Blogging about life at a Benedictine monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Tomorrow, March 5, is Ash Wednesday. Lent is about to begin. Many people don't particularly like the season but it's one of my favorites and Ash Wednesday is a day I really appreciate. I actually thrill to the words: "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return," as my forehead is marked with the ashes. This isn't because I'm being morbid. It's more because it's a "reality check" - I'm human; my life on earth is finite. The unspoken declaration that it it is not so with God and that that the immortal, everlasting God can and will lift me from the constraints of my humanity hangs in the air beside the spoken words. And I feel an uplifting of my spirit.
Part of the reality check of Ash Wednesday is also that I am a sinner. Now, I know the ideas of sin and unworthiness are not very fashionable at present. But I find it a relief to admit that I'm not perfect, could do better, and that God knows that, yet still loves me and will lift me up. Ash Wednesday is, for me, a call to look at myself honestly, to start again, all the while knowing that it is that very honesty, authenticity, trust in God and a determination to persevere, even when things seem difficult, which are leading me towards God.
Yes, the ashes remind that I'm human and a sinner, but they also remind me that I'm a sinner on the path to finding God, the God who turns sins to ashes because, in the end, God is greater, stronger and more loving than my failings.
“The life of a monastic ought to be a
continuous Lent.Since few, however,
have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of
Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and wash away in this holy season the
negligences of other times.” (RB, Ch. 49) Next week, on Ash Wednesday, we
will hear these words from Chapter 49 of the Rule of Benedict at Morning
Prayer. Benedict tells us that Lent is an excellent time to do some house
cleaning, house cleaning of our soul.What
does “house cleaning of our soul” mean?I have a bowl on my dresser in my room similar to the one in the picture
and a lot of things end up in the bowl:my sunglasses, keys, medals, pennies, and small mementoes.Once in a while the bowl is overflowing and I
am reminded that it is time to clear the bowl.“A monastic Lent,” Joan Chittister, OSB, tells us, “is the process of
emptying our cups. Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the
sludge off a life turned slipshod.” It is good that Benedict in Chapter 49
provides us with some antidotes to the sludge we have accumulated since Lent
last year.He suggests a little more
prayer, a little less food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting. I
am reminded of the athletes who competed recently in the Winter Olympics in
Sochi. Monastics are not very different from athletes who build up their
strength by hours and hours of grueling practice to be in tip-top shape when
the time comes to compete. We build our stamina to face the spiritual
challenges that come our way by adopting the antidotes that Benedict invites us
to tender to.Just as athletes don’t
decide on their own what exercises they will do to reach their peak, they rely
on their coaches to help them make those decisions, the same is true of
monastics. We consult the wisdom of the Prioress or Abbot before undertaking
our Lenten practices so that we don’t go to extremes.That is not the Benedictine way.
As we embark on this holy time of Lent I pray with the
psalmist for you: “Create in me a clear
heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.Do not cast me way from your presence, and do
not take your holy spirit from me.” (Ps. 51:10-11)
We have had
two Sisters die recently who were in their upper 80s and early 90s. Neither of
them was often in the spotlight. However, they emanated delightful uniqueness.
One had an
insatiable fondness for history. Though she lived many years with intractable
neck and arm pain, she chose not to let altered health status dictate how she
would spend her days. She quieted any inner voice that might have crowded her mind,
inviting her to close down her life a bit, by giving herself over to her
natural love of history. It would be difficult to name the number of 8-volume
history texts she read and reread from a wide range of historical perspectives.
Nor could we estimate the hours she spent applying her preference for natural
healing by relaxing her body and energizing her brain with classical music each
week. She definitely defied what crowds of people around her thought she was
sister, another avid reader, also silenced any inner voices she might have had
that told her to slow down as her health diminished. Instead she used her active
mind and clever use of language to write “spicy” newsletters for sisters who
needed to be away from the monastery while doing their ministries. As blindness
advanced, she invited books-for-the-blind into her life. Then, as her hearing
diminished and the crowd of those around her wondered how she would deal with
yet another loss, she welcomed three different volunteer-visitors into her room
each week. Each would sit near her, project their voice and dialog about politics,
current events and “matters of consequence”.
These women’s lives kept
reminding me of the “roar of freedom” described in Osho’s comment,
greatest fear in the world is of the opinion of others, and the moment you are
unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep, you
become a lion. A great roar arises in your
roar of freedom.
I pray that the
roar of freedom continues to arise in me and each of us. Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB
My blog this week is connected to last month's, another musing on living monastic life. I had some interesting responses to January blog it which have helped me as I continue to reflect on my commitment.
Last month, I indicated that it's not how I thought it would be. Yet I don't think I had a clear idea about what it would be or how it ought to be. I visited the monastery and I felt called . It was as simple as that. There were, of course, complexities involved in answering the call, but it was clear to me that I would, so I don't really regard that as a challenging period.
When I say that I didn't have a clear idea of what my life would be that isn't the same as saying that I didn't have a sense of what the essence would be. What I craved at the time was to shed everything because everything, even good things, seemed to be a distraction from God. I craved the desert, at least metaphorically, and that's what I prayed for - a desert where there would be just me and God.
Well, surprise, surprise, there are all these other people around in community; there isn't just God and me. Every day I have to try to find God in them. Sometimes that's difficult - as I'm sure it's difficult for them to find God in me. It would be much easier if we weren't all so human!
But, at another level, my prayer has been answered. It is the desert because so much of what was familiar isn't here, but somewhere else, back in my old life. Living monastic life is radically different the more I live into it. The surface things are the same because I have food, shelter, warmth, basic security as I was fortunate to have before I entered. But beneath that is a different landscape, a landscape which tests me in ways I wasn't expecting and don't control. It isn't the desert as I would have imagined it to be but it's uncharted territory for me. It can be dry and unforgiving but I keep hoping to find an oasis now and then and trusting that I can keep travelling.
And where does the
tic/tock of my clock go when it has done its momentary job?And words, once spoken, where do they
go?Do they continue sending a message
of the passage of time, of the mind’s thought or the heart’s longing to be in
relationship, to change the world, to write a perfect poem or to make at least
an imperfect apology. . .
That melody haunts me still, so long after Simon and Garfunkel
wrote it and the sad war was the sad answer to their sad and probing question,
“Where have all the flowers gone?”
“Long time passing. . . . long time ago.”
Where do waves go once they hit the shoreline? Or what
happens to the snowflakes when they melt? Or a rainbow when it is no
longer?What happens to our memories
when death comes?
“When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”
Where have all the flowers gone, indeed? And when will we
ever learn that those lovely flowers may be decorating the graves of legendary
'60’s people like JFK, RFK, MLK, Jr. or our century’s victims of war,
trafficking, abortion, starvation, injustice and crime.
Sadly it has taken me a long time to wake up to the terrible fact that HUMAN TRAFFICKING which exists worldwide, including in the United States, is endemic of a world that is blinded by greed, drugs and violence.
Next weekend is Super Bowl weekend, and while on the surface, and for most of us, it is a great occasion for celebrating and for friends to get together to watch the game, enjoy the commercials, good food, etc. there is a shadow that darkens all of this and it is a side of humanity that not many of us ever see. I have always known that prostitution existed but in looking back over the years I recognize now that I was and am still filled with prejudices and naivety about the women and young men who practice the trade of prostitution. The one thing that has come home to me at this late date is that the women and men who practice prostitution do not do it out of choice. And we, even if we know that it goes on more often than not, ignore the situation claiming, "It is someone else's problem; what can I do?" There is a statistic that claims that before and during the 2010 Super Bowl 10,000 women and girls were trafficked to Miami for the Super Bowl. While that figure may be inflated it is completely true that trafficking of human beings, whether boys, girls, women or young men, is very real and because this form of life lives in the shadows most of us never come face to face with it. There is no doubt that this is one of the, if not the, ugliest side of the human family, and I am not referring to the prostitutes themselves who are the victims but the perpetrators who use the prostitutes for sex slave in order to feed their disordered appetites.
Human trafficing is much more complex than mere prostitution. It is at its very worst slavery when children and young girls are bought and sold for slave labor. These children are vulnerable because of family situations, war, famine, and just plain greed.
In conclusion I would like to suggest two films, the first one is a documentary and the second is a film based on a true story: (1) Half the Sky: Turning Opression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, and (2) The Whistleblower. Let us hope that we will do our best to edcuate ourselves about human trafficking and report suspicious activity in your neighborhood, universities, offices and sports teams. We can also listen attentively to our young people and to the values they speak of and live by.
Each time I found myself immersed in a new culture, I began to
hear stories about the way that culture came to know God. What fascinated me
were the strands of familiarity I noticed when comparing each unique cultural
spirituality with my own Catholic faith tradition as expressed in the USA. I was fortunate enough to spend a summer in the southern portion
of the Navaho Reservation in Shiprock NM, to live in central Utah for eight
years and also to spend an academic year in a Catholic high school in northern
Japan.The spiritual richness of each
culture ultimately manifested itself in the clarity with which each one lived
out their faith-precepts in their daily lives. This demonstration of faith became
most apparent in their communal expression of God-connection within the
celebration of their liturgies.The
subtle nuances of their symbols and songs immediately spun me into the mystery
of the vastness of God’s presence-among-us. So this week of “Church Unity”, as we acknowledge the wealth of
multiple religious traditions and the strands of unity that bind us as one, I
flash back to my past experiences and the wealth of lens-expansion that each
experience gave me.The prophetic
message that each religion expressed, helped me recognize how truly complementary
each tradition was.Each of us has a “mother
tradition” in which our deepest consciousness has been formed.This “mother-tradition gives us a concrete
faith community to remind us to be accountable for what we say and do as we
journey together in learning to truly love.” [Richard Rohr Daily Meditation, January 20,
2014]. And, within this community, we can safely allow ourselves to be
enriched by the insights of other faith traditions.Together we journey deeper and deeper into
this mystery of inclusive love.Perhaps,
when we go deep enough, we may find ourselves “falling into the “underground stream that is shared by ALL.”[Rohr]
This blog is maintained by a group of Sisters at Saint Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota. We try to post weekly and often succeed at that.
The opinions on this blog belong to individual writers and do not reflect any official position of the monastery. Please feel free to comment on any of the entries-- comments are moderated, but we'll publish any reasonable comment.