Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It was the day before Christmas . . .

Crèche, Saint Benedict's Monastery
What is the day before Christmas like at Saint Benedict's?  Not very different from yours I suspect.  In my living group of three sisters we began our day very early this morning making kuliches for all 24 sisters who live in our building.  They were delivered warm at 6:30 a.m. in time for their breakfast, we hope. Morning Prayer was at 8:15 and by the antiphons, psalms, canticles and reading there can be no doubt that we have moved into the spirit of the great feast of the birth of Jesus.

As I was reflecting on this day, I took a walk to the chapel and Gathering Place hoping to get a picture or two for the blog.  Not only was I not disappointed but I can report that preparations for tonight and the days of Christmas are in full swing.  Just yesterday the crèche in the picture was starkly empty and the poinsettias were tucked out of sight until this morning. Now they are decorating the chapel, the Gathering Place, the Oratory and the monastery dining room. Many sisters around the monastery are making sure that all details are attended to like the trimming of the Easter candle at the entrance of the chapel, any last minute cleaning and phone calls to our friends assuring them of our prayers during the Christmas season. Meanwhile in the chapel Sister Janine Mettling is practicing with several musicians: cellist, organist, flutist and trumpeter. I expect that the schola (our choir) and the bell ringers will also be practicing a little later this morning.  S. Janine is an excellent musician and schola director and we know without a doubt that the singing and caroling that will precede our Eucharist this evening will be beautiful, lift our spirits and warm our hearts to help us leave our distractions behind and focus on what is, after all, the real reason for all the energy and time offered with love to make this time a great festive occasion to celebrate the coming of Emmanuel.

May you have a most blessed Christmas and may your heart be filled with hope, joy and peace!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stories Treasured

Have you noticed that sometimes festive mealtimes like Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays can be a springboard for communal storytelling?  These real life revelations can include endless examples of wonderful human experiences, told in the safe womb of post-meal-contentment.  This is especially true if told by those who have gradually nurtured us into freedom so we could become who we really are.  Sometimes the clarity of this shared truthfulness gives birth to laughter, compassionate tears or even shocking never-before-uttered secrets.

Before my father died we did a taped oral history with him.  He shared details about his family, things in life that delighted him and things that made him sad.  As we ended, my oldest brother asked him, “Dad, if you had to choose one happiest time, what would it be?”  I thought he might refer to the two times the Cold Spring Springers baseball team won state championships under his management.  Or maybe the time he was inducted into the St. Cloud Civic Center Hall of fame for his work in establishing rural baseball teams during his 16 years as manager.  But instead, he immediately replied, “That’s easy.  Each time one of you was born and everything was OK, it was the happiest day of my life.”  Gratefully, his grandchildren may someday listen to his response and have a glimpse of what their grandfather valued most in life.

May these festive days be filled with precious stories, told and treasured. We might even be the ones who create times for listening to others and adding our own stories.  May each of us recognize that NOW is the perfect time to give sacred space/time to listening to wise story tellers, young and old.  As Rachel Naomi Remen reminds us, “Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person.”  I guess, in that sense, as listeners, we are all potential “homemakers.”

Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Roses in December

Photo: Karen Streveler, OSB
Tomorrow, December 12, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, thousands will honor the beloved Virgin-Mother who visited a simple and humble Aztec peasant at a time when the Indian population was oppressed by conquistadors who considered them less than rational beings . . .and who were consequently killed or depressed by the loss of faith in the gods of their ancestors.  It is believed that, in the person of his gentle Mother, God visited Mexico at Tepeyac for the purpose of favoring the people “like dear little children.”  She spoke to Juan Diego in the most affectionate words, treating him as a son and promising to be his Mother.  She made known to him the outstanding dignity that was his and offered him. . .and all like him. . .her protection and eagerness to soothe, heal, and listen to their prayers.  No wonder Our Lady is beloved by the Latino peoples; she appeared on their land! She was brown as they are brown. She wore a garb filled with indigenous as well as Biblical symbols. She chose a poor and powerless Indian to be the bearer of her message as well as her image within his tilma to  Bishop Zumárraga: that “he be kind enough to build her a little temple where she could hear their weeping, their sadness , so that she might purify and heal all their different afflictions, pains and sorrows.” *

And is it not a splendid gift and grace that Our Lady of Guadalupe was also declared Patroness of all the Americas? She is our “morenita” too!

Bishop Donald Kettler will be with us as we celebrate a Mass in her honor at St. John’s Abbey Church at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 15.

Please come to the fiesta!

* A Mexican Spirituality of Divine Election for a Mission by  F.R.Schulte
Renee Domeier, OSB

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent Longings

The Advent Wreath at Saint Benedict's Monastery
Two days ago was the First Sunday of Advent and we are reminded that inevitably we are moving toward the shortest day of the year - there is no stopping the clock!  I discovered a long time ago that short days and darkness are not always my friends at this time of the year.Yet each year lighted candles on the Advent wreath and lights on the Christmas tree reawaken in me a longing to be still, to look deeply into the dark of my soul just as I imagine the darkness of the womb might be for the new life being created there.  Is it the same for my soul?  Is there always new life being created in the deepest recesses of my being?

There is a little book that came out a year ago titled The Long Winter's Night and written by a priest of the diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska.  The author tells us that when he was assigned to Alaska, like so many before him, he imagined himself sitting by the fire wrapped in a quilt in the long dark days and nights of winter with a stack of books by his side. That did not happen, of course, but I believe that he is telling us that those long dark days can be pregnant with life if only we would choose to befriend the exterior darkness and sit in the cave of our heart. One thing is certain: we must not anticipate spring too soon, at least not until the life we are carrying is ready to be brought forth to the light. A poet puts it so well,
"Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck
betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star
agleam to guide us"
During this season of Advent may you nourish the longings of your heart by being blessed with times of quiet and deep listening.
Hélène Mercier, OSB

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Thanksgiving Thought for Women

S. Jane Weber preparing vegetables
I have a wonderful quote for you who work so hard to prepare for family and friends.  It comes from a book entitled FOR WOMEN WHO DO TOO MUCH by Anne Wilson Schaef. (Men, maybe you fit the bill too!)  Here it is:

“Women’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life or contemplative life or saintly life.”  (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

“Women’s work is always toward wholeness.” (May Sarton)

“When we women do our work, we move toward wholeness.  The world is in need of wholeness.  The world is in need of women’s way of working.

Too long we have doubted ourselves and tried to fit comfortably into a male modality.  To have wholeness, we need to make our contribution, too. To have wholeness we need to know our values and value our knowing.

We have reneged on our responsibility to our society and our planet.  It is time that we courageously put our thoughts, ideas, and values out there and let them stand for themselves.

 When I do my work, my work is wholeness.”

Happy preparations and celebration of THANKSGIVING and all the loving work you will put into it!  I’m grateful for each of you!

Renée Domeier, OSB

Friday, November 22, 2013

On Dying

Monastery Cemetery by Nancy Bauer, OSB
I find it fascinating that many churches in the catholic tradition designate the entire month of November to remembering those we have loved and are now on the other side.  Many of us remember, as well, some persons, also on the other side, whom we have only come to know through the stories we’ve heard about their courage, generosity, compassion, joyfulness or selflessness. Those persons remain imprinted in our memories typically because they have touched our lives in some lens-shifting way. 

As I walk through the end of November I sometimes envision my own readiness for the final journey.  One recent Sunday morning I stopped brushing my teeth long enough to listen to the words of Ira Byock, MD, as he spoke on American Public Media [APM] in an interview for Krista Tippet’s “On Being”. Byock is the author of Dying Well.  I was startled to hear the brevity of what he invited us to do in order to die well.  He, as a palliative care physician, hears people somehow utter these four phrases when they are “terminally ill but doing fine”:

Please forgive me.

I forgive you.

Thank you.

I love you.

When those I love dearly are standing with me and accompanying me in my final walk to the other side, I pray that I will have let each one know how important they are to me by hearing myself say out loud to each of them these four freeing-phrases.  And maybe I’ll vividly remember the words of Winnie-the-Pooh “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” Then I can freely choose the other side.

Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hot Issues

Hot issues: Immigrants.  Differing peoples.  Reform.  Deportation.  Fear of language.  Family break-up.  Exchange of gifts and life.  Why? Oh why do we keep kicking against the goad? 
In June of this year, Archbishop José Gómez spoke to the Catholic Media Conference in Denver claiming that immigration is more than immigration, that it is a question about America, that it is about our national identity and destiny, about our national “soul.”  He quoted  G.K.Chesterton  who said: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.”  Now that is an amazing statement: that our homeland, America, is the only nation in the world founded on a creed!

According to Archbishop Gómez, chairman of the USCCB Migration Committee, every other nation in history has been established on some “material” foundation, on the basis of borders or territory, on race or ethnicity, the same kind of people living in one place.  But America, he said, “is different.  America was founded on a vision, a dream.”  (Maryknoll, Nov Dec /2013)  Have we not read, sung, and heard those words often: “the American dream?”

So what is at stake as we continue to judge, discriminate or exclude brothers and sisters of differing races, religions or national backgrounds?  The future of the American Dream is at stake! The dream of a nation where all children of the same God are welcomed and given the opportunity to exchange gifts, whether on an economic, cultural or spiritual basis.

It seems difficult for us to have faith in these times!  On the one hand, we continue to believe that America was founded on a vision, a dream, but, on the other hand, we do not trust ourselves sufficiently to address the issue of comprehensive immigration reform? 

Catherine Doherty of Madonna House used to say “Dreams dreamt in God come true.”  Will our wounded hearts be healed so that, one day, we can embrace the one who is different from us?  It is reassuring to hear this Russian sage go on to say: “God speaks quietly, very quietly, but He does speak. . . . He will make known to you what he wants you to do.” (Restoration 66#9, Nov. 2013).  Amen.  So be it. ¡Que será, sera!

Renee Domeier, OSB

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sacred Symbols

Chapel dome by S. Karen Streveler
I've been reading some material lately about the symbolism of our chapel dome, reaching up toward heaven from the flat land of central Minnesota and about how the opening of the great doors to the Gathering Place and Sacred Heart Chapel symbolizes an invitation and welcome to people seeking God in our sacred spaces.

It set me to thinking about the importance symbols have in our life, especially in the life of faith. Faith is about mystery, not a belief in an object or knowledge of a fact. Faith leads us into darkness where the only light is the mystery of God. Symbols are what make the infinite, unknowable and incomprehensible approachable for us. We can understand what light and darkness are; we understand the contrast and that makes it possible for us to catch a glimpse of Who God is - the light shining in our darkness.

Karen Rose, OSB

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Our Spiritual Guides

A few days ago I logged unto Fr. Ronald Rolheiser’s website and the weekly reflection that he posts there.  The nice thing I like about the website is that if I miss a few weeks or months the reflections are archived and they carry a title so if I am looking for something on a particular topic as I was the other day all I have to do is scroll down his list of reflections for the entire year.  While I was reading some of Rolheiser’s reflections it occurred to me that our choice of spiritual guides, writers that we are particularly fond of and return to time and again to give insight to our inner life, can say quite a bit about a person. Of course at various times in our life our spiritual guides can vary.  Sometimes it is a question of maturity, e.g. at 68 years old my focus, also my questions, have changed from when I was in my early adult years; at other times it is our ministry that introduces us to different authors, or a class that peeks our curiosity about an author we have been introduced to in the class.

Some of my favorite spiritual guides over the years have been:  Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., Joan Chittister, OSB, Sue Monk Kidd, John O’Donohue, Michael Casey, OCSO, Joyce Rupp, the Dalai Lama, Thomas Merton, OCSO, Marcus Borg, and Nan Merrill.  As you have been reading this have you begun thinking of who some of your spiritual guides are or have been?  The books on your bookshelves might give you some ideas.  And what was it about their writings that was significant for you? If you would like to share some of your authors with me I would love to hear from you.

The picture above is of Thomas Merton’s hermitage at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky

Hélène Mercier, OSB