Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Shift, part 2

So, on Sunday I wrote about "the shift" that happens when we move into awareness of God. I used this quote from Mary Margaret Funk (all the "bolds" are mine):

"Simply living in a convent hasn't made me safe from my interior flood, or stopped me from obsessing on my own thoughts and feelings. But the practices mean I can lessen the length of time the afflictions last, weaken the impact they may have on my soul, and reduce the damage I may do to myself or others through acting on the impulses stirred up by the afflictions. I've become better at discerning their onset and on rare occasions have even been able to shift myself toward God--that place where all feelings, thoughts, and desires sit back and rest and there's no fuel for destructive or heightened emotions."

Little did I know the commentary we would hear accompanying the Rule of Benedict the very next morning at prayer. It comes from Benedict's Dharma, which is a book that reflects on the Rule from a Buddhist perspective. It reads:

“When we pay attention to the movements of the mind, letting go of thoughts and feelings and returning to spontaneous awareness of the present moment, something gradually begins to shift. Self-absorption is no longer nourished, and its influence on our minds shrinks and lightens as we begin to experience the expanse of awareness, limitless and deep like the sky.”

Isn't that pretty wonderful?! I uttered a big thank you to God via a big smile on my face.

This morning I sat outside with my coffee, praying with the first step of humility. Awareness of the Divine Presence is the key to the first step on Benedict's ladder: "The first step of humility is that we 'keep "the reverence of God always before our eyes" and never forget it,'" Joan Chittister writes in The Monastery of the Heart. That first step says to me that I can shift from living in fear where my thoughts overwhelm me, to living in "fear of God," an outdated word given its connotations now, but one that is really just a place where God's love and God's work overwhelm me instead.

Hearing that Rule commentary was certainly one instance of the awareness offered to me always.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Turkey vultures enjoying the summer solstice as much as I am!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Shift

"Simply living in a convent hasn't made me safe from my interior flood, or stopped me from obsessing on my own thoughts and feelings. But the practices mean I can lessen the length of time the afflictions last, weaken the impact they may have on my soul, and reduce the damage I may do to myself or others through acting on the impulses stirred up by the afflictions. I've become better at discerning their onset and on rare occasions have even been able to shift myself toward God--that place where all feelings, thoughts, and desires sit back and rest and there's no fuel for destructive or heightened emotions." (Mary Margaret Funk, OSB)

I've had a lot of spiritual food to work with the past few weeks. A lot.

When I was at NADI, a former prioress from the Beech Grove community, Mary Margaret Funk, presented on the eight thought afflictions that we humans wrestle with on the journey of seeking God. These afflictions (food, sex, things, anger, dejection, acedia, vainglory, and pride) were a common theme of early monastic writers like John Cassian, and from her studies of the monastic tradition, she has written her own books.

Funk writes about tools that seekers can use to replace afflictive thoughts such as the Jesus Prayer, St. Therese's Little Way, recollection, and others. These are the "practices" referred to in the opening quote, practices that help us along the journey. 

During our retreat last week our presenter, Bonnie Thurston, gave a lecture on a perspective held by some who view entering the monastery as "fleeing the world," a way of leaving reality and issues behind. As you can tell from the above quote, this is far from the truth. The thoughts keep a-flictin' and reality keeps a-comin'.

Through all I have been hearing, lots of self-awareness has arisen about my own "interior flood...thoughts and feelings," which is why I love this quote so much and why I share it with you. But, I share it mostly because of the last line: "to shift myself toward God--that place where all feelings, thoughts, and desires sit back and rest and there's no fuel for destructive or heightened emotions."

While the inner work isn't necessarily easy or fun, the "shift" is the gift, if you will. By entering the monastery, we have said that our greatest desire is to seek God, so we seek that shift, and in turn, seek to give ourselves to the world that we "flee."

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Young Peace Journalists

Here is an update on my corporate commitment project.

A few pieces have been published on the Pax Christi blog telling the stories of refugees. The group of Young Peace Journalists, of which I am a part, has been dedicated to writing these stories.

The piece that I wrote can be found at this link.

Another piece, by fellow journalists, Alexandre and Alessia, can be read here.

It has been a wonderful experience to meet regularly with this group of young, committed people. I hope you enjoy.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

peace at the lake

Sunday, June 11, 2017

After a Week of Pondering the Mystery of God (More Intensely Than Usual)

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

(Also all these other things that captivated me on retreat.)

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Retreating with Thomas Merton This Week

At Fourth and Walnut, Merton realizes:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, “spiritual men,” men of interior life, what have you.

Certainly these traditional values are very real, but their reality is not of an order outside everyday existence in a contingent world, nor does it entitle one to despise the secular: though “out of the world,” we are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it, and to make a profession out of this consciousness. But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous.

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.” To think that for sixteen or seventeen years I have been taking seriously this pure illusion that is implicit in so much of our monastic thinking.

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is in fact the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to anyone completely immersed in the other cares, the other illusions, and all the automatisms of a tightly collective existence. My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them — and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers!

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Joy and Beauty Abound

It is difficult to avoid beauty in the springtime; it seems as though beauty is ubiquitous in this season. Joy and beauty accompany each other, so maybe it's by the transitive property that there is much joy right now, too.

Just look at these trees, the sun pouring through them, and the shadows on the leaves created by their intermingling with the sun's rays.

Joy and beauty.

Last night, two novices, Karen and Dina, made their first monastic profession in our community and became scholastics. The ceremony was beautiful, the celebration - festive.

Joy and beauty.

And something else stood out for me during the ceremony last night. I looked across the chapel at women who have been watching first professions for fifty, sixty, even seventy years. They have vowed to support and uphold so many other seekers on the journey, and in ways they could have never imagined when they took their own first vows. It was a moving experience. These women are not in the springtime of their lives, but they have aged gracefully, and that gives me hope.

Joy and beauty.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

A double rainbow on Memorial Day 

The azaleas colorfully covering the ground

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


My NADI experience was full of blessings. A few moments in particular stand out; here's one. On our day of service, we spent time at St. Paul Hermitage. St. Paul Hermitage, a ministry of the Benedictines in Beech Grove, offers apartment living, assisted living, and nursing care. Many retired priests and sisters live there. I spent my afternoon with Sr. Teresine, who came from Ferdinand, IN to the newly-forming Beech Grove community when it was established in the middle of the twentieth century. I told her who I was and explained that there were seven novices visiting for our NADI experience. Her elated response: "Oh, yay! Seven new Benedictines!" It only made me more excited to enter into this tradition.

NADI provides an opportunity for all the novices and directors in Benedictine communities across the nation to gather together for a formative experience. We listened to presentations on topics ranging from hospitality to stewardship to prayer, as well as other Benedictine values. We enjoyed some relaxed time on our Sunday together. We joined with the Beech Grove community for prayer, a few meals, and to celebrate the 25th jubilee of the community's prioress. Plus, there was space for reflection and community building among the novices. What a wonderful opportunity!

Here are some photos to recount my time.

This is the "Faceless Madonna" icon on the monastery grounds. Mary's face was stolen, and the makers of the mosaic could not replace it, so they decided to make her faceless and allow her to be whomever you need her to be in the moment. 

This was one of my favorite pieces of art on the walls of the monastery. 

A group of us went for a hike to Brown County State Park on Sunday. We loved this little forest of trees! 

Here comes the sun pouring through the trees at the community's retreat house where we had a BBQ after hiking. 

Though it doesn't always feel like joy, this mug made me chuckle.

This is part of the Peace Garden, full of plants native to the area.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Comings and Goings

I am home from Indiana. It was a wonderful experience, and I am excited to tell you about it, but today I must focus on Erin, our volunteer from the Benedictine Women Service Corps. She has spent the last nine months with us, and tomorrow she heads back to Minnesota to the Benedictine community there to debrief her experience before heading home to her family.

Over the past nine months, I have been the recipient of many of Erin's gifts: music in the form of piano lessons and pieces played at liturgy, humor in the form of witty jokes and puns, shared meals in the form of co-chef, bike rides and runs in the form of half-marathon training, and much patience in the form of I don't have as much as she does. This is only the start of the list.

I will greatly miss her, but it's time for her to share her gifts with others, so I'll try not to pout too much. Instead I'll send her away with the blessings of Spirit as her story continues to tell itself.

Thanks, Erin. It's been the best.

And I said to the wise man,
what is the answer to all this 
And he said the answer’s in the story 
and the story’s just unfolding.
(Pádraig Ó Tuama)

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Progression of an Almost-Summer Sunset (including bubble blowers)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Greetings From Indiana!

Here I am in Beech Grove, IN attending the Novice and Director's Institute, NADI. Posting might be light for the next 1.5 weeks as I take in the experience of being with some of the other novices and formation directors from different Benedictine communities across the country. 

Hold me in prayer, as I will hold you. Enjoy the irises, daisies, and salvia already in bloom!

Let us walk in the holy presence. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Times They Are A-Changin'

We begin with Tracy Chapman singing "the title song":

Yesterday Carol Zinn, SSJ came to the Mount to speak to local women religious on the topic of "Religious Life for the Life of the World." Our bishop also responded, and I found the morning to be enlightening and hopeful.

Sister Carol emphasized that religious life is not just for our congregations or communities, nor is it just for the Church. No, this life that we live is a life offered for the life of the world; it is a life that is a particular take on the gospels. I found these ideas connected well with what we heard from Nancy Schreck two weeks ago at Villa Maria. The vows that make up religious life are the deepest articulation of who we are; they offer a different way of being in the world. And, similar to Nancy, Carol stressed that this is a life of going to the people of God on the peripheries - Carol went so far as to call them her mentors. I liked that.

For women religious, this going to the peripheries is difficult; we live a very comfortable life, which Carol attributed to our level of education. So, how do we truly go to the edges? She pointed us to Pope Francis: we live lives rooted in gospel joy. This joy roots itself in three things: living as if God is in control, living in the knowledge that in the end "all shall be well," and living the choice to praise God in all situations. Those on the peripheries are often witnesses of this joy.

Yes, this is what religious life is in an authentic form - a joyful life of living with those on the margins, but the second part of her reflections reminded us of reality: religious life is at a turning point. For Carol, it is not enough to simply change; we must embrace transformation. And we do this by "leaning into the rhythm of the Paschal Mystery": live, die, and rise. Something new is emerging, and while we can have no idea what that "something" is, we can embrace what is coming. Her image was a helpful one: a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

Carol made a point of saying that if you know what is coming, it is change, it is not transformation. But we still must put our imaginations to work. What is the metamorphosis that we are called to in 2017? What is it about this "life for the life of the world" that must transform? What new witness can our vows offer to others? How do we push the boundaries of showing others that it is possible for strangers to come other and live as one in a world that desperately needs an example?

Well, as it has been said with every presenter I've heard speak on the topic: I don't have the answers, but I have excitement for engaging in the conversation.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The transformation continues outside.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

O Happy Fault

This past week, we reached the end of the study of the Rule of Benedict -- formal novitiate study, at least. For my homework, I read a sort of summary of the themes in the Rule: table, oratory, authority, mutual service, and a few others.

One idea in the piece I read from Margaret Malone, SGS's book, One Heart, One Soul, was about how monastic communities might give witness to a different way of being in the world. In this part, she references Roger Housden's book, Seven Sins for a Life Worth Living, listing each of the sins and the implications of "committing" them:

1. The Pleasure of All Five Senses (Sensuality) – because then we will treasure and savour all of God’s creation, and live fully the implications of the incarnation and our sacramental sense.

2. The Pleasure of Being Foolish (Foolishness) – because then we will relax and enjoy our lives, and not be caught up in competitiveness to be always successful and always on top.

3. The Pleasure of Not Knowing (Ignorance) – because then there will be always something to learn, and we will be good disciples who can be taught. Then we will have what Jean Leclercq calls the Love of Learning and the Desire for God.

4. The Pleasure of Not Being Perfect (Imperfection) – because then we will always know ourselves in our full humanity, and we will learn humility.

5. The Pleasure of Doing Nothing Useful (Uselessness) – because then we can know true sabbath and real leisure and will have the right atmosphere for prayer.

6. The Pleasure of Being Ordinary (Ordinariness) – because then we can be content with who we are and be peaceful about accepting it.

7. The Pleasure of Coming Home (Prodigality) – because then it must be that we are happy, know we are in the right place, know acceptance no matter what, know we can return, and know we belong.

Don't these sound so much better than the Seven Deadly Sins?!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

 The Pleasure of Living in Full Bloom

 The Pleasure of Being Patient Until the Hummingbirds Arrive

The Pleasure of Being One Small Part of One Great World

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Recommendation

Happy lilac season, everyone! (Even amidst relentless rain.)

The bush outside my window is now in bloom.

Two weeks ago we had our spring community weekend. Our presenter, Edith Bogue, OSB, used the theme of a camino to talk about how to enter into the future of religious life by intentionally preparing while also staying open to the unexpected. She had a great presentation, using the artwork of the Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig a few times along the way.

I recognized the work because I recalled a combination of a picture and poem of his that I received via email a while ago:

When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken,
Do not clutch it;
Let the wound lie open.
Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt,
And let it sting.
Let a stray dog lick it,
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell,
And let it ring.


A quick Google search will bring up some great results from the artist. Here is another favorite - The World That Nobody Holds.


Doesn't that look wonderful?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Love of God Impels Us

This past weekend, the women in initial monastic formation travelled to Villa Maria, PA for a weekend on the topic of obedience called "The Love of God Impels Us." We, with the wonderful and insightful presenter Nancy Schreck, OSF as our guide, explored the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience as they relate to religious life in present times - with a focus on obedience. We no longer live in the days of depriving ourselves of goods, suppression of emotions, or unquestioning submission to power, after all (and thank goodness!).

Sister Nancy gave us a new framework for examining the vows - through living them out as prophets and mystics - as people of action and of contemplation. She reminded us that the vows are the clearest articulation of who we are as women and men religious, but it is our rootedness in God's love for us and our love for God that gives us the energy and hope we need to live the vows now and into the very unknown and very likely messy future.

The vows call us to different way of living and being; Nancy called it "an alternative world view, a little pocket of life as we believe it could be, as we understand what the Reign of God is about." To help us reflect on this alternate view, she shared with us a song by Kathy Sherman, CSJ, Because We Love God. I think the lyrics give a more-than-adequate basis for a view of the life we want to live as vowed women and men religious:

Why do you feed the hungry? Why do you comfort those that sorrow? What is the source of your passion, your joy? Why are you calm in a storm? Why do you hunger for justice? Why do you give your heart away to the weary, the poor, the unloved, the unfree? Why do you do what you do?

Because we love God; because we love God and all that belongs to God. Because we love God we are who we are and we do what we do because we love God.

Why do you forgive those who hurt you? Why do you call the stranger friend? What is the hope that you cling to at night? Why is your dreaming so bold? Why are you friends with the outcast? Why does your table welcome all? Yes, and why does your fire never burn out? Why do you do what you do?

Because we love God; because we love God and all that belongs to God. Because we love God we are who we are and we do what we do because we love God.

Why do you bless the children? Why are you concerned about the future? Why do you protect Earth and all her creatures? Why is your vision so wide? Why do you love without boundaries? Why is your song a song for all? And why do you dare to believe that all are one? Why do you do what you do?

Because we love God; because we love God and all that belongs to God. Because we love God we are who we are and we do what we do because we love God.

Of course, this isn't only a question for women and men religious. We are all called to be obedient to God's voice. We are all called to examine the ways we live lives of care and love for ourselves, for the other, and for creation as a reflection of our love for God. How do we allow the love of God to impel us to create the Kingdom here and now?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(After seeing geese get mean with each other during a morning walk, I spotted two other geese caring for the children!) 

(I thought this tree perfectly embodied the color "spring green" - magnificent!)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

We Will End The Month With The Poem That Ends Mary Oliver's Book, Thirst

It is also called Thirst.

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

I hope you have enjoyed this journey through April with poetry. On Wednesday, back to prose!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

 (This weekend quenched my thirst for spring on a formation retreat in Villa Maria, PA.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Denise Levertov

(Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla)

"From too much love of living, 
Hope and desire set free, 
Even the weariest river 
Winds somewhere to the sea—"

But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet—
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Right Use of Power

We will begin with a haiku:
New buds of springtime
Prophets and mystics abound
Tell of future time

And then a poem -- by Robert Walser:
Presumably no one minds
that the woods are greening again,
that meadows are full of grass,
that birds are singing in the trees,
that violets are blooming from the dirt.
Hundreds and thousands of green leaves!
Spring is a field marshal
who conquers the world,
and no one holds a grudge.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"Old Escapes Into The New"

A Purification
Wendell Berry

At the start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter's accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

I love seeing the old and the new mingle. I caught a glimpse of this on the hydrangea bushes that lead into the side door of the monastery. You can see the old flowers living together with the green buds, all living deeply into the transformation process.

May we be willing to do the same. Amen. Alleluia.

Let us walk into the holy presence.