Monday, November 8, 2021

Not everything has to die in autumn

This morning I looked at the orchid at my window, and there she was. A bloom open. I have been waiting three years for this moment. It reminds me of Jackie, going back to work today after a year of novitiate in our community. Sure, this orchid had an extended novitiate of sorts (three years instead of the canonical one), but today she is most lovely and the cause of my joy and gratitude and contemplation this morning.

I thought to myself, “Not everything has to die in autumn,” while I tried to look closely at each petal, color, and curve of the bloom...with a golden tree as its backdrop through my window. I also thought to myself, “Val, not everything has to be a metaphor.” Autumn is ripe for them, as is each season, but autumn seems more obvious for us humans, called to die to self and let go each day.

The orchid seems to hold many metaphors, too. (Nature is good to us that way.) I could write about the bruised leaves juxtaposed against the beauty of the bloom…how many times (two) I accidentally broke off what could have become new blooms over those three years and how it so often feels like I get in the way of my own growth…how more blooms will come with patience and the orchid requires a particular and unique care regimen. But why? The loveliness and joy are so in my face as I stare at it in equal amounts to the time I am spending writing these words.

Find something beautiful today. Celebrate it for what it is, not for the meaning you make for it.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

On Being A Perfectionist

Some of you know that the last few weeks of my life have been quite, quite, full. A week and a half ago I made my perpetual monastic profession, the last step in becoming a fully committed member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. It was a six-year formal journey, but one that began many years prior with spiritual mentors, teachers, and other graceful influencers asking the right questions and accompanying me while living into them.

Now, the days and weeks leading up to October 9 were full of details and planning and logistics and preparations. While it was easy to get caught up in it all, I had one sister whose main mission was to remind me throughout each step, "Savor this moment." It helped to slow me down and remind me to breathe.

And since my profession, many have asked me how I am feeling. The first few days after October 9 the answer was always the same, "Joyful...but exhausted." Now, the answer has changed into another consistent response, "Everything is pretty normal again."

I am back into my regular routine. I have mostly caught my breath after a night or two of good sleep. I just finished a week of being "on dishes"...the number one sign of "normal life" at the monastery.

But, let me tell you...
The day was most magical. It was far from regular, routine, ordinary. And I think I did savor it. I know for a fact that the grace of the day has the potential to carry me through so much, if I let it. Because while the monastic life, lived in community, can be utterly challenging and demanding, it is so authentic to my heart. Because while the promises of stability, conversion, and obedience can feel so counterintuitive, they have already proven powerful for me. I want to be consumed by my commitment to these vows, and I want to let the commitment consume me as I continue to look into the white fire of great mystery.

Being a perfectionist is quite, quite hard living the monastic life, a life that calls me to be totally human. But one moment that I totally savored during the ceremony was a reading of Mary Oliver. (How could the ceremony not feature the beloved poet?!)

May this poem be my thesis for a life of stability, conversion, and obedience. As the sister who told me to savor each moment also said to me, "Welcome to the rest of your life!"

Enjoy some photos below.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Ponds
Mary Oliver

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 everythingthat it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Profession cookies—a community tradition!

A part of the dessert table—so many contributed delicious treats, and other dishes, to the meal!

...including an empanada-making/cupcake frosting gathering the night before!

Singing of the Suscipe—Uphold me, O God.

perfect sky—perfect day

lilies in chapel

Tuesday, September 7, 2021


When I was in second grade, we learned about palindromes. Already a classified nerd, I was obsessed. For homework we had to bring in three examples of this unique word classification. My list read:
1. mom
2. dad
3. Madam, I'm Adam.
(Obviously the third landed on the list thanks to my own mom.)

My next vivid memory of palindromes occurred in college when I was sitting in what turned out to be one of the most impactful classes I would have, General Systems Theory. My dear professor told us about a book whose author had a "palindromic name." While I delightedly defined palindrome as a word that reads the same forwards and backwards, my professor was surprised that I knew the definition. Mark Kram was the author of the book he referenced.

Over the weekend, Katie and I watched the 2016 sci-fi film, Arrival, with Amy Adams portraying a linguist who works on a team trying to communicate with intelligent life from "the great beyond." Language and words—and their impact on science, on life, on us—take center stage in the film.

It's one of those movies that woke me up in the middle of the night because it was so, so good and was still on my mind. And I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about since we watched.

It's hard to write about the film without spoiling it, so for now, if you're looking for something to watch, consider Arrival!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It Doesn't Get Much Better Than "Great"

Yes, we had a lovely time on Lake Michigan. I got to experience Grand Rapids for a day before we headed a bit more west toward the lake. We also made a quick stop in Grand Haven, equally lovely.

I think every tree should be wrapped in a blanket like this...and every person...and all creation. Needless to say, I fell in love with many trees in Michigan! This one was around the corner in Grand Rapids.

I try to find the best tacos each time I travel, and I think I found them in Grand Rapids, too...

And then, onward to Lake Michigan. Yes, it was that blue and perfectly sunny, too.

More trees to love. I felt kinship with this willow because of our fallen Grandmother Willow. And I loved the way these two trees love one another...

We enjoyed time on multiple bodies of water, including some kayaking time.

And we ended our trip with boat ride at sunset. Gorgeous and glorious.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Mary Oliver

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.

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Great Lakes Region

What is better than this little part of the world in summertime? This week I will head off to experience another area of the region that I am growing to love more and more as I travel to Lake Michigan, specifically the west coast of the state. I've never explored Michigan before, and with so many glowingly positive reports from people I trust, I surely look forward to all it has to offer.

Will the perch sandwich taste different?!

As for now, a few sights from Lake Erie during the season I adore...
Seems appropriate that the acronym we learned in school to memorize the names of these lakes spells "HOMES."

And, as always, a Mary Oliver for the road.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Forgive Me
Mary Oliver

Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.
It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the
trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with
its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and
makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some
spirit, some small god, who abides there.

If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing
I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this
holiness, which is why I’m so often late coming
back from wherever I went.

Forgive me.

My current joy is this hummingbird. I know it's him because he seems to have lost some of the feathers on his head, making him a distinct sight compared to the others who stop by. He visits each morning, and we greet each other. He returns many times throughout the day, always a welcome visitor.

Summer fruit becomes summer pies!

Inner-city beauty. Purple and yellow next to each other across the street from the Art House, and a passion flower which climbs the fence at the soup kitchen.

A visit to Wintergreen Gorge with my sisters...always fascinated by the roots and the stories they tell. And I just loved this mushroom, clearly soaking up the sun's rays, just like me!

Friday, July 23, 2021

A Visit Home with Mom and Dad

Well, I actually traveled home to help celebrate the first birthday of my nephew, but you know how when you travel home as an adult you see things that are central to your parents' lives in new ways.

It was no different this time.

When my mom and dad purchased their first and only home in 1983, the biggest criterion (for Dad, at least) was the size of the basement. You see, to put it lightly, my dad is a train/model railroad aficionado. From the time he was just a kid he has been in love with railroads, trains, chasing them to take photos and videos, and all that jazz. This means that our entire basement is one big model railroad. You cannot really appreciate the scope until you see it for yourself, and indeed, he has done open houses, but I saw it in a new way on this visit home.

I spent hours upon hours playing downstairs with my sister when we were kids and my dad was only on his first attempt at the layout. (He has since taken it down and started over twice.) We crawled under all the wood pretending it was Jurassic Park; we set up school classrooms with imaginary teachers and students, we scribbled all over the wooden stairs. (Our youthful cursive still lingers.) With my father playing docent, I got a tour this time as he ran trains for my nephew for the first time.

Turns out that Dad himself built a computer to run the system, all designed in his head and on graph paper, a rather intricate wiring/sensor/switchboard system that signals to a dispatcher in another room (the garage) where the trains are passing on the track. The dispatcher then uses a two-way radio to talk to the people running the trains in the basement. Yes, indeed, you do need to see it for yourself, but here are some sneak peaks until you find yourself in Emmaus.

A view down one of the aisles...

One of the switchboard systems and its wiring...all the wiring connects to the major switchboard in the garage, being run through a hole he drilled in the wall.

The inside of one of two helices that move the trains from level to level...

Another view and the control tower that he built and designed based on the real tower in West Virginia (the entire layout is modeled on the railroad system in the state)...

A video of the trains running...

As for my mom? Well, she has been handcrafting as long as I've been alive (and longer). Knitting, crocheting, embroidery, many fiber crafts. We took a trip to the local yarn shop because she is working on a sweater (or two) for me. I delighted in the colors.

Grateful for their creativity and the gifts that they share with others.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Summer, Summer, Summer

I cannot think of a better season. Really. Really.

Delighting to see the tomatoes on their way. New ones blossoming each day...especially with all this recent rain!

Watching the trees we planted at the monastery as part of the Re-Leaf program growing, while also helping a friend remove Japanese beetles to keep them safe!

Spending time cooking especially extravagant meals with the best company...a really wonderful friend and homemade guacamole.

Getting some perspective watching the sunset.

Hosting an outdoor giveaway at the food pantry with items donated by the Benedictine community.

Finding joy in the plants soaking up the sunshine.

Learning about the fun patches of wildflowers called "fairy rings" because the whimsical creatures dance and play there.

Having fresh, simple flowers from our yard to create beautiful and elegant chapel environments.

Being with community for perfect summer sunsets... plus...SPARKLERS!

Really, does it get any better?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Not everything has to die in autumn

This morning I looked at the orchid at my window, and there she was. A bloom open. I have been waiting three years for this moment. It remin...