going to let a few lines from the poem do the talking until I am ready.

I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.

He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician,

     the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?

Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and
     each of you too, or at least
          of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.


Let us walk in the holy presence.


Friday's Sunset at Presque Isle

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Community Milestone

Our community celebrates something big on this fine Sunday. Today is the birthday of Sister Placida, the first member of this group of Benedictine women to reach 100 years of age.

Placida's spirit is still young, vibrant, and sharp. She is an avid reader and lover of beauty. The other day when I was talking to her, she told me about her evolution of finding God. Now she finds God in the breeze.

My first memory of Placida takes me back to a time before I was a community member myself. At my first Holy Week, Placida sat at a table with me during dinner on Holy Thursday. We struck up a good conversation, and by the end of Triduum, she had given a Benedictine medal to another sister to give to me. The catch was that she thought she was my biological sister. It created a fun bond, and I credit my first Benedictine medal to Sister Placida. Since then, I have gained many more wonderful memories of a very special woman...and a few more medals to boot!

Join with me in celebrating our dear Sister Placida! L'chaim!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(Placida trying on my scarf right after I entered the community)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Field of Stars

We just heard an enrichment series program from one of our oblates who walked the Camino--a pilgrimage through France and Spain that ends at Santiago de Compostela. It is well known now; most have probably heard of it, so it is always nice to hear a personal account.

My favorite book that I've read about the Camino is To The Field of Stars, which is the account of an American priest walking the journey. And these are my favorite lines from the book:

We want that one star to reveal a twinkle in the eye of God for us. Well, actually we want to see far more than just one star; we want to see them all, strewn, cast, dancing away in their galactic pinwheels. We want to see there an extravagant God who does not count or measure but just pours and pours and pours, grace upon grace, stars upon stars, in our sky, into us. We hope against hope that before we die we might see what Abraham saw: a universe shot through with sparkling care. Then everything will make sense. To witness all this, to see the stars dance, to dance with them ourselves, this is what attracts us, this is what has grabbed us by our souls, and this is what is pulling us down this crazy road. Ah, yes, the seeing of stars is indeed a great thing in this life.


Stars, and the night sky in general, fascinate me. Isn't this a beautiful reflection?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(I don't remember where I found this picture, but I love it.)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Profession Blessings

Yesterday our community celebrated a beautiful moment--the perpetual monastic profession of Sister Pat. It was a beautiful day in every way: joyful, sunny, and full of love.

I personally loved the chapel environment with rose arrangements symbolizing death and life. They perfectly represented the Paschal Mystery into which Pat professed to live through obedience, stability, and fidelity to monastic life.

Many blessings to Pat as she continues her journey into the Heart of Love with this community.




Uphold me, O God, according to Your word and I shall live; and do not fail me in my hope.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Cycling With Sisters

I went into Monday's bike ride knowing that it would personally be a fitting way to end my novitiate year: a tangible and meaningful journey that represents the commitment I am about to make two and a half weeks from now--a prayerful pilgrimage with community.

And it was just that.

There were no exceptional, extraordinary moments that were the "must-tell" stories. The whole experience was just plain ol' wonderful, filled with beauty throughout...and we did it together.


A fellow journeyer asked me about my vocation story while entering into Buffalo--telling my tale while riding felt appropriate. Riding across into Canada on the Peace Bridge was a thrill, too.


And, there was the destination.



Thank you all for your support, for staying connected with us throughout the day, for wanting to hear about it all upon our return. We did it together.

Let us ride in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Journey

Here is a picture of the early days of me learning to ride a bike with a friend.


You might be surprised by how old I look. Yes, I learned to ride a bike when I was 24.

I don't have a picture of the actual day that I was first able to "push off" and remain stable, but it was a long journey to get to that day.

Tomorrow, a group of us will be riding our bikes from North East, PA to Niagara Falls in support of the Communicators for Women Religious (CWR) and women religious in general. The network's annual conference meets in Niagara Falls this year, and a bike pilgrimage will begin the meeting with prayer stops along the way--mindful of social justice issues at the heart of the Gospel work of women religious

Yes, a 100-mile journey. And, yes, we are excited!

You can follow us live on Facebook tomorrow by clicking on this.

You can also read about the ride, called Cycling With Sisters.

And here.

See you on the road!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Awesome Flowers

The other day at a meal a group of us talked about the way we sort all our photos on our computers. Some use categories; some use years; some use more specific dates. I use specific dates for the most part. But, I loved hearing one person tell us that a category she uses to organize is simply "Awesome." There were some who also used the category "flowers."

So, in honor of this conversation, here are some awesome flowers from my time in Maine during a visit to Thuya Garden.

This subcategory is Dahlias--one of my favorite flowers:

And file these in the subcategory "Becoming," as I found the same flower in different phases of its life cycle:
(Belle blanche) 

(Zinnia)


(Another Dahlia or two or three)

And, finally, creatures on flowers:

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Two Weeks Later

After a safe return from some wonderful time with family and friends, you can trust that you will be graced with many pictures of my adventures in upcoming posts.


My time in Maine was an embarrassment of riches: good, good people; beautiful, awe-inspiring nature; and delicious, flavorful food.

My friend and I stumbled upon a lovely store one day, and we found a book full of quirky lists. So, my first sharing of my time away is a list of rules from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles from the 1960's. The list was written by Corita Kent (at the time Sister Mary Corita) for the art department at the college.

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HELPFUL HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.


I loved stumbling upon some artists in Acadia who came on a painting trip. The particular artist I encountered has been painting for 25 years and is now painting full time. He travels with a group of fellow artists to different locations; when he told me this I said, "What a wonderful way to create community." He said he hadn't thought of it that way. I asked if I could take a picture; he obliged. Community, indeed.


Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

One Year Later

It seems like many of the quotes and poems I have been reading lately are quintessential summaries of my novitiate experience.

“When God comes into our midst, it is to upset the status quo.” (
Kathleen Norris)

Today officially marks one year of God upsetting my status quo. The novitiate has been a time to reflect on some of my patterns, both those that are healthy and those that need some developing (if you will), as I grow in this monastic life. God has certainly swooped in in new ways calling me to a fuller way of being. Though it is often hard to point out growth in the day-to-day, I do trust that I have gentled a bit and learned a lot over the course of this graced year. Here's a poem by Kay Ryan called New Rooms.

The mind must
set itself up
wherever it goes
and it would be
most convenient
to impose its
old rooms—just
tack them up
like an interior
tent. Oh but
the new holes
aren’t where
the windows
went.

As I re-enter "the normal routine" in the upcoming weeks, I will try on this new view that has been building inside me, hoping not to return to those old spaces. I will try to stay attuned to the deep gratitude I have for life and for the beauty that surrounds me, both in nature and in other human beings. Our dear Mary Oliver speaks of this, and I would be remiss if I didn't include a poem of hers as I end an important stage of my life. Long Afternoon At the Edge of Little Sister Pond:

As for life,
I’m humbled,
I’m without words
sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen –
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of holiness.

Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.
It suffices, it is all comfort –
along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can’t wait to be the hummingbird,
can you?


Hummingbirds have been a symbolic animal for me since I entered community, so it was fitting that the image at the top of worship aid for Liturgy this morning was two hummingbirds drinking sweet nectar. What a beautiful day! What a beautiful year! Praise God!

I will be back after I return from some time away visiting family and friends.

Until then...

Let us walk in the holy presence.


(from fineartamerica.com)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

O Happy Labor

We used our extended weekend to take a bike ride out to Findley Lake. Elevation gain you might ask? Over 1300 feet! Needless to say, the ride home was much more pleasant.

Here are some snapshots from the journey.

starting out 

gaining momentum

 a rather deceptive gradual, gravel-filled incline that paid off with a lovely lake view

joy after fixing my broken chain...thanks to the able mechanics!

destination: half way: Findley Lake 

nourishing ourselves with nature's bounty on the return trip 

fin.

May all be blessed with work that brings dignity to the human soul.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Psalmody

O Love, my Beloved,
How powerful is your Name
          in all the earth!
You, whose glory is sung in heaven
     by the angels and saints,
Who with the innocence and
          spontaneity of a child,
Confound those who are mighty
          and proud,
You comfort the unloving and fearful.

When I look up at the heavens,
     at the work of Love's creation,
     at the infinite variety of your Plan,
What is woman that You rejoice in her,
And man that You do delight in him?
     You have made us in your image,
     You fill us with your Love;
You have made us co-creators of
          the earth!
     guardians of the planet!
     to care for all your creatures,
     to tend the land, the sea,
          and the air we breathe;
     all that You have made,
          You have placed in our hands.

O Love, my Beloved,
How powerful is your Name
          in all the earth!

Most of the time I know what I am going to say here a day or two before it's time to write. Today, I had no clue. All day I sort of waited for the lightbulb to go off. I figured I would find a line from a psalm at evening praise and use that, but when we began with Psalm 8 tonight (Nan Merrill's version is above), something else happened. Someone was walking to her prayer seat, and while we were reciting, she was reciting the lines from memory as she walked. How beautiful? One of my favorite things about the monastic life, one so deeply entwined with the psalms, is that this holy poetry becomes a part of us. This moment tonight reminded me of something I just read from Kathleen Norris (Amazing Grace, again):

It interests me to find so little God-talk in monasteries. This sometimes disappoints the more pious (or romantic) candidates who assume that monks spend all their time discussing visions and are shocked to find them evaluating the World Series instead. I suspect that the ample spiritual wisdom to be found in monastic communities comes not from pious chatter but the discipline of the psalmody. Immersing people so completely in poems that speak vividly of the human in relation to the holy seems to serve as a corrective to religious code language.

It is only a month until the baseball playoff season begins, right?! (I know Notre Dame won their opener yesterday! GO IRISH!)

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On St. Augustine

Things take the time they take. Don't
     worry.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
     before he became St. Augustine?

I begin with this poem from Mary Oliver seeing as we celebrated the Memorial of St. Augustine on Monday. On Sunday I happened to open up and begin reading an incredible book, Jesus the Teacher Within, by Laurence Freeman, OSB. The book (not coincidentally, I'm sure) centers around the question Jesus asked in Sunday's Gospel: "Who do you say that I am?" The premise is that we must continually ask ourselves that question of God, Jesus, and ourselves as to grow in true Self-knowledge. I am enjoying it very much so far, and when I came to a few lines about Augustine, I figured it would be timely to share them with you.

"St Augustine was fascinated by the question of self-knowledge, aware no doubt of how hard he had worked to gain it himself:

'A person must first be restored to himself, that making of himself as it were a stepping stone, he may rise thence to God.'

In his Confessions St Augustine was the first Western writer to define the sense of personal identity as intimately interior, self-conversing, seeking and anxious. He initiated the autobiographical narrative style that we take for granted as the way we think and talk about ourselves. Describing his search for himself as a search for God was not a mere literary device. His self-concern was given meaning because it pointed towards an ultimate self-transcendence. By self-analysis and writing he advanced towards self-knowledge in the telling (and invention) of his story and by the sharing of his hidden personality. This seems all quite familiar to us today, in the culture of the television chat show, as a means of understanding who we are. Yet there is a difference in motivation. However self-centered his autobiographical self-awareness might appear at times, it was led by a consuming passion to know God. This was the God he said was closer to him than he was to himself and who knew him better than he could know himself. He could therefore pray that he would come to know himself so that he could know God. It was a sublime kind of egotism waiting for an ecstatic release from the ego."

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Look at the Wildflowers

From Matthew 6:26-34 (The Message translation):

Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to God than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion - do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen - don't you think God'll attend to you, take pride in you, do the best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way God works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

These verses are definitely some of my most treasured lines of Scripture, because I need to hear them the most.

Lately, I have been doing some heavy reflecting as my novitiate year nears its end. I have gone back into old journals and found that, even though I don't remember some things at all, I was dealing with all the same stuff back then but it was just in a different, previous year of my life. I was writing about fear of failure, lack of trust, and other issues that put on full display my humanity. So when these lines from Rainer Marie Rilke came into my email the other day, I had a little chuckle.

And you wait, keep waiting for that one thing
which would infinitely enrich your life:
the powerful, uniquely uncommon,
the awakening of dormant stones,
depths that would reveal you to yourself.

In the dusk you notice the book shelves
with their volumes in gold and in brown;
and you think of far lands you journeyed,
of pictures and of shimmering gowns
worn by women you conquered and lost.

And it comes to you all of a sudden:
That was it! And you arise, for you are
aware of a year in your distant past
with its fears and events and prayers.

-Remembrance

It [life] has all already been, currently is, and will be in the future. Because it's not just the trying stuff that I am encountering as I look back, but it is also the joys. So (again) the call is to trust, to believe that each moment is enough, that God gives me exactly what I need, that faith in the Divine is where I should place my attention. Present moment--wonderful moment, indeed.

Let us join with the father of the boy possessed by a demon: "I do believe. Help my unbelief."

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

From Teilhard de Chardin

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Graced Beauty of Surrender

The past few days I have been struck by the flowers in our gardens. No longer at their peak, they have assumed an altogether different sort of beauty. I first saw it when I noticed the hydrangea bushes losing their familiar vibrant colors in favor of some new hues.


As I study the monastic vows, I am reading about this sort of surrender that nature demonstrates to us so well. For we humans it brings along some extra baggage though. The prioress of the Benedictine Sisters in Bristow, VA, Cecilia Dwyer, quoted Charles Cummings, OSCO in a piece of writing on obedience:

The mystical death-experience of total surrender issues in an experience of exhilarating freedom, a rebirth into a new place of life. But total surrender is frightening and arouses my anxiety and resistance. The anxious feeling I have is a sign that I am being invited to move beyond my present state of complacent existence into a new and closer relationship with the hidden God.

This feeling of fear is not foreign to me, nor to any other human being, I'm certain. In these moments, and in my better moments, I remember to look to nature for a sort of balm for my spirit. It is nature that continually teaches me that we simply must give ourselves over as we are; there is beauty in that. Today I went out and tried to capture the beauty of total surrender in a few photographs.






I am most often one with eyes fixed to finding beauty in the ideal, but today I found it in reality. Our fears are real, too, and we must pay attention to them, but we must also pay attention to the promise they hold. Kathleen Norris writes in Amazing Grace:

Yes, it [fear] can stymie us, but it can also set us free. It is fear--in the old sense of awe--that allows us to recognize the holy in our midst, fear that gives us the courage to listen, and to let God awaken in us capacities and responsibilities we have been afraid to contemplate.

So, yes, fear is real, but Christian fear must push us to look beyond, to believe in the God of all creation. This God calls to us: "Do not fear; I love you; you are mine." To what else would I rather surrender? What else could be more beautiful?

Let us walk in the holy presence.