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