Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Buying My First Pair of Jeans

Photo: Pexels.com
Shortly after Vatican Council II, when nuns were allowed to wear lay clothes, I was thinking of buying my first pair of jeans sometime. I was not in a hurry, but I did have my eyes open for a good deal. 

One day as I am driving to the cities, there was a strip mall on my left. The four large windows all had large signs that said, "JEAN SALE...50% off." Here is my chance, I thought.

My mother and older sister sewed most of our clothes at home, so I knew nothing about sizes. My mother would hold the homemade pattern against my body and she could go on from that. Besides that, most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my three other sisters. In the convent, we had only three sizes: small, medium and large. At least that was better than ONE SIZE FITS ALL. Now suddenly, I am expected to know all about sizes. Different sizes for different parts of your body.

Now being in the store, I am looking at various racks, looking at the sizes and then moving on to a row way in the back. I couldn't believe the many different sizes, not only in length, but also for the waist. How complicated things have become. Here it looks like I might find a pair. I see 28-30, 30-34, 35-37, 38-40, etc. I had to hold them to my waist to get some sense of whether it could fit...Right away, a clerk asked, "Can I help you?" Feeling so stupid and uncomfortable because I had no idea which number I was, I said, "No, I am just looking."

I grabbed the three that I thought might fit and went into the fitting room. None of them fit. So I came out to the rack and grabbed two more pairs; neither fit. The male clerk comes and asks if I needed any help. No thanks. In desperation, I tried one more time. I went to the rack and found one more pair to try on. The crouch was still too short and it was too long, but maybe a seamstress could shorten the length and take in the sides of the waistline. 

So I went to the counter and bought it. The guy thanked me graciously and I left. When I got home and looked at the sale slip more closely, I learned that I was in a men's store.

Margaret Mandernach, OSB

This story was written for Stories Like You've Never Heard Before..., a compilation of stories written by Sister Margaret Mandernach.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Praying Attention

Photo: Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

“It came upon a midnight clear…the glorious songs of old.” I’ve heard it sung…but watched it play out as it rang out so near and dear.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a small town. Her mama loved Christmas and because her mama loved it, of course the little girl grew to love it too.

A whimsical time it was and still is. Matter of fact, so whimsical this time of year can be that the living of it can actually take place year round in hearts that resound as such. Thus it was so in the life of the little girl. The gifts under the tree, the baking completed, the time spent caroling in the neighborhood, and the life of the church celebrated was pining within many a day.

As the little girl grew, she soon got a job. A friendly atmosphere the diner downtown was, but what was more rewarding was the fact that she had her own money to spend how she chose. It offered just enough for her to dream and to buy a little something for those whom she loved.

One person, among many in her family whom she loved, was her mama. One day after work as the girl walked home, she passed the local jewelry shop. Surely there was time to dawdle within, she thought and so…she entered. A tiny bell above the doorway rang and let it be known that indeed a customer had come. The quiet proprietor, in his quiet setting, allowed the girl to roam randomly throughout the store eyeing the many treasures within.

The One who draws, draws deeply...if we truly pray attention…and something had caught her attention. There, upon the glass countertop was a book. As she drew nigh, she touched the large red cover with reflective golden words etched upon it: “A Christmas Gallery.” As she opened it, it spoke. The sacredness of the script upon each page and the pictures to match were no match for her heart now melting with desire to succumb to the purchase of it. The diamonds, the glassware, the exquisite expanse of expensive items all around her lost value compared to the holiness of that which her hands now held. It seemed to embody that which her mama stood for. Page after page called…as all things sacred leapt from the pages of the Christmas book.

Properly, the proprietor set the book aside for the girl to gift her mama come Christmas. Little by little, paycheck by paycheck, she tucked just enough away to make the gift her own…to give come Christmas.

The book now sits in wait as each Christmas it is opened in the home of the girl now grown…since her mama left this earth. Funny thing is…the familiar is never far away. The sacred within little stores along main in small towns recycle memories well into the next generation. Because you see…

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a small town. Her mama loved Christmas and because her mama loved it, of course the little girl grew to love it, too. What’s more, the little girl loved the shops along main…especially one.

Come Christmas, each year, this little girl made her way into the local jewelry store…and as she grew, found herself behind the counter helping out this time of year in the shop. Tradition it became as it offered stability to the cycles in life…and brought abiding joy within as she worked.

College breaks found her on main in the jeweler’s shop come Christmas. Graduation came and went and as she found work far away, it did not deter her from making her way back home to work behind the counters come Christmas.

Soon, the girl, now a young woman, was to be married. Come Christmas, into the jeweler’s shop her young man went…into the quiet…to gather what he desired to bless her with. A true gem of a jeweler the proprietor was for such a time as this…to create for the little girl…the young woman…the desire of her heart.

And thus it was in the beginning…it all seems to fit…lest we forget…He goes before us always in ways everlasting.

Come to the quiet. As you pray attention … “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Amen.

Kathleen Kjolhaug, OblSB

This blog was first published on Theology in the Trenches, written and maintained by Oblate Kathleen Kjolhaug. Reposted with permission.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Different Kind of Christmas

Photo: freestocks.org from Pexels

A question that continues to pursue me is: How do we resist the seductions of a culture that invites us to define ourselves by what we consume?

I was amazed by a young 13-year-old who gave me a partial answer! Before Christmas, a mother said to me: “It’s so hard these days to satisfy children with incredible ‘wish lists’; brand names are in and they wish for nothing less! Except for my 13-year-old who said to me: ‘Mom, I don’t want anything; I don’t need anything!’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! What shall I do? I immediately thought she would feel left out on Christmas Eve when we opened our gifts. But she repeated: ‘No, Mom, that’s OK. I don’t want or need anything!’"

What did I think? I thought that mom had an unusual child and a wonderful problem! I’d love to know if she took my suggestion: “Take her down to the sidewalk between Applebee's and Olive Garden; let her approach any homeless, jobless, hungry person there, and invite one of them to have lunch with the two of you!”

How would YOU have answered that mom and my original question about consumerism?

Renée Domeier, OSB

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Matron Saint

Photo: Pexels.com

I had never thought of it before. I was speaking to an oblate and they mentioned their patron saint was Gertrude of Helfta. The idea of one’s own patron saint had appeal. Of course I’d heard of patron saints, but one of my very own seemed a far reach, until I began thinking and praying about it. Who was my go-to saint? Who was the one who seemed to be there when I most needed help? Of course it was Lady Julian of Norwich. Her book, the first one to be written by a woman in English, Revelations of Divine Love, spoke to me over and over again. When I most need help, Julian is there for me, speaking directly to me. When I was baptized by a Benedictine monk at the age of 18, he gave me my first introduction to Julian. She has been like a mother to me. Boldly I said to her, you must be mine.

Lady Julian

She writes me every day,
at least it seems that way.

The first woman to write a book
in English. Each time I pick

it up I find there is more,
never in the parsimony of

patriarchy, but in the generosity
that only a mother’s love can be.

Each reading gives a deeper
meaning, making me new again.

Yet I ask her about what is to become
of me. As a good mother would say,

Only you can find your way.

Love was her meaning

Charles Preble, OblSB

This poem was published in Simple Attendance, a collection of poetry written by Oblate Charles Preble. It is available for purchase at Whitby Gift Shop, the College of Saint Benedict bookstore and the Saint John University bookstore.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Pro-Life It

Sister Kara Hennes hugging Sister Michaela Hedican,
taken by Sister Nancy Bauer
As we begin the new year, 2020, I am reminded of a conversation I had last summer. During the conversation, the topic of pro-life became very important. As the conversation deepened, I was hearing myself articulate, “Pro-Life is an everyday occurrence, if we believe it goes beyond the medical field.” I really believe pro-life is everything. 

Pro-life is an everyday happening. It shows up in how we relate to one another. So, I ask myself every day, “How do I give life to others?” It may come through a conversation, a greeting, or listening with the ear of my heart, something Saint Benedict asks us to do during our prayer. For me, this expanded view point of pro-life is life giving; hopefully I will express it to the people I encounter every day. I know I can spread happiness and brighten someone’s day by being present to them in that moment. With this understanding, my resolution for 2020 is to give life to everyone I meet. At Saint Benedict’s Monastery, I have the opportunity every day as I acknowledge my sisters, our employees, students on campus and guests who visit us. A new saying for me is "Pro-Life It."

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

Lisa Rose, OSB

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Silence

Photo: Snowy branches, taken by Sister Karen Streveler

The contrast was remarkable. After 45 days in the rehab unit of a nursing home where I had been recovering from two broken wrists, I was finally home. I sank into my favorite living room chair and heard nothing—lovely, peaceful nothing. Total silence was rare in the nursing home. Only when I heard nothing in my home did I realize that my head had been buzzing with noise for over six weeks: television sets in nearly every room, oxygen tanks hissing when working or clunking when empties were being replaced with full ones, residents shouting when call lights didn’t bring assistance fast enough and night shift staff talking and laughing in the hallways, forgetting that not everyone was deaf or deep into pill-induced sleep.

Several years later, I still appreciate silence as a choice and a luxury. More than just one of the comforts of being home, it is as necessary to me as air and water. Why do I crave silence, when, in fact, it is nothing? 

Some Benedictine practices are easier for me than others. Silence is easier than humility, for instance, and I know silence isn’t the same as listening well to others. I often choose not to listen to the radio in the car, and I don’t turn on the television just to keep me company. I don’t stay long in a store where loud music is blasting. I’m not uncomfortable with periods of silence in discussion groups. Before proceeding to confession in public worship, the pause for silent reflection is never quite long enough for me. In a fast-paced world that is often full of noise, I seek out times and places that are quiet. 

In the way that bare trees in winter let in light, silence leaves space in my head for something else. It gives my mind room for creative thoughts, and in contemplative times, the Holy Spirit finds a place. Memories, gratitude, decisions and fresh ideas flourish in the absence of noisy stimulation and distraction. 

As I list some of the rewards of silence, I realize it is not everyone’s choice. The distractions of social media, although more visual than auditory, seem counter to the notion of silence as emptiness. While texting is quieter than talking, it is obviously more stimulating and distracting than contemplative silence. I don’t know why anyone would deliberately and consistently choose noise over silence, but I can speculate that loneliness, worries or boredom might be relieved by the distraction of some kind of sound. 

Because I am free to choose silence, I sympathize with those whose job or family life makes quiet almost unattainable. When I see news stories about refugee camps, I can only imagine the noise created by thousands of people living in crowded conditions—the cries of hungry children, the quarrels between family members and neighbors, the moans of the ill and the injured. For many, silence is an elusive luxury.

Although it is tempting to declare that silence should be the natural choice of the wise and the devout, I am reminded of times that silence is painful. I think of Beethoven, unable to hear his own compositions as he became increasingly deaf. Imagine never hearing “Ode to Joy” again. The long absence or death of a loved one may create a big empty hole of silence. I have been guilty of silence resulting from cowardice, times that I should have spoken to object or to disagree. Sometimes I struggle to find a balance between silence and engagement with society. Although I may choose quiet over noise, there are voices and songs that I will always want to hear and cries that I dare not ignore.

Marge Lundeen, OblSB

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Best Christmas Present

Photo: freestocks.org from Pexels

“Boy 7.”

“Girl 4.” 

“Boy 6.”

“Girl 12.”   
                  
Soon this Christmas ritual would be over. I took the package without opening it. A woman appeared almost out of nowhere: "Open your present, honey, let's see your gift!"

Some of the other kids gathered round. I could see Benny on the fringe. As I opened the package, I felt crimson rush up my neck. Tears welled in my eyes...Before I could hide the contents, the woman took the gift holding it high for all to see...

THE GIFT: Seven pairs of panties with the days of the week on them!!!

Mortified, I was paralyzed. “Isn’t that nice?” and she was on to the next child.   

I slipped away, running outside without a coat to my favorite hiding place at the orphanage. It was a little nook in the wall by a giant oak tree. My silent tears mixed with the falling snow.  
I didn't hear him come. 

He didn't say a word.

Benny stood before me. 

I looked at him, and he looked at me.

We both knew. We knew what it was like to be anonymous.

We just stood there. Then, he took off his sweater and gave it to me.

All of a sudden, in one movement, he bent to kiss me on my cheek and his shock of red hair blurred as he turned heel and ran.

Benny, kissed me.

My hand turned white hot as I rubbed across the place where he left his innocent and tender kiss. 

Whatever else Christmas is, Jesus came so no one would be anonymous. Benny gave me the best Christmas present. We were no longer anonymous. We were more than “Girl 12” and “Boy 13.”  We were Benny and Pat.

Pat Pickett, OblSB