Showing posts from 2018

Transcendence, Enlightenment, etc.

My friend and I have been spending some time swapping messages about transcendence and enlightenment recently. Of course, we have yet to figure out how to achieve either, but this story we love gives us a good hint:

When I was twenty-one and on a Buddhist studies program in India, I ordained temporarily with two Burmese nuns. In the Theravada tradition, monks and nuns cannot eat after noon, so around 5 p.m. every day the nuns would gather to drink lemon tea and talk about the dharma.

At that point in my life, I was jazzed about enlightenment and the end of suffering. I spoke passionately and intellectually about my experiences of noticing impermanence during meditation. After I shared some such heady, proud insights, one of the nuns smiled.

“When I first ordained as a nun,” she said, “I was always hoping to get enlightened. But now, after forty years of practice, nothing has happened!”

Then she burst out laughing, overflowing with joy. “Nothing happens!”

The other nun joined in gleefully. …

What is a monk?

Isn’t this the million dollar question, the question that can help us unlock the future of our life as monastics, and specifically for us, as Benedictines?

Over the next five weeks, we are watching a series from Michael Casey, OCSO titled Monasticism in the 21st Century: A View From the Trenches. It seems Fr. Casey will be addressing the current situation where the monastic family finds itself, emerging features of the life, and how we form ourselves to live this life into the future. 
One issue the Cistercian monk raised was that it is difficult to define monasticism and the monk. Because the life is so dynamic and varied, it therefore carries with it a less-than-concrete definition. There are many orders, many ministries, many cultures, many, many, many. Because of this, there can be a lack of coherent vision about monastic life. 
He joked, “The monastery is about raising cows,” referencing some of the more agricultural communities. One sister sitting behind me misheard the quote, a…

The Truth

The lector read the lines of 1 Peter 5:5:

"And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for: 'God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.'”

She walked away from the ambo and said under her breath, "Yeah, you got that right."
Yes, the God opposes the proud and favors the humble. Now, more than ever, we need these lines as our truth.
This little moment happened at Sunday morning prayer during a recent formation weekend. We spent the weekend reflecting on the topic of liturgy and the Benedictine life.
Liturgy, the center around which our lives orbit as Benedictines, takes many forms, but I have spent much time recently in gratitude for the Liturgy of the Hours. Not just because of moments like this that make you smile with hope, but because each day I watch the same women walk into chapel to be faithful to the life they have professed to live. It would be impossible to live conversatio, stability, or obedience without…

Send Us Forth

Last Wednesday we took our signs and went out to protest Donald Trump and his policies during his visit to Erie. It was a powerful experience, and once I saw the lyrics to our closing hymn at Liturgy this past Sunday (Send Us Forth—Bob Hurd), our choice made even more sense.

We gather as holy church, proclaiming your holy word,
Challenged anew by your gospel. Empower us daily
To work for your glory, with all who hope in your promise.

Send us forth; may we be your compassion
And mercy to each person oppressed by injustice and need.
May our lives be a blessing and light to the nations,
A sign of the reign of God.

Our flesh, your dwelling place; our touch, your healing grace;
Our struggles, the work of your spirit. So may we be builders
Of the new creation, so may we be faithful disciples.

Let us vote on November 6th, and...

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Praying Mantis

Every morning I wake, dress in the dark, go downstairs.
I look out of every window.
I go out and stand on the lawn.
In the east, the slightest light begins
     flinging itself upward
and my heart beats (never an exception) with excitement.
(My gratitude to you, dear heart!)

Though it will all vanish utterly, and surely in
     a little while,
I know what is wonderful—
I know what to hoard in my heart more than the value
     of pearls and seeds.
There was the day you first spoke my name.
There was a white house at the edge of the harbor.
There was the swan, and the hummingbird.
There was music, and paper, and the tirelessly pursued work.
There were a thousand and again a thousand unforgettable days.

And still I’m looking at everything—
in the wide morning and the strike of noon
I’m humming, and clapping my hands
and I can’t stop 
not for any reason not even for the easiest thought.
And, anyway, what is thought
but elaborating, and organizing?
What is thought
but doubting, and crying out?

(In the dark, in the …

Into The Forest

Taking a break from technological connectedness this past weekend, we enjoyed a different type of connectedness heading off to the Allegheny Forest for a weekend of camping. Specifically we were at the Minister Creek campground, and with a site right next to the water, we couldn’t have asked for more. The sound of the flowing creek accompanying us in each moment gave me a sense of comfort that I only find with water.

I had been craving solitude of a different sort, but this was a totally worthy substitute. The weekend surrounded by dear friends, a fire, songs, trees, and simplicity afforded me a necessary respite from the usual busyness. And because nature is my favorite teacher of humility, I gained that sense of peace that one encounters through creation. I think I captured it in this semi-accidental photo.

Of course, we had the “dailiness of life” there, too. Dishes, shananigans, etc.

The weekend also provided the answer, yet again, to that question we never stop asking...
What’s i…

Running Into Morning

In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

—“Song For Autumn,” Mary Oliver
And just like that, autumn came. Yesterday we had to come in from playing outside because the temperature was too hot. Today, I wore a flannel.

It makes running much more pleasant. I went for an early morning run today, my favorite time to head out on the open road. Last weekend I did the same, but we were…

Cover Songs and Cover-ups

What a treat! Last weekend we took a road trip to New Jersey. I went to celebrate the wedding of a dear, dear, dear friend who I met on the first day of college. My Erie friends joined. Who could pass up an opportunity to dive into the ocean in late summer? Especially when it’s your first time ever for one of them. So, we put on our cover-ups, got some sandwiches from Wawa, and headed out on the NJ turnpike. Below you see a true Jersey native, body packed with all things beach, getting ready for a day embracing sand.

Jumping waves for a few hours exhausted us, but we sang our gratitude to Mother Ocean.

One highlight of the road trip were two extended sing-a-long sessions. We cranked up an eclectic YouTube playlist and sang our hearts out. Here are three wonderful songs we belted, sung by someone other than the original musicians.

A Case of You — Passenger

Romeo and Juliet — Indigo Girls

America — First Aid Kit

This weekend, we are off to Villa Maria for a formation weekend with Nancy Sy…

To be of use, by Marge Piercy (aka An Ode to Labor Day)

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher …

The Big City, etc.

We are back from a wonderful time in New York, where we struck a lovely balance between the city and the quieter outskirts. Here is a bit of a photo journey through our week.

First (and most importantly!) the completed chocolate tart. It worked! (And it was decadently delicious!)

We spent our first full day visiting the Met (and the Cloisters) to see the highly popular exhibit, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. The exhibit is on display in both locations and combines actual papal vestments with fashion inspired by the intricate and ornate designs. It was rather fascinating and over-the-top (in a few ways). These fashions were positioned between the usual art. Here is a statue of Mary and Jesus that I loved. It caught my eye because of Mary; the description spoke of the weariness of Mary that would cause her to lean forward.

Here is cardinal-inspired fashion, on a female (!).

The second day we visited Greenport, which is at the tip of the North Fork of Long Island.…

Adventures in Baking, Humility, and Community

As someone who loves spending time in the kitchen (My dream job in second grade was to be a chef.), I enjoy taking on a new culinary challenge. The newest challenge is a pastry, a tart to be exact—something I've never made before.

I found a delicious recipe for a salted-caramel chocolate tart, and a trip to New York next week was the perfect reason to finally make it, in order to be shared with our host. So, off I went.

Here is the crust after the butter had been incorporated. I kneaded it a few times and formed it into a disk shape to be chilled. Then, onto the salted-caramel filling.

Those are the pictures pre- and post-butter.

I got the first two parts done Wednesday evening. Thursday night it was time to bake the crust, again, something I've never done. But, I began rolling it out...

And, I was pleased with the results.

So, I got it into the oven, and when the crust was done, I looked at it, amazed at how beautiful it was. I was so darn excited about the crust, and I began…


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.

by Mary Oliver

Happy Sabbath.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

A Little Manual for Beginners

I have a dear friend who just moved to Erie, and with her she brought a “living artifact” of Benedictine life. It turns out that her grandfather was an oblate of the Benedictines in St. Joseph, MN. She discovered this treasure—with a copyright date from 1948!

How cool is this? Upon finding the Table of Contents...

I turned to the section on humility found in the “Benedictine Way of Life.” Here is the wisdom “of the day”:

St. Benedict could not have arrived at this beautiful thought of ordaining the monk to be, as it were, a courtier of the Great King, if he had not had a profoundly true conception of the relation of the creature to the Creator, of the Christian to Christ; and if he had not been prompted by this conception to make the monk’s life the expression, as perfect as human limitations may allow, of what ought to be the creature’s and the Christian’s attitude and manner of life over against God, so that it might be, in some measure, an expression of the service given Him by thos…

Merton on Monasticism

Wherever you have [...] a small group attempting to do this thing, attempting to love God and serve him and reach union with him, you are bound to have some kind of monasticism. This kind of monasticism cannot be extinguished. It is imperishable. It represents an instinct of the human heart, and it represents a charism given by God to man [...] and because we believe this, we have given ourselves to the kind of life we have adopted.
I finished reading the book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own last week. It traced the intersection of the lives of Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, and Thomas Merton. This quote from Merton comes right at the end of his life, when we was speaking at the conference in Asia where he died by electrocution.
As I read these words, I stopped once, and again, and then again. I needed to keep re-reading them because they struck me (male language notwithstanding!) so strongly. The monastic life is gift that God continually gives to the world.
Let us …

Benedictine Travels

I had the opportunity to travel to Minnesota on Thursday to attend the American Benedictine Academy (ABA) conference at St. Benedict Monastery in St. Joseph, MN. This community finds its home just a few miles down the road from St. John’s in Collegeville.

The theme of the conference was Artisans of the Monastery, or Chapter 57 of the Rule of Benedict. We heard thoughtful presentations on the creative process, viewed some art from both communities and other Benedictines, sang hymns together written by Benedictines, and enjoyed each other’s company.

I was struck by many moments throughout the time, most especially listening to a monk from St. John’s read his poetry. He first started writing at the age of 75, and he is now in his 90’s! But, what I loved about that particular experience was that Fr. Killian only has use of one eye, so his brother monk gently helped him read the words on the page. It was a true moment of tenderness and mutual love.

We witnessed some incredible needlework o…