Wednesday, July 19, 2017

200 Posts...A Look Back

Today's post is the 200th entry of this blog. Thanks for being a part of the ride!

In light of this, I have decided to return to beginnings today.

Every so often I am reminded or remember myself to connect with the initial spark of my vocation. What fired me up with Divine energy in the first place? It's a great and important question to reflect upon. Someone told me that she believes the key to commitment/vocation/life choice (or whichever word you're feeling today) is recognizing and naming the moment that made you say "Yes!"

So, what was the moment in my journey that stayed with me so strongly that I couldn't help but move forward in the discernment process?

For me it was my first experience of Triduum at the Mount. Of course the liturgies were totally breathtaking, but it was the presence of so many beautiful people surrounding me that made me think, "Yes! I both want and need to keep coming back." One sister in particular took me under her wing, made sure I felt comfortable in the new experience, and shared most meals with me and a little group of friends that formed during those holy and sacred days.

The rest is history now, but I decided to go back into the history of my journals from that first Triduum. This is the line that I found I had written upon my return home to Philadelphia.

"I know that if I keep this experience with me I will never be the same."

An understatement, indeed.

Let us (continue to) walk in the holy presence.

the journey

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Another Series, part 2

Following the waterfalls from two posts ago, here is the lake.

First, a wider view awaiting the sunset...

Now, some closer-ups of waves crashing...




SPLASH!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Companions on the Journey

We are companions on the journey,
breaking bread and sharing life;
and in the love we bear is the hope we share
for we believe in the love of our God,
we believe in the love of our God.

We sang this hymn a Sunday or two ago during Liturgy. The lyrics are lovely, but what I loved most was the ad-libbing of a sister next to me:

...for we believe in the love of our God (And each other),
we believe in the love of our God (And each other).

Yes, we do believe in the love of our God and of each other. As we celebrated the Feast of Saint Benedict yesterday, the Good Zeal of Monastics came to mind:

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.


Isn't it all the same?

Let us believe in Love.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Another Series

Last Sunday I took an evening walk over to Glinodo, deciding to enter into the creek that runs into the lake. Unlike the series of hydrangeas from my last post, there is no game to play, but here are some pictures that I took when I got up close to the little waterfalls. In another post, I will share a series from the lake.

First, from farther away:


Now, up close and personal:







Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Heavenly Hydrangeas

It seems that everywhere you look in our gardens right now, you can spot a beautiful hydrangea plant. I walked around the house and took pictures of all the different colors and varieties that I could find. These hues would create a most glorious box of crayons! So, here's a game. Below you will find ten pictures that I took. Can you figure out where I am around the property? This should be a beautiful game for your eyes, and I hope it is enjoyable, too!

Number One

Number Two

Number Three

Number Four

Number Five

Number Six
 (This location should be pretty easy to figure out, but I wanted to capture the wonderful, ongoing resurrection of an Easter chapel plant!)

Number Seven

Number Eight

Number Nine
(I don't expect you to figure this out, but it was my favorite picture!) 

Number Ten

Answer key: Take a walk around the Mount to see how you did!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

On Sabbath...In Praise of Play

A few weeks ago I read a great article on the On Being blog.

Courtney Martin writes about the importance of play and idle time.

In the piece, she writes:

The adults I admire most in recent years are people who devote real time and energy to playing. They tend to be lifelong learners — finding new crafts and sports that they’re curious about and giving them a go. They let their curiosity, not their egos, lead — less attached to being “good” and more attached to having fun. [...] What unites these people is a sense of playfulness about their own identities and a creativity with which they approach their time. They know how to be alone. They learn something about themselves that those of us who endlessly complain about being “too busy” or go into autopilot when we’re off work, collapsing in front of the TV and drinking, do not. They have grounds for being proud of themselves, for surprising themselves, for growing and taking deep pleasure in something other than our modern false god: productivity.

So, on this beautiful Sabbath day, PLAY!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

On Solitude

While our community was on retreat earlier this month, one day of the week was a "Desert Day" - a day devoted to silence and solitude. Mary Oliver writes this in the poem, Today:

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.


They're a pretty powerful combination: silence and solitude. And, I think this poem captures that pretty powerfully. Our retreat presenter, Bonnie Thurston, talked about the way that Thomas Merton's "ego-driven quest for God" eventually led to a self softening; his journey took him to solitude. I personally struggled quite a bit during our Desert Day because my ego had placed some expectations on the way I wanted to encounter the Divine. It took until evening, playing with some water colors, for my "voodoos of ambition" to finally rest. And what a gift it was - I actually felt myself just being, just letting God grace me with the gift of upholding. May we all have experiences like that in our lives - where we experience peace in our hearts at rest - true prayer.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Daylilies for days!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Ponds

I heard a wonderful presentation on feminist theology this weekend, which ended with this beauty from Mary Oliver.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

oh, the possibility

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

NADI

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.