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.