Friday, February 14, 2020

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 in our back yard.

2. This quote from Margaret Gonsalves in a Global Sisters Report article that describes consecrated life:
Embodied consecrated living is a constantly evolving nomadic community, a band of inspiring seers and cosmic dancers having paradoxical celebrations of creation's goodness; embodying profound brokenness, structural injustice and suffering of humans and creation; marching valiantly and consistently; radiating the expansive wisdom of being one cosmic community.

3. And this poster from the New York Times of all the women in the 116th Congress hanging in our library.

Feelin' the love. Happy Valentine's Day!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Working on the Single-Hearted Love of God

Perhaps these thoughts connect with some of my thoughts on stability, which I offered after returning from spending a week at the border last month.

I have been reading Ilia Delio's memoir, Birth of a Dancing Star, and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. Her ability to articulate God as cosmic, divine Love is beautiful and inspiring. Here, she is writing about how this all fits within the lens of religious life:

Religious life is a perpetual fitness center for the soul or a "training center of love." The pursuit of holiness is learning to integrate the threads of our many loves into the single-hearted love of God. "You truly exist where you love," Bonaventure wrote, "not merely where you live." Where we grow in love is where we find our true being because it is where we find our freedom; and where we find our freedom is where we grow into our true identity in God.

"Religious" life is a life tethered to God and should be a life of growth in freedom and thus growth in courageous love, a life bountiful in love and thus the most daring life possible.

There are so many things I love about these words. They provide another example of what stability can do for one's heart. When we do the inner work to ground ourselves solely in God, uniquely as that might look in an individual's life, we can become free to live "courageous" and "daring" lives rooted in the gospel message of Love.

And yes, one must stay perpetually fit in exercising her spiritual life, but isn't the feeling of being truly free to love as one's best, fullest self worth it? Even if not vowed to religious life?

How can a monastery become the local Y for the spiritual life of its community?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

the gift of sunshine on a winter day, but don't be fooled...
the photo on the left was last week, the right was yesterday!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Latest in "From Scratch"

I don't hide the fact that I am a "foodie." I really, really like really, really delicious food. So, my most recent request was to learn to make homemade enchiladas from scratch.

This past weekend, my friend and I made two different salsas, red used to dip the tortillas and green used to top the finished product. She had already made the homemade tortillas before I got there. We mashed up the boiled potatoes as filling.

The assembly line went something like this: dip the tortillas in the red salsa, fry them up in oil, fill them with potatoes, roll the tortillas. Much messier than it sounds!

Then, we topped them with sliced cabbage, tomato, sour cream, and salsa. Olé!

What a delicious undertaking!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Mornings at Blackwater
Mary Oliver

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
it was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond
or the river of your imagination
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.
And live
your life.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Gift of Groundedness

When I was novice we spent time studying and reflecting upon each of the three monastic vows: obedience, conversion of life, and stability.

When asked which I thought would pose the greatest struggle for me, I said stability. Not that I thought obedience and conversion would be easy, but given my generation's generalized love of being non-committal and fear of making decisions, it felt like saying "Yes" to one group, one place, and one way of being was an overall daunting idea.

Stability is not just about choosing one monastery, or place, to pitch my tent; it's about stability of heart, and not wanting to flee the first moment something goes wrong. This, as someone who likes things neat and tidy, posed a bigger problem in my brain.

About two and a half years into living these monastic vows, I gained a new perspective on the beauty of what stability can be when lived authentically.

While at the Texas/Mexico border at the beginning of the month, we were sitting around the dinner table one evening. Around that table sat Sr. Ursula (a Benedictine from Boerne, TX who runs the ministry where we worked), my Benedictine sister from Erie with whom I was traveling, a Honduran mother and her two sons living in the home who were awaiting their court hearings for asylum, a 20-year woman from Honduras in the same situation, the friend of one of the sons, and a Methodist couple from Texas who were in the area doing volunteer work.

It was certainly the most diverse table at which I had even eaten. I sat there, sort of stunned. Because Ursula has been planted in this community for over twenty years, she has place to welcome and to extend hospitality in a unique, loving, and Christ-like way, which she would not be able to do otherwise.

Being rooted where you are, in humility and in heart, makes such a difference in being able to offer yourself to others. If you are not constantly scrambling to figure out where you are yourself or where you want to go next, it can help you to become a peaceful presence in the world.

A beautiful vow, it is—that stability.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

A home being built out of pallets in Mexico

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A Week at the Texas/Mexico Border

As I prepared to travel to the Texas/Mexico border for a week, quite a few people asked me about my expectations and hopes. I didn’t have much to say because I really didn’t know exactly what I had said “Yes” to doing. I didn’t know how many migrants we’d meet with harsher immigration policies in place; I didn’t know what the home looked like where I’d be staying; I’d never been in Texas before; I didn’t know if we’d cross over to Mexico; on and on the list of unknowns went.

The landscape at the Boerne monastery

Usually a laundry list of unknowns is extremely uncomfortable for me. But, as we made it through our three flights that ended in San Antonio, Julian of Norwich must have been with me. I truly felt, “All shall be well.”

Maybe it was that we were met with the usual Benedictine hospitality when the prioress from the Boerne community came to pick us up from the airport and then took us out for a meal. Maybe it was that the community of sisters welcomed us so warmly at the monastery, with a curiosity about us and joy to be with us. Maybe it was the 3-hour car ride to the border the next morning with two sisters from the community. All was well.

As you leave San Antonio and get closer and closer to Eagle Pass, the border city where we stayed, it gets flatter and flatter. You can try to imagine people fleeing from their homes and their countries into this unknown land, full of fear, questions, and full of so much more emotion. I could never, though, imagine the extent of the realities that would cause someone, or some family, to risk so much—me being from a safe place with so much privilege.

The view near the border

When we arrived at Sr. Ursula’s home, the Benedictine sister who lives and ministers there, we were immediately greeted by someone whose reality is the former. A mother and her two sons, who fled Honduras because of violence, live with Ursula while waiting a court date, while her husband lives in prison as he awaits his own. And while we immediately clicked with this mother who could not have been too much older than myself, I sat there in conversation wondering so much about her truth, her experience, and her future. Her two sons each have a truth of their own as they begin acclimating to a new school system, a new language, and a new culture. And for as much as we conversed, again, these are realities we could never fully appreciate or grasp.

Our day-to-day schedule was a new monastic rhythm for us. Later mornings meant later evenings; we weren’t living on our own schedule anymore. Perhaps the 8 o’clock dinners were the hardest part for me! I am usually in my pajamas by then, or close! We spent our days helping Ursula arrange donations, organize her food pantry, make beds for people staying over, unload trailers with items to give away—many tasks you might imagine. Then we would usually head across the border and into Piedras Negras, the Mexican city on the other side of the Rio Grande.

The Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo

When you cross the bridge, you see the river, called the Rio Bravo in Spanish, that migrants must cross to make it to Texas, and it doesn’t look too wide, or too dangerous. But then you find out that the water can be 10-13’ feet deep, and you hear the stories of people dying while swimming; you understand how it gets its Spanish name.

In Mexico, Sr. Ursula has an entire other ministry, one that spans helping in any way she can at a boys’ and a girls’ orphanage, a home for migrants, a home for people with disabilities, two soup kitchens, and other ministry work. It is an amazing network of people doing good, and Ursula helps to facilitate and sustain the work at these places. It was true gift to encounter these people who have significantly less still reaching out their hands in service to others. It was humbling.

At the girls’ orphanage

After the first day or two of living a different schedule, not doing things at the exact time we said we would, lingering and talking to others much longer than we would here, I found myself in one of those spiritual sticky situations where I had to quickly let go of my idea of how things would be done; I had to give up my desire to control and learn to simply be with Ursula in her ministry, helping her in any way I could. After that wake-up call, I found myself sinking into the experiences that followed with much greater joy and gratitude and much less anxiety. Of course, I didn’t know what to expect going into this week of my life, but I certainly took myself, and all my spiritual baggage, with me!

It’s hard to describe how much my time at the border meant to me, and having returned only a few days ago, it is something that is still very much unfolding and will continue. It surprised me how drastic the change felt coming back home to the Mount and back to work; there was definite new perspective—for which I am quite grateful. I know I have much more to say, especially about the beautiful monastic spirit that is Sr. Ursula (and, of course, about all the wonderful food! Olé!), but this is a start as I begin to embrace a new truth of my own that now includes having had this deeply meaningful and moving experience.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

This Day, and Probably Also Tomorrow

We are spending a week in Eagle Pass, TX doing ministry work at the U.S.A./Mexico border. I could not help but share this image of the sky looking westward into Mexico the other night, as well as this Mary Oliver poem that I came across for the first time while here. 

This Day, and Probably Also Tomorrow

Full of thought, regret, hope dashed or not dashed yet,
full of memory, pride, and more than enough
of spilled, personal grief,

I begin another page, another poem,

So many notions fill the day! I give them
gowns of words, sometimes I give them
little shoes that rhyme. 

What an elite life!

While somewhere someone is kissing a face that is crying. 
While somewhere women are walking out, at two in the morning—
     many miles to find water. 
While somewhere a bomb is getting ready to explode. 

Until I return...

Let us walk in the holy presence. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Clothing of the Monastery

I stood at the door of the Emmaus Soup Kitchen the other night alongside one of my sisters. After dinner there, we were both coming home to attend the memory service for our sisters Mary Bernard and Dorothy who died on the same date, twelve hours apart.

We often put out clothing or other items for our guests. That night at the kitchen were many pairs of white socks. My sister told me, “These were Sister Dorothy’s. Our guests like white socks.”

Benedict asks us to regard all goods as “sacred vessels of the altar.” For us it means taking care of our clothing, too. Benedict asks us later in the Rule to return our clothing “at once” to store “in a wardrobe for the poor.”

Thanks for continuing to teach me this way of life that Benedict gifts us, Dorothy!

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...