Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Return to Me with All Your Heart"

The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent.  Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.” (RB, Ch. 49) Next week, on Ash Wednesday, we will hear these words from Chapter 49 of the Rule of Benedict at Morning Prayer. Benedict tells us that Lent is an excellent time to do some house cleaning, house cleaning of our soul.  What does “house cleaning of our soul” mean?  I have a bowl on my dresser in my room similar to the one in the picture and a lot of things end up in the bowl:  my sunglasses, keys, medals, pennies, and small mementoes.  Once in a while the bowl is overflowing and I am reminded that it is time to clear the bowl.  “A monastic Lent,” Joan Chittister, OSB, tells us, “is the process of emptying our cups. Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod.” It is good that Benedict in Chapter 49 provides us with some antidotes to the sludge we have accumulated since Lent last year.  He suggests a little more prayer, a little less food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting. I am reminded of the athletes who competed recently in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Monastics are not very different from athletes who build up their strength by hours and hours of grueling practice to be in tip-top shape when the time comes to compete. We build our stamina to face the spiritual challenges that come our way by adopting the antidotes that Benedict invites us to tender to.  Just as athletes don’t decide on their own what exercises they will do to reach their peak, they rely on their coaches to help them make those decisions, the same is true of monastics. We consult the wisdom of the Prioress or Abbot before undertaking our Lenten practices so that we don’t go to extremes.  That is not the Benedictine way.

As we embark on this holy time of Lent I pray with the psalmist for you: “Create in me a clear heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me way from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.” (Ps. 51:10-11)

Hélène Mercier, OSB


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Freedom Lion

We have had two Sisters die recently who were in their upper 80s and early 90s. Neither of them was often in the spotlight. However, they emanated delightful uniqueness. 

One had an insatiable fondness for history. Though she lived many years with intractable neck and arm pain, she chose not to let altered health status dictate how she would spend her days. She quieted any inner voice that might have crowded her mind, inviting her to close down her life a bit, by giving herself over to her natural love of history. It would be difficult to name the number of 8-volume history texts she read and reread from a wide range of historical perspectives. Nor could we estimate the hours she spent applying her preference for natural healing by relaxing her body and energizing her brain with classical music each week. She definitely defied what crowds of people around her thought she was capable of.

The other sister, another avid reader, also silenced any inner voices she might have had that told her to slow down as her health diminished. Instead she used her active mind and clever use of language to write “spicy” newsletters for sisters who needed to be away from the monastery while doing their ministries. As blindness advanced, she invited books-for-the-blind into her life. Then, as her hearing diminished and the crowd of those around her wondered how she would deal with yet another loss, she welcomed three different volunteer-visitors into her room each week. Each would sit near her, project their voice and dialog about politics, current events and “matters of consequence”. 

These women’s lives kept reminding me of the “roar of freedom” described in Osho’s comment,

The greatest fear in the world is of the opinion of others,
and the moment you are unafraid of the crowd,
you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion.
A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.

I pray that the roar of freedom continues to arise in me and each of us.

Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB




Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In the Desert

My blog this week is connected to last month's, another musing on living monastic life. I had some interesting responses to January blog it which have helped me as I continue to reflect on my commitment.

Last month, I indicated that it's not how I thought it would be. Yet I don't think I had a clear idea about what it would be or how it ought to be. I visited the monastery and I felt called . It was as simple as that. There were, of course, complexities involved in answering the call, but it was clear to me that I would, so I don't really regard that as a challenging period.

When I say that I didn't have a clear idea of what my life would be that isn't the same as saying that I didn't have a sense of what the essence would be. What I craved at the time was to shed everything because everything, even good things, seemed to be a distraction from God. I craved the desert, at least metaphorically, and that's what I prayed for - a desert where there would be just me and God.

Well, surprise, surprise, there are all these other people around in community; there isn't just God and me. Every day I have to try to find God  in  them. Sometimes that's difficult - as I'm sure it's difficult for them to find God in me. It would be much easier if we weren't all so human!

But, at another level, my prayer has been answered. It is the desert because so much of what was familiar isn't here, but somewhere else, back in my old life. Living monastic life is radically different the more I live into it. The surface things are the same because I have food, shelter, warmth, basic security as I was fortunate to have before I entered. But beneath that is a different landscape, a landscape which tests me in ways I wasn't expecting and don't control. It isn't the desert as I would have imagined it to be but it's uncharted territory for me. It can be dry and unforgiving but I keep hoping to find an oasis now and then and trusting that I can keep travelling.

Karen Rose, OSB

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Where Have All the Flowers Gone ...

And where does the tic/tock of my clock go when it has done its momentary job?  And words, once spoken, where do they go?  Do they continue sending a message of the passage of time, of the mind’s thought or the heart’s longing to be in relationship, to change the world, to write a perfect poem or to make at least an imperfect apology. . .  

That melody haunts me still, so long after Simon and Garfunkel wrote it and the sad war was the sad answer to their sad and probing question, “Where have all the flowers gone?” 

“Long time passing. . . . long time ago.”

Where do waves go once they hit the shoreline? Or what happens to the snowflakes when they melt? Or a rainbow when it is no longer?  What happens to our memories when death comes?

“When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”

Where have all the flowers gone, indeed? And when will we ever learn that those lovely flowers may be decorating the graves of legendary '60’s people like JFK, RFK, MLK, Jr. or our century’s victims of war, trafficking, abortion, starvation, injustice and crime.

When will we ever learn?  When will we ever learn?

Renée Domeier, OSB