Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Memories of a "Germans from Russia" Christmas

There are dozens of ways to celebrate Christmas. Families have their own traditions passed down for generations. In my small North Dakota town, home to many German-French emigrants from Ukraine, we had several traditions which I treasure. The tree was decorated on December 24 and stayed up until February 2. After dark on Christmas Eve, we gathered around the tree listening for the sound of melodious bells signaling the arrival of the angels. Magically, they appeared in flowing robes, shiny tiaras and wings covered with sparkling stars. They blessed the tree, sang Silent Night in German and English, and presented each child with a gift from Jesus. I can still feel the anticipation in my child’s heart and the sheer joy of that evening.

I experienced a similar joy when I received the following prayer-poem from a dear friend. It expresses the reason for that lovely family tradition and the deepest source of our Christmas joy! With permission, I include it here.

“A Christmas Eve Prayer”

Why is this night
Different from all other nights?
On this night the fevered world lets go,
Closes its doors early, calls enough enough,
Honors other claims,
And a Sabbath stillness settles,
To muffle the heart like falling snow;
And while nothing has changed,
All problems remain, all bombs wired,
All griefs grievous to the last,
The world catches a kind of second wind;
We read our stories by starlight,
And open again the gift of hope
Born when God came down
The stairs of heaven
With a child in his arms,
On this night long ago.

-- Peter Fribley

submitted by Katherine Kraft, OSB

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Making a Difference

Every night watching the Channel 11 evening news, my housemates and I are inspired by the stories of people who are making a difference in our world. Sometimes they are celebrities. But often they are ordinary people, girls and boys, seniors, young adults, like your neighbors. These people, however, are extraordinary because they see a need and respond to it. And they involve others around them to spread the care and love.

I thought about that after watching the particularly poignant story of 94-year-old Loren Krueger, a retired farmer from Leroy, Minn., who left $3 million to his small town of 95 inhabitants. That act of generosity is amazing in itself, but what the beneficiaries did is even more amazing: they gave most of it to the meet the needs of others in town.

Making a difference, seeing a need and responding, inspiring others to do the same. Isn’t this what Christmas is all about? In a divine act of love, God took on our human flesh in order to make an everlasting difference in our world. God so loved the world that the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us. This act of generous love is amazing!

And what is also amazing is that in this Incarnation of Jesus, has a profound effect on our world. Because Jesus bridged the gap between the divine and the human, everything is holy now. Peter Mayer, in his song “Holy Now,” captures the essence of this miracle:

This morning I stood outside
and saw a little red-winged bird
shining like a burning bush
singing like a scripture verse
it made me want to bow my head…”
Everything, everything, everything is holy now
Everything’s a miracle.

(from the CD Million Year Mind)

Shall we look carefully to see that because of the Incarnation everything is holy now, everything is a miracle? Shall we look into the face of a child, at bread and wine, and see that everything is holy now, everything is a miracle? Shall we recognize that seeing a need and responding, inspiring others to do the same, makes a difference, and that everything is holy now, is a miracle to celebrate?
photo: deer in winter by Nancy Bauer, OSB

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Incarnation Compared to this Winter Day

These snowy and chilling December days may be perfect for pondering Advent and Christmas realities. I say that because our Prioress, S. Nancy Bauer, wrote a poetic piece in December 2009 for her Christmas homily. It captured the Incarnation and wintry connections cleverly and playfully. Here are a few of my favorite stanzas.

The Incarnation Compared to this Winter Day

by Nancy Bauer, OSB

Gabriel comes like frost on the kitchen window
Etching God’s designs on the young woman’s heart.
Mary lifts a finger to brush the feathered strokes away.
Looks the stranger in the eye and utters her “OK.”

At the appointed time,
The child drifts down from Heaven,
A single silent snowflake,
Glistening, gleaming, glittering.
A crystal landing in the straw,
Revealing the shimmering face of God.

Angels come like blizzards,
Swirling, twirling, announcing;
Telling shepherds not to be afraid
But who wouldn’t be afraid
When flying creatures hover, lighting up the fields,
Scaring the sheep, disturbing the sleep,
And carrying on about a baby in a manger?

The shepherds set out in haste anyway,
Bent against the sleet,
Showing up at the stable smelling of wet wool,
Icicles dangling from eyes and nostrils,
Mumbling, murmuring, muttering, uttering discontent.
They gaze and are amazed.
These first evangelists.

Today again, Christ sweeps in like snow,
Wrapping the world in swaddling clothes.
Gladdening, maddening,
Stopping us in our tracks
When we have important places to go.

And we, like children,
Play in his radiance,
Romping, stomping, chasing,
Flopping down, flapping our useless wings,
To make more angels
So the glad tidings can be heard
Over and over and everywhere. Amen.
photo: taken at the monastery during winter 2009 by Nancy Bauer, OSB

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Nurse Log

A friend was showing me some pictures recently that she had taken in a rain forest this past year and one of the pictures was of a "nurse log". A nurse log is an incredible phenomenon in nature. It occurs when a tree falls to the floor of the forest and begins to decay. In the process of falling apart it provides nutrients, protection and a root system for a new tree to come to life (see picture). It can take over 100 years for a new tree to root and begin to grow. One does not rush mother nature!

And so it is with life. After my friend left I kept coming back to the picture she had shown me of the nurse log and soon was pondering the fact that a nurse log could be a metaphor for life. I think of two specific instances; one is what happens when something sad or tragic happens in our life. We are tempted to think that we have come to a dead end but the opposite is true: new life is born from what dies in us . . . a dream, a wish, an expectation, a friendship. The other instance is what appears to be, at this time in history, the end of many religious communities as we have known them in this country and elsewhere in the western world. It gives me great hope to believe that new life is and will be born out of the dying of these communities. As in nature it could take a very long time but as the log in the picture it will happen if we remain faithful to allowing new life to take root.

Monday, December 13, 2010

From Generation to Generation: binding friendships stitched with love

If you go to a Blazers basketball game, you are likely to see Sister Dolores Super in the stands wearing her bright red Blazers sweatshirt. S. Dolores not only loves the Blazers but the Twins as well. She is an all-around team player in community. S. Dolores and I have formed a partnership that makes pot holders for sale at the monastery’s Whitby Gift Shop and through Monastic Enterprises by offering to sew up bindings.

With S. Dolores Super joining the team, I have been able to market a few more pot holders. This fall, she often stitched the binding on them with enthusiasm and precision while watching a Twins game. It’s more than a team or market effort, however; it’s also a wonderful way for us to bind our friendship together and share interest in each other’s lives. I am delighted for the extra help, but most grateful for the connection that stitches us together.

The Rule of St. Benedict says in chapter 57, “If there are any artisans in the monastery they are to practice their crafts with humility.” We as Benedictine live and think practically. Everybody needs a pot holder; they are small and light, travel well, and bonus cost efficient. All the pot holders are sustainable in that they are made from scraps donations. The joy of making pot holders is the creativity and color of each specific pot holder. No pot holder is the same and I am always delighted to hear people say they have a pot holder I made in their kitchen. In my mind’s eye, I know that these pot holders are landing in kitchens around the United States and overseas. As well, they are signed with my embroidered signature. Pot holders have become part of the regular stock at Monastic Enterprises and Whitby Gift Shop. Big quilting projects do happen, but most are in quilting limbo waiting to be finished.

This generational binding reminds me of what St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:24-26: “God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it …”

… to which I might add: If one pot holder gets a binding, every piece is precise and ready for a household.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Companions on a Journey

Every month I look forward to a gathering with my Journey Group, seven lovely women, five from the College of Saint Benedict student body and one other staff member. We are on a spiritual journey together, and every time we meet our combined paths become more and more entwined.

We have talked about sundry topics over the past four years, having started in 2007, when the five seniors were first-year Bennies. Stephanie and I are co-facilitators and have been on this journey with the women who will graduate in May. Every month, we have a meal together, and then we spend two hours talking about holy things just as Benedict and Scholastica did in the Life and Miracles of St. Benedict.

Because of the disclosures on both our parts, we seven have bonded over important parts of each other's lives. We mean something to one another. We have moved beyond being acquaintenances to deep friendship. And yet, our friendships are not the kind that would cause us to go to the latest Harry Potter movie. Rather, years down the road, we will meet at a St. Ben's reunion and will immediately feel comfortable talking about our spiritual lives.

The Journey Groups are a central part of Companions on a Journey, a program that began when the College of St. Benedict received a Lilly Foundation grant for the express purpose of exploring vocation. Various liberal arts colleges in the country received similar grants and were given free rein as to how they would express the playing out of exploring vocation. We chose to set up a program of guided spiritual companioning. Since the very beginning, this program has been a success and continues yearly to foster the kinds of close ties I mentioned occurring with my companions and me.

Every year that I have participated, I have been especially grateful to be part of this rich experience, but this year, more than any other, I am indebted to my spiritual companions for their dedication to each other. They have shown me the kind of faithfulness I hope for them in the future. With programs of this caliber, the College of Saint Benedict continues to be a very special place.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Snowflakes -- Grace Upon Grace

As we enter into this winter Advent, we remember this is the season of grace upon grace – when Christ entered our world and our lives. The dawn of grace has arrived.

Here is an image of grace upon grace:

The first snow has fallen. Friday night we had a beautiful, snowy day. As I watched, the snow fell straight down. At one moment the snowflakes were like downy feathers. There were so many that it was like all the down pillows in heaven had been split open and released from some sort of joyful, celestial pillow fight.

The myriad of snowflakes that followed were small as raindrops, yet descending in no hurry. It was as if they were taking their time and enjoying the ride. Can you imagine counting all the downy snowflakes? How can you focus? There are so many moving near and far, left and right, everywhere. Look between pine trees and see the near ones dancing through space. Look up and see the air patterned and moving, jllions of white dots inexorably sliding down the sky. Look across the prairie and hills and up into the gray clouds and feel the immensity of nature. The Presence of God.

God’s grace is like snowflakes falling down everywhere on the good and the evil. This is the grace of God: God’s kindness falling down on you from start to finish. It’s not your own doing, yet the patterns of grace descend on you as you go about your way. In the thoughts of loved ones, as you talk to one another, bragging, divulging and struggling. As you play, compete and live together, let God’s saving grace fall upon you ever so gently or in swirling wind.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Longing

Oh joy!! We get almost a full four weeks of Advent (minus one day). This does not happen often. . .and I usually am bemoaning the shortness of this wonderful liturgical season. Historically, Advent was originally held to be a penitential period, one with an emphasis on our sinfulness mitigated by our fasting. Neither of those aspects is a focus anymore -- at least, not in the church-at-large.

In our Gathering Place we have a huge wreath on the center table, instantly capturing the eye as one enters the place. Our practice on Sundays before Mass is to gather round the wreath as the candles are lit—sometimes by a child or some other guest of the monastery. There is a joyous atmosphere overall, and we process into chapel with light heart and step.

I particularly like the Advent hymns and antiphons. They are infused with such longing for Christ’s coming and there is a sense of expectancy which overcomes any dreariness of disposition, weather or fears, physical and spiritual. Christ our Light is coming!
photo: Joaquim lights the candle for the First Sunday of Advent on November 28, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Random Acts of Culture

submitted by Delores Dufner, OSB

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the quantity of e-mails in my box, and I find myself wishing I were less connected via technology. But then I get a special message that makes all the other mail worthwhile. That happened a few days ago, when I viewed an extraordinary event at a mall in Philadelphia. The Opera Company of Philadelphia, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, had  engaged 600 choristers to mingle anonymously with shoppers at Macy’s. Precisely at noon, the 600 singers burst into Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, accompanied by the world’s largest pipe organ. The look on shoppers’ faces was one of amazement and delight at this Random Act of Culture, one of the thousand events being planned for the next three years across the country. I see on YouTube that over five million people have viewed this video-- maybe you are one. If not, take the time to enjoy it below.

If you enjoyed that one, how about these talented opera singers at a mall in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kaifeng Hotel

This year's exhibit at the Haehn Museum, "Mission to China and Taiwan," has opened up so many connections, including many special visitors to the exhibit.

But nothing as extraordinary and unexpected as the e-mails that began arriving about two months ago from Father Franco Mella in Kaifeng, China. Father Franco is a PIME missionary from Italy (comparable to the U.S. Maryknoll priests). He has served in China for 35 years and has been in Kaifeng for three years. While there, he has made a surprising discovery.

The first e-mail informed us that the Kaifeng diocese is in possession of some of our Sisters' books. What? We were amazed to learn that the Sisters' books were preserved and survived the Cultural Revolution after the Sisters fled Kaifeng during the communist takeover in 1948. The books eventually made their way to the Cathedral in Kaifeng, where they remain.

Then Fr. Franco began sending photos, including this modern photo (above) of the Kaifeng Hotel (called so approrpiately, the Kaifeng Hotel Guest House), formerly the Sisters' monastery. We were stunned to see the building, nearly the same as when the Sisters built it in 1940-41 (see photo below). There is a commemorative plaque identifying the building as the Sisters' monastery. The monastery was built under the direction of Sister Wibora Muhlenbein, who even oversaw the production of the bricks on site from raw materials. The Sisters moved in just before the attack on Pearl Harbor and spent their first year under house arrest there, before they were transferred to a concentration camp. They returned after the war to find it trashed and still occupied by soldiers, who S. Wibora ordered to move. After a few tense, uncertain years, they moved again, fleeing to Taiwan and leaving their belongings -- including their books -- behind. The building is owned by the Catholic church and leased to the hotel.

It is truly a gift to be reconnected to Kaifeng and to see the Sisters' presence there so vibrantly recorded and in fact, producing income for the Catholic church in China! We do not know yet where this relationship will lead, but we wanted to share it with you.

If you have not had a chance to see the exhibit, make your plans now! It closes on Thursday, December 23, although we know the story is still unfolding. For more on the exhibit, click here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


submittted by Kathryn Casper, OSB

I live (Oops! I almost wrote “I love with”) four other Sisters in the Welcome House of the monastery. Yes, I live with them but I also love with them! Sisters Lisa Rose, Luanne Lenz, Mary Schumer, Ruth Anne Schneider and I extend living and loving hospitality to women who come to visit the monastery to learn more about Benedictine monastic living.

Sister Lisa Rose, who is the newest addition to this group, brought a new custom into our house. At the end of the evening meal that we occasionally have together, each Sister expresses one thing for which she is grateful that day. We then close with a prayer. It is amazing how such a simple sacred pause can strengthen our commitment to one another. We learn more about one another as each one opens her heart in gratitude and lets each one of us into that intimate moment.

This small, new custom is an icon of the living with and loving with that mirrors the thankful hearts of the whole community. That beating heart of gratitude in the monastery has recently been expanded with the “homecoming” of the Sisters of Saint Bede Monastery, Eau Claire, Wis., and the Sisters of Mount Benedict Monastery of Ogden, Utah.  (See monastery home page.) On Saturday, November 20, we became one Benedictine community. From now on we live with and love with as one in a community of 294 strong and remarkable women.

Living and loving together is not always an easy task, is it? It’s fairly easy when everything goes smoothly, when we are at our best. It’s another thing when some of us are tired, are in poor health, have too much on our plate, or find ourselves out of sorts in one way or another. It’s then that we learn to be grateful for the small kindness we offer to one another: a listening heart, an offer to help in some way, the unexpected affirmation, or simply asking, “How are you?” and waiting to find out.

Louise Glück writes in The House on Marshland:

Do not think I am not grateful for your small
kindness to me.
I like small kindnesses….

On this day of Thanksgiving, shall we offer to one another those small and large kindnesses? Shall we express to one another those things for which we are grateful?

Shall we expand the heart of the world around us by living and loving well together?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays: family and friends connect around a festive meal; people take time to give thanks for blessings; homeless folks are fed as they deserve to be fed, and it’s the one holiday commercialism hasn’t found a way to spoil. The fact that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in the middle of the Civil War seems especially relevant at this time of war in Afghanistan and distressing unemployment at home.

Lincoln gave reasons for a day of gratitude which are still pertinent: “For bounties which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come . . . They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God. . . . . It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and voice by the whole American people. . . . I recommend that we also commend to God’s tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in this lamentable civil strife . . . and fervently implore the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of our nation and to restore it . . . to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union” (Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863).

At the monastery, we celebrate a Thanksgiving Eucharist in gratitude for countless blessings of faith, families, friends, Oblates, volunteers, benefactors, and so much more! A blessed Thanksgiving!

By Katherine Kraft, OSB

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The enthusiasm meter

You never know what wisdom might come your way at the monastery breakfast table. Today was just another example. I was commenting on the way the weather influences how people feel and one of the older Sisters didn’t miss a beat. She said, “You know for me, the weather outside rarely gets to me.” And laughingly she added, “Now the weather inside is another whole story.”

It immediately made me think of a comment I read in one of Anthony DeMello’s books, One Minute Wisdom. The entry was entitled "Enthusiasm.”

To the woman who complained that riches hadn’t made her happy
the Master said, “You speak as if luxury and comfort were ingredients of happiness;
whereas all you need to be really happy, my dear,
is something to be enthusiastic about.”

So I’m walking to my office mentally reviewing things that I get excited about. I find myself looking at how effortlessly the trees sway, how green the grass near the sidewalk still is and how much impishness there is in the eyes of a friend who just walked up to me. At least for this moment, my enthusiasm meter got a new battery on this cloud-covered day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pssst . . . can you keep a secret? I love electronic
toys: Ipads, cell phones, blackberrys, laptops,
digital cameras, etc. Yet I am utterly mystified by the way Google knows all things. Some time ago I signed up to receive a "Google alert" when something is written, broadcast, announced, etc. regarding interreligious dialogue. Every day I receive close to a dozen "alerts" regarding something that concerns interreligious dialogue anywhere in the world. I learned today
that the CEO of Facebook claims that in a short time his company will come up with a new e-mail system that some call the "g-mail killer". It will be able to prioritize your e-mails according to the sender's relationship to you. I do not claim to understand any of this. I do know this though: technology is simply going too fast for me.

I live with these questions: when will I no longer be able to keep up with the complexity of a technology which seems to change not every five years, or two years, but it seems more like every six months? How does a Benedictine sister on a very limited budget and conscious of being a good steward of the gifts we are given through the generosity of our benefactors keep up with all the changes and new electronic gadgets? More important than the first two questions is this question: how do I use the technology that is available to serve the people of God and at the same time not become a slave to it?

I will continue to live with these questions because there are no black and white answers but I have two examples of how using newer means of technology can help spread the Gospel: the first is a blog that S. Trish Dick posted on November 8 in which she writes about "Faith Texting" and how at her invitation a number of students are texting a faith based message to each other every day. One student is responsible for each day of the week. The other example is happening as I am writing this blog: today, November 16, is "Give to the Max" day in Minnesota and we are inviting people to donate to our newest program: the Benedictine Women's Service Corps. You can get information about the Benedictine Women's Service Corps on our web page, blog and facebook. If it is still November 16 when you read this and you don't want to be left out of "Give to the Max" day you can donate by going to our home page and there you will find the information you need in order to donate.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What Are You Reading?

Right now, I have an enormous stack of books by my favorite reading spot, in my office, and usually in my bag waiting for me. They are books handed to me by friends who thought I should read this book, or by recommendations that I have found myself. I am always interested in the next book to start my journey into another world. My friends know that I am a voracious reader always looking for the next fascinating read.

Of course, I have my favorite mystery authors, such as books by J.A. Jance (Queen of the Night), P.D. James (The Murder Room), Deborah Crombie (Water Like a Stone), M.C. Beaton (Death of a Gentle Lady), and J.D. Robb (Salvation in Death), besides the easy to read and relaxing romance books by a myriad of authors.

And yet there are many, many more books on my stacks for future reading. I am always reading in the hopes that I will find one worthy of having my students read. For example, when read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, I knew I had found a winner. This wonderful book tells the story of Paul Farmer. You might ask, who is he? On, he is called "The doctor who would cure Haiti" and a choice of 100 items will show you that Dr. Paul Farmer has dedicated his life to working tirelessly for the poor. My students and I have been inspired by this one person who has given so much to the world.

At present my students and I are reading one of the long time best sellers by Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed. Not only does Ehrenreich's acerbic voice lay everything on the line about not getting by in America, but she makes us all examine where we are in these economically hard times.

And what about spiritual reading? Ah, yes, after Thanksgiving, my students and I will be reading the ancient book that Pope St. Gregory wrote about St. Benedict. Since we are on the campuses of two Benedictine sponsored schools, we want to read the story of Benedict through The Life and Times of St. Benedict. This tiny, yet ancient book is a delightful read about the great founder of Western Monasticism.

So, what have you been reading lately? Any recommendations to pass on?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Faith Texting

I have always been intrigued and fascinated with how college students use technology to communicate and build relationships. Thus, I set out to explore and embrace this world. I asked a team of students if they would help me pilot a faith text community.

I asked for six volunteers and myself to start the community. Thirteen students were interested, so I divided them into two groups. Each person was responsible for a day of the week that she/he would text their “God moment” and insight for the day. I checked in with the two groups during their weekly leadership meetings for snags and tweaking.

The groups continue to amaze me. Every day I get a text that is profound and insightful. It’s hard to understand and describe how community is forming that has organic energy while they’re using technology. The goal is that each member will collect six other people next semester and start their own faith texting community.

Here are a few texts I have received and publish with the authors’ permission:

“I was walking around today and I realized that every time that I was looking for God I saw Him almost everywhere. It’s so amazing how easy God makes it for us to find Him, yet God cares for us so much that we have free will and aren’t required to see God if we choose not to.”

“This morning I headed to catch the link for my 8:00 am class. There was a chill in the air. I was thankful I grabbed a coat and then thought about all those who don’t have coat and are cold this morning. May warmth of charity be in our heart today.”

I am grateful for the students who have let me intersect with their world. I simply am amazed at the faith of this generation. May we remember that every generation stretches the next generation. Yet the Spirit moves, works and engages the people of God even with a cell phone text. The Rule of Benedict says we are in the school of the Lord’s service. Whatever form it takes, may we have hearts that seek God.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Saints Above and Below

November has two major religious “feast days.” For those of us who celebrate them annually, All Saints (Nov. l) and All Souls (Nov. 2) are much beloved. Processions and Masses honor those saints already “on high” and those in the process—the deceased who are not canonized but whom we are sure are “heaven bound.”
I always look forward to the Litany of the Saints—which here at Saint Benedict’s Monastery we sing as the community processes to the cemetery on All Hallows Eve, and again as we process into chapel for Mass on All Saints Day. Familiar and not-so-familiar saints’ names roll off the tongue as we recall what diverse people have achieved sainthood.
The All Souls feast reminds us of our continued ties with those who have gone before us into a new life. (And, this week, we have two Sisters’ funerals to deepen that reminder.)
What a grand way to start November and to herald the coming to a close of another year.

Often we are reminded that we are “saints in the making.” We are also “poor souls” in need of one another’s prayers and help as we daily strive to live according to the Gospel. Saint Benedict tells us in the Rule that we can “run the way of perfection”—though some days it seems we more often plod along. If not yet there, we are potential saints and can aim to give one another due love, respect and care, mindful that we never travel alone.

photos by Karen Streveler, OSB

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Music at Saint Scholastica Convent

submitted by: Susan Sink, Communications Director

Yesterday, while I was visiting Saint Scholastica Convent, our retirement and assisted living facility, Sister Margaret Mandernach arranged for some Sisters to get together and play music after lunch.

This is a regular occurrence at Saint Scholastica. There have always been many Sisters who are musicians, but among the most fun is Sister Ellen Cotone. As a high school student in the Twin Cities, she and her brother played music in night clubs. She knows hundreds of songs, which would not be so unusual, except that Sister Ellen has suffered from memory loss for over three years. She does not remember very much at all-- including how many verses of a song she has played-- but she can play over 100 songs if you only ask. If she doesn't recognize them by name, all you have to do is hum a few bars.

Sister Johanna Becker likes to come out and listen to Ellen play, and she calls out requests-- two by Cole Porter while I was there.

Sister Ellen also does this trick of playing the piano behind her back. Below you'll find her doing her "trick," and also playing "Dizzy Fingers." Could someone comment and tell me the name of the first song?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

An October Walk

A lovely Sunday afternoon spread out before me in early October. I asked myself: read a novel or do some work? On such a day as that Sunday it was a no-brainer, and I set out with my camera in hand, heading out to the old barn. Passing the community garden, I spied Sister Linda Dusek cleaning out a patch of flowers. Great!

Linda showed me the expanse of golden nasturtiums still blooming and said they were the favorite flower of Sister Colleen Haggerty’s mother Olive, who recently died at age 99. Linda picked one for me, which I stuck behind my ear and sauntered off.

Near the old barn, I head the sound of a power mower and there, coming around the corner, was Sister Margaret Wurm in her sweatshirt, cap and protective earphones, fully in charge of the big power mower. Great!

My goal now was to walk to the woods on what we at the monastery affectionately call the Vista View Road. At the beginning of this walk, someone has placed a very large stone. Over time walkers have placed small stones on top of the rock to make a cairn, as if to mark a sacred place. There are two paths, one of gravel and one of grass, set between ancient elm trees. The branches of these trees form an archway that seems to stretch endlessly, luring me to the dark mystery of the woods. Walking the road I could smell the moist earth and hear the distant sound of college students engaged in a game of softball. All sounds of I-94 were blocked out. Glorious!

On my right was a large, still-green field filled with golden sunlight. I chose to walk the road by the field on my way back, the sun overhead and a cool breeze on my face. At that moment I found that I was perfectly content and that I had everything in my life that is important. It became abundantly clear that the choice I made to choose neither the novel nor the work was truly an invitation from God.

The early monks taught that there were three books that one should read for lectio divina: the book of Scripture, the book of nature and the book of our own experience. This afternoon was a transformative moment of reading nature and breathing in the wisdom and peace that was offered. By the way, the novel was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It’s a must read!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chapel Celebration

Here at the monastery, October 24th is a big day. This is the anniversary of the consecration of our chapel, a community celebration. These two Cs are what brought Sister Priscilla Schmitbauer to live out her call and build our chapel.

Who was S. Priscilla? An elementary school teacher chosen by the prioress in the early 1900s to become the plant manager at the monastery. I doubt if even in her wildest imagining she thought she could or would oversee the building of Sacred Heart Chapel, the heart of our home.
But she did.
Plans for Sacred Heart Chapel go back almost 100 years. The Sisters named three criteria to guide the building—that the Chapel be beautiful; serve both present and future needs; and not exceed $50,000. Because George Stauduhar, the architect, lived in Rock Island, Illinois, and the U.S. mail was the means of communication, we have the complete story of the Chapel’s building. Priscilla not only kept copies of the architect’s letters; she kept copies of her letters to him—an archival treasure!

The Sisters wanted a dome on the chapel. The architect balked at that. There was no way to have a dome under the budget laid down. To this edict, S. Priscilla responded almost immediately: “After due deliberation, it has been decided that the Dome should not be omitted.” The Sisters would have their dome! The architect was advised to contact the contractor and come to “an estimate of the lowest probable cost of the Chapel” (letter to Stauduhar, Jan. 22, 1912).

The chapel was completed in 1914. Two of the goals had been reached and continue today: the chapel is beautiful and it serves present needs. The total cost for construction and furnishings, however, was $190,000! The recorded response of the Sisters to their new chapel—with Dome: “[T]he Chapel stands as a lasting memorial and open manifestation of the living faith that dwells in the hearts of the Sisters” (Community Chronicles, 1914).

Psalm 127 says that “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” We are so grateful for the God who built the “house” through the heart, hands, and determination of Priscilla’s labor!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tea Time and Sister Brian (1925-2009)

S. Brian Spain
 The students in Brian Hall residence on the campus at the College of St. Benedict wanted a sister to come to their “Tea Time Thursday” gathering to talk about S. Brian Spain. I was delighted to share with them a bit of what I knew about her. It wasn’t difficult to recognize how she endeared herself to others by embodying humanity, humility and humor.

Her Benedictine presence was felt in such varied ways on the college campus during her 28 years. She wholeheartedly gave of herself as: Counselor, Student Development Coordinator, Residence Hall Director and Benedictine values consultant.

Her sociology major and her admiration for Dorothy Day alerted her to the needs of the poor. Her sense of justice called her to help persons of color in Mississippi to prepare them to vote. And her listening ear and unflagging ability to “challenge and support” students continually spoke of her ability to walk lovingly with humanity.

She journeyed with her own humanity in a uniquely humble way. A maple tree was planted outside one of the residence halls to acknowledge her long-time effectiveness with students. A newly constructed residence was named after her. She received an award from the city of St. Joseph for developing policies that strengthened ties between the college and the city. And on all these occasions she acted as though nothing extraordinary was happening.

Maybe it was her humility that monastery leaders noticed when she was appointed to work with women who joined the monastery as Formation Director. Or was it her humor that leaders recognized would help her simultaneously look at the growing edges and innate goodness in the women seeking a monastic life style? It certainly was her humor that won the hearts of many who worked and lived with her over the years.

A cup of tea is raised in your honor, S. Brian. Others that come later may not know your twinkling eyes. But all of us who felt your presence attest to your giving spirit and raise our cups in solidarity.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Birthdays at the Monastery

BIRTHDAYS in the Monastery

"How do you celebrate birthdays?" you might ask. Here at Saint Benedict's, because we are a large community – in St. Joseph, MN alone, there are about 150 of us living in or around the monastery - the entire community could not celebrate each sister's birthday. In fact some days there are several birthday sisters. But we have a couple of ways of letting everyone know whose birthday it is on a particular day: our internal newsletter has a list of birthdays for the month and in our dining room there is a special place where a sign is up for the day announcing a birthday . . . or two or three. S. Janet Thielges works on these announcements all year round and succeeds in making them very unique for each sister (see picture). If the sister is in the dining room on the day of her birthday we sing Happy Birthday to her during the meal. She will also be remembered with many birthday cards left on her mail shelf. A simple but genuine sign of our love for her.

There are some birthdays that are particularly special. If a sister celebrates her 90th birthday the entire community at St. Benedict's gathers during the afternoon for special treats. For the rest of us, until we reach the venerable age of 90, birthday celebrations can take various forms. If we live in a small group of sisters, e.g. 3, 4, or 5 sisters, our living group might ask the sister whose birthday is approaching how she would like to celebrate . . . movie and a special dinner . . . have a few friends over for a birthday party . . . go on a picnic . . . or go visit a museum, etc. This past Sunday night S. Dolores' living group invited some sisters over for a hors d'oeuvres supper and a birthday cake for her birthday in a few days; it just so happened that it was also Sister Jeannie's birthday so we celebrated her as well. (See picture). In past years several of us who have birthdays in October have gotten together some time during the month for a special dinner.

Other times, when a group is either a little larger which means several birthdays during the year, or if in a smaller group 2-3 sisters have their birthday close together the group might decide to ask each sister to choose a "person day" so the celebrations get spread out over the year. We love parties so we do not want to miss out on any.

No matter how we celebrate, there is always a special prayer as part of the day or evening; birthdays are occasions of thanksgiving . . . giving thanks for the person's life, the many ways she builds up the community, and the many gifts she shares with us all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Traveling to Puerto Rico

At 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, I was on my way to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was long weekend at St. Ben's and so everyone was "off" for the weekend to enjoy some glorious last few days of summer! Usually, I go on a writer's retreat or stay home for some much needed R & R. This weekend, however, I was going on a site visit to observe our Benedictine Women's Service Corps placements in Humacao with the Benedictine Sisters of Puerto Rico.

It was exciting to be flying to the Caribbean. I had been telling everyone who asked what I was doing for the weekend that "I was going to Puerto Rico," and loved turning a few heads. No one expects that I would be going that far for four days of break. That made it all the more exciting!

So, when I landed in San Juan, I was eager to see Ashley and Daisy. When I opened the door leading out from baggage claim, intending to run and hug them, I was totally blinded because my glasses fogged up from the humidity. My breathing seemed impossible for a couple of minutes. I had been warned, but even so I was not prepared for such high humidity! It was unbelieveably good to hug both of them and be hugged back. They have been in Puerto Rico for six weeks and were eager to see someone from "home."

Puerto Rico is beautiful, of course, with lush greenery and gorgeous hillsides. The beaches, I hear, are grand. Since I was there to visit our young CSB grads, I had no vision of doing "touristy" things. We stopped, however, to eat at a lovely Italian restaurant on the way to Humacao, and later in the week, drove to a lechon grill in the mountains. At one of these famous places known for pig roasted on a spit, we enjoyed a delicious meal by a wayside stream and park. On Saturday, we had the chance to see EL Morro in Old San Juan where the Spanish fort has been standing for hundreds of years, serving as a strategic lookout in times of possible invasions. Even as recently as World War II, it was the place from which German submarines were spotted.

So, how are Ashley and Daisy doing? They love it and are having a wonderful time. Ashley is trying her hand at teaching English to kindergartners. She teaches them songs with both words and actions, along with teaching them about letters and numbers. Ashley has three groups of about 20 kindergartners each, and so Daisy helps her with one of the groups. Daisy's main focus, however, is computer lab assistance where she helps all classes with finding their way around the internet, printing, and learning the keyboard. Besides that, Daisy is the computer lab director's assistant.

Only with gratefulness and admiration can I look upon what these women are doing. They have taken on a huge challenge by changing their place of residence, changing their "jobs," changing from living in college dorms to a monastery with sisters, and essentially changing their entire style of living. They chose this major challenge in order to give a year of service in a place far away from home and in an entirely different culture. With deep faith and huge hearts, they have been in the process of adjusting to a new life. God has been gentle with them, giving them the strength to meet the challenges straight on and moving forward with great dignity and love.

Blessings and prayers to you---Ashley and Daisy--- for the new life you are bringing to the Benedictine Sisters of Humacao.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

St. Francis: A Role Model For Nature Lovers

In the pantheon of my favorite saints, Francis of Assisi (feast day October 4) ranks in the top five. From childhood I was attracted to him primarily because of his love for animals and nature as a whole. Colorful picture books emphasized Francis’ care and concern for all of life—and I felt drawn to the gentle saint largely because of this focus. Think how Francis would react to our current efforts to preserve and conserve the earth and its creatures. He surely would be in the forefront of those who have been alerting us these past years to the need for respect and care of the world around us. (Wouldn’t he make a grand keynote speaker at some of our Earth Day events!)

Living on this monastery campus for the past 40 years, I am gratified by how far we have come in learning to appreciate and nurture the soil, the trees, the flowers and the wildlife around us. The campus we share alongside the College of Saint Benedict is beautiful, generally well cared for and much appreciated by those who walk the varied paths all around us. In particular, we have a lovely woods on the south end of the campus that invites us to even more appreciation of nature.

Many Sisters like to walk to the woods, some on a daily basis. Others of us go there periodically and revel in the peace and quiet, while also enjoying the amenities of the lodge. (Francis would be pleased.)

PS. (I Can’t resist) Q: Who is the patron saint of e-mail?
A: St. Francis of a cc.
photo: Yesterday's potato harvest from the Sisters' CSA garden, Common Ground Garden. Connecting people to local food producers is one way the Sisters' continue to promote sustainability and a connection to the land.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hope and Mountain Views

I am on vacation in Washington state visiting family and friends. I have done a lot quilting and connecting with my mom in the mornings over a good cup of coffee. Yes, my mom drinks good, dark Starbucks coffee. The weather has been fabulous with fall colors, mild temperatures and sun!

Most mornings in the Pacific Northwest start out overcast and you wait for the movement of the day to reveal its colors. A couple days I have experienced the majestic beauty of Mount Rainier out in full glory. From experience, I know it's not everyday that you get the opportunity to see such majesticness; it always causes a person to slow down, stop and breathe in this sight.

The other day I was thinking about Mt. Rainier and how it reminds me of hope. Most of the time you do not see hope, just like you don't see Mt. Rainier when it is overcast. We all know, believe and wait for the mountain to appear. Then, when the clouds of life part from our yearning, longing, grieving or whatever state we are in, we find the splendor of hope. This hope causes my soul to swell.

Hope is a fickle attribute in our lives because we never know when it will reveal itself. But we know that our hope will not be disappointed, because the love of Christ has been poured out in our hearts. The suscipe from Psalm 119 that we sing at profession is: "Receive me, O Lord, that I may live; do not disappoint me in my hope." Our hope is in the majesty of Christ's presence in our lives, and the promise of everlasting life and the coming of God's kingdom.

Hope finds its way to reveal itself in majesty through the colors of autumn, the smile of a friend or the birds flying south. If none of these are present to you today, I recommend a strong cup of coffee and quilting project.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

From Homo Bay, Kenya, to St. Joseph, Minnesota

Last night, we had the privilege of hosting the delegates from Homa Bay diocese in our Monastic Dining Room. We often have guests because Benedictine Hospitality is part of the fabric of our lives. These delegates have been staying at our Spirituality Center all week as they participate in events in the area.

The delegates are very special people who are part of the ongoing partnership between the St. Cloud Diocese and the Homa Bay Diocese in Kenya. The partnership, in existence for many years, features an exchange of travel for diocesan members from Minnesota to Kenya and from Kenya to Minnesota. This was the year that Kenyans blessed us with their presence.
For two weeks, men and women of the Homa Bay Diocese along with the Bishop of the diocese--Bishop Philip Anyolo--have been visiting parishes, institutions of health care, but especially this year commemorating the death of Father John Kaiser. Father John ministered in Kenya for many years and died there in the struggle to support those who were being disabused of their rights. He was from the St. Cloud Diocese and therefore has special meaning for both partners.

The delegates from Kenya were part of a special remembrance of Father Kaiser (“Father John Kaiser and the Struggle for Human Rights in Kenya”) during the Annual Peace Conference at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University on Monday night. The delegates sang a Kiswahili funereal song (see photo above).

We have been blessed by their presence and will be sad to see them leave today!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From One Generation to the Next

The other day Sister Trish Dick and I enjoyed an incredible lunch, sitting at an outside table of a local restaurant to which I had a gift certificate. Because we were both hungry for the same entrées, we split our order. We enjoyed a salad that had ingredients neither had thought of putting together, but agreed how good it was, and how we would surely duplicate it for a special meal. We ate a gourmet pizza and savored each bite.

In the delight of the connection the food was providing, we discussed our passions and pilgrimages, recipes, and the garden that provides vegetables and herbs for making Sister Lisa’s salsa and Sister Addie’s infamous spaghetti sauce, both of which we enjoy. We covered a lot in a two-hour span.

We traveled around the soul many times, told stories of life conversion, probed a lot of problems, created new recipes and shared insights. We left full of energy and encouragement. Even though our two lives are separated by a good number of years in age, as well as by the number of years in religious life and variety of life experiences, we recognize and cherish a closeness in our commitment to the Benedictine way of life.

That is the gift of community, living in unity and sharing the divine in each other. The Rule says that the younger are to respect the older, and the older to love the younger. Leaving the restaurant, we both wondered at the gift this provides for the two of us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

May today there be peace within

“Don’t be anxious,” Jesus tells us in the Gospel (Mk 6:34). But frankly, I’ve been wondering how we are supposed to do that in this terrifying world in which we live. I sometimes wake up in the 3 a.m. “hour of the dragon” and am faced with some of the challenges facing people of every nation and the very health of fragile earth.

I could list all those things that seem to be going wrong around us, and so could you. I could tell stories of people I know and love, stories from my Sisters and our guests in the monastery that underscore the risky world we live in. So could you from your own experience. You and I know we sometimes sit around and spin the risk until we are looking at a catastrophe. So what are we to do?

In 1908 the poet Minnie Louise Haskins published the poem “The Gate of Year,” part of a collection titled The Desert. Her poem was widely acclaimed as inspirational, reaching its first mass audience in the early days of the Second World War. Those of us who lived some portion of those years, or who have since studied that time in history, know that it, too, was a risky time threatening mass destruction of the world. Haskins wrote in part: "And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.' So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. "

What was there in that poem that caught the imagination of people of all nations? For those of us who believe in a God who desires only our good, it seems an affirmation that we can trust God. In our times of anxiety, it seems a better light and safer way than anything else.

St. Therese of Lisieux born 85 years before Minnie wrote her poem, offers us comparable words of trust in the midst of this age of anxiety:

Today may there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is here for each and every one of us.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Benedictine Blessings with S. Mary Jane

Tonight at 10 o'clock, a group of sophomore women from third floor, and I will meet to pray together before everyone settles in for the night. Last week about sixteen of us gathered at the top of the stairs on the third floor and prayed Compline, an ancient night prayer of Benedictines. This prayer asks God to protect us through the night so we will rise ready for another day. We also add our own special petitions for loved ones.

I just love being involved in this precious time with these young women of Lottie Hall. I have lived alongside them for all of seven years, and this is the first time they have asked me to pray with them. In the past, I have offered a program of Lenten Devotions or Advent Preparations, but they were hesitant about joining me.

Living in Lottie Hall with mostly sophomore women, I enjoy the everyday rhythm of dorm life. These young women have as many programs and activities in their residence halls as they have through student activities. Therefore, when they asked if I would be willing to pray with them, I eagerly found time to be with them. More than once they have indicated that they like my presence among them, and have told me that they were excited when they found out that a Benedictine Sister lived Lottie. I am very happy to not only make my presence known but also to answer the call.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fall Transitions

Fall season quiets me down a bit. There’s something about the slowly falling leaves, the canning and preserving of summer’s abundance and the ordinariness of school children playing on the nearby playground that says, “Something has ended and something is about to begin.” I guess fall is transition-time.

Transition-time has its own rhythm. Mostly it moves me out of the ordinary, predictable part of life into a changed landscape of, “If I’m not where I was, and I’m not sure exactly what’s ahead, where am I really?” Is it an invitation to peer under the surface of my life and ask myself again what really matters and what’s part of the unimportant? I know for sure it’s a sacred time of waiting for clues to surface that will help me create my life path while I’m walking it.

So now I’m trying to surround myself with wise ones, especially children and elderly. Their honesty is both refreshing and awakening. I love the amazement in the voice of a local child as she points out yet another cloud-creature seen floating in the sky. Equally awakening is the comment that came from one of our elderly Sisters who hadn’t spoken many words in recent years. When asked by two young Sisters what she’d like to tell them, she simply says, “Keep loving.” Five years later the words continue to sustain these Sisters and give richness to their life path.

The listening and the speaking both give new dimensions to life. Sometimes we are shocked at how the words falling out of our mouths are really meant as food for our own being. Shared words have a way of knitting lives together and creating a shared home. Maybe in the long run, listening is what really gives meaning to our transition-time and provides a nurturing that can’t be received any other way. As Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom says, “Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person.” And perhaps within ourselves as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What I learned from Toy Story 3

I recently went to the movie Toy Story 3 with a student, because (I admit) I was too embarrassed to go as an adult alone. I have always found children’s movies chock full of adult themes. Besides enjoying all the animation, I was intrigued by the way the movie spoke to adults. Here are the lessons I took from the film:

1: Life is full of transitions as we grow older, whether we like it or not. Turning 50 and entering midlife, I have been hit by the transition of getting older and not being able to do the same things as I could when I was younger. Sometimes I have to watch instead of participate.

2: We all need to be loved and valued, no matter where we are in spectrum of life. We all have a place in the toy box of life.

3: Lots-o Huggin' Bear showed that due to our woundedness, perceptions of love and life can be skewed and be emotionally damaging to ourselves and others. Like Lots-o, I can put people in cages and boxes in my mind using resources of fear, intimidation and power.

4: We need people in our lives to speak truth to us in a kind and encouraging way that leads us to the love (of God) like the clown in the movie. Also, we can be painted with a smile instead of a frown and be a different person.

5: Play is healthy whether you are a child, adolescent or adult. We all need to make time to play so that our lives can be nourished. Play frees us to imagine and create in order to find bliss in the present moment.

Maybe we all need to attend more chidlren’s animated movies, if not for the pleasure of the creative animation, then for the life lessons they offer.

Friday, September 10, 2010

New Beginnings

The new fall term has begun at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University! Fortunately, our educational system is cyclical much like the seasons. We are assured of beginning anew, with a fresh slate. First year students begin another phase of their education by starting college and leaving things of high school behind. Sophomores are no longer first-years and can complete their search for a major. Juniors are so excited that they have made it to the third year of their college career and could possibly be going to study abroad for a semester. And, lastly, the seniors are both exhilarated and frightened at the same time to be starting the last year of a rather sheltered life. They are ultimately facing the “real world” with job fairs staring them in the face.

Educators, like myself, consider themselves fortunate to be able to start fresh each term, be that a semester or a year. Teaching at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University I have been privileged to work with first year students. The bright and eager faces of first-years warm my heart and make my job easier. My First Year Symposium called “the Power of Story” allows us to learn everyone’s story as well as read other stories in order to learn from them.

Unlike any other, however, this year I am part of the Intercultural Leadership, Education, and Development program. This means that four very enthusiastic and excited first generation students are part of my FYS class. They add a zest for life and learning that has given my class and me, as well, a boost in the quest for living in a diverse world. Because they have been designated as leaders in their home communities, they strive to be leaders in college. They represent many different cultures, races, and ethnicities. Therefore, in my FYS, there are Hmong, Hispanic, Chinese, besides students from New York, California and Minnesota. I find the richness of such a group to be beneficial to all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Deadheading Anonymous

I admit I am a compulsive deadheader and could easily be part of a deadheading anonymous support group. Any time I see flowers that need deadheading, especially in a public area, I snap and crackle a stem or old bloom. My intentions are pure, making it possible for people to enjoy the beauty of the flowers longer, as deadheading spurs on more blooms. I have been thinking a lot about deadheading as the summer winds down and I tend my flowers.

We humans also experience deadheading. We’re planted, watered, watched, enjoyed as we flourish and then snapped or cut back. Deadheading flowers is always a reminder of the paschal mystery of life. Sometimes in life we are deadheaded. Our life cycle of bloom comes to an end and we are pruned or snapped back. Then we wait and live in faith until the next bloom arrives, never knowing if it will be the same shape, color or size as the original.

From generation to generation, our God is faithful. The Rule of St. Benedict says as we travel on life’s path, we are to keep death daily before our eyes. One reason may be that a bloom is awaiting the next cycle of life.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Members, New Life

On Sunday, August 15, 2010, Saint Benedict’s Monastery incorporated 28 members of the former Saint Bede Monastery in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Both communities had been preparing for this event over a long time—Saint Bede for several years and Saint Benedict’s for almost a year. Smaller monasteries or priories nationwide have been looking to their future and deciding whether they can or cannot continue as a separate entity, given the dwindling of members. Saint Bede Monastery began facing this decision at least six or seven years ago and now incorporation with Saint Benedict’s Monastery is accomplished.

I participated in the ritual event the afternoon of August 15 with mixed emotions. What grief the Saint Bede Sisters must have experienced when the final decision was made to dissolve their monastery. What joy and relief they must have experienced when the Sisters of Saint Benedict’s Monastery wholeheartedly welcomed them into their midst. Saint Bede Monastery was a daughter house of ours (founded in 1948) and therefore this incorporation is a return to home. Still, there were tears as well as smiles of gladness on this occasion, and the ritual gave due recognition to both responses in song and prayer.

In the Oratory where we daily pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I see the Saint Bede Sisters scattered among us, sharing our psalms, hymns and readings. They look very much at home and it seems as if they have always been here. Now we are truly one!

For a slide show of photos from August 15, click here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zest for Life

Every now and then I encounter somebody whose zest for life amazes me. It happened again last weekend, while I was visiting family and we went to Sunday Mass in North Dakota. Before Communion, my sister leaned towards me and pointed out that our first cousin, whom I hadn’t seen for over fifty years, was one of the eucharistic ministers.

After Mass, we stayed to chat for a few minutes. At age 84 she was still full of energy and enthusiasm as she said, “You’ll never guess what I did yesterday—I went sky diving!”

We were dumbfounded. “Weren’t you afraid,” I asked, “of stepping out of the plane, or doing the free fall, or landing?”

“No,” she answered. “God was there when I stepped out, and God was still there when I landed. I wasn’t afraid. I did it for the first time when I was 79, and I loved it. So I did it again yesterday with several of my children. It’s a wonderful experience!”

I was humbled by her trust in God—her awareness of God’s totally reliable presence -- and her zest for life.

submitted by Delores Dufner, OSB

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Guest House

There is a wonderful poem by Rumi that goes like this:

This being human is a guest-house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I thought of this poem in a new way as I experienced both the monastery and myself as being a “guest house.” We welcome the Sisters of Saint Bede Monastery who this past Sunday truly became one with us in a profoundly moving ceremony. (For a photo album of the transfer ceremony and celebration that followed, click here.)

The president of the Federation of St. Benedict, Sister Susan Hutchens, said it well at the Sunday evening banquet. She stated that not only is our monastery a “receiving community,” but the Sisters of Saint Bede receive us as well. It is a mutual hospitality.

This was also true for the eight women who were with our community during the week of August 16—23. We welcomed five women to a week of the Benedictine Living Experience. They come from Michigan, Minneapolis, St. Joseph and Japan. At the same time, we welcomed the women in the Benedictine Women Service Corps for two weeks of training and formation in an exciting new venture with our monastery.

While the poet Rumi is talking about the many and ambivalent feelings that each human person hosts, I find great wisdom in the reality of being both guest and guest house to the persons who come into our lives. Yes, each has been sent as a guide from our good and gracious Host and they bring “a new awareness,” they are “clearing us out for some new delight.” We receive these women, and all our guests as a blessing and they give us the gift of receiving us as well. It is a mutual hospitality. We meet each other at the open door of our hearts.

poem available in The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Do We Still Sing the Divine Office in G?

Every year in late July we celebrate Heritage Day, giving thanks for Sisters who helped put down strong roots here in our monastery. A special part of the day is recalling Sisters who made their profession 100 years ago—who they were, what their lives were like. One of those professed in 1910 was Sister Ursuline Venne, a musician who was on mission in China between 1937 and 1948.

I spent weeks this spring reading the letters of the Sisters in China in preparation for a presentation, “In Their Own Words.” [for a podcast of a local radio program on these letters, click here.] In one of her letters, Sister Ursuline asks the prioress, “Do we still chant the Divine Office on G?” She said she blows G on the pitch pipe and one Sister starts chanting on a lower pitch and another on a higher. She asked to prioress to write right away and let her know “if we still chant on G.”

This hit me like a ton of bricks! Kaifeng, where the Sisters were, was under siege in the mid-1930s. The Japanese bombers came over regularly, destroying parts of the city. Refugees from the countryside were pouring into Kaifeng, seeking food and shelter. Wounded Chinese soldiers coming through the city on trains needed bandages changed. And Sister Ursuline wanted to know if the community still chanted the Divine Office on G.

The Divine Office, prayer in common, was without a doubt a significant part of the Sisters’ daily life in China. Our commitment to Liturgy of the Hours today is just as important in our daily lives. I think what Sister Ursuline was teaching me is that if the basic elements of our life in community are anchored, one need not sweat whatever else comes along. God is faithful. Pay attention to what is essential and God will help you face the rest.

Benedict puts it this way in Chapter 43 of the Rule: Nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Secret Revealed after 40 Years

It’s back-to-school time. If the weather continues to rise into the warm and humid range, one can only imagine how elementary and high school teachers will need to stretch their creativity to keep students motivated to study and be attentive.
That challenge makes me think of our Sister Lois Wedl. While she was an assistant principal at Colegio San Antonio -- a Catholic high school in Humacao, Puerto Rico, in the early '70s, she recalls this “infusion of the Holy Spirit” when faced with a study hall full of high school students the period just before lunch. Here's how she told the story to me:

“The faculty person in charge was having a terrible time keeping any order in this 11 a.m. study hall. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I volunteered to take it over myself. The first day I walked in with my little pocket Bible in my hand and stood in front of the study hall students. I simply told them, ‘I am really busy all day long, and I only have this hour to do my reading and meditating on the Scriptures. And you, also, are all very busy, and this is your only time to get your studying done. Let’s help each other by being really quiet during this study period.’ And then I sat down and, almost miraculously, not a student opened his or her mouth the whole time during the rest of that semester. No 'outsider' ever did figure out how I got all those noisy students to stay so quiet!”

It’s amazing what a combination of a little respect and a little creativity can do to change the entire dynamic of a situation. May the Holy Spirit pour down upon all teachers and release their creative capacities as they begin this 2010-11 school year.

The Secret is Revealed After 40 years

It’s “back to school time”. If the weather continues to rise into the warm and humid range, one can only imagine how elementary and high school teachers will need to stretch their creativity to keep students motivated to study and be attentive. That challenge makes me think of S. Lois Wedl. While she was an assistant principal at Colegio San Antonio –a Catholic High School in Humacao, Puerto Rico in the early 70s, she recalls this “infusion of the Holy Spirit” when faced with a study hall full of high school students the period just before lunch.

“The faculty person in charge was having a terrible time keeping any order in this 11:00 a.m. study hall. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I volunteered to take it over myself. The first day I walked in with my little pocket Bible in my hand and stood in front of the study hall students. I simply told them, ‘I am really busy all day long, and I only have this hour to do my reading and meditating on the Scriptures. And you also, are all very busy, and this is your only time to get your studying done. Let’s help each other by being really quiet during this study period.’ And then she sat down and almost miraculously, not a student opened his/her mouth the whole time during the rest of that semester. No “outsider” ever did figure out how I got all those noisy students to stay so quiet!”

It’s amazing what a combination of a little respect and a little creativity can do to change the entire dynamic of a situation. May the Holy Spirit pour down upon all teachers and release their creative capacities as they begin this 2010-2011 school year.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Celebration of Abhishiktananda's Life

[Picture: Before Eucharist on Sunday, July 18, 2010, Wimborne, England]

This past June I wrote a posting about a French monk by the name of Henri le Saux who went to India in 1948 and remained there for the rest of his life. He died in December 1973 without ever returning to France. Because he became a sannyasi, a person who renounces all, he changed his name to Abhishiktananda.

In July I attended a retreat in a very quiet corner of the south west of Englad to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of this extraordinary man. During the weekend we heard talks by two women, one of whom knew him very well and the other who was his biographer, and one man, who spoke on his interpretation of the conflict that Abhishiktananda experienced between his deep Christian faith and his experience of the Hindu spirituality of "advaita" or non-duality. Abhishiktananda truly believed in the need to create a bridge between Christianity and Hinduism but his single-minded purposeful seeking caused him a great deal of pain, and, I believe, an early death at the age of 63.

About 80 people came from all over England and Scotland, as well as a handful from Canada, the United States, France and Germany. Several things stand out for me about the four-day retreat, but two in particular I want to mention. The first one is the "at-homeness" I felt among so many strangers. Culturally we were literally an ocean apart, but it was evident that in this situation the communion of spirit and heart was a much stronger bond than language or culture. Our conversations never stayed on the surface for more than a few minutes; we would easily move into sharing our great desire for God. The second piece that I found helpful in integrating the teaching of Abhishiktananda were the snippets of readings we had from his writings and those of other mystics at the beginning of our meditation periods or during the prayer periods. They reminded us over and over of the need for silence, both interior and exterior, solitude and going into the cave of our heart to encounter the Presence.

Praying is simply believing that we are living in the mystery of God,
that we are plunged into and immersed in it, that the mystery of God in its
fullness is both inside and outside us, like the air which surrounds us
and penetrates the tiniest hollows of our lungs.
Abhishiktananda on Prayer
For more on Abhishiktananda, the conference, and the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, click here.

Perhaps next month I will write on my visit to Montreal, Canada, which followed my time in England!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Benedictine Women's Service Corps

".....Send them out two by two ....." Mark 6:7

On Sunday, August 15, we welcome our first three CSB grads who will be volunteering for nine months at two different Benedictine Monasteries. We are so proud of these first three women who have made a very serious commitment and fulfilled the dream of many grads who went before them. For quite a number of years, Bennie grads have asked the Sisters to sponsor a program for volunteers. So, finally, in 2010, we are beginning our program with the following adventurous women:

Megan Sinner, an English major from Renville, Minnesota, will be living and working with the Sisters at St. Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington. Megan will spend much of her time working with Sisters from Tanzania as they complete their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and become competent in the English language. She will work with Sister Redempta Ndungura from St. Agnes, Chipole Benedictine Sisters in Tanzania, as she begins work on her dissertation for her Master’s degree in School Administration. Megan will also work with Sister Anna Maria who will be doing her student teaching in pre-K through grade 2during the fall semester.

Daisy Nevarez, a management major from Herford, Texas, will be joining Ashley at Monasterio Santa Escolastica in Puerto Rico. Daisy will assist students primarily in the areas of computer education. Daisy will no doubt assist in some areas of the Theatre program established in the elementary school.

Ashley Zartner, an English major from Bell, California, will be living with the Sisters in Monasterio Santa Escolastica, Puerto Rico, and serving in their elementary school. She will assist students in the areas of reading, writing and language arts. She will be working primarily in Kindergarten and the lower elementary grades. Her primary task will be to teach them English.

Now that we are beginning our program for volunteers, let us pray for its success, that these women find fulfillment in serving the little children of Puerto Rico and the Tanzanian adults in Lacey, WA.