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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Exultet

Shake out your qualms. 
Shake up your dreams. 
Deepen your roots. 
Extend your branches. 
Trust deep water 
and head for the open, 
even if your vision 
shipwrecks you. 
Quit your addiction 
to sneer and complain. 
Open a lookout. 
Dance on a brink. 
Run with your wildfire. 
You are closer to glory 
leaping an abyss 
than upholstering a rut. 
Not dawdling. 
Not doubting. 
Intrepid all the way 
Walk toward clarity. 
At every crossroad 
Be prepared 
to bump into wonder. 
Only love prevails. 
En route to disaster 
insist on canticles. 
Lift your ineffable 
out of the mundane. 
Nothing perishes; 
nothing survives; 
everything transforms! 
Honeymoon with Big Joy!

-James Broughton-

Nature proclaimed its own Exultet when I went for a morning walk yesterday. Alleluia!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Two Poems

Walk Slowly
Danna Faulds

It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still and just like that,
something in me settles, softens,
makes space for imperfection. The harsh
voice of judgment drops to a whisper
and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race;
that we will all cross the finish line;
that waking up to life is what we were born for.
As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I am going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, to be and walk
slowly into the mystery.

Here The Water's Music
Tere Sievers

There is only one way, aging beauties,
to go down this river,
to hear the water's music over the rocks,
to find a loving I, Thou, Who.
I say, spring out of the boat,
jump in naked, tender,
with your ferocious heart torn open.

This past week we reached Chapter 72 in my study of the Rule of Benedict. Although there are seventy-three chapters, Chapter 72, The Good Zeal of Monastics, is very much a grand send-off from Benedict:

Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which members must foster with fervent love: "They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Romans 12:10)," supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what she judges better for herself, but instead, what she judges better for someone else. Among themselves they show the pure love of sisters; to God, reverent love; to their prioress, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.

As I read these two poems, both of which I love for different reasons, something in each resonated with good zeal. In the first poem:

and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race;
that we will all cross the finish line;
that waking up to life is what we were born for.

And in the second poem:

I say, spring out of the boat,
jump in naked, tender,
with your ferocious heart torn open.

We experience and share good zeal in many forms. Benedict writes about obedience, respect, patience, and love. As I find examples of good zeal in multiple spaces, I am reminded to wake up to all life, to keep my whole heart torn open, to always ready my eyes and my ears -- to remember to seek and spread good zeal, especially in the unexpected.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Poem: Gratitude by Mary Oliver

What did you notice?

The dew-snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.

What did you hear?

The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.

When did you admire?

The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.

What astonished you?

The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.

What would you like to see again?

My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue,
her recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness,
her strong legs, her curled black lip, her snap.

What was most tender?

Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.

What was most wonderful?

The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.

What did you think was happening?

The green beast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve of the first snow—

so the gods shake us from our sleep.

And Val responds:

What did you notice?
The daffodils bowing to one another in a most unlikely place.

What did you hear?
A hauntingly beautiful version of Stabat Mater calling us into Holy Week during liturgy.

When did you admire?
The forsythia's strength through winter's last stand on Friday.

What astonished you?
The unexpected Magnolia blooms.

What would you like to see again?
The blue, blue lake.

What was most tender?
Watching the children sleep.

What was most wonderful?
A long Sabbath bike ride.

What did you think was happening?
God was taking care of everything.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Poem: Messenger

by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
     equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
     keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
     and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
     to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
     that we live forever.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

See how many Dark-eyed Juncos you can spot in the budding shrub out my window!
Thanks to a sister for the bird identification poster -- very helpful!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I think I have already declared other times of the year the most wonderful here on the blog, but April must be held in high consideration. Why? Well, it is National Poetry Month, of course! As I did last year, I will post a poem in each entry for the month. Here is one that is quite a reality check for me. This is a poem titled Understory. The poet is Mark Nepo.

I’ve been watching stars
rely on the darkness they
resist. And fish struggle with
and against the current. And
hawks glide faster when their
wings don’t move.

Still I keep retelling what
happens till it comes out
the way I want.

We try so hard to be the
main character when it is
our point of view that
keeps us from the truth.

The sun has its story
that no curtain can stop.

It’s true. The only way beyond
the self is through it. The only
way to listen to what can never
be said is to quiet our need
to steer the plot.

When jarred by life, we might
unravel the story we tell ourselves
and discover the story we are in,
the one that keeps telling us.

Perhaps Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot goes nicely with this...

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Many Names of God

In our community when you are the prayer leader, you begin the Prayer of Jesus as part of the role. This means that you are the one who addresses God, beginning the prayer with a title of your choice.

I'd say that the most common choice is "Loving God," or, to change the syntax a bit, "God of Love." Loving Creator also shows up often, as well as God of Compassion, or God of Mercy, or Ever-Faithful God, or God of Our Longing. Sometimes we get less oft-used titles: "Abba," "Divine Source," or "Mother/Father."

The other day I started thinking about this practice, and it became more and more beautiful as I reflected on it. By listening to the different images that our sisters have of God, we experience a more complete image of our Creator, one that includes more than just our own perspective. Maybe the prayer leader feels especially in need of mercy or forgiveness that day and chooses the fitting title. Maybe the choice was just the title that I needed to hear that day to be reminded of the many natures of God.

It was actually in taking a college course on Islam that I began to appreciate my own faith in a deeper way. We spent one particular class talking about the fact that there are an infinite number of titles for God, ones that I would have never thought of before; up until that time I had only thought of God as Father, as I had been raised with that language. But, I can also remember the first time that someone referred to God as "She."

Today when I look out my window I see the God of Ever-Renewing Verdancy. Spring is finally here! What is your name for God today?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(See all those buds being patient!)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Leaping in Joy for Spring

I cannot dance, O God,
unless you lead me.
If you will that I leap joyfully
then you must be the first to dance
and to sing!

Then, and only then,
will I leap for love.

Then will I soar
from love to knowledge,
from knowledge to fruition
from fruition to beyond
all human sense.

And there I will remain
and circle for evermore.

Mechthild of Madgeburg

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cenobitic Living

Benedict is pretty clear: Be a cenobite.

When I first entered community, I have to admit, I hadn't heard of the word cenobite before, but after the Prologue in the Rule of Benedict, Benedict goes straight to a description of the different types of monks in Chapter 1.

"First, there are the cenobites, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and a prioress/abbot."

Sounds good...rather straightforward. Then, he goes on to explain the hermits. Following the hermits come the sarabaites, "the most detestable kind of monastics." According to Benedict they do "whatever strikes their fancy." Doesn't lend well to obedience, does it?

But, it gets worse. Fourth and finally come the gyrovagues, those monks who never settle down. "In every way they are worse than the sarabaites," says Benedict. If you do the math, then, gyrovagues are worse than the most detestable kind of monastics. Yikes! The chapter concludes:

"Let us pass them [the other monastics] by, then, and with the help of God, proceed to draw up a plan for the strong kind, the cenobites."

Cenobites seek God in community. Another part of novitiate involves having conversations about current events with the cenobites in this community...aka my sisters.

A few months back, my conversation partner and I were reading a piece about the movie, Into Great Silence, a film chronicling the lives of a community of Carthusian monks in the French Alps. Laurence Freeman writes:
It [the film] is a love story. This is the secret of the film. The monks seem happy but are not in love with each other. If they love each other it is because they are in love with the same invisible yet apparently ever-present person. Unnamed, unseen, even unspoken to, God plays in every scene. At first, one assumes it is the visible actors who are the lovers. Slowly it dawns that they are mirrors. The love we speak of is not our love for God but God's love for us.
We seek God most fully with others. I am learning more and more how true this is. Sitting down for these conversations is one way I am learning this. So, how wonderful it was to receive a quote from this month's conversation partner yesterday. This is what triggered the above-quoted words to come to mind. From the book series, The Hawk and the Dove:
Something is restored in both of them as they part company. Brother Damien, walking back to the claustral buildings of the monastery, reflects that though he came out of the world to this place to draw closer to God, the main thing he's found himself encountering is raw, uncompromised humanity - not least his own. He thinks maybe those two things aren't as distinct as he always assumed.
Sure, it isn't always easy. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Benedict, whose fellow monks tried to poison him. "Raw, uncompromised humanity" is far from perfect, but Benedict knew, and these writers seem to agree, that the best way to God is to share life with others. And, if my time in this community is any indicator so far, I agree with Benedict: Be a cenobite.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Simple Delights

An essential part of novitiate is learning presence. By not having an external ministry in the community, there are many opportunities for it. The other day I popped into the room of one of our sisters. She happens to be the other slice of bread in the community's age sandwich - we are seventy years apart!

I thanked her for some photos she sent me the day before. At 99 years of age, she loves her iPad and capturing special moments on it! I looked at the wall of her room, and I saw this:

She explained to me that it was Mary having tea! It made me smile quite a bit, and she told me that another sister in our community gave her this unique tea set. What a simply joy she shared with me! Then, she asked me if I could take a picture of her so she could send it to her friends. Today I asked if I could use it on my blog, and she said yes.

What a great photo! Today she was looking through a home design magazine to which she subscribes. She not only shared with me pictures of fancy living rooms and kitchens, but she also shared her simple delight with me. She loves paging through the magazine and reveling in the creativity of the designers who put these rooms together.

'Tis the gift to be simple.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Committed to Refugees

Our community has a corporate commitment that gives focus to our vision and work. Our commitment reads:

"As Benedictine Sisters of Erie we commit ourselves to be a healing presence and prophetic witness for peace by working for sustainability and justice, especially for women and children."

As a novice, we work on a project that aligns with this corporate commitment. After a few ideas, one fell into my lap that combines a few things which are right up my alley.

I am participating in a project called "Young Peace Journalists." The youth coordinator of Pax Christi International coordinates this effort to give voice to refugees internationally. There are about twenty of us, all under 30, from the following countries: Portugal, Democratic Republic of Congo, England, Kenya, Germany, The Netherlands, South Africa, Papua New Guinea and the US.

All of the participants have connections to refugees where they live. Through Pax Christi we are learning some basics of journalism that we will use to interview a local refugee (or more) and write his/her story for Pax Christi's "Peace Stories" blog. It has been quite an experience to connect online with people from all these countries for the trainings. (Time zone adjustments, included!) It is also wonderful to see some people who are still in high school already brimming with a passion for social justice.

The Atlantic ran a story about refugees in Erie late last year. In it, we read about the ways that refugees contribute to a local community. I am excited to help represent this part of the world, especially as Trump's second attempt at a travel ban goes into effect. (Also from The Atlantic, here is a precious video of the children in a family of Iraqi refugees.)

This is the second group of Young Peace Journalists. You can read some of the stories that have already been written at Pax Christi by clicking here.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Transfigure Us, O God

One of my Lenten practices has been to read a chapter of Joan Chittister's, In Search of Belief every morning. In each chapter of the book she writes about a phrase of the Creed, breaking down the prayer. This morning I read, "He Was Conceived by the Holy Spirit."

Here is the quote that received a few underlines:

"The Spirit opened Jesus to a world beyond his own."

I thought about the implications of this, which brought a line of poetry to mind, as well as a few verses from Scripture. First, the poetry:

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God."

Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us that sacred presence immerses this world, and we know this is true because Jesus, the Christ, came to share his humanity, as well as his divinity with us. It was the Holy Spirit that allowed Jesus to do this, to enter into the world. So, I also thought of the oft-heard Philippians 2:5-11:

"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God."

We certainly aren't going to be able to move beyond ourselves and stop grasping our old, tired ways without some grace much greater than ourselves beckoning us forward. We certainly aren't going to be open to the Spirit at work in us without listening to grandeur of God all around us. This all fits quite nicely with today's Gospel. We must be transfigured if we are going to allow the Spirit to get to work in our lives.

Last night we heard a lovely reflection on the Transfiguration during our Lenten vigil. We were reminded that we must be transfigured in order to bring about the reign of God. Interspersed with the reflection was a beautiful music meditation.

Break us away from ourselves, God. Break us open to Your world, filled with Your Spirit.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

To Pray These Words Each Morning

Neither I nor the poets I love
found the keys to the kingdom of prayer
and we cannot force God
to stumble over us where we sit.
But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway.
So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting,
making friends with the habit of listening,
hoping that I’m being listened to.
There, I greet God in my own disorder.
I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions,
my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble.
I say hello to distraction and privilege,
I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus.
I recognise and greet my burdens,
my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story.
I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story,
my unloved body, my own love, my own body.
I greet the things I think will happen
and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day.
I greet my own small world
and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day.
I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day,
and hope that I can hear some stories,
and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead.
I greet God,
and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet.
Hello to you all, I say,
as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast.

-From Pádraig Ó Tuama, the most recent guest on On Being. Listen here - it's wonderful!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Lenten Journey Continues...

So, this is the first Sunday of Lent, and I have already encountered the first struggle.

After choosing something I wanted to do for the season, I heard what was simultaneously the best and the worst homily this morning. (#superlatives)

Today's Gospel focused on the temptations of Jesus before he began his public ministry. Our presider reminded us that the temptations we face are not really between good and evil, but rather they are a temptation where we must choose if we will rely on ourselves or if we will rely on God.

Adam and Eve decided to go it alone. Jesus? Not so much.

Then, here comes the punchline: "The greatest (note: superlative) temptation we face during Lent is to believe that we can effect our own conversion."

I repeat: The greatest temptation we face during Lent is to believe that we can effect our own conversion.

Uh oh.

And with those words from Fr. Jim, I knew I had a problem on my hands.

You see, I had already decided how my Lenten action would help me grow into a better person. But, this morning I was reminded that it is not for me to decide.

Sure, I can choose how I want to live to my life, but I don't get to choose how I will grow and what will cause that growth. I can choose to be open to life, but I cannot choose what life will come my way.

This certainly isn't easy stuff, but it is how we are called to live.

Jim also reminded us that this Lenten journey isn't about morality; it is about wisdom.

So, I pray that however God decides to use me this Lent, that I might be open to the wisdom that lives in the experience.

May you, too, be open.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Lenten Journey Begins...

The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of our own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thes 1:6). In other words, let each one deny herself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing. 
Everyone should, however, make known to the prioress what she intends to do, since it ought to be done with her prayer and approval. Whatever is undertaken without the permission of the prioress will be reckoned as presumption and vainglory, not deserving a reward. Therefore, everything must be done with her approval. 
Rule of Benedict: 49, The Observance of Lent
Today we begin the 40-day journey toward Holy Week and Easter. Chapel is ready, and we received our ashes this morning.

I realize that this year will be a special Lent for me as a novice. I will have fewer distractions getting in the way of making my journey. I read this quote about/from Br. John Mark Falkenhein, OSB that gave some good perspective on novitiate and the real purpose of Lent.
So, in his mid-30s, he came to Saint Meinrad to become a monk. Although his novitiate year was admittedly difficult at times as he adjusted to his new way of life, Br. John Mark says he has never been happier. "I have felt so terribly free, because I had really renounced all the things that were important to me. It's not that they were bad, but I just had to let go and trust, deciding to act without knowing, believe without seeing. Eventually, I discovered that doesn't mean rejecting things like friends and relationships, and a career, but giving up control of them.
Yes, Lent isn't necessarily about saying "no" to everything that life offers, but rather about examining our relationship with life, how tightly or gently we grasp different parts of it, and what we value in it, which we can do by letting go of some of the things we consider normalcy in our lives - sounds a bit like novitiate, doesn't it? Joan Chittister also provides an insight in her book on the Liturgical Year:
Each succeeding year, Lent calls each of us to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications of the Resurrection in our lives, here and now. But that demands both the healing of the soul and the honing of the soul, both penance and faith, both a purging of what is superfluous in our lives and the heightening, the intensifying, of what is meaningful.
So, how will I enter into this Lent in a way that allows me to immerse in the truth of my Joy? Will I be able to acknowledge and let go of those parts of my life that are not life-giving? Life-giving or not, can I practice holding everything gently? Where am I called to Resurrection this year?

The journey awaits...

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Companion to Today's Gospel

Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus said to his disciples:
"No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet our heavenly God feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will God not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?'
or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?'
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Creator knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and God's righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil."

Camas Lilies
Lynn Ungar

Consider the liles of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ode to Jessica

For the past six months our community was blessed with the presence of Jessica, a participant in our Benedicta Riepp program.

Jessica came to us from Merida in Mexico, connected through our oblates there. What a risk to take -- a 25-year old young woman entering into a completely new culture and way of life for six months! And, she jumped right in! Her infectious laugh and smile will be greatly missed. (Especially every time she laughed at my use of superlatives!) I was personally grateful for an opportunity to practice my outdated Spanish, but more than that, I was grateful to experience her beautiful spirit.

Thanks for the memories, Jessica! You are the BEST! Until we meet again...

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Our last batch of chocolate chip cookies! With all the leftover dough in one cookie!

 Our first adventure to the peninsula...with Erin, too.

Celebrating the Feast of Scholastica

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Chef's Table

A few days ago I discovered that Netflix released season 3 of one of my favorites, Chef's Table. The series documents chefs from around the world, giving us a glimpse of the food and the restaurants they create.

I don't just love Chef's Table because I love shows about food. I do, but I also love it because, for these chefs, the creation of a dish is an art; it is their form of self-expression, their passion. They have found purpose in this work.

To my even greater delight, the first episode of this new season gave spotlight to a Buddhist monk from Korea whose customers are the other monks in her community. Her name is Jeong Kwan, and her food is not anything extravagant. What makes her food so incredible is her mindfulness and her mindset that food contributes to our spiritual journey. I particularly loved this quote:

Creativity and ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly. Just as water springs from a fountain, creativity springs from every moment. You must not be your own obstacle. You must not be owned by the environment you are in. You must own the environment, the phenomenal world around you. You must be able to freely move in and out of your mind. This is being free. There is no way you can’t open up your creativity. There is no ego to speak of. That is my belief.

I highly recommend!

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Just Kids

A week or so ago I finished reading Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids. Memoirs are my favorite genre of books because I love learning the stories of people's lives, and memoirs often feel more intimate than an autobiography.

I found this particular memoir to be wonderful; in it, Patti Smith details the relationship she shared with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe during the ultra-bohemian days of NYC. The title comes from Robert's words, and as I read this poem (The Chance, Arthur Sze) a few days after I finished reading, it made me think of the book again.

The blue-black mountains are etched
with ice. I drive south in fading light.
The lights of my car set out before
me and disappear before my very eyes.
And as I approach thirty, the distances
are shorter than I guess? The mind
travels at the speed of light. But for
how many people are the passions
ironwood, ironwood that hardens and hardens?
Take the ex-musician, insurance salesman,
who sells himself a policy on his own life;
or the magician who has himself locked
in a chest and thrown into the sea,
only to discover he is caught in his own chains.
I want a passion that grows and grows.
To feel, think, act, and be defined
by your actions, thoughts, feelings.
As in the bones of a hand in an X-ray,
I want the clear white light to work
against the fuzzy blurred edges of the darkness:
even if the darkness precedes and follows
us, we have a chance, briefly, to shine.

Here is a video of Patti Smith paying tribute to Bob Dylan at the Nobel Prize ceremony. Beautiful!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Nevertheless, She Persisted

Those three words in the title have been popping up quite a bit lately and in a lot of places. How grateful am I for strong, compassionate women who model for me what commitment and truth are? My life is full of examples.

And, as if I needed another reason to love Elizabeth Warren...

I also saw this picture on Facebook about our most persistent mother, which I quite liked:
(c/o Women's March on Facebook)

We celebrated Saint Scholastica on Friday, Benedict's twin sister. The only real story we have of her is one of persistence. She wanted Benedict to stay in conversation with her one evening. He wanted to follow the rules and go back to his monastery. She prayed, and a storm began, making it impossible for Benedict to leave. #neverthelessshepersisted In my bedroom I keep another visual reminder of persistence, given to me by a spiritual director who taught me well.

And, here is a great list of other women who persisted.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


One of my novitiate projects is writing a research paper on the Rule of Benedict through exploring a theme found in it. I chose to explore the theme of peace, and I am deep into the nitty gritty of writing the paper.

Surprising (to me at least) is the fact that Benedict uses the actual word peace fewer than a dozen in the text of the Rule. Pax is ubiquitous in the world of Benedictinism. But, even though it is seldom mentioned explicitly, the theme still runs rampant throughout the Rule.

As I started working on the paper, I told some sisters about my work. They were quick to offer to read my paper and to answer any questions. One sister gave me books with quotes about peace. Certainly the experience of writing this paper is much more peaceful than those college days!

Here are a few quotes from the books.

It's a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problems all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than "try to be a little kinder." (Aldous Huxley)

If you live alone, whose feet will you wash? (St. Basil)

At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, "I will combat it with humble love." If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it. (Dostoyevsky)

What is (hu)man?
Hope turned to dust.
What is (hu)man?
Dust turned to hope. (Elie Wiesel)

Be not lax in celebrating.
Be not lazy in the festive service of God.
Be ablaze with enthusiasm.
Let us be an alive, burning offering
before the altar of God. (Hildegard of Bingen)

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Much of the solitude time during my novitiate takes me to my bedroom window and the area right outside of it. I have never paid so much attention to birds or squirrels or deer, ever. When snow lingers on the ground, the birds go through an entire feeder worth of food in a day. Anytime we put out old apples, the deer (or maybe squirrels) have consumed them by the next morning. (I have also learned that these animals do not like oranges and pears as much as apples.) Another sister has even told me that she spotted a pregnant deer right here on the monastery grounds outside her window!

It is sort of interesting to me that these animals are what have drawn me in - I certainly couldn't have predicted it, but as I reflect on it I am realizing that they are showing me a different way of being. They aren't worried about all the things I consume myself with; they just are. They come and go and are. Here are some of the tracks they (and some humans) have been making as they move about.

It makes wonder: What kind of tracks am I making right now?

I think my tracks are bit different than usual, as should be the case during novitiate. I feel myself calming down a bit inside, becoming more peaceful where I am. This is certainly a fruit of this unique year in my life. Brother John Mark Falkenhain, OSB says:

"Monks aren't terribly different than other people. Monks are very ordinary people who do very ordinary things - but are constantly seeking God in the ordinary. That's what distinguishes us and makes us extraordinary - looking intentionally and intensely at the ordinary in our search for God."

I am hoping that this is what my new tracks are teaching me - the peace of seeking God in the ordinary. And, if my tracks aren't teaching me, certainly the animals' tracks are.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Starlings in Winter

Because there can never be enough Mary Oliver...

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Now Is The Time

Last night my heart broke as we chanted Psalm 72.

When the poor cry, they will be saved.
From oppression they will be rescued,
for precious are their lives.
Your anointed will intercede
and all will receive blessings.

This morning we sang one of my favorite songs during Liturgy, Sing a New Church.

Summoned by the God who made us rich in our diversity,
Gathered in the name of Jesus, richer still in unity.

Draw together at one table all the human family;
shape a circle ever wider and a people ever free.

Trust the goodness of creation; trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised, sprung from seed of what has been.

Bring the hope of ev'ry nation; bring the art of ev'ry race.
Weave a song of peace and justice; let it sound through time and space.

Let us bring the gifts that differ, and in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new church into being, one in faith and love and praise.

We also heard a tremendous homily on the way the Beatitudes might speak to us individually, but they call us to act communally. After Liturgy, we acted.

May we uphold each other right now, keeping hope for the possible. Wendell Berry says it well:

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
place that you belong to though it is not yours,
for it was from the beginning and will be to the end.

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
and the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
in the trees in the silence of the fisherman
and the heron, and the trees that keep the land
they stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
and how to be here with them. By this knowledge
make the sense you need to make. By it stand
in the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.

Speak to your fellow humans as your place
has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
before they had heard a radio. Speak
publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
from the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
by which it speaks for itself and no other.

Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
which is the light of imagination. By it you see
the likeness of people in other places to yourself
in your place. It lights invariably the need for care
toward other people, other creatures, in other places
as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Embracing Vulnerability

I spent yesterday in solitude for my reflection day. With that gift, I was able to finish reading Brene Brown's book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't).

In the book, Brene outlines the way shame and fear affect the way we act and behave in so many ways that we often never even realize. She gives helpful reflection tools and outlines how empathy is the antidote to shame. Shame is a major focus of her research, as is vulnerability. I know many people are familiar with her work, but I feel like I cannot return to it enough. Embracing vulnerability has been a major part of my reflection during this novitiate year.

Here is Brene's TED Talk on the topic of shame.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Love Trumps Hate

It seems as though just about every Women's March yesterday exceeded expectations - how beautiful?

Here in Erie, I had heard the number 300 for expectations. As for reality, the number I am hearing is somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000! I think my favorite chant from the day is "Love, not hate, makes America great!" Of course, "We want a leader, not a creepy Tweeter" is pretty darn good!

In addition to a marvelous turnout, the weather was pretty marvelous, too. To wear a spring jacket on January 21 in Erie is quite the gift. God was joyfully looking upon the world yesterday.

Here is a very cool interactive piece from the New York Times showing the different marches around the world, followed by some of my own from here in Erie.

Link to New York Times.

Here in Erie:

Let us walk in the holy feminine presence.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

An Important Sermon for the Upcoming Days and Weeks and Everything Ahead

I first encountered Nadia Bolz-Weber in the episode of On Being she did with Krista Tippett. She is a minister at a progressive church in Colorado. Since hearing that interview I have enjoyed reading her sermons, which she posts online most weeks.

This recent sermon struck me as January 20th quickly approaches. She titles it: "Sermon On Seeing More Than Just What We Look For." (From

Sometimes I do something so stupid that I just really want to share it with everyone. Maybe that’s the pathology that leads one to write memoir. I have no idea why, but when something super embarrassing happens to me – like something really cringe-worthy, for some reason my first reaction is to immediately be disappointed that it wasn’t caught on video. Anyhow, I was discussing this with some of you this week – and how one of the more ridiculous moments of my life happened when I was alone and fast asleep in a hotel. I guess I had slept in such a weird position that my arm had fallen asleep – not just kind of tingly and a little numb, no it was completely dead – no feeling in it whatsoever, so anyhow – in my sleep I roll over and was startled to feel what was definitely a human arm, I screamed “who’s there?” and jumped out of bed, my heavy lifeless arm flopping to my side. I almost immediately started laughing at how ridiculous that must have looked to be afraid of my own arm – and then thought, damn I wish that was on video. In terms of possible things that can happen when you are sleeping, a murderer laying next to you in your bed or your arm having fallen asleep couldn’t be more different and I have to say I had never been so thrilled to be wrong.
Even though generally speaking, being wrong is something I try and avoid. I mean, I like to know what I am talking about. I like to KNOW stuff. And I like to be right, and I like to know what to look for in life. I like to have what I consider accurate assessments of people and institutions and events.
But I started to wonder recently if in some ways I believe that being right about theology or right about politics or right about social issues will save me. Especially as a Lutheran – since sometimes I joke that what Lutherans really believe in is salvation through theological precision.
But this week as I read our Gospel text I started to wonder what we lose when we think we already know things. What do we lose when we think we already know what’s possible and what’s not possible? What do we lose when we think we already know the nature and value of the members of our family? What do we lose when we think we already know who we are and what we are capable of? What do we lose when we think we know who God is, how God shows up in the world and where God is obviously absent.
Because the thing that struck me is how twice in our Gospel reading John the Baptist, when talking about how he was able to identify Jesus as the messiah, said he did not know. He did not know him. John baptized a gazillion people in the Jordon and yet he was able to se that this one man, one of countless men he encountered, this one man named Jesus, was the son of God, the messiah, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the word. John the Baptist in the midst of his daily life encountered God incarnate and was able to see the Lord – but not because of anything he knew or thought he knew, but because he was in a space of unknowing. It was his unknowingness and not his opinions or certainty that allowed him to recognize God in his midst.
That just made me wonder if maybe thinking we already know things totally gets in the way of seeing anything new… it gets in the way of seeing God right in front of us. Or as my mother Peggy says, Nadia once you decide you’re right about something you stop taking in new information.
And man, am I aware right now of how much what I see in life is determined by what I already believe…how I tend to just scan my life for confirmation of what I already think is true. Like how I only tend to look for confirmation of what I already think I know about someone.
I just think that if John the Baptist was baptizing at the Jordon and he thought he already knew how things were going to look, that he would have totally missed seeing who Jesus really was. And then that makes me wonder how often I miss seeing Jesus in my own life.
Because the other thing that really stood out for me in this text is how many times seeing and watching and looking are mentioned.
John the Baptist saw Jesus
John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending
God said the one on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one
And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
as he watched Jesus walk by
he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw 
That’s a lot of stuff about what we see and what we are looking for and I just couldn’t ignore it this week. Especially as someone who can feel trapped in her own way of seeing everything. I mean, I’ve been Christian for quite a while now and it still doesn’t feel like I once was blind and now I see. Which is why my friend Sara says it’s more like, “I once was blind…and now I just have really bad vision”
And feeling trapped in how I see things is especially hard right now and I don’t think I am alone because right now in our country we are so bitterly divided each side so sure they are right. Each side locked into our view of each other. Half the country will be celebrating this week and the other half will be marching this week. And right now given the fear and doom I am feeling about all of it you know what I want desperately? To be wrong.
want to be wrong. Wrong about what feels like the Hyrda administration. Wrong about the so called “other side”. Wrong about the future. I want God to give me new eyes to see.
So you know that little part in our Gospel reading where Jesus asked the 2 disciples “what are you looking for?” I heard that question differently this week than I ever had before. Usually I hear that as Jesus saying “search your heart and tell me what your deepest desire is” but this time it felt less like an invitation and more like an incrimination. Like Jesus is asking what are you expecting to see? What do you have eyes to see? What informs your confirmation bias?
Like he’s saying forget what you are looking for and instead see what really is. Which felt like good news I desperately needed to hear. Like Jesus is saying there is more to see than just what I look for.
There is more to see in myself than just what I look for
There is more to see in my enemies than just what I look for
There is more to see in this country than just what I look for.
I need this to be true. I need to stop looking for affirmation of what I already believe and instead see the world and others and myself through the eyes of a God who loves all of it madly. I need Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The one who flips the script and disrupts the narrative and reveals God’s truth. The one who says come and see. Come and see salvation (which is a path we can only experience by not already knowing where we’re going).
My vision is so limited to seeing confirmation of what I think I already know that if Jesus is offering to show me more I am so grateful. Sign me up.

Let us pray,
God of desert prophets and unlikely messiahs,
Help us set aside our pride enough to see how little we really know. Humble us. And then raise us up as agents of your peace. Show us that there is more to see than what we look for. More possibility. More love. More forgiveness. When we look upon those we consider enemies, help us see them as your children loved madly by you. Help others who view us as their enemies to also see us as your beloved children. Heal this nation. Heal the people in this room, Lord. Restore our sight so that we may see you in each other.
We’re not going to bother asking politely because we are basically out of other options. Show yourself, Lord. And if you are already doing that and we are too blind to see, then grant us even bad vision, since even that would be a vast improvement.
We ask all of this and that for which we have no words in the name of Jesus Christ, friend of sinners of every variety, Amen.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Various Stuff

After Liturgy today I went up to some friends with "various ideas" for the day. Overall though, it's been a pretty quiet weekend, with not much to report, so I am going to share some "various stuff" I've encountered. Maybe you will enjoy something in this mélange.

Alec Baldwin's latest Donald Trump impersonation:

KenKen puzzles - see the instructions on the picture - sort of similar to Sudoku, sort of not:

Words from Henri Nouwen:
"Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is 'unceasing.' Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love.

Let's break out of our isolation and realize that Someone who dwells in the center of our beings wants to listen with love to all that occupies and preoccupies our minds."

Some desert wisdom:

And, if you have Netflix, you MUST check out the new Lemony Snicket series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is genius!

Let us walk in the holy presence.