Thursday, December 22, 2011

Food Cravings as our Teacher

It happened to me again this past week. I was scrounging desperately to find an instruction booklet for an appliance I needed to use. I hadn’t used it recently and was envisioning a major mishap if used incorrectly. Then, to my delight, I spied some fascinating food information on an outdated calendar tucked in with the appliance booklets. You know the feeling, when you just come across an amazing hidden treasure on the way to trying to find something completely unrelated. The information treasure I unearthed related to what food cravings tell you about what your body needs.

SUGAR-craving [e.g. candy bars]

Body NEEDS: Chromium & tryptophan rich foods

Rationale: these help prevent insulin-resistance and

pre-diabetes FOODS: broccoli, grapes, whole grains or turkey

SALT-craving [Salt is sodium chloride, an electrolyte; crave chips to get it]

Body NEEDS: Chloride-rich foods

Rationale: these foods replenish the body’s electrolytes without

adding salt to your diet

FOODS: tomatoes, rye, celery or kelp

CARBOHTYDRATE-craving [white bread, white rice, white flour products]

Body NEEDS: Energy

Rationale: the body needs fuel

FOODS : Salad, brussels sprouts, garbanzo beans or whole grains

I’m poised to explore. If you already have tried some of them, let me know what you found out.

LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E

My niece, Sue, told me that she has a new mantra:
“Love is spelled T-I-M-E.” Think about it.

John takes time to listen to his teenage son talk about his worry over a relationship. Don goes to visit his wife who has Alzheimer’s even though it gets more difficult. Sister Sheila spends time with men and women in prison. The Cremer family makes and serves a meal at Place of Hope. Sally volunteers every week at St. Scholastica convent. Bob and Sue fly from Denver to spend time with Bob’s mother who is very ill. Nancy and her friends help her mother move to a new care facility. Sister Janet and her companions make sure our tables are beautifully decorated. Every day sisters in the monastery do the many unexpected behind-the-scenes acts of kindness.

It’s what hundreds of other people do every day, in different ways, and the time they spend is spelled L-O-V-E.

When the time was right, the Son of God became Emmanuel, God-With-Us, to teach us how to live and how to love. Jesus did that by spending time with the poorest of the poor, the lame and the blind, those on the margins of society, those most oppressed by governments and religions, those no one took time to care about or recognize as valuable.

Today and every day, God has all the time in the world for us, never leaving us to be alone, never giving up on us, never coercing us or forcing us, but always waiting for us to change and grow. God forever holds out the offer of forgiveness to us.

Think about it. Who is the person who most needs your time during this Christmas season. Who needs you to listen, forgive, comfort, tease, laugh, recognize, and share memories. Love is spelled T-I-M-E.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mary and Joseph on the Clearance Rack

A week ago I was out shopping for some Christmas gifts. As I walked down the clearance aisle looking for a deal: Behold! There on a clearance rack stood life-size statues of Mary and Joseph! For some reason, seeing Mary and Joseph during a 21st century Christmas season, seemed amusing and even, ironic.

I have been pondering this sighting like Mary pondering the angel telling her she would “be with child.” I wonder whether many of us put Mary and Joseph on the clearance rack in one way or another, caught up in the hustle and bustle of preparing for Christmas. This Christmas season, I want to take Mary and Joseph off the clearance rack of my heart, and make the mystery and miracle of the Incarnation life-size. This would be a gift that could impact all my relationships and the world.

In verse 16 of the opening chapter of John’ Gospel, we read this about this incarnation: “And from his fullness we all have received grace upon grace.” Grace upon grace is ours to receive “free"! Now, isn’t that a deal!

And where will I find the magi?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sharing some beloved book titles

Some years ago, while I was on sabbatical in New Mexico and spent wonderful time in bookstores, I found and fell in love with a southwestern storyteller/ author, Byrd Baylor. I confess that, while there, I purchased eight of her books, used them for prayer, to read to others, to teach at various times in our Spirituality Center and finally gave them away because they were too good to keep!

I don’t know how much or often parents and grandparents read to their children, nor even if they give books as gifts anymore in our technologically oriented world, but I’d like to suggest that Byrd Baylor, together with her creative illustrator, Peter Parnall, will delight the hearts of readers as well as their young audiences!

Byrd Baylor is from the land of deserts and timelessness, of Indian communities and the presence of grandfathers in the lives of children. Her stories are full of invitations to quiet reverence, awareness of nature, listening awe, solitude and time, as well as to other cultures. For her, the spirit, not material things, is necessary for personal development.

Knowing that, wouldn’t you like your grandkids and children to grow up with some of these values? Try reading to them one or all of the following titles-- slowly and thoughtfully-- letting them hear your words not only with their ears but in the silence of their hearts. Let them tell you How to Start a New Day or if it’s true for them, too, as it is for Byrd Baylor, that Everybody Needs a Rock and that there is Another Way to Listen to surprising realities. Hawk, I’m Your Brother or Amigo or Your Own Best Secret Place will delight both you and your young listeners.

And finally, you will love Let’s Celebrate. Can YOU find 108 celebrations, “besides the ones that they close school for” as does the little girl in this wonderful book? Give it a try! Google for this outstanding author and her illustrator and catch their exquisite appreciation for the sacredness of all life. You and your child may find more than 108 reasons for celebrating. . .

Friday, December 9, 2011

Intercultural- LEAD

Because I have students in my classes from the Intercultural-LEAD program, I was invited to a Holiday dinner at the President's House on Wednesday evening of this week, December 7. President MaryAnn Baeninnger is very much involved in and supportive of this program. And even though the President's House, called the Renner House, is quite large and spacious, it is almost too small for all of the students involved in this first-generation student cohort. This year, the first-year class was fairly large and thus the total number is near 100!

Students involved in this program come from a variety of locations and a variety of cultures. In my classes, I have a student from California, who is Hispanic; three students from the Hmong culture in St. Paul; three students originally from African countries who emigrated to the United States; and lastly a student originally from Cambodia. This diversity mixes extremely well with the majority of the class from Minnesota.

These students are awarded scholarships based on their leadership qualities, their educational endeavors, and their diversity. Thus, in the classroom, these students are very forthright and willing to participate in discussions as well as any other classroom activity. They are scholars, in every way, but especially because they are devoted students with an inner drive and motivation that I admire immensely.

The Holiday/Christmas Party at the President's House was so much fun because they all dressed appropriately for the event and were on their best behavior! So, with such wonderful company and terrific food, of course, it is a seasonal party to remember!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Musings

We are well into the first week of Advent, reminded again that we are a people of hope, of trust, of longing—waiting and looking for some signs that God is indeed in charge of this world and the universe. As usual, I am torn between trying to observe Advent in its totality, giving full attention to its stress on waiting for the coming of Christ, and wanting to turn the radio dial to hear the beloved Christmas songs or to do some early decorating in my bedroom and office. It is difficult to hold to the anticipatory part of Advent and not get caught up in a rush to Christmas. I know that I am not singular in this regard.

The familiar readings from Isaiah are a comfort and a wake-up call. He tells of a Savior who will come to transform us and our world. That signifies a need for change on our part, a need for repentance as well as a joyful expectation of the many blessings our Savior will bring. A little Lenten spirit might help, fasting before feasting; the Eastern Orthodox Churches practice that a lot more than we do here in the west. Both East and West, however, as one writer puts it, have “spiritual goose bumps” as we eagerly look to Christmas.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Change is Good"

Today when I was driving, I noticed a sign that said, “Change is good.” There was no advertising sponsor named, no any attempt at solicitation.   Maybe, it was God. The phrase that change is good struck a chord in me.  If it’s good, why is it so hard to change, or to think change could be good?   Is it because I have become cynical and can’t believe change is good, or that things will actually change.   As I was pondering, I noticed that the old Sam’s Club was being demolished.   Cement walls were toppling down exposing some of the foundational structure.  Men were removing the fence around the property.   WOW! Change right before my eyes.   I quickly made a connection between the sign and the demolition of Sam’s Club.
Change is always happening, whether good or bad.  Change occurs every day--sometimes gradually or swiftly.  Technology allows us to experience the effects of change almost instantly. At the same time, there are some things in my life that I feel never change.  I have never lost my appetite for sweets/dark chocolate, and I keep worrying about things I can’t control.   Yet, there are things in my life that have changed.   My weight has changed many times; my body creaks in more places than before; my stress level has been lowered through breathing techniques, and fears that I believed to be huge didn’t happen.
 The most exciting change in my life is my relationship with God.  As I have aged, my heart and understanding of God have become more expansive.  I’ve grown to trust God’s journey for me and God’s voice speaking to me.   The change that has brought me joy is living into the mystery of God’s love for me even when “I don’t get it,” but especially when “I do get.”  It’s a paradoxical change.   As we enter into Advent, I think of the mystery of change that occurred through the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  We get it and we don’t.   It represents such a remarkably wonderful change in how we think about God.  Happy Advent!  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Respect of Our Ancestors

Veteran’s Day this year seemed to take root in me in a different way. After hearing veterans share so many moving accounts, the word RESPECT kept coming to me for days.

I’m not sure if it was because the month of November is often a time when we connect with our loved ones who “are on the other side” or if those who have died and remain eternal soul-mates just want me to listen to them oftener right now. In either case, I’m grateful they are helping me remember more clearly the reality of respect for everything and everyone.

I have gotten a glimpse of what rooted respect means from listening to my American Indian friend, Mary Lou. When I accompanied her to a powwow in Hinckley, MN I was marveling at the amazing richness of the clothing that the participants were wearing. She told me that they are so valuable and treasured that they are willed to others in their will.

Then she added, if any eagle feather happens to fall off of their dance attire while they are dancing, everyone must stop until one among them that is a veteran follows a sacred ritual to pick up the feather. Only a veteran can touch this “first American flag”. It suddenly dawned on me that every enlisted person has knowingly or unknowingly pledged themselves to be a potential Martyr-for-
Freedom. May I never forget the price they pay and honor and cherish each enlisted person.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

With Chicken Wings

It was the anniversary of my Dad’s death; he died in 1999 having lived 96 full and beautiful years. For most of the day I smelled incense; scientists say that scent is a powerful memory inducer. I began to stare out my window, thinking of Dad, when I saw...

A flock of birds atop a tree outside my window
they obviously like being together.

They cling to one another visiting, singing, or at times, flitting to a higher branch.
No one bumps into another: they like togetherness, yet they yearn for the freedom of flight.

As a small boy, my Dad had that yearning, too.

With chicken wings tied to his thin shoulders, he climbed the chicken shed and flew down!

He didn’t do well on that flight!

But I love him for the longing in his childhood heart
to soar!

It must be genetic, for I, too, want to fly!
Mine, desires of the heart - but with a heavy body!

Does it make too much of a difference, Lord?

Here I come. . .

Friday, November 11, 2011

Benedictine Women's Service Corps

Working with the young women who are volunteering for the BWSC, is simply delightful. These women, as graduates of CSB/SJU, truly exemplify the Benedictine Values in action.

Just this past week, Jana Graczyk, who is at Colegio San Benito in Puerto Rico sent a wonderful suggestion to the Alternative Break Experience Coordinator. Jana feels strongly about recycling, and whenever she witnessed the relative lack of it at the school, she determined to assist the school in its efforts to become aware of it and begin practicing.

Therefore, she suggested to Carley Braegelman, ABE Coordinator, that Humacao and San Benito be considered as a the next new site so that CSB/SJU students could run a recycling campaign there and supply the school with the necessary collection bins and such for a program.

On the other side of the world, our volunteers in Tanzania have been making a concerted effort to visit small villages in the surrounding area of Chipole and St. Agnes Convent. They take a guide and set out on rather long treks to arrive at remote locations where roads do not exist. They visit the local people, many of whom have never seen white people before, much less American.

Here at St. Benedict's, we keep up with the activities of our volunteers by reading their blogs from our Home page. We invite you to read their weekly adventures and service projects in Puerto Rico and Tanzania . When you read what these CSB grads are doing, you may be inspired to help our Monastery to continue this worthy program by giving any amount to Give to the Max on November 16. Click here to learn and become involved.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Longing of the Universe

Gerald May has these provocative words to share:

“If a person feels a longing to be at one with the universe,

it is as if the universe feels the same longing to be one with the person.

If I sense a great aching in my heart to be in love with God,

it seems that God must in some mysterious way share that aching with me.”

Relationship. That’s what living is all about: mutual, reverent, open, caring relationships with the universe and the God of the universe. And what is so helpful is to know we are not alone in our longings to love and to be loved. As we touch another with a hand, a smile, a word, an aching desire, there is that other extended hand, returned smile, response or aching desire ready to create a relationship! Whom will you touch today?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


When I was in the lower grades, around ages six-eight, I greatly admired angels, their wings in particular fascinating me (and I could not envision angels without them). Then I began reading the lives of the saints—in the upper grades-- and found so many to admire. However, both angels and the saints seemed completely out of my league--beings too far above me to be truly imitated. Still, it was important to me that they existed and one could at least dream about possibly mixing and mingling with them.

In early adulthood my focus on angels gradually lessened and I only sporadically dove into the lives of the saints (the old Butler version had been my constant companion). But a few favorite saints have remained ideals for me and I never tire of hearing or reading about them. Who could not be attracted to such people as Francis of Assisi, Isaac Jogues, Therese of Lisieux, Rose of Lima and Bernadette of Lourdes. They personify the heights to which we humans can reach, in spite of our frailties. Then I look around me and I know now that there are many saints present, not least my fellow Sisters, both living and dead. I think we are surrounded by saints (and angels, too) daily. Sadly, we just don’t notice the halos and wings.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Acupressure Nudges

Leland Kaiser, a health futurist says, "Natural systems, like plants, animals and the human body, function simply and organically to achieve desired goals with just enough structure". For example, there are just enough cells to create tissues, there are just enough tissues to make organs and there are just enough organs to make a human body. If excess cells are produced, the organism becomes dis-eased and loses its original natural flow.

Human-made systems, like education, politics, healthcare etc. have a difficult time maintaining the achievement of their initial goals. Human-made systems easily become encumbered with rigidly structured elements. Adding complex structure easily constricts organic flow, and therefore ultimately tends to "break" or turn into "paralyzed-obsolescence" the system's initial effectiveness.

Natural healing approaches such as acupressure seem to acknowledge the body's desire to maintain its simple and organic nature by gently nudging its self-healing flow. Unduly heavy nudges hold the risk of introducing structural course-corrections that may overpower the existing self-correcting body mechanisms. In a life-threatening crisis or accident, major structural corrections immediately need to be made by wonderfully skilled practitioners. For other situations, there are amazing natural nudges which have been used for centuries that frequently help the body remember its original resilience.

God certainly is the ideal model-maker for organic simplicity and flow. It's another whole dimension to choose to follow the invitation to incorporate those two elements in my daily healthy living choices. One can only keep trying.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spiritual or Religious?

Have you heard someone say, "I'm spiritual not religious"? Perhaps we'd like to ask the person help us understand the difference. And in some cases when the difference is stated, both spirituality and religion get a bad rap. Religion may seem to mean legal codes, judgmental moralism, and hierarchy. We must have done a bad job of teaching our religion. Spirituality seems to mean, well, almost anything I want it to mean, but mostly it's about my personal experience. We must have done a bad job of teaching the Christian tradition of spirituality.

Spirituality without a worshiping faith-community may be self-serving. Religion without spirituality may be without heart, dry and tedious.

I doubt that the early Christians of the first century spent much time debating these two terms. I doubt that the first century Christian martyrs ~ or for that matter the Christian martyrs of the 20th century ~ agonized over the distinction.

Maybe we would be better off having the simple direct faith of children as in these letters to God:
     Dear GOD, I bet it is very hard for You to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it. Nan

     Dear GOD, Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother. Larry

     Dear GOD, Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don't You just keep the ones You have now? Jane

Maybe these future theologians will help us to do a better job of integrating religion and spirituality in a way that gives meaning and purpose to our everyday lives.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Anniversary of the Dedication of Sacred Heart Chapel

Today, October 24, the Sisters of Saint Benedict celebrate the anniversary of the Dedication of Sacred Heart Chapel at the monastery. At 7:00 a.m. nearly 100 Sisters met for Morning Prayer in the chapel and Sister Micheala Hedican, the Prioress, began in a clear voice singing "Let all creation God's glory proclaim, with praise and thanks, we bless God's name." It is always amazing to me that that many women who have been keeping silence since the evening before, can begin a new day with strong vibrant voices. OK, some mornings we are flat but not on a feast day! We tend to really "get into it" on a celebration day and the house of God is something about which to celebrate.

The reading for the prayer service was from the Second Book of Chronicles and it seemed especially meaningful: "Solomon, I have heard your prayer. And I have chosen this place for myself to be a Temple for sacrifices. I may stop the sky from sending rain. I may send sicknesses to my people. Then my people, who are called by my name, will be sorry for what they done. They will pray to me and I will hear them from heaven. I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land. And I will listen to the prayers prayed in this place. I have chosen this Temple and made it holy. So, I will be worshiped here forever. Yes, I will always watch over it and love it."

And this became even more meaningful for me when I got to my office. There was an e-mail from a friend thanking for the prayers of the Sisters for several people who are close to her. This friend asked the Sisters to pray and we did and, very often, our God is gracious enough to answer those prayers. God says to us, "Sisters, I have heard your prayer!"

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Catholic nun in a Zen Buddhist monastery?

From September 17 to October 5 I had the most unique experience of participating in an East-West spiritual exchange by spending almost three weeks in three different Zen Buddhist monasteries in Japan.

There were five participants in the program (see picture, l. to r., Sister Gaetane of Belgium, Brother Matteo of Italy, Brother Irénée of Belgium, Sister Clelia of Italy and I from North America). All of us are involved in Monastic Interreligious Dialogue in our respective countries. None of us had been part of an experience like this before this year.

Our journey began with a long car ride from the Osaka airport to the city of Okayama where we were to spend 4 days at Sogen-ji, a monastery of about 20 Buddhist monks and nuns. Because there are several westerners at this monastery it was felt that we would receive a good orientation to our other monastic visits. Indeed we were grateful for those four days where we were awakened at 3:30 a.m. and chanting sutras with great gusto by 4 a.m. We were each given to keep 5 bowls of various sizes which came stacked together and wrapped in a large napkin, along with chopsticks and a small linen towel to wipe our bowls after washing them in hot tea at the end of the meal. Eating in a Buddhist monastery is a very precise affair, with many rituals and "rules" to remember. We also learned the art of removing our shoes when entering a building without tripping over our feet; inside the buildings we walked barefoot. White socks were worn only for special ceremonies, not to keep one's feet warm!

From Sogen-ji, Sisters Gaetane, Clelia and I took a train to the city of Gifu where we spent 6 days at the women's monastery of Ten'ne-ji, a small community of about 12 women, all Japanese except for one young French woman who was our guide during our stay for everything from when to take a shower and bath, to reminding us about the "rules" at table, to when to wear our habits and white socks, to what our morning manual work would be and, when we had become more comfortable with each other, to share our monastic experience with her and she with us.

Finally, we spent out last weekend at Eihei-ji, a very large men's monastery of about 180 monks. Eventhough we were lodged in the guest house and ate our meals in a guest dining room, we had the privilege of spending two hours in conversation with two roshis (teachers) who, through an interpreter, were so open and willing to answer our many questions.

I could list many reasons why I am grateful to have made the trip to Japan but probably the most important one is what I learned about my own Benedictine monastic tradition.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Acupressure Nudges

Leland Kaiser, a health futurist says, “Natural systems, like plants, animals and the human body, function simply and organically to achieve desired goals with just enough structure”. For example, there are just enough cells to create tissues, there are just enough tissues to make organs and there are just enough organs to make a human body. If excess cells are produced, the organism becomes dis-eased and loses its original natural flow.

Human-made systems, like education, politics, healthcare etc. have a difficult time maintaining the achievement of their initial goals. Human-made systems easily become encumbered with rigidly structured elements. Adding complex structure easily constricts organic flow, and therefore ultimately tends to” break” or turn into “paralyzed- obsolescence” the system’s initial effectiveness.

Natural healing approaches such as acupressure, seem to acknowledge the body’s desire to maintain it’s simple and organic nature by gently nudging it’s self-healing flow. Unduly heavy nudges hold the risk of introducing structural course-corrections that may overpower the existing self-correcting body mechanisms. In a life-threatening crisis or accident, major structural corrections immediately need to be made by wonderfully skilled practitioners. For other situations, there are amazing natural nudges which have been used for centuries that frequently help the body remember its original resilience.

God certainly is the ideal model-maker for organic simplicity and flow. It’s another whole dimension to choose to follow the invitation to incorporate those two elements in my daily healthy living choices. One can only keep trying.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Psalm 65

This morning we stood in choir and prayed Psalm 65 about the lavishness of God’s gifts upon our earth:

“People everywhere
Stand amazed at what you do;

East and west shout for joy. . . .

With soft’ning rain

You bless the land with growth. . . .

All You touch comes alive:

Untilled lands yield crops,

Hills are dressed in joy.

Flocks clothe the pastures,

Valleys wrap themselves in grain.

They all shout for joy

And break into song.”

Now that’s something to sing about, year after year, while the earth lasts and we are here to read the poetry of our land! Can we hear the song of creation? The joy of the hills and valleys wrapped in grain? The blessings poured out on our land? Lord God, give us new eyes and good ears so that we can join the people everywhere who stand amazed at what you do!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Digging and Dumping: A spirituality of place

If you’ve been to St. Benedict’s Monastery lately, you see a huge construction job going on in front of the entrance to the Gathering Place. One definition of construction is “something fashioned or devised systematically”. Actually, right now it is more of a process of systematically destroying something.

As I watch, the workmen continue to dig and dump, dig and dump. Today a large tree had to be lifted up and away by the roots. But over time, a few skeletal structures are emerging. Something is being constructed on top of the destruction.

I’ve been reflecting on how this is a metaphor for the human and spiritual life. Dig deeper, dump some “stuff”; dig a little more and let go of a little more. Bit-by- bit and very slowly, something new begins to emerge! Something new and beautiful will rise up out of the mess!

The process of digging and dumping can be painful in our lives. We can become aware of things we’ve been hanging onto for too long. An old hurt and grudge that we should have dumped years ago still poisons our heart; a grief that we refuse to acknowledge haunts us ; the fear of the unknown keeps us hanging instead of risking something new and satisfying.

Letting go and moving on. Sometime it happens in a small decision we make. Other times there is some major milestone that calls us to “deconstruct” some part of our life in order to gain deeper inner freedom and peace. We experience a shift taking place within us. Something new is trying to find a place and space as a new entrance in our lives. We can only hope it is a strong foundation for a sacred space in the Gathering Place of our hearts!

Kathryn Casper, OSB

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


In several chapters of Benedict’s Rule, he addresses simplicity of life—living frugally and with due attention to others’ needs as well as our own. Most likely Benedict never knew or used the word so prominent now: sustainability. But clearly he did adhere to its principles, including being satisfied with “enough” and using the goods of this world with moderation. Benedict refers to such practices as being content with what is given, not being hoarders, using tools and other goods with reverence, etc. Surely he meant his followers to handle with care what was available and around them. (Even borrowed garments were to be washed upon return from a trip and then stored away for future use!)

Early October has the feasts of two much-beloved saints whose lives give witness to the desire and capacity for simplicity of life: St. Therese of Lisieux (Oct. 1) and St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4). Both expressed and exhibited a willingness to live simply, content with what they were given or allowed. Both are wondrous examples of living a rich interior life satisfied with a certain “enoughness.” Neither lived in dire poverty, nor is that what the Gospel teaches. We are to have what we need and anything beyond that is to be received with gratitude and without undue attachment. Living simply—avoiding excess—seems essential for sustainability over the long haul. Sister Carol Berg

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Beloved says to all who will hear

This morning I was giving the hibiscus plant in our lobby its every-other-day drink and talking to its bright orange blossom. I suddenly found myself thanking it for how eagerly it takes in the vibrancy of sun and water. Its striking blossom only lasts twenty-four hours. And surrounding it on various branches are buds, puffing up, pregnant with life. They seem poised and ready to share their in-the-moment color-burst with eyes eagerly awaiting a glimpse of their joyful self -expression.

It triggered in me a flashback to the words of a psalm I had just read from the book, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill.

The Beloved says to all who will

“Come, walk with Me. Let us
give birth to a new Earth!”

For, the Spirit is the One who makes all things
and ever awaits our “yes” to the

Psalm 110

Thanks, shockingly beautiful hibiscus, for reminding me to dance on this earth that you have brightened with your daily drinking in of the life-giving Spirit and self-revelation.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Awareness of Human Trafficking in US

Awareness and Fighting of Human Trafficking

I have the good fortune of being a member of the Forum for Executive Women here in St. Cloud, MN. This group of more than 100 professional women meets monthly to network and hear lectures on pertinent topics. Our last lecture was on the prevalence of Human Trafficking. This is hardly a popular topic; rather one that we would like to deny exists in this country, even in this state and probably, in this city.

The reality is that it exists in this country and in this state. It is often operated out of hotels. There are about 1.5 million girls and boys who are in sex exploitation; the average age is between 12 and 14 years of age. Human trafficking is big business -- $32 billion dollar business worldwide with the United States playing a significant role in that business. It is difficult to get an accurate amount of profit but it is clearly big business and includes industrial slavery as well as sex exploitation. The sex exploitation is not about sex; it is about money.

Persons who are most vulnerable for human trafficking are children who come from unstable homes, those who have a poor self-concept, the homeless and runaway children. Adults are also vulnerable – the unemployed, those who do not have good language skills, the unskilled needing work. These adults end up working in “sweat shops” earning very little for wages and yet needing to pay for their room and board, signing unreasonable contracts with the employer, etc.

Why am I writing this blog? First of all, to create an awareness of human trafficking, to encourage all to do what we can to assist young children to be self-asserting, to learn life skills and to develop strong personalities.

You may want to check out these websites:

There are also a number of books on human trafficking:

The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bates; Caged by Molly Venzke (situated in New Orleans); A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner as well as other informative books.

Be informed, be alert, be part of the solution!

Miriam Ardolf, OSB

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

About Rosemary

One day while walking a few blocks to use the internet while I was at Chipole, Tanzania---where the 400 member Benedictine community of St. Agnes resides---I saw a sister separating the herb, rosemary, from its branch.

She had carefully collected the precious herb on top of a sack. Everyone who passed by smelled the long, thin herb and delighted in its fragrance.

The next day, the same sister was getting ready to pound the rosemary into a fine powder. I watched her clean the tools, a wooden bowl elevated at least two feet high and a long wooden "pounder."

When the bowl was almost full, she began to pound with a steady rhythm. Suddenly I wanted to try. She was generous, but I knew it was not a job for me because my arms hurt immediately. I did not have any upper body strength for the type of steady action this process required. The picture above shows the energy needed.

The Sisters use the rosemary for seasoning the sausage they make, as well as for preparing delicious pork roast for their table.

With her best English, this young Benedictine Sister indicated to me that a machine would be better. Yet, I realized that until they had such a machine, she or someone else like her would be preparing the rosemary powder with an age-old method that takes human striving and strength, great patience, and steady action.

Food for thought?

These Three Things

Three weeks ago I went to the movie "The Help". It is a wonderful story of courage, truth, generational wisdom, heart breaking issues of racism and loving-kindness.

My favorite image of the movie is when one of the caretakers, Minnie, takes the little girl into her arms and looks her square in the eyes and says, “You are kind, you are special, and you are intelligent.” Adorably the girl reiterates the phrases back to Minnie and stumbles on the last phrase which has three syllables.

This scene melted my heart. I believe our world would be a better place if we took time to share these intentional phrases with children and each other eye to eye. I also believe God’s presence somehow, someplace everyday - every moment - is continually looking into the eye of our soul to repeat those three statements.

• You are kind – you have been given a heart to love. We are humans created to care for one another with respect, dignity, and compassion. Your authentic self in the purest form desires to live out of kindness.

• You are special. I made you, created you in my image. You carry The Life and Light of Truth to shine in the world for this time and space. No one can do it like you!

• You are intelligent. So many times we confine intelligence to the academic or business world, comparing and competing with one another. Each person is gifted with an intelligence the world and Body of Christ need. The eye cannot say to the nose I don’t need you. We all bring our gifts to share and shine. Intelligence is about the generosity and freedom of giving all of yourself, that God may be glorified.

Take time to share these statements with your children, mates, friends and colleagues. And remember everyday God looks into the eye of your soul to share these truths with you. We might stumble at repeating them – that is fine – just fine with God!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Every Pebble

If you have ever walked around the block with a 3 year old child and stopped with her for every new attraction, you know what it is to wonder, to notice, to be involved; and as an adult, you also notice the time it takes to be there with her .

If you have ever been in church with someone who seems intent on giving the ‘kiss of peace’ to as many persons as possible by touching multiple hands or waving to the many too distant for a touch, you know what it is to be touched , but only mechanically, without the least eye contact or recognition of your presence or the gift of Christ’s peace offered. In fact, you may choose to sit somewhere else next time you go to Mass.

I prefer the 3 year old child’s stopping by every pebble, ant, flower as she unconsciously gives herself to them to the sister or bother who merely touches my hand but not my heart with the gift of Christ’s peace. . . or their noticing me as a sister in Christ!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Campus Buzz

We enter September and the students have poured onto campus. Their presence reminds us that a new academic year has begun and once again we will be directly or indirectly pulled into the college orbit. Our closeness to the college-- physically and in myriad other ways—is a plus and we mutually benefit.

We founded the college in 1913 and it has been dear to our hearts ever since. Unfortunately, we have few Sisters under contract to the college; currently there are eight serving as faculty and four in staff positions. Fortunately we have Benedictine Friends (latest name), a program of over 30 years duration, which fosters ties between Sisters and individual students (mainly first-year students). Many Sisters and students meet during the semesters to share a meal, recreation and/or discussion at agreed-upon times, either formally or informally. Often lasting friendships develop and for some, extend years beyond graduation.

St. Benedict in his Rule calls the monastery a “school” for the Lord’s service. We are so blessed to be part of two schools here: the monastery and the college.

Sister Carol Berg

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Light Shining Through the Darkness

Within a three day period, thanks to the power of the Internet, I have had an incredible experience of solidarity in grief from Denver, Colorado; to St. Joseph, Minnesota; to Ogden, Utah; and beyond.

Here's the cyber-map. On Sunday, August 21, my nephew in Denver emailed to ask for prayers for his best friend, Bryan, whose sister was killed in a horrible accident. She was swimming as she did every day in the Pineview Reservoir in Ogden, Utah. Esther was an accomplished scientist at University Hospital's neurobiology and anatomy lab. But on the evening of August 21, she was struck and killed by a motorboat. Friends and colleagues remember Esther as a good friend, the kind who always remembered specific details about others' lives.

I immediately emailed Bob, and assured him of my prayers that those of the monastic community. Bob forwarded that message to his friend Bryan on Tuesday. Wednesday Bryan emailed me with thanks, saying that he wishes to bring light to the world so that Esther's goodness lives on.

At lunch on Wednesday, I met Sister Marilyn Mark, who lived at the monastery in Ogden before returning to Saint Benedict's. She had read the article, knew exactly where the Pineview Reservoir was and also had a friend who had been badly injured by a motorboat as she was swimming there. This seemed to be another web of connections where grief could be shared in solidarity with one another. By 1 p.m. I emailed Bryan and told him of this connection to Sister Marilyn and Ogden, Utah.

I may, at times, decry the technology that has overtaken the world, finding it too fast and too invasive. And yet, here is an example of the wonder of connectedness, solidarity in grief, expressions of care and consolation that can happen in an instant and travel great distances. Indeed, light can and does shine through the darkness!

photo originally posted at:

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lavish Gifts of God

Submitted by Renee Domeier, OSB

plum tree in the Sisters' garden August 18, 2011
This morning we stood in choir and prayed Psalm 65 about the lavishness of God's gifts upon our earth:

"People everywhere
Stand amazed at what you do;
East and west shout for joy. . . .

With soft'ning rain
You bless the land with growth. . . .

All you touch comes alive:
Untilled lands yield crops,
Hills are dressed in joy.

Flocks clothe the pastures,
Valleys wrap themselves in grain.
They all shout for joy
And break into song."

Now that's something to sing about, year after year, while the earth lasts and we are here to read the poetry of our land!  Can we hear the song of creation? The joy of the hills and valleys wrapped in grain?  The blessings poured out on our land?  Lord God, give us new eyes and good ears so that we can join the people everywhere who stand amazed at what you do!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kaifeng, China

In our three weeks in China in June there were many special moments; for me personally one of those moments was driving into the court yard of the building in the picture above which is part of a rather large compound in the city of Kaifeng. The building is in the center of the compound; around it and behind it are other buildings, all part of the Kaifeng Hotel. When we drove through the gate of the hotel late one afternoon my eyes were riveted on the building in the picture. Seeing it with my own eyes was without a doubt a highlight of my trip. The reason? The building was built as a convent by our Sisters, the six Sisters who went to China in 1930. There is even a stone monument at the foot of the steps to the front door with these words in Chinese: "(Built by the Benedictine Sisters)". Our community found out that the convent was in use and that it had been returned to the Catholic Church in Kaifeng only one year before our recent trip.

During our two days in Kaifeng we visited many places that would have been special to our Sisters. One was the university where S. Ronayne taught English, another was the seminary which is today just a shell of what it was back in the 1930s. However, the architect was a Benedictine monk from Belgium who lived in China at the time; the seminary has now been returned to the Catholic Church of Kaifeng by the government who promised to restore it. We also walked to the area where our only sister to die in China (S. Rachel) is buried. We also saw the building where the monks of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, IL lived while in Kaifeng - they replaced the monks from St. Vincent Archabbey who were in Peking/Beijing with our Sisters.

Since our Sisters intended to teach in China they had a collection of books in English with them. Of course no one knew what happened to the books after all the foreign missionaries were expelled from China but, miracle of miracles, one day a few years ago boxes of books with the stamp inside the front cover indicating that they belonged to "Saint Benedict's Convent, St. Joseph, MN", were returned to the Cathedral in Kaifeng. S. Baulu Kuan, S. Christian Morris and I were able to see some of the books with our own eyes and to take pictures. Where the books have spent the last 70 years is a mystery.

I close with an expression of gratitude to the PIME Italian missionary, Fr. Franco, who contacted the community over a year ago to inform us about the Kaifeng Hotel and the books. Without his many, many e-mails to S. Dolores Super over a period of several months we might never have visited Kaifeng and walked the ground our Sisters walked 80 years ago.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Prayer and Creation

View through Oratory window, Saint Benedict's Monastery
Sometimes getting my body to Morning Prayer is one thing, but having my entire being arrive is another matter. I've grown to treasure the fact that we begin our liturgy of hours with the awakening triple-sound of a gong, followed by a minute of standing quietly. It's amazingly easy to continue to review in my mind the daily activities I have planned during this quiet. A much needed phrase from Sister Jose Hobday, OSF, invites me into a broader space before our psalms of morning praise begin. The context of the helpful phrase is based on a story S. Jose shared about her wise mother.

When S. Jose was young she was crying because she saw a spider. Her mother quietly responded, "All creatures are your brothers and sisters. They are your friends. You must treasure all the creepies and the crawlies, the wingeds and the swimmies, the four-leggeds and the two-leggeds." After I heard this creature-litany, I found myself using the one minute quiet to thank all "creepies, crawlies, wingeds swimmies, four-leggeds and two-leggeds" for joining us in our morning praises, just by being who they are. I love the idea of being one with all of them at that moment … the wounded and the strong, the tiniest and the massive. And immediately the universe awakens … and so do I. Our Oratory is half submerged underground. Sometimes I need to smile when I think of all the worms and even rooted things vibrating with us as the sound of chant sends out its life-sustaining energy … each of us strengthening the other.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How the Light Gets In

Submitted by Renee Domeier, OSB

Today I reflect on Richard Rohr's "Daily Meditation" for August 5.  He opens with a powerful line from Leonard Cohen's song, "Anthem": "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in. . ." What a positive twist to our demand for perfection -- whether of our leaders, our plumbers, our children, our parents, or ourselves! Everything, he sings, has a crack. . . a necessary fault, as it were, so that something new may be born! 

Some might call this universal imperfection original sin. What it is called, though, is not nearly so important as its consequence, which is that Jesus, the Light, enters to penetrate the darkness. The flaw is there; we need not be alarmed or surprised when we either discover it in ourselves or take too little time to correct it! That crack, that fault, that flaw has a purpose beyond our immediate understanding! Rohr commends to us the freedom that comes from recognizing this fundamental fact about our humanity. And, then, he encourages us to believe in and accept the light when it comes -- and it always comes!

Early Muslim architects of the exquisitely filigreed Alhambra deliberately carved a "mistake" into the filigree because for them only Allah is perfect! That could be another manifestation of Leonard Cohen's "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
photo originally found at:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Grace to Change

Flannery O'Connor
This summer I have been doing more diverse reading than usual—a mix of biographies, mysteries, science fiction and history books.

While relaxing, reading can be hard work at times, especially if one tries to grapple with "heavy" issues. For example, I recently finished reading Unbroken, by Lauren Hillenbrand, most of the story set in the days of WWII. The main character is Louis Zamperini who turns out to be unexpectedly heroic. He "rises to the occasion," as the old saying goes. And, from what I have read, he exhibited unusual courage and will power. That, in turn, reminds me of one of my all-time favorite writers, Flannery O'Connor, since I have also been re-reading several of her short stories.
Flannery has been dead for 47 years, dying in 1964, a year before the closing of Vatican II. I regret that she did not live long enough to write some reflections about the Vatican II impact on the Church and, in particular, on the laity. Pithy as she was, Flannery would have had some truly insightful observations, I am sure. As it is, she remains one of the best writers in describing how ordinary people (though admittedly some truly odd characters!) react to unordinary or, at least, unexpected situations. She is quoted as having said, "Grace changes us and change is painful." Her characters show this through her inimitable style. Flannery knows her Gospels and she nails the paradox of suffering as an evil but also a stepping-stone to salvation. It seems to me we would not be amiss in using some of Flannery's stories as spiritual reading and perhaps even for lectio divina.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Caring for the Whole Person

hydrotherapy room, courtesy Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict
submitted by Susan Sink

This year the St. Cloud Hospital is celebrating 125 years of hospital care in the region. This care was begun by the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict, who opened the first hospital back in February 1886. The Sisters always had bad timing with their building projects, it seems, because in April 1886, a serious tornado came through the area, leveling the town of Sauk Rapids. In fact, if it weren't for that tornado, Sauk Rapids would have probably developed as the central city of this area, not St. Cloud.

The Sisters' hospital remained standing and the staff heroically responded to care for the victims of the tornado. It was because of this disaster effort that the hospital became accepted by the public as a place for care (not just a place for the dying) and succeeded.

The Sisters built the current hospital building in 1928, and we all know what happened in 1929. The Great Depression seriously threatened the Sisters' ability to pay off the note to the bank, but through heroic efforts and years of sacrifice by all the Sisters, the debt was paid.

What I wanted to write about today was something that happened at the hospital in August of 1929. It was then that Sister Lioba Braun opened the Hydrotherapy Department at the St. Cloud Hospital. This department provided advanced treatments to soothe patients with nervous disorders and other ailments. The hospital had been equipped with solariums for "heliotherapy," landscapes for patients to go outdoors when possible and space for massage therapy as well as hydrotherapy.

Sister Lioba Braun had traveled to Bismarck, S.D., for training in massage, and traveled to a hospital in Michigan to observe their hydrotherapy department.

The hydrotherapy and massage department are just one example of how the Sisters, from very early on, cared for the whole person in their hospitals. This kind of care set the tone for future developments in hospital care at St. Cloud Hospital. In the late 1960s, as part of the first major renovation since the building was built in 1928, the hospital included extensive in-patient mental health facilities and alcohol and substance abuse treatment. In 1983, they opened the Heart Center. Continuing this mission of treating the whole person, Sister Ruth Stanley currently works as a holistic services specialist at the Heart Center.

One thing that makes health care in this area so special is its comprehensive commitment to treating the whole person and, at St. Cloud Hospital, the Benedictine tradition of treating all as though they were Christ.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Small and Large Super-heroes

I didn't think people went to outdoor movies anymore, until I read a wonderful story in the July 18 issue of America magazine by Maryann Cusimano Love. In her column, Ms. Love tells of taking her children to their first outdoor movie.

Everything seemed to be going well, when suddenly "an indignant bellow – NO! –interrupted the program." She recognized "that big voice in a small person's body" as that of her 2-year-old daughter who, in her footie pajamas, had marched up to the big screen and was facing down the evil villain.

The film showing was Tangled, the Disney story of Rapunzel. The villain imprisoned Rapunzel for security reasons, to protect her "because the world was a bad and cruel place." Ms Love writes that her daughter would simply not accept that and cried out "No! that's not true! The world is not bad. The world is…" and she opened her small arms wide and pointed at the people gathered on blankets in front of her, sharing popcorn and picnics. "The world has…" and she finished her observations saying "grass! Green grass."

Ms Love says her small daughter "rested her case, secure in her conviction that a world thick with lush, green grass and people breaking bread together could only be a good and grace-filled place." When I read this, I couldn't help but think of the prophet Isaiah saying, "A little child shall lead them." Our media today seems to be full of super-heroes. We seem to be looking for someone to save us from the evil around us, and perhaps within ourselves. This phenomenon has been with us a long time, and probably will continue to be with us.

The super-heroes of the media are merely illusions. But the living, breathing heroes who stand for good, for truth and justice, who are generous and unselfish, are all around us. We need only think of Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and a little child in her footie pajamas! We need only think of our families who keep gathering to break bread and build community. We need only to think of those who tirelessly care for the child with AIDS, the young woman rescued from the abuse of human trafficking, or the neighbor down the street whose family grieves the loss of a loved one.

Shall we thank one of those super-heroes today? Thank you, small person with an outsized grasp on life!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

America’s Stony Heart

"America the Stony-Hearted," is the title of a recent column by Neal Gabler, professor, journalist, author, film critic and political commentator. In light of the current political polarization evidenced in budgetary gridlock, his analysis of a "moral revolution" in the U.S. over the past 30 years is of interest. Gabler believes we have become "a different country morally from what we were." He acknowledges that the "U.S. has always had a complex national moral system, one in which Puritanism, rugged individualism, hard work, self-reliance and personal responsibility coexisted with values of community, concern for the common good, charity, compassion and collective responsibility. These two moralities were not mutually exclusive, nor did they simply describe any one political party. Conservatives espoused generosity and compassion, and "liberals valued hard work and individual responsibility."

In his view, this is no longer the case. "The two moral systems that . . . long coexisted, suddenly were also being politicized and polarized . . . they became mutually exclusive, oppositional and finally inseparable. . . ." Today, for conservatives, the term "liberal" connotes being mush-minded, weak, and . . . willing to give taxpayer largesse to the underserving and lazy." And "liberals have come to see the emphasis on the individual and self-reliance as a form of civic irresponsibility and selfishness -- a way to justify rogue economic behavior and enrichment at the expense of the community."

Gabler concludes that this shift in our "moral geography has not only changed our politics and our perception of morality; it has changed us. If compassion is seen as softness, tolerance as a kind of promiscuity, community as a leech on individuals and fairness as another word for scheming, we are a harder nation than we used to be, and arguably a less moral one as well." In short, America and Americans have become stony-hearted. To read the entire article, click here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

China:Land of Contrasts

From June 7 to June 26 I lived in China. For 20 days, a small group of 9 women and men Benedictines and one lay person, a professor at the School of Theology in Collegeville, visited eight cities; we traveled by mini-bus, overnight train, rapid train and plane. Why these eight cities . . . what did they have in common? Each one was the home of a religious community of Sisters and/or a seminary. The primary purpose of the trip was to meet and dialogue with the religious women in China.

I am planning over the next few months to write about our various visits but today I want to write about one of the first observations I had upon arriving in Beijing, our first stop. What struck me were the contrasts we would encounter every day. China is an incredibly ancient civilization and the Chinese are extremely proud of that history. They want to show it to the world while at the same time moving rapidly toward becoming a super power. The picture at the beginning of this blog is a small illustration of my observations regarding contrasts. Our group ate a meal in the traditional Chinese-style building and not far from the restaurant is a highrise.

As we approached the city of Kaifeng one afternoon we drove on a very new 4-lane highway with beautiful lamps posts, and looking to the right and to the left of our mini-bus were highrise buildings as far as the eye could see, along with many, many buildings in various stages of construction, as evidenced by all the cranes we saw. One of our first stops after driving into the city itself was to the Cathedral of Kaifeng; however, when we arrived at the street where we would find the Cathedral our mini-bus could not negotiate the narrow road so we walked the rest of the way. There are many more examples like this; for example, driving in the countryside and seeing not machinery in the wheat fields but people who came to the fields on their bicycles and mopeds. Or, the day we waited for a train in a brand new train station, and looking around the vast hall where we were we could see on the second floor a McDonald's, a KFC and a Dunkin Donut - we did enjoy a delicious cup of coffee and a donut after walking up the stairs because the escalator was not working.

I have wondered since returning home if people coming from foreign lands notice the contrasts in our country, contrasts that we do not see. Finally, I hope the Chinese never get rid of all their contrasts - although it would nice to have working escalators in train stations and airports!

Note: The Sisters built a monastery in Kaifeng in 1941 that is now a hotel. For an account of this story by Sister Dolores Super, click here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Locavore's Arise!

Locavore: Those who prefer to buy from local food providers.

I had a refreshing experience the other day. I walked across the street to check out the former Loso's Grocery Store as it begins its “Extreme Makeover.” For over 100 years this store provided food and miscellaneous household and school items for St. Joseph residents and area students. With easy access from the main street, it saved taking car trips to other sites to obtain last minute and basic meal/party preparation items.

Loso's Store has now morphed into a new co-op called Minnesota Street Market. It supports the local food market movement. Since it is member-owned and member-governed, it operates to benefit members based on principles agreed on by the community members. Anyone can be a lifetime member for $100. And it welcomes members and non-members to explore its healthy food choices. Because it is a smaller store, it can buy smaller quantities of produce from smaller producers. It already displays local organic fresh fruits and vegetables, provides a great selection of choice organic herbs and wonderful organic meats from free range chickens to buffalo steaks. It has milk and eggs, mushroos and even honey from nearby producers.

With a significant number of small farmers in the area, the local College of Saint Benedict focusing on sustainability and Benedictine monastic women that prefer being locavores, there is great enthusiasm for this venture. As an addition to the St. Joseph Farmer's Market and our own CSA, Common Ground Garden, there is a true movement toward eating local, fresh food in the area.

May this new venture flourish and provide the residents of the city of St. Joseph area, students and local visitors with healthy, environment-friendly and consumer-protected nourishing foods in the upcoming 100 years. It’s a marvelously encouraging business development and another sign of what can be done if local people and committed volunteers gather together and support what they believe in.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Home Visit

Every summer, I set aside time to visit my family. I ask at least one other Sister if she would like to come with me, since my family lives in western North Dakota. Often Sister Johnita, who is from the same hometown as I, Dickinson, will ride with me. She visits her family while I spend time with my Mother who resides in St. Benedict's Center, part of the Duluth Benedictine Health Systems.

This summer, S. Johnita and I set out on June 30, had a lovely drive through a very green North Dakota countryside, drove through some flood waters on I-94 in two different places, and arrived at our destination before suppertime.

Besides my Mother, two of my brothers live in Dickinson, and my sister lives in Minot. We siblings planned to get together at our lake cottage on Lake Sacagawea. Immediately after I arrived in Dickinson, we set out because the flooding in North Dakota this year had caused many roads to be impassable and some to wash out. So our trip to the lake, which is usually under two hours became more than that since we had to make detours.

My grand niece, Jackie, and nephew, Michael, joined us there with their families. We all enjoyed a wonderful July 4th weekend fishing, swimming, and relaxing. Everyone brings food for grilling because cooking outdoors is tastiest in the summertime. We touch base with each other over food, drinks, and evening fires. It is a wonderfully rejuvenating time for me because I do not get to see my family very often. The darling great nieces and nephews grow so fast, and so we renew our relationship at times like these.

Back in Dickinson on the 5th of July, we showed Mom our pictures and talked about the lake with her. She enjoys seeing all the little kids. Mom turned 87 in June, but she still knows us and her face lights up when we come in the door. We only have one precious Mother who nourishes us from inside the womb to the end of our days.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flowers in Bloom

This summer I planted flowers at my living residence and at the St. Cloud Starbucks to give a touch of Benedictine beauty and presence to the coffee drinkers and fellow workers. Every morning when I jump on my bike to pedal to morning prayers, they greet me with color, life and sometimes a thirst for water if Mother Nature has not come through. My heart smiles! After prayers I give these flowers some affirmation and encouragement. I dead head those who have moved on to flower heaven and thank them for their time of beauty and their willingness to die for new life to come and bloom. It's a cycle I know quite well in my life and ministry.

 In my ministry, I love to plant, water, encourage and empower students to grow into their faith and leadership. My heart smiles when I watch these students "bloom" into full color as they take the leadership reins, empower students, give talks because they have a message, and find the joy of nurturing and blooming souls to become leaders.

 Saturday afternoon I met with two women who will be seniors at the College of Saint Benedict to plan a women's retreat and to raise up a leadership team. These two women have been a part of my retreats since their first year. They have been nurtured, tapped and encouraged to lead. Now they are in full bloom, planning and organizing this retreat. My job is to get out of the way and let them lead. It makes my heart smile. They are bittersweet about planning this retreat and being at the helm of it and so am I. This will be their last retreat as seniors, which feels unreal to them and me. Yet these women are passionate about their vision for the future, raising up leadership and making room for new bloom and beauty. This is Benedictine hospitality, receiving all as Christ and making room each soul to bloom.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sacred and Secular Unite

photo found at
Some very famous festivals here and abroad combine the sacred and the secular. I am thinking in particular of Halloween, Christmas and Easter.

But now in early July I think of the Spanish festival called the Running of the Bulls—held in Pamplona, Spain, annually, July 6-14. It often gets a one-two minute coverage on the national networks and, over the years, I have been both amazed and amused at the spectacle. This event is also called the Festival of San Fermin, Saint Fermin being the patron saint of Pamplona. Legend has it that he was martyred by the ancient Romans by being tied to bulls and dragged to his death. The men who run ahead of (and sometimes behind) the bulls on the streets of Pamplona invoke Fermin's protection in this very dangerous "sport." Disaster is a real potential; records show that from 1924-2010 at least 15 men have died and 200 others have been seriously injured during this festival.

The brief running of the bulls each morning (two-three minutes) is accompanied by daily rounds of fireworks, dancing, processions and concerts. Ernest Hemingway popularized this festival in his novel The Sun Also Rises (1926), and each July thousands of tourists flock to Pamplona to participate in or to view the event. I am reminded of how interrelated the sacred and secular can be; we link two worlds—that of faith and that of flesh, the latter sometimes daring death itself. The night before the actual running of the bulls is given to speeches in the town square and prayers in honor of Saint Fermin. Unfortunately, reports tell us that the following days are not usually spiritually attuned.

The city of St. Joseph and Saint Benedict's Monastery are far removed from this type of festival. The closest we could come would be a "running of the squirrels" on campus, herding the little critters down the cobblestones, getting them out of our trees and garden plots. Somehow I don't see this as an annual event. Fortunately we have some grand feasts of our own to celebrate in July, sacred and secular, which negate any such need. They include July 4, which is also the weekend of the St. Joseph parish festival. It combines faith, heritage and the celebration of our nation's birth with an outdoor Mass, games, good food, a parade, a popular quilt auction, fireworks and a concert. Right now we're looking forward to July 11, the Feast of St. Benedict, a major feast at the monastery.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Radish Revelations

I spoke with a friend in Wisconsin this morning. It's her birthday! I discovered that her very active and effective life as a theologian and pastoral minister for two parishes has been narrowed to a 24/7 horarium needed to care for her mother who has Alzheimer's and a broken arm! In such a situation, Pat appreciates God's presence wherever God reaches out to feed her hungry mind and heart.

Our conversation was virtually an "Ode" to her radish patch! "Little red radishes, the prettiest little things. I think I have overlooked them all these years; and to think that they grow underground, living a quiet life . . . and yet become so colorful and so tasty. I have a blue iris nearby but, frankly, I'm more excited about my little red radishes! I think I'll need to plant another crop." This is, in my mind, a prayerful response to God's revelation, wherever that may be. Would you agree?

Renee Domeier, OSB