Thursday, July 2, 2020

Summer Wasn't Canceled

One of nature's creatures enjoying the wonders of summer.

“Summer is canceled,” the headline said. The article mentioned festivals and events, large and small, that would be called off for at least a year because of COVID-19. The tone of the article was gloomy, evoking disappointment, fear of boredom and a feeling of deprivation.

Canceled? Really? Summer in my yard began with rhubarb, followed by lilacs and then irises. The birds sing from morning until night. The frogs pick up the chorus at dusk. The seeds I planted have sprouted, and there are flowers to be followed by vegetables. The sun rises and sets every day, and the moon continues through its predictable phases. 

In the evenings, I see kids riding their bikes and families out for a stroll. On my walks, I sometimes hear a sound I call “thwack,” the sound of a dad playing catch with his child, a memory of my father and me in summers long ago. My 46-year-old daughter told her husband she was going to order a new swimsuit. Since they don’t have a pool and their family’s summer trip was canceled, he asked why she needed a new swimsuit. “I might run through the sprinkler," she told him.

Some have called it “the summer that wasn’t.” Maybe it’s something we can still depend on if we look not at our nearly empty calendar but to the work of our Creator and the blessings of staying closer to home.

Marge Lundeen, OblSB

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In Memory of George Floyd

The monastery cemetery, taken by Sister Nancy Bauer

IN MEMORY OF GEORGE FLOYD (1973–2020)

The black, the brown
the poor,
especially the poor
unheard persons
of the past centuries
from the hot cotton fields to
northern bigotry
are crying
to be heard,


crying
to breathe, they say,
to be heard and
understood
what it is like
to be afraid
ALL the time.


Tired of
it all, sick and tired
of the stupidity,
unbelievable deductions
of what white people surmise
when an occasion –
small or large
(like George Floyd)
happens,
they cannot
contain themselves
and tear apart
what is in front of them,


now pray
we might have our eyes
torn open and
pray now we can finally see.


Josue Behnen, OSB                                          

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Hollyhocks

Nature's beauty, taken by Sister Nancy Bauer


“Yes, there you are!”

From the time I was 14 until I left Saint Benedict’s, I would rush out behind Town School to find a lone hollyhock growing through the gravel and tar each summer.

Amazing! Never a boring miracle, this flower was almost my height. A different color sang out each summer as the buds unfolded. Guessing the color every year was a delight!

Not sure what prompted me to collect those first seeds my generous miracle left behind, but I did.

Now, decades later, standing on my back porch, splashes of red, pink, yellow and orange greet the world. Those seeds from my teenage years have travelled with me and multiplied. Planted behind every house I called home, they became the way to tell people about being Benedictine. Beginning in Missouri, moving to Wisconsin and back to Missouri again, the flowers poked up each spring. Three different houses in Missouri and it was on to Colorado. By the time we moved to Michigan, I realized these “Benedictine” seeds had journeyed many miles criss-crossing the Midwest. But the journey wasn’t finished. From Michigan, it was on to California and then to New York. Now these Minnesota Benedictine seeds are growing in Tennessee. They have left behind their progeny in the north, south, east and west splashing urban, suburban, semi-arid and farm land yearly in number, color and the story of Benedict.

Looking back over my life, I can hold my teenage years in my mind by listening to the color and remembering how Benedict has walked with me. Not only has it been a horizontal kind of journey, but it continues to be a vertical one, too. Have I grown like the hollyhock? Have I spread the seeds of the Good News? How do I hold up in a storm? Has my color grown more intense? Have I learned to listen to the color and settle into silence?

Last June, I went looking for my hollyhocks when I was at Saint Ben’s. They were gone. It wasn’t because of their resilience. A whole new building was built where they once stood. Perhaps I found my purpose—to save and spread our story in a different way. I didn’t set out to plant Benedict, but I couldn’t help it. I needed Benedict as much as those seeds needed to be planted. And now, during the pandemic, the whole of the community is somehow here and I am somehow there. Don’t you hear the color sing?

Pat Pickett, OblSB

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Day Lilies and Peonies

Pink peonies in the monastery dining room.

When I spotted day lilies blooming today, I knew I was going to have a feast for my eyes. When day lilies start opening, peonies may be showing their gorgeous pink frills already or will be very soon. Oh, what delight!

Isn’t it just masterful that flowers have such magical timing—so much so that each receives its due? Each bloomer is spotlighted, if you will, and receives its own stardom for a few days. If you watch carefully, you will notice that this well-orchestrated showing is perfectly timed throughout the summer and into the fall, until asters and chrysanthemums begin to dot the garden while temperatures change announcing that fall will be coming soon.

As signs in nature tune us into the season’s swiftly changing days, so too, can we see the subtle changes in one another.

For example, I begin to wonder if her hair is becoming whiter every day, or did she dye it? Does her gentle smile seem to be more frequent? Is her step slowing down? Her peppiness must mean she’s content. In realizing that the external traits of people obviously change, especially when I take the time to notice, I realize that the internal traits are subject to change as well.

So, does that means that the internal work is God answering my prayers and helping me to change at the same time?

I like to think so.

Mary Jane Berger, OSB

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Poetry of Silence

Photo by Victor from Pexels

In the mid 1800s, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were blazoned forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore create silence.”

And in our time, Father Thomas Keating, one of the principle developers of contemplative prayer, wrote, “God’s first language is silence.”

So, I want to talk about the necessity of silence. But does that make sense? Silence infers “not talking.”

This leads us to the conundrum that has boggled humanity since the beginning of language:

How do we share our most profound experiences, when these are precisely our most inexpressible?

Which leads us to poetry, which I sometimes think of as language’s equivalence to the sideways glance. When we find ourselves in the dark, if we can’t make out an object by looking at it directly, if we can’t determine whether that thing is an owl perched on an old oak’s branch or a headless horseman, our peripheral vision is most effective. Exploring a concept or experience through poetry is like looking at it out of the corner of our eye. It will probably always be a bit blurry or hazy, but we gain that wonderful aha of recognition.

Poets understand that poems come from silence. Practiced readers of poetry understand that a poem will live vibrantly only when surrounded by silence. Just as you can’t talk while drinking a glass of water, a poem won’t glide through your mind and slide down your throat into your heart, unless you receive it in silence. Benedictines understand silence, too, but even more deeply.

Poets make art from words. Benedictines seek to attune their hearts to The Word, and then to remake their lives in response to hearing the Word.

Poets know that white space, the absence of ink around lines of poetry, opens the human understanding to the nuance and resonance of language, to the power of words to contain hidden and multiple associations. The close reading of a poem helps us be attentive to what is, as well as what is not, being expressed.

In spending time with the Sisters and Oblates of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, I have learned that Benedictines know that silence opens our hearts to God’s voice, carried on the surface of language. At the same time, silence also opens our souls to God's presence, God’s Spirit above, beneath, ahead, behind, and all around us. Silence facilitates an encounter with God beyond our intellectual comprehension of God.

Richard Rohr writes that silence is a place of “nothingness, emptiness, vastness, formlessness, spaciousness,” where “There are no sides to take and only a wholeness to rest in—which frees us to act on behalf of love.”

Free to act on behalf of love? When I ponder the mystery of such incomprehensible liberty, a line from Hildegard of Bingen visits me—like a feather on the breath of God. And then this poem comes along and gives me a sideways glance at silence:

On the Breath of God

Cloud, you harbor electrically
charged ice crystals, the spark
of orange-tinged grace. How
do you drift east, confident
as a mountain range, then shape shift
into gray feather, fluidity of calm
buoyed to a listless stream?
Even while sole-curled around earth’s
magma core, I want to rise on thermals.
I want to swivel on the gravity
bringing musical rain down. Let us
be held in the silence of clouds.

Tracy Rittmueller, OblSB


Tracy Rittmueller is an oblate of Saint Benedict’s Monastery. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, poet/writer and founder/director of lyricality.org. She is currently working on a collection of essays regarding practices common to monastics and poets. She is also one of the winners of the 2020 American Benedictine Academy's Monastic Essay Contest for her essay titled "Therefore Create Silence."

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Something Triggered Deep Within

Triumph of the Cross in Sacred Heart Chapel

Tonight, as I set into place the 440th piece (give or take) of a 1,000-piece puzzle, something triggered deep within...

Tonight, it’s the color of my soft pink sweatshirt and the warmth of the light in the loft that seems to do it. Grandma comes to mind. It was as if her heart brought love enough to keep all evil at bay. Suddenly, I longed to take the soft pink and wrap all evil in it so those who encounter it may know how deeply they’re loved and not alone. To take all pain and rock it gently would be a grand gift to give.

Mother Teresa said, “If we love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt…only love.” A mama’s heart desires to do just that. So, where does a mama lavish the love she so longs to give when the one they long to love is not able to receive, or worse yet, no longer here? What’s a mama to do?

At such a time as this, we sense the pain of the other. That’s what mamas do. So easy it is to say to one another, “Trust, God’s got this, Let go and let God, or He never gives you more than you can handle.”

Truth is…life is hard. Somewhere along the line we thought it wasn’t going to be or supposed to be. We try desperately to play God so things turn out the way we think they should. We pound our best out onto the pavement of life only to discover that we can do nothing to change that which has been set in motion.

Or can we? I may not have all of the answers, but I do have one.

We can do something. Each and every one of us can. We can turn to the cross. When I do, I see a man hanging upon it. I see a man that was crucified. I see the Son of God. I see all triggers, all trauma and all trespasses against us nailed to it and it reminds me that I am not alone. It reminds me that I never will be. It reminds me that “in my weakness, He is strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When I look at the cross, it reminds me that life is hard and this world is broken. He gave up His life so that we might turn to Him rather than this world because this world will not satisfy.
Truth is that when this world tries to rip the very heart right out of a mama…we can cling to something. We can cling to His Word as we look to the cross.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).

It is because He is who He says He is that we are able to cling to the truth of the cross on which He rested so that we may rest in His reassures as we live within the borders of this broken world. To this a mama’s heart can cling. Rest assured. Amen.

Kathleen Kjolhaug, OblSB

This article was first published in Theology in the Trenches, a column written by oblate Kathleen Kjolhaug. Posted with permission. Read more articles on her blog, Theology in the Trenches.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

We Must Not Stand By

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

In my mid-80s and in our 99th day of sequestration from COVID-19, I dare not remove myself from the death of George Floyd, the hearts broken and inflamed, the cries and outrage of people who want liberation from the knee of hundreds of years of oppression. The psalmist tells us God hears the cry of the oppressed. If the psalms mean anything, they are cries for justice, liberation and love. They are divine words, but they must be real words praying for the messianic reign of God to be on earth as it is in heaven.

We pray for George Floyd that the angels may lead him into paradise. We pray that our eyes may be opened to the injustice of racism. Our prayers for justice are powerful and as strong as our God, and they must turn our hearts as well. But in addition to this, we are not helpless. We can call our elected representatives, we can email and write them. And we can vote. Yes, we as Christian Benedictines must never lose hope. We are called to be instruments of God’s mercy and God’s justice that lead our world into the peace of God. Let us never lose hope in the mercy of God.

Charles Preble, OblSB