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.

In Honor of Valentine's Day...

Here are three things currently on my "love list." 1. This photo that Jen, a postulant in our community, took of a snowy tree...