Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On St. Augustine

Things take the time they take. Don't
     worry.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
     before he became St. Augustine?

I begin with this poem from Mary Oliver seeing as we celebrated the Memorial of St. Augustine on Monday. On Sunday I happened to open up and begin reading an incredible book, Jesus the Teacher Within, by Laurence Freeman, OSB. The book (not coincidentally, I'm sure) centers around the question Jesus asked in Sunday's Gospel: "Who do you say that I am?" The premise is that we must continually ask ourselves that question of God, Jesus, and ourselves as to grow in true Self-knowledge. I am enjoying it very much so far, and when I came to a few lines about Augustine, I figured it would be timely to share them with you.

"St Augustine was fascinated by the question of self-knowledge, aware no doubt of how hard he had worked to gain it himself:

'A person must first be restored to himself, that making of himself as it were a stepping stone, he may rise thence to God.'

In his Confessions St Augustine was the first Western writer to define the sense of personal identity as intimately interior, self-conversing, seeking and anxious. He initiated the autobiographical narrative style that we take for granted as the way we think and talk about ourselves. Describing his search for himself as a search for God was not a mere literary device. His self-concern was given meaning because it pointed towards an ultimate self-transcendence. By self-analysis and writing he advanced towards self-knowledge in the telling (and invention) of his story and by the sharing of his hidden personality. This seems all quite familiar to us today, in the culture of the television chat show, as a means of understanding who we are. Yet there is a difference in motivation. However self-centered his autobiographical self-awareness might appear at times, it was led by a consuming passion to know God. This was the God he said was closer to him than he was to himself and who knew him better than he could know himself. He could therefore pray that he would come to know himself so that he could know God. It was a sublime kind of egotism waiting for an ecstatic release from the ego."

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Look at the Wildflowers

From Matthew 6:26-34 (The Message translation):

Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to God than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion - do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen - don't you think God'll attend to you, take pride in you, do the best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way God works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

These verses are definitely some of my most treasured lines of Scripture, because I need to hear them the most.

Lately, I have been doing some heavy reflecting as my novitiate year nears its end. I have gone back into old journals and found that, even though I don't remember some things at all, I was dealing with all the same stuff back then but it was just in a different, previous year of my life. I was writing about fear of failure, lack of trust, and other issues that put on full display my humanity. So when these lines from Rainer Marie Rilke came into my email the other day, I had a little chuckle.

And you wait, keep waiting for that one thing
which would infinitely enrich your life:
the powerful, uniquely uncommon,
the awakening of dormant stones,
depths that would reveal you to yourself.

In the dusk you notice the book shelves
with their volumes in gold and in brown;
and you think of far lands you journeyed,
of pictures and of shimmering gowns
worn by women you conquered and lost.

And it comes to you all of a sudden:
That was it! And you arise, for you are
aware of a year in your distant past
with its fears and events and prayers.

-Remembrance

It [life] has all already been, currently is, and will be in the future. Because it's not just the trying stuff that I am encountering as I look back, but it is also the joys. So (again) the call is to trust, to believe that each moment is enough, that God gives me exactly what I need, that faith in the Divine is where I should place my attention. Present moment--wonderful moment, indeed.

Let us join with the father of the boy possessed by a demon: "I do believe. Help my unbelief."

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

From Teilhard de Chardin

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Graced Beauty of Surrender

The past few days I have been struck by the flowers in our gardens. No longer at their peak, they have assumed an altogether different sort of beauty. I first saw it when I noticed the hydrangea bushes losing their familiar vibrant colors in favor of some new hues.


As I study the monastic vows, I am reading about this sort of surrender that nature demonstrates to us so well. For we humans it brings along some extra baggage though. The prioress of the Benedictine Sisters in Bristow, VA, Cecilia Dwyer, quoted Charles Cummings, OSCO in a piece of writing on obedience:

The mystical death-experience of total surrender issues in an experience of exhilarating freedom, a rebirth into a new place of life. But total surrender is frightening and arouses my anxiety and resistance. The anxious feeling I have is a sign that I am being invited to move beyond my present state of complacent existence into a new and closer relationship with the hidden God.

This feeling of fear is not foreign to me, nor to any other human being, I'm certain. In these moments, and in my better moments, I remember to look to nature for a sort of balm for my spirit. It is nature that continually teaches me that we simply must give ourselves over as we are; there is beauty in that. Today I went out and tried to capture the beauty of total surrender in a few photographs.






I am most often one with eyes fixed to finding beauty in the ideal, but today I found it in reality. Our fears are real, too, and we must pay attention to them, but we must also pay attention to the promise they hold. Kathleen Norris writes in Amazing Grace:

Yes, it [fear] can stymie us, but it can also set us free. It is fear--in the old sense of awe--that allows us to recognize the holy in our midst, fear that gives us the courage to listen, and to let God awaken in us capacities and responsibilities we have been afraid to contemplate.

So, yes, fear is real, but Christian fear must push us to look beyond, to believe in the God of all creation. This God calls to us: "Do not fear; I love you; you are mine." To what else would I rather surrender? What else could be more beautiful?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Necessary Words

I was going to post something different until this poem came into my inbox this morning.

Thanks for giving us words for this moment, Wendell Berry.

To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust
Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know

there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

Let us pray for peace.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Catching Up and Moving Forward

Two of the last books that I have read are books that the majority of people read 10+ years ago: Eat, Pray, Love and Harry Potter (Sorcerer's Stone).

While it has taken me a bit of time to get around to these books (I have to admit I have been stubborn about reading Harry), it does seem appropriate to be reading them now. Though I am only just beginning the Harry series, I know enough about it to know that it is about the struggle for good amidst evil, among other things. Eat, Pray, Love is all about learning to live from love, not fear.

These themes are important ones as I approach the making of my first vows in community. This is what the journey of the monastic is all about. Benedict tells us in the Prologue of the Rule about choosing a life of good:

"Seeking workers in a multitude of people, God calls out and says again: 'Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?' If you hear this and your answer is 'I do,' God then directs these words to you: If you desire true and eternal life, 'keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim.'"

And about choosing love:

"See how God's love shows us the way of life."

J.K. Rowling says, speaking through Dumbledore:

"Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."

And Elizabeth Gilbert says, speaking in dialogue with her friend Richard:

E: “All I seem to do is argue with myself when I try to meditate.”

R: “That’s just your ego, trying to make sure it stays in charge. This is what your ego does. It keeps you feeling separate, keeps you with a sense of duality, tries to convince you that you’re flawed and broke and alone instead of whole.”

E: “But how does that serve me?”

R: “It doesn’t serve you. Your ego’s job isn’t to serve you. Its only job is to keep itself in power. And right now, your ego’s scared to death cuz it’s about to get downsized. You keep up this spiritual path, baby, and that bad boy’s days are numbered. Pretty soon your ego will be out of work, and your heart’ll be making all the decisions. So your ego’s fighting for its life, playing with your mind, trying to assert its authority, trying to keep you cornered off in a holding pen away from the rest of the universe. Don’t listen to it.”

E: “How do you not listen to it?”

R: “Ever try to take a toy away from a toddler? They don’t like that, do they? They start kicking and screaming. Best way to take a toy away from a toddler is distract the kid, give him something else to play with. Divert his attention. Instead of trying to forcefully take thoughts out of your mind, give your mind something better to play with. Something healthier.”

E: “Like what?”

R: “Like love, Groceries. Like pure divine love.”


Both of these books have been wonderful companions the past few weeks, and a special thanks to my wise friend who encouraged me to read them both!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

On Conversion

From Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace:

In living out my conversion as a daily and lifelong process, I treasure most the example of my grandmother Totten, who dwelled in one marriage, one home, one church congregation for over sixty years. Her faith was alive for anyone to see; her life demonstrates that conversion is no more spectacular than learning to love the people we live with and work among. It does not mean seeking out the most exotic spiritual experience, or the ideal religion, the holiest teachers who will give us the greatest return on our investment. Conversion is seeing ourselves, and the ordinary people in our families, our classrooms, and on the job, in a new light. Can it be that these very people--even the difficult, unbearable ones--are the ones God has given us, so that together we might find salvation? Taking a good look at myself and the people I live and work with, I might assume that God is foolish indeed. I might also begin to have an awe-inspiring glimpse into the uncomfortable implications of Paul's exhortation to the Philippians to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).

Let us walk in the holy presence.

rain on the lake

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Intergenerational Life

It is a well known fact that one of our Sunday presiders, Father Jim, gives a great homily. Each week that he celebrates with us, he provides us with thought-provoking insights into not just the gospel reading, but each of the three Scripture readings for the week. (In fact, it is not only Jim who does this--we are quite blessed with our celebrants.)

Today though, really stuck out for me into terms of "homilies I needed to hear." (We all know what they feel like!) Jim reminded us that we already heard the gospel of the Transfiguration during this liturgical cycle, way back in our Lenten journey. But, this time, he explained, the context is different in light of the other gospels we've heard leading up to it.

The past few weeks have been about the Kingdom of God, but rather than focusing on the exterior reign, he reminded us of the utter importance of transforming our inner lives. It happens through all those tried and true ways: prayer, spiritual direction, and immersion in our daily lives here and now.

I feel like I have a bit of an advantage on that last one--immersion in the daily life--through living in community. I was reminded of that in a recent article by Courtney Martin on the On Being blog.

She writes about the value of intergenerational living and the gift that it brings us in terms of wisdom and energy. I have yet to encounter any other way to gain such wisdom and energy in one space. And while I would never trade my peer group, the joy and strength that I've gained through wise mentors have been essential to my journey. (And any one of my same-aged friends would tell you that about me in a second! It didn't surprise any of them that I wanted to enter this community.)

Yet, the question I still get asked most often about my choice to enter has to do with the age gap. Most of the time I just want to respond by saying that my sisters are actually the ones who give me energy. I truly, truly believe in the value of intergenerational living and the power of shared wisdom. Benedict even writes about it in the Rule, in the chapter on Tools for Good Works: "Respect the elders and love the young."

This weekend provided me a tangible experience of this, as I was accepted to make first profession in the community. Saturday morning was a beautiful time of joy. As I embraced each of my sisters, I took in all their love and wisdom that they share with me so freely, and not just on special occasions.

I have no doubt that intergenerational living daily nurtures my inner transfiguration.

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Storytelling

Since the last time that I wrote about Pax Christi's Peace Stories blog, a few new pieces have been published, including my second story. I am participating in a project called Young Peace Journalists for my novitiate corporate commitment project. Working with a group of other young writers worldwide, we interview local refugees and write their stories for Pax Christi.

If you click on the names below, they will link you to each story.

Me

Merveille

Innocent

Willeke

Let us walk in the holy presence.