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.