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.

(via http://chrysalis.com.au/)

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

(via pinterest.com)

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.

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.

(c/o palebluedotltd.com)

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.

(c/o eater.com)

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.