Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Never Give Up


It was both healing and grounding to hear Krista Tippet interview Democratic Congressman John Lewis, an outstanding Civil Rights leader from Georgia. Mr. Lewis credits Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thoreau for having taught him about non-violent resistance to injustice. He cites Bloody Sunday, the march that took place in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, to demonstrate the desire of African-Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote, as an example of how he and others prepared for many months using disciplined study, discussion and social drama to act out how they may respond. He felt ready to “put his own body on the line,” to “get in the way” of injustice, in a peaceful, loving, non-violent way! What was gleaned from these preparations was the desire to show care for one another and to appeal to the goodness of every human being, even your attacker; never give up on anyone! “Don’t lose the spark of the divine even in your attacker,” he would say, “Remember that love is not a sign of weakness! We’re supposed to be strong, love everyone.”

Nothing could stop Mr. Lewis from pursuing justice peaceably. During his lifetime he was jailed over forty times. . .but always came out feeling free and bigger! In talking about redemptive suffering, he said suffering can be redemptive only if one’s heart holds no desire for revenge. If we love our country and our democratic society and act upon our beliefs, we will-- sooner or later-- have to “speak with our feet; pray with our feet” i.e., do what the millions of people all over the world are doing at this critical moment in our history. They are marching and waiting for change. “Waiting is an elegant way of proving a right,” he said.  Of course, this does not eliminate the need to acknowledge within our community the frustrations that many share; but as Sister Simone Campbell suggests “perhaps our hearts must break before they can heal.”

One could conclude that “Black lives matter” is a result of the feeling free and bigger that people like John Lewis experienced as they watched the fragmentation of the South being put back together as a democracy. Or, that “All lives matter” is the message today’s disciplined marchers shout out to the world regardless of race, religion, color, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc.  It may take a long while for the message to meet all hearts and signers of executive orders. John Lewis cautions us to use patience. He goes on to say that “at times life is hard, hard as crystal steel . . .but we must not lose faith.”

His final words on Krista Tippet’s program stand true for us today, especially today: “Never give up. Find a way to make it real. Bring competing forces together! Be the glue! The love is there; move people together: A+B=C. Be consistent, persistent and patient. Be respectful, honest and open. There may be setbacks, disappointments . . .but it’ll happen—maybe not in your lifetime but you get to do all you can.”

Thank you, Congressman Lewis! Thank you, Krista Tippet!

Thank you to all who never give up on anyone!
Renee Domeier, OSB

 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Hearing Voices



Benedictine Women Service Corps (BWSC), an outreach of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, St. Joseph, Minn., invites College of Saint Benedict alumnae to join the monastic community in deepening relationships that support justice and service in a new location. Volunteers strive to live out the Benedictine Gospel values that were formed during their undergraduate education in a capacity that will challenge them personally, spiritually and professionally.
This week Erin Carey who serves with the Benedictine sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, blogs.



When I came to work in Erie, I wasn’t sure what my service would be. I was feeling self-conscious about what I had to give. I would always think to myself, “What could I possibly have to offer these people?” At times, I feel like my service doesn’t bear any tangible signs of growth: the refugees have trouble remembering what we learned yesterday or the students at the Art House are not interested in making music. However, earlier in the month one of our women refugees came in glowing with the news that she had passed her driving test. She told me that in her native country, women were not allowed to drive. Later that day, she asked about taking GED classes. Empowerment was pouring out of her.
 

Another woman and I were talking as I helped her fill out a job application. We talked about education in her home country. She spoke about how she had not had the opportunity to go to school. She gushed about her kids who had just started engineering degrees at a local college and working part time jobs. She said, “Education is very important. Very good. No person can take it away.” She was so pleased to have the opportunity to be in school and repeated often that she was “Thanking God for school!”
 


Our Group of Sisters and Friends

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. to participate in the Women’s March. As we shuffled down Independence Ave. with thousands of people, the women at St. Benedict's came back to me. The march was important because of the voice it gave to the people like the two women starting to taste empowerment. It gave voice to the people who are pushed down by systems. It gave voice to all people, especially women, who have been held back and are still being held back from embracing fully the empowerment of freedom, education and a space where their voice can be heard. Many people would do a double take of our sign (photo left). Some people would smile and say, “Hey! I know Benedictines in *Insert city name here.” Or “Thank you, sisters!”  We’re all still smiling in this picture. It was taken before getting stuck in the Metro for 2 hours on a broken down train though…still a wonderful trip!


A favorite sign, very simple:
"I'm with her."
 

I came back to the Mount from the march feeling thankful for all of the people who have drawn empowerment out of me: sisters, professors, teachers, family, co-workers, and friends. They have encouraged me to take my place and use my voice by pointing out my gifts, encouraging me to use them, and suggesting new books to read, ideas to think about and experiences to try.

 

Back in September, as Mother Theresa was being canonized, one of the sisters gave me a list of her quotes. One in particular stuck with me:

 

“God has identified...with the hungry, the sick, the naked, the homeless; hunger not only for bread, but for love, for care, to be somebody to someone; nakedness, not for clothing only, but nakedness of that compassion that very few people give to the unknown; homelessness, not only just for a shelter made from stone but for that homelessness that comes from having no one to call your own.”

 

The refugees, the children at the Art House and the sisters here at the Mount have embraced me and called me their own this year. Having these people claim me and accept me has encouraged me to use my voice. I’ve learned that my service these past few months has only been in part about clothing, feeding and teaching. I’ve learned that service is calling every person my own, and embracing the responsibilities of that, whether it is patience and presence with the refugee or the child or marching for their voices to be heard. It has become about listening to and making space for the people whose voices have been silenced both in my own heart and in the world. It has become about listening to my own voice and remembering that it too has a space to be heard. The more I entrust to other people and make room in my heart for them, the stronger our voices become together.

 

Erin Carey



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Face of Christ


Sisters from Saint Benedict’s Monastery were part of the “Church of the Week” program recently at the Place of Hope, a homeless shelter in Saint Cloud. I wanted to participate so one night three of us sisters volunteered and spent a night at the Place of Hope. Several other sisters also volunteered on a different night. The experience of seeing the face of some homeless women and men has given me a whole new understanding of how some people live day after day. I did not hear their stories. Yet whatever brought them there challenged me to come to a greater understanding of seeing the face of Christ among all our sisters and brothers. I was also witness to the beautiful way that the staff interacted and assisted the homeless guests that night. This was reflective for me because I was an observer to the service the staff provided with love and compassion. Each guest was treated as if he or she were Christ himself. The kindness, respect and gentleness shown to each individual was a reminder for me to do more of the same. I will carry this experience with me into the future and open myself up to all the people I meet each and every day remembering we are all the face of Christ.

Lisa Rose, OSB

 

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

BWSC Volunteer Bethany's Experience



Things tend to evolve quickly. We grow, we make decisions, sometimes bad and good, but overall things change: hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. The changes currently occurring in society have been at the forefront of my thoughts, worries and fears lately. During my time in Virginia, I have been working with two at-risk populations: homeless people and immigrants, both groups who are at risk in the current climate.

When I began my time at Transitional Housing BARN, I was so excited to be learning the ins and outs of homelessness and housing laws, but also to be working with the families one on one. I was given my own case to manage, which later would evolve to two cases. Although it is emotionally exhausting work, it is rewarding work. Seeing “your” family succeed and overcome their troubles is something that can’t be put into words. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad days or tough situations; I’ve definitely had a few of those. However, even in my short time here, I clearly can see why this program has the successes that it does. BARN is a program that works one-on-one with families, using extensive case management to teach budgeting and job searching, effective parenting, and providing a space for families to thrive on their own before helping to transition them back to their own living environment: an environment that they are proud to call their own and one that shows the hard work that they have put into the program.  Granted, not all families that come to BARN transition out successfully, but those who are willing to put the work in and to work with us frequently succeed.

Come May 1st, transitional housing will be no longer. The State of Virginia has cut funding and has moved it to “Rapid Re-housing.” Although this program provides case management, services are less extensive helping families mainly by providing funding to aid in their rent payments. The program does work but the numbers are much smaller. It isn’t my point to say that one program is better than the other; each family’s circumstance is different. Some families are short of the money one month for rent, some families aren’t so experienced at saving and budgeting; both need help but, as time goes, we won’t be able to provide families with the help they need to transition.

Housing is a broken system. Families are often single income families earning approximately $12.00 an hour (I’m being very generous in my amounts of hourly wages). A parent who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, will make about $25,000.00 a year. Not too bad, right? Well, if they live in a three-bedroom apartment at $1500.00 a month, including utilities (I would like to note that this apartment would not be in what society considers a “good” neighborhood… the cost would be around $2000.00 for a good area), that is a total of $18,000.00 a year, just for housing. That leaves $7,000.00 for the entire year to pay for groceries, transportation, maintenance, medical insurance, doctor’s visits, etc. Families can’t afford to be single income earning families with children and all necessary costs that come with it. Families don’t make enough and rent is too high. We live in a society that clearly undercuts the “American Dream” and it leaves individuals struggling to keep up, or completely in the dust.

Snow at the Monastery this week!
It was enough to cancel my classes,
but lasted only a few hours!

I want to talk now about an incident that occurred yesterday in a class where I was substituting. I was handing out an informational flyer for students about an immigration screening process that puts them in touch with a low cost immigration attorney who will be able to explain what rights they have and precautions they need to take. Students began to discuss the current political climate and the Muslim ban. Two students were from Libya and as they talked about their experience getting to the United States (they have only been here for a few months and are current residents with all paperwork required) I began to cry. It’s one thing to hear about the atrocities occurring in the news, but to have two students in front of you clearly articulate their struggle and the pain of separation from their families, who are currently stuck in Libya, was eye-opening and heartbreaking. These aren’t just terrible stories; these are things that are actually happening to people who are no threat to me or any others in the United States!  Although I was mortified that I was crying in front of these students, I think it was important for them to see. I might not be able to understand exactly what they are feeling and the fears they have, but I can empathize and be an advocate for them … and that is exactly what I plan to do. We took the rest of class to discuss their feelings and concerns. I wanted them to know that they have an ally; they have an entire monastery and educational program praying for each and every one of them, for their wellbeing and safety. If they need anything, they know where to go. It might not be enough. It probably is not enough, but it’s all I can do to keep my sanity while every day changes are occurring. Changes that I can’t stop alone, but which standing together, in solidarity, we can resist.

Sending my love and prayers to all those in need today. Please continue to pray for me and for our country that we learn to be compassionate and strong allies to ALL those in need.
Picture of the massive crowd at the March!



Picture from Women’s March in DC,
this was my favorite sign.
It is a gentleman holding it who came with
his friend to support all women.  








Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Greetings from our BWSC Volunteer


It feels like forever since I’ve last blogged about my experience here in Bristow.

First, I would like to give a quick teaching update:

I’m still teaching low beginner, and low intermediate English. Within this past week I started a new teaching position as a technology facilitator. Essentially, our program is integrating the use of technology with learning English. I’ve found that many of my students know how to use their cell phones, but don’t know how to use a computer. Things like exiting out of a browsing tab, or simply typing in a web address are all things my students struggle with. Therefore, my job is not only to teach English, but to teach my students certain computer skills that even I take for granted.

(Mo is pictured second from the left)
Secondly, I would like to share my experience at the Women’s March in Washington D.C:

Last Saturday, Bethany and I attended the Women’s March that took place in Washington, D.C. We attended the march with Sister Julia Abdala, Shelly Kreykes who is an oblate, her husband John, and their two daughters Janelle and Mariam. I remember waking up that morning asking God for protection. I’ve participated in protests in the past, all which have been peaceful. However, I did not know what to expect at the Women’s March because our nation is extremely divided right now. I know many of the sisters worried for our safety because the day prior to the march, a riot broke out where individuals decided to torch cars and smash windows of businesses in downtown D.C.

It was truly a blessing that the march remained peaceful. In all honesty, I was quite surprised as there were over 500,000 people in attendance. It was refreshing to see people of different backgrounds uniting for a common cause.
While I was happy to see many women fighting for what they believe in, I couldn’t but help have conflicting feelings about being there. You see, before our group actually arrived to the march, we had to go on a little adventure called the metro transit! There were literally thousands of people trying to make it to downtown D.C. via the transit. As I was surrounded by many people who couldn’t help but invade my personal bubble, I thought what a gift it would be if all of us could come together to protest on behalf of all human rights. What would the impact be if all these people banded together to protest when unarmed black men were being gunned down; when Donald Trump referred to Mexicans as drug dealers, perpetrators of sexual violence, mocked a reporter who suffers from a mental illness or referred to all Muslims as potential terrorists? So while I marched in solidarity for gender equality, I also want to promote the rights of the many marginalized groups in our society who are still not being heard. Being an advocate for all injustice is the way to resolve this problem. I believe that we shouldn’t let a problem directly affect us before we feel inclined to do something. We should stand in solidarity with all of humanity. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends!”

Peace,

-Mo


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Don't Miss the Positive


Our newscasts are too often filled with violent news. I once read that the byword for newscasters was: “If it bleeds, it leads”. How sad! Lots of us are affected by such continuous negative news and it weighs heavily on our hearts. To make it worse, negative news is repeated and repeated and repeated, and the good news gets left out. Yes, we need to know what is going on, but I would wager that the number of people doing good acts is far greater than the number committing violent acts. So let’s take a look at examples of the better side of our world. 


It won’t take much to find, in our own neighborhoods, many people caring about others who are right around our corner. Even small acts of kindness make for a better world, such as neighbors bringing a hot dish, or other needed item, when a family has just experienced a tragedy. And then there’s the person across town who provided temporary housing for the family evicted from their home. And the list goes on and on.

The impact of long range programs can also bypass us. For example, many religious communities in our country continue to have an oblate or other named program--associates, affiliates or co-members—that enable lay persons to connect with their community. Through the program, lay people are able to become aware of and live the same values as the sisters or monks without becoming a religious community member. It seems that this kind of program was in effect before the turn of the century when there was an unusual growth in the number of men and women who joined such programs. In our country today, 25,400 persons are listed as having become affiliated with one of these programs.


The Benedictine community in St. Joseph, Minnesota, to which I belong, has more than 400 lay persons who made their commitment in our monastery chapel. Once invested in the program, the oblate’s main focus is to live out the same religious values we hold as they go about the ups and downs of their daily lives. They are assisted with guidance from the oblate director including periodic mailings or emailings, social gatherings at the monastery where speakers talk on relevant topics, and/or faith sharing meetings in their local groups.


Given the impact on their own and on their children’s lives, as well as on future generations, one can appreciate the significance of this widespread movement of people who choose to deepen their commitment to live a God-like life. With or without an oblate program, each person can live the kind of life our Pope Francis beckons us to live.  


Molly Weyrens, a CORE member of the Central MN Catholic Worker, summarized it well in a recent communication where she quoted Howard Zinn. The quote read: "We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” 

 

Janet Thielges, OSB

 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Humble Presence and Graced-Delight




One of the women that lives in my monastery is known for her “awe-capacity”.  She rarely uses the word “Wow!” but you can easily hear it in her voice when she is describing something she has seen or heard that delighted her. She clearly has never lost her early childhood “capacity-to-be-de-lighted”. It’s such a hallmark of her ability to completely enter into the presence-around-her. She seems to allow those “light-scenes” and “light-stories” to ignite embers of grace in her and slowly transform her world view.  That’s why she can so humbly and spontaneously describe them to others on just the right occasions. I immediately thought of her when I read this January 12, 2017, Daily Meditation  by Richard Rohr entitled “Humility and Presence” in which he quoted Teilhard de Chardin:
“Space, time, and patience reveal the patterns of grace. This is why it takes most of us a long time to be converted. Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) prayed, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” [1] Our focus eventually moves from preoccupation with perfect actions of any type, to naked presence itself. The historical word for presence is simply “prayer.” Jesus often called it “vigilance,” “seeing,” or  “being awake.” When you are fully present, you will know what you need to know in that moment.”

I pray that I may continue to learn from my monastic companion’s declarations of genuine delight and remember to give myself the space, time and patience it takes to be humbly present to the graced-delights around me each day.




Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB