Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Pause and Pray

Sister Leonore Mandernach praying in the
Oratory, taken by Sister Nancy Bauer

How do you live each day? After I read a quote by Muhammad Ali, “Don’t count the days. Make the days count,” I was energized by these words with a desire to learn how to live my life to the fullest each day. After prayer and reflection, I realize the power of the words lies within each of us. So, I began to think that in order to do just as the quote inspires me, I simply need to listen to my body and breathe in each moment of each day. 

So, now I do this every morning; when I end my private prayer, I take time to reflect upon each breath; I take it in and then let it go. By doing this natural life-sustaining act in a slow manner, I am aware of being alive. A breath can also become a pause in my day, a reminder to stay present in the moment, a reminder to make the day count, to live it to the fullest. 

I believe that as I practice breathing slowly, everything else will fall into place. I will not rush through an activity, no matter how full my day may be; I want to remember that each moment is important. As we live through the coronavirus, as we stay at home, remember to pause and pray. At Saint Benedict’s Monastery, we have created pauses during our prayer hours, a minute or two to breathe and reflect on the reading we have just listened to.

If you would like more information about our common journey, please contact Sister Lisa Rose at lrose@csbsju.edu.

Lisa Rose, OSB

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Empty

Sacred Heart Chapel decorated for a previous
Easter celebration, taken by Susan Sink

I usually wear seven rings. It’s not as flashy as it sounds. They aren’t full of jewels, and they all have a history. A couple of weeks ago I removed all my rings. I thought I would be able to do a better job of washing my hands in this period of vigilance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I like my bare hands. When I see them empty, I feel as though I am living more simply, down to the basics. They look brave, ready for simple tasks and easy to fold in prayer.

I see emptiness all around me now. My calendar is empty. My cupboards and pantry have empty spaces as I’m taking time to use supplies I already had. When I see empty shelves in the grocery store, I remind myself that I have enough or I can do without.

It is Lent, and the church pews are empty. This is my greatest sorrow, that I cannot join others in singing and praying and hearing the Word. Beyond sorrow is not knowing when there will be wine in the chalice and bread on the plate again.

A few days ago, I asked myself how I could bear Easter, the first time in my long life that I would not be in church on that glorious Sunday. And then I heard a voice say to me, “You will rejoice, for you will find the tomb empty.”

Marge Lundeen, OblSB

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Daily Diary

Photo: Pexels.com

Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite email pastors, writes, "Even the most cursory of diaries can be of incalculable value. What the weather was doing. Who we ran into on the street. The movie we saw. The small boy at the dentist's office. The dream. Just a handful of the barest facts can be enough to rescue an entire day from oblivion—not just what happened in it, but who we were when it happened. Who the others were. What it felt like back then to be us." (info@frederickbuechner.com)

Based on his insights, I would like to extend an invitation to you and your family, these ordinary days of "lockdown" or "stay at home" changes created by coronavirus! Why not start a diary? Each day, a different member of your family could enter her/his account of what that day offered to the writer. Enough to "rescue an entire day from oblivion!" Wow!

Buechner continues: "It is a mark of wisdom to realize how precious our days are, even the most uneventful of them (although none of us would deny the weight of the events in our world in this present situation). If we can keep them alive by only a line or so about each, at least we will know what we're sighing about when the last of the them comes." (Originally published in his Beyond Words).

So, sing with me and then go write about it:

"Day by day

Day by day

Oh, dear Lord

Three things I pray

To see thee more clearly

Love thee more dearly

Follow thee more nearly

Day by day..."

The second stanza is a repetition of this one! We even have the time to sing it again...before putting pen to paper! Twenty-five years from now, others may be interested in reading our diaries! So will our children and grandchildren!

Renée Domeier, OSB

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Almost Home

Front view of the Gathering Place

One thousand miles to Saint Benedict’s Monastery is an adventure on several levels.

I was driving alone. I have no sense of direction. Full disclosure: I’m ambidextrous. When you say “left or right” to me, it hardly ever makes sense. Please do not suggest a GPS. I don’t do tech very well either.

Living close to the border, getting out of Tennessee was no problem. Navigating lush green Kentucky hills quickly turned into winter grass and flatland farms of Illinois. Lucky for me, only one change in interstate.

I began to think how this graphic terrain experience could symbolize my spiritual journey. Sometimes I’m surprised by rich color of one gospel passage and how it brings me to some new understanding. Often one word will strike me with a whole new way of looking at reality. Exciting and exhilarating for the moment I’m propelled into new resolve. But! Like the flatlands, I soon find myself back in the ordinary, yearning for some new experience.

Abruptly my reflection was interrupted. I was at the Wisconsin border. Choosing the right interstate, I was confronted with a fork in the highway. Both were labeled I-94. I took the wrong one. It was getting dark. I wondered at the wisdom of driving so late in a strange place. Saw a sign for Best Western and turned in, relieved.

I realized how often I had taken the wrong fork in the road as I traveled my life journey. I’d end up having to ask forgiveness or totally change my way of living.

Morning brought light and absolution. Backtracking and crossing into Minnesota, I whispered, “Thank you, God.” Absolved. I knew I would soon see tall buildings pop up from the prairie into the bustle of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Beyond that, the horizon would expose the DOME. My heart beat faster. As a teenager, the DOME at Saint Benedict’s became my symbol for safety and healing, for love and learning, for all I am and all I yearn to be. I was almost home.

I began to sing.

Pat Pickett, OblSB

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Caring in a Crisis

Photo: Pexels.com

The coronavirus is confusing and frightening for millions of people. Most of us have never seen anything like it during our time. Some mislead us even out of fear, believing that God is punishing us. Jesus has come into our lives not to punish us, but to bring us into freedom. Don’t move into panic that pulls us away from God’s care and love for us. Instead, God desires to stir up courage and trust in Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.” Many things have been cancelled because of the virus, but love is not one of them. Instead, we discover that many people are reaching out to assist our sisters and brothers. Heroic nurses and doctors work day and night to bring an end to the crisis. People of all walks of life find ways to assist one another instead of grasping only for themselves.

Kate Casper, OSB

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Coloring Calm

Photo by Anthony from Pexels

When I was a child, I loved coloring because it gave me the chance to choose just the right colors I wanted for making the picture mine. As nieces and nephews began to appear, I loved coloring with them because they would be totally entranced as I had always been when I was their age. This way, too, they were easy to babysit. Then I let that go for other things I wanted to do, such as crocheting and sewing, even cooking.

However, as the latest craze among crafters and people who go to craft stores started, coloring has gripped me once again. Coloring with gel pens is totally different from crayons, for one thing. I love these pens because they come in such a neat variety of colors and they do not have to be sharpened or anything. Pencil colors never were a favorite of mine, either.

For another thing, the coloring books nowadays are so cool as compared to when I was a child. I love the collections of animals, insects, butterflies and even geometric shapes. I start flipping through a book and already my fingers are twitching and my mind is assigning a tint or a shade of some color to the shapes. When this happens, I know I want this particular book. Even if there is only one really attractive design in it, I pay the dollar and then grab another one.

Sometimes, I pick out one color to start, but I have no plan of action for the rest of the picture. Other times, I know just exactly which colors I will use. I like sticking to some traditional colors; for example, I usually make leaves some shade of green, but maybe shading or showing the age of the leaf by browning some of the edges, but different shades can even give a sense of the type of leaf I’m coloring.

Zen doodling is used to design many of the coloring pages, and so sometimes I will use all the colors I have because I want to show the neat way I am matching or not matching colors. When I finish, I will often hold up the page just colored and tell myself that I just love it! Just this morning I was coloring an aardvark’s back which is designed in rows of various circles and wavy lines. So, for each of these sections I used a different color or matching colors. I’ve done other animals, such as a rooster, a hippo, a giraffe and even a rabbit this way. I just love the delightful array of colors they produce.

What’s going on in my mind when I am in a trance coloring? Sometimes nothing. Sometimes, I run encounters and conversations through and think about them, especially if they were troublesome or even wonderfully surprising. Often, I watch television and listen/watch. But, most of all, when I am ready to stop, I notice that I am very calm.

This last realization makes me understand why I have liked coloring so much. I have always been prone to anxiety and worry. I think about everything. Coloring gives me the chance to process my thoughts and feel good. Doesn’t this also mean that God is working in my life?

Mary Jane Berger, OSB

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

What Not to Say 101

Photo: Pexels.com

“Been there done that!” The words stung as they hung in the air between us. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard them, and as time would tell, it wouldn’t be the last. Tossed my way with a brush of the hand midair for emphasis, they made their mark.

My heart was tender those first years of motherhood, and I needed more from the one who’d said them. “Friendly fire” perhaps was all they were, but once out, all conversation ceased.  

Nonexistent was the click of a button providing the much needed resources that mom’s of today have access to. Some days the feelings of isolation were more than I could take. With little contact and knee deep in kiddos, the visitor who had spoken the hurtful words shredded my heart like a catch scratch.

I longed for someone who desired to connect as much as I. Her words doused any hope of support I desperately needed.

What was one to say when the visitor came by? If I couldn’t share honestly, I didn’t want to share at all. If the friendship would take away pieces of me, then I’d rather not have it. At the time, I didn’t know how to express that and so as awkward as it was, I continued to “try” my best to make the best of it, so to speak.

That particular line spoken when I was a young mama was spoken recently to another within earshot. It triggered something deep within and made me dig deeper. Soon I found myself wondering whose flames I’ve guilty of dousing intentionally or not?

I took a vow that very moment. I vowed to listen better to those around me and affirm the new being reborn within each. Whether its people’s experiences or ideas they bring forth to recreate and update the old, it’s all new…and it’s worth listening to and hearing what’s really being said.

My thoughts drifted to the coffee bar at a church recently attended. Many churches offer it these days. Most have always offered some sort of treats now and then…but today’s versions are not the coffee and cookies as of old. No, they are something quite different. Today, they represent intentionality of bringing pause into a crazy fast world in which we live. They offer comfort. They offer care for those choosing to enter in from a war zone where nary a crumb of kindness has been spoken since the last time they entered. They offer respite.

Gathering as community after church is creating an atmosphere of inclusion. It’s no mere potluck. This is a fresh face to today’s culture desiring to connect with the few minutes they have free in a space that might offer just a little reprieve from the outside forces pressing in.

That “Men’s Fraternity” which meets is not men’s Bible Study. It’s much more. It’s a group of comrades among men who desire direction in life. Their compass is all but gone as this world has become confusingly unrecognizable in a culture pushing back and pushing back hard. Where are the voices of balance? Where are the voices of reason? Where are the voices of stability in a world that is anything but? Perhaps other men have wisdom they might share and thus...they gather.

You’ve heard it said. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Perhaps. Perhaps not. If it’s the very first time one has smelled a rose, its newness excites. God stirs and as faith is not a spectator sport, we are called to participate. When the Spirit sends the flames…we do not want to douse those by merely saying, “Been there, done that.” We do not want to be on the defense by defending that which we’ve already been here doing. We do not want be territorial in areas where God is inviting others to create anew.

“For such a time as this,” rings truer than true. What a gift it would have been to hear those words as a young mom. “For such a time as this” you were created to put into the lives of your little ones. “For such a time as this” your ideas are ones of renewal which will help spur on the next generation within your home. And, “For such a time as this” you were given that idea to put a fresh face of renewal among those whom you serve.

Whether it is home or church or serving within communities may “For such a time as this” be our guide (Esther 4:14). 

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.