Monday, December 24, 2018

A Christmas Miracle, in verse

A gift certificate,
So, a Christmas dinner—
Rescheduled once or twice.

Two friends,
Open a door of books
And a bottle of wine
To enter into conversation
And communion.

Still hungry?
Ice cream, always.
The simplest of cones.

Christmas gift exchange—
Why not?

In the parking lot on 12th Street,
Unwrapped gifts
Wrapped discreetly—and quickly—in scarves,
Also newspaper and blue ribbon.

Thoughtful and simple,
Coffee, Marian images.
A Christmas moment
To remember.

The miracle of friendship.

Yes, my dear friend and I ended up exchanging gifts in a bit of an impromptu manner last week. It was perfectly us, especially as Annie Lennox’s incredible version of The First Noel and First Aid Kit played in the background.

Christmas is here. God is with us, indeed.

Merry Christmas to you, one and all. Many, many blessings and miracles be with you.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

I saw a sister of mine come into the community room sans shoes. I pointed this out to her. She said she was hoping someone would notice. Look at those socks! Ho, ho, ho!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Loved Like That

A friend of mine recently shared a poem by Marie Howe with me. It is called Annunciation.

Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel it
I know it is—and that if once it hailed me
it ever does— 
And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,
as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t—I was blinded like that—and swam
in what shone at me
only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.

Beyond being a gorgeous piece of writing, it's just the right poem to take me into Christmas. The monastery is doing a great job of keeping us in Advent though. Not too many signs of Christmas have popped up yet, besides a bit of fruitcake, a few wreathes, and other smaller signs. We do try to make an effort, but Friday night the tree will come to grace the center of the community room; we will decorate it, bless it, and sing carols around it, as the most senior sister turns on its lights. It's one of my favorite traditions, among the myriad ones that come alive each year at this time in the monastery. It definitely is starting to feel of that "in-between time" as Advent ends and the Christmastide begins.

It's nearly impossible for me to feel anything less than deep, deep love as we join to celebrate with our community of Oblates, friends, and family. Christmas affords us a significant time to treasure the beauty of being human, of being so deeply loved by God. As we will sing in what might be my favorite tradition--Christmas Eve Vigil prayer--"Emmanuel, Emmanuel, who we are that you have loved us so well?"

May we turn in that direction, always tilting toward Love.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

a lovely Christmas scene at a recent dinner

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Curious, distant
Bright sensation on my face
Who is this stranger?

Sunday has taken its name seriously the past two weeks—a gift amidst the necessary, preparatory darkness of Advent. Erie gets a little bleak this time of year as we wait for the Solstice to give us hope; needless to say, days like this are extraordinary moments. (I even write a haiku, or two!)

I got outside for a bike ride and a walk these two Sundays. I cranked up my current favorite band, First Aid Kit. I allowed nature to do its thing to my soul. There is little I can think of more satisfying than making it to the top of one of the longer hills that I hike up on two wheels on East Lake, but the view is, without fail, worth it.

I think a lot about the barrenness of these winter months, especially when I am outside, especially seeing the empty grape vines that were so recently full of fragrance, especially during Advent when the goal is to make space to live an authentic Christian life as our true Hope emerges again.

Don't think the garden loses
it's ecstasy in winter. It's quiet.
But the roots are down there riotous.

Rumi, too, gives us poetic hope. I take great comfort in these words each winter, but it takes great effort to get to that point. Trust is hard enough with others, but to trust ourselves and God at work in our lives--that's an entirely different ball game!

Advent is such an opportune moment to practice our trust and our hope--so intertwined they are--especially in this liturgical season. May our Christian life be the practice we need.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

a taste of First Aid Kit

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

An Advent PSA

This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,

She did not cry, “I cannot, I am not worthy,”
nor, “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
             raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
      consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
   and the iridescent wings.
   courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Consent, Denise Levertov

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Art as Life

When we were at the Renwick Gallery during our time in Washington D.C., one artist’s work focused on the U.S./Mexico border. Tanya Aguiñiga founded AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides). Here is a description of the work she and others are doing:

Quipu Fronterizo/Border Quipu engages US/Mexico border commuters on both sides of the border by asking about their experiences and asking them to anonymously tie a knot. The AMBOS team walks among the cars in traffic, pedestrians waiting in line, and surrounding areas of the crossing asking for participation in an art project that focuses on the lives of those who cross the border and/or live in the borderlands. Postcards that read “¿Qué piensas cuando cruzas esta frontera? / What are your thoughts when you cross this border?” are passed out with pencils for participants to record their thoughts in the space provided. All of those who work or live along the border are invited to participate, and asked what they think if they can cross the border, and if not, their opinions on living there. On the opposite side of the postcard, there is a explanation of the exercise for the quipu that we create with the help of participants. Commuters are given two strands of thread and asked to tie them into a knot reflecting their time and emotions spent crossing. The strands represent the US and Mexico’s relationship to one another, our self at either sides of the border, and our own mental state at the point of crossing.

These knots were on display at the Renwick, which allowed us to spend time in prayerful contemplation of the current situation.

Let us pray for all those at the border in Tijuana and an untangling of this humanitarian crisis.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Walking Through Washington

I spent the past week in Washington D.C. attending an early childhood education conference. Quite the experience to see so many EC educators in one place, not only from this country, but representing teachers on an international scale. The highlights for me were workshops on making experiences with block play and math more intentional and meaningful for children.

Staying a good 40-minute walk away from the convention center allowed some opportunities to take in the nation’s capital, a place where I have spent quite a bit of time, but the majority of that as a kid who visited every year.

This time I had the chance to visit the Renwick Gallery with a friend. Currently on display was an exhibit focusing on the Burning Man Festival that takes place each year in Nevada. As its websites describes, the people attending Burning Man create a city unto themselves, “a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. In this crucible of creativity, all are welcome.”

One central part of Burning Man is a temple designed anew each year, which gets burned at the end of the festival in addition to the namesake “Man.” In this exhibit there, too, was a temple erected completely out of wood.

What is so beautiful about this particular temple is that it was created to honor the experience of grief and loss. You can read more.

We had been looking for a way to remember a young man, the son of a friend, who died unexpectedly earlier this summer. And lo and behold, here was the temple. A total gift. It calls to mind lines from Maya Stein that I love:

We are each of us inches from death.
We are each of us inches from life.
We are each of us inches from one another.

Although we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let us lift up also those experiencing grief and loss  wherever they may be.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Friday, November 9, 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. “Nothing happens! Nothing happens!” And they continued to laugh good-naturedly about this.

Nothing happens. Try as we might.

Funny enough, this morning I opened up a book of talks that John Main, OSB gave to oblates, and the title of the first talk?

Conversion and Transcendence!

I laughed good-naturedly about this. The monk adds a Benedictine bent to the theme (from the book, Community of Love):

St. Benedict was clear in the Rule that we must approach the mystery of God not through someone else’s witness but through our own experience. He has the monk recite every day, “Oh that today you would hear his voice. Harden not your heart.” And so, a key personal word in the Rule of St. Benedict is the word “conversion.” As you know, the Christian is one converted to Christ. St. Benedict asks us to live this conversion as the main thrust of our life. What does this mean, conversion, for us as men and women of the twentieth century? What I would like to put before you now is that I think we can best understand conversion in the vocabulary of the twentieth century if we think of it in terms of transcendence. That means the expansion of our being that comes about as we cross the frontiers of our own limitations and leave self behind to cross to the further shore. The whole purpose of the Rule of St. Benedict and of monastic life is to leave self behind, to burst the bubble and illusion of egoism. Transcendence is a dynamic motion beyond ourselves in which we leave every limiting factor behind and in the power of Christ enter into a truly creative development of our own being.

Just a few more reminders that the journey is all about letting go! Here's our dear Mother Earth doing her part to teach us, too.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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, asking, “Raising hell? Did he say the monastery is about raising hell?” I told her his actual words, and neither of us could stop laughing. 

But isn’t that a great vision? The monastery is about raising hell. It is about speaking up about the individualism that is destroying the collective good. It is about speaking up about the culture of violence that teaches children at younger and younger ages that it is okay to hate and act on that hatred. It is about speaking up about the gospel vision where the words of Mary’s Magnificat ring true for all and in all.

The monk therefore lives in community as a witness of abundance, radical equality, and shared goods. The monk lives nonviolently not only with her sisters, but with her larger community, and with the natural world. The monk lives rejoicing in the one true God who calls each of us favored. 

Of course there are one million ways to live that vision, but as long as I can be a part of bringing that tradition into the future, however it looks, count me in.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

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 the grounding of the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily recitation of the Psalms that it affords us.

Last week also marked the one-year anniversary of my first vows, my first jubilee, if you will. Someone asked me an important question, "Has living these vows for a year changed you at all?" That's the real, most important question as I continue discerning this life. Are these the vows to which I want to commit myself, and are these the women with whom I want to live out that commitment? Does it make a difference? Am I a more loving person because of my commitment? Is this way of life that I have chosen part of my Truth?

And aren't these the questions we all must be asking ourselves all the time, no matter our path?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

the freedom to receive life with arms wide open

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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 distance,

I can just see the heron
dimpling then calming her long wings.)

As reliable as anything you will ever know,
time moves its dim, heavy thumb over the shoreline
making its changes, its whimsical variations.
Yes, yes, the body never gets away from the world,
its endless granular shuffle and exchange—

everything is one, sooner or later—
the red fox and the bullrush,
the industrious ant and the sleepy bear,
the green crab and the minnow,
the pink boat and the dog in the pink boat,

Shelley’s body and the gleaming sand.

When the praying mantis opens its wings
     it becomes a green flower.
When the egg breaks
     it becomes a bird.
When the river is finished, its avenues of light
fold and drop and fall into
and become the sea.
(Mary Oliver)

I have spent some time this week reflecting on the praying mantis that decided to find some stability on my window for at least an hour the other evening. (Still there after an hour, I went to sleep.)

I searched Mary Oliver online to find a poem that mentioned a praying mantis, confident that she would have written about such a creature. From her book, The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary conveys the message, yet again, of interconnectedness, conversion, and gratitude; all is one, all is transforming, all is worthy of praise.

So, I did a quick search to read about the symbolism of the praying mantis, also confident that this lingering insect had a message for me.

"The praying mantis takes its time in all that it does. It takes care to pay diligent attention to its surroundings, and moving through life at its own pace. It demonstrates the ultimate power of stillness. It serves as a reminder for humans to slow down in our chaotic, fast-paced lives.

Wisdom emerges when we are still and quiet, sensing and feeling rather than thinking critically. It comes with experience, age, and being, rather than traditional schooling. It cannot be obtained through arrogance.

In fact, the Chinese honor the praying mantis for its elegant, mindful, and contemplative movements. By reminding ourselves to have patience with ourselves in our own movement, we, like the mantis, can grow in our wisdom. They remind us to have patience in acquiring the things we want and to remain balanced throughout the duration of the wait.

The praying mantis will become your animal totem once you have learned to take your time and live your life at a silent and reflective pace. You should make all choices with a sincere commitment to careful thought and contemplation.

By being mindful of this, you will enable yourself to know exactly where you are going and when you will get there. Calmness and serenity are crucial to living like the praying mantis."

It turns out the praying mantis clearly had a message for this perfectionist, hell-bent on completing to-do lists, proving her efficiency, and trying to do a bit of everything. Serenity, in fact, is the virtue of an Enneagram 1, a goal for the persistent perfectionist. Which means it is time to sit with the experience I had through both these sets of words, Mary and the symbolism of the mantis.

Which animal has called to you lately?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, October 1, 2018

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 it all about? Well, here it is.

Joy, relationship, Love, and that in all things God be glorified.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

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 at Villa Maria, the home of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary for another intercommunity formation weekend. As I turned around from a run down a long country road to head back, I noticed the sun coming up (another reason I love early runs).

Here is a bit of time lapse that I was able to capture in between breaths and steps.

Benedict tells us in his Rule to “run with the inexpressible delight of love.” This isn’t too difficult to accomplish literally with a view such as the one I experienced at Villa Maria. Today we celebrated five of our own sisters who have been running with this inexpressible delight for fifty years—their Golden Jubilees. They have embraced the call of this season that we begin today—letting go, allowing transformation, and embracing change. It’s the only way to live the monastic life faithfully and joyfully. I am grateful for the witness their lives are for me. In her remarks, our prioress reminded us of the primacy of relationship that roots this life as well—respect the elders; love the juniors. While this led to a little laughter with the sister next to me, recognizing the age gap that separates us, there is such truth and necessity in this statement. We cannot live this life well if we do not learn from each other.

So, thank you—Marla, Susan, Sue, Dorothy, and Janet. Thank you for your love, for your sharing life with me, and for your fidelity to Benedict’s Rule to which you have committed yourself for the past fifty years.

Let us walk in the holy presence. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

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 Sylvester, IHM. Until next time...

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, September 3, 2018

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 cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

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. There is a taco restaurant there, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

There was also a lavender farm, complete with truly free-range chickens!

The next day we walked the High Line in the city, which was part of an old El line. The place was packed and gave you a great urban experience.

To continue the balance between city and “less-bustling areas,” we visited Dan Barber’s farm and restaurant, Blue Hill, on Wednesday. He has been featured on Chef’s Table on Netflix and is doing important work in the areas of farming and sustainability.

Here is another photo from the farm, inside a greenhouse.

We rounded out our time with a pool day. At day’s end, I heard something atthe hot tub. It was a poor bird caught in the water. After fumbling for a while, I learned about the filters and how to help lost creatures! We got our little friend to safety!

What a generous gift of time we had. When I lived on the other side of the state I was able to visit NY often, so I appreciated the past week. But, I must admit, it also felt great to get back to the monastery and the rhythm of life here. Back to work tomorrow!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Prophets of Peace

We spent this weekend celebrating the Feast of Saint Scholastica, Benedict's twin sister. Each year the community gives an award called ...