Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Learning to Listen


Sisters Clare Shadig and Ephrem Hollermann
I’m really not all that good at listening. I wish I were, but I know I am not. If a dear friend wants to share a story with me about losing her job I find myself making suggestions rather than letting her talk it out. That’s why I know I am not a good listener. 

Not being in another person’s position, how can I know what is better for him or her?  Who, better than the sharing person, can decipher what works for them? Basically, the tellers of the story are the ones who can come up with a response far better than the listener. 

A good listener lets people tell their story with all the blatant facts, desires, regrets or feelings they may have, and does not judge them for any of it. They encourage them to continue their story. If I shift the focus to my experience instead of keeping it on theirs I am interrupting their chain of thought. Refraining from small distracting movements such as checking who is going past the window and keeping an open mind for whatever is shared is also helpful to the speaker. 

Moments of silence are just fine; they give the speaker time to listen to his/her deepest thoughts. I once read that when someone shares with a good listener, they may learn information about themselves that they never knew they knew. Wow!

As for me, I can work on myself to become a better listener. Besides following the directives mentioned earlier, I can also encourage the person by keeping eye contact and by using simple gestures that show I am processing with him or her.

Careful listening affirms the speaker and encourages him/her to listen to what comes to them.  

 

Janet Thielges, OSB

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Challenge Yourself to New Things in the New Year


S. Janine directing the schola

You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.” Nate Berkus

As I mentioned in my last blog, I am a new member in community. Being new is always kind of scary as insecurities seem to creep up in you. I would have to say there are some things that I never thought I would do. But community calls forth the gifts in you that you never knew you had. One thing I have always dreamed I could do is to sing. But I always thought I was a little flat. In our community we have a group of women that sing in a group called schola. Our schola group is led by a very amazing young community member, S. Janine Mettling. When I first came to community and heard the schola sing I remember thinking that S. Janine must have some really powerful singers in her group and it would not be something I could achieve. But just recently, S. Janine approached me and asked me if I would like to be in schola for Christmas. I explained to her that I was really flat, but she assured me she would be able to work with what God gave me. I have been in schola now about six weeks and the quote above so much reminds me of the way S. Janine directs the schola. She takes each one of us where we are and gently encourages us to challenge ourselves to try new things. She patiently goes through each part of a song with us until we are totally comfortable with it. S. Janine even took the time to sing a recording of the songs we are learning so that I could hear them and practice with them.  I am singing as a soprano I. I hit an A note that I never would have tried had Janine not encouraged me to do it anyway. She never gave up on me. I sing even when I am walking on the treadmill! And while I may never sing a solo for the community, I feel very confident singing with schola. Not only am I learning so much from S. Janine, but she is making it fun too. 

In this New Year I encourage you to try something new too; you may be surprised at what you can do. 


Tammy Shoemaker, OSB

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas and Love Notes


Richard Rohr in his June 15, 2015, blog simply says, “If God became a human being, it’s good to be human… because God is in everything and everything gives God glory.  At birth, we too are… the divine child. God’s infinite love and mercy is made manifest in us.” Perhaps this is why we love to observe little babies. You can tell they’re still living out of pure and natural being. They can switch from a full-faced, million-dollar smile to crying in one second, because it doesn’t process through their head. They are just in immediate connection with pure being, which is also pure spirit. That’s why we can’t take our eyes off of little children. We know they’re living in connection with the Big Self and their True Self.

Maybe that’s why when we ask children questions we are sometimes amazed at their wisdom. In a recent email, a group of professional people posed this question to children 4-8 years old, “What does love mean?”  Here are some responses.
  • “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy - age 4
  • Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.  Terri - age 4
  • Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen. Bobby - age 7

When our eyes and ears are totally focused on the other maybe each of us becomes a love note to that person.

 Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Joy of Others




Henri Nouwen writes in his Our Greatest Gift: “Two of the greatest joys are the joy of being different from others and the joy of being the same as others.”
 
We may have tasted the first joy in our excelling in sports, in being a Nobel Peace Prize winner, or in receiving the acclaim of classmates as their chosen leader of the class—the joy, admittedly, in the “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like that publican ... " Lk 18:11-12.


The second joy-- perhaps --at a Youth Rally where we put arms around strangers, smile widely into the faces of those we didn’t know or join a crowd of marchers against School of the Americas, where human beings,  from across the Americas, raise a strong voice against killing and teaching how to kill.
 

When a resounding hymn of praise—whether of God or of country—lifts us out of our isolation into an experience of being part of a crowd, we are one of them and they of us. We are connected; we know ourselves as joyful in our common humanity. Our differences melt away. It makes no difference whether we are priest or woman, saint or sinner. We are one! We are God’s People. We are exhilarated by the sense of being brothers and sisters.


Death—as well-- is one such common human act! “Die we must, the hour we know not” is everyone’s call.  We, at our monastery, experience this truth regularly. In fact, we had eight deaths in eight weeks recently. St. Benedict’s words to “keep death daily before our eyes” has been made concrete in eight wake services and eight funerals over these eight weeks. Indeed, in this Advent period while we are awaiting Christ’s coming to us, these eight sisters were returning to the One in whom is all their joy, the second kind: the joy of being the same as others! Dare we say, then, that it is death that can lead us into solidarity with everyone?


Renee Domeier, OSB


Photo: Karen Streveler, OSB. Sister Lucy Miller with one of her young clients at Learning in Style

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Southern Girl in a Minnesota World

S. Tammy on Profession Day by S. Nancy Bauer


I am Tammy Shoemaker and I just made my first profession on July 11 of this year; it was a very beautiful moment with my sisters and my mom and some friends attending my ceremony. One of the things I like about the fact that nearly all of us make our profession on July 11, the Feast of our founder St. Benedict, is that it is probably going to be a very warm day!
   
I would like to share my first experience of visiting the monastery in Minnesota with you. It was January of 2009. I woke up early to catch my plane on a rainy day in Louisville with the temperature on my window thermometer registering at a very cold 47 degrees. Okay, don’t laugh! That was pretty cold for winter in my opinion.   

I caught my plane out of Louisville, Ky. (my hometown) and flew into Minneapolis, Minn. My final destination would be in St. Cloud, Minn., where the vocation director was going to pick me up. I can’t recall how long my wait was to get on the plane to St. Cloud, but what I do remember is the size of the snow piles from the airport runway. I just couldn’t believe it. Now it wasn’t like we didn’t have snow in Louisville, but we would have to scrape all of Louisville to get a pile as high as the one I saw at the airport that day.  

The most interesting thing was flying into St. Cloud. You had to go out on the runway to get on this small plane where they actually had to place the three of us taking the flight in certain seats to make the plane work properly. Needless to say I was a little frightened, not having had this kind of a flight before. As I said there were three of us on the plane and so our attendant was very attentive to each of us, asking if we were comfortable, where we were from, etc. Trying to be relaxed, I'm looking out the small window of the plane when I hear what sounds like rain falling on our plane. I must have had a puzzled look on my face because one of the passengers looks at me and says, “I heard you say you were from Louisville. Don’t worry, they are just de-icing the plane!!”  Well this is something new for me. As we sat there a bit longer I inquired, “Well that is good I suppose, but who de-ices us when we start flying?” Now she had the puzzled look on her face.   

We start our short trip to St. Cloud and soon we arrive and I hear the pilot announce, “We are now descending into St. Cloud were the temperature is NEGATIVE 18 degrees!!” So the temperature just dropped 63 degrees from where I came from. There was more snow than I have ever seen. 

While it was a cold I have never experienced, the sisters' warm spirit kept me coming back. I entered community in 2013 and that winter was my first experience with a wind chill factor of NEGATIVE 40 degrees. I told God that it really was uninhabitable for me. And if I were to stay things would have to change. But there is a gift in everything. Since being here, I have been ice fishing, snow skiing on real snow, snow shoeing and walked across a lake to a chapel. I have learned about sun dogs and how to dress in many layers. And a good thing I love hats! I am going into my third winter now and while I have to say I would choose 90+ degree temperature over the cold any day of the year, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of the snow.    

Tammy Shoemaker, OSB

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Praying a Jigsaw Puzzle



Photo: Tammy Shoemaker, OSB
I reflect as I work a jigsaw puzzle; I find that it depicts one’s life story. I invite you to go the journey with me as you work your puzzle. Here goes:

When just the outer edge of the jigsaw puzzle is completed, it shows the framework of the puzzle-to-be. In life, it might represent the whole world before God created humans. But as the puzzle is being worked on, each new piece represents a person.

As one works on the puzzle, some pieces connect so easily while others do not seem to fit at all. God has a niche for each of us and we each need to find where we are meant to be.

Sometimes the working of the puzzle moves along easily while at other times, it’s difficult to bring the right pieces together. In life’s story, there are many times when things just don’t seem to be working out while at other times, things move along so smoothly. Both on the puzzle and in life, our patience may be tried, but the only answer to success is to carry on.

When the puzzle pieces come together, each piece connects with four others which, in turn, connect with many. And so it is with us---we share God’s message with comparatively few, and we know not how many persons have been touched by our words.

Note -- most often, the puzzle pieces do not have straight edges. We, too, are imperfect and our encounters with one another may or may not yield our intent.

When we place the last piece in the puzzle, we are delighted to experience the joy that comes from a job well done. The intended picture seems to come alive.  At the end of our journey on earth, the reality we looked forward to will, indeed, come alive. We reap the rewards of life well lived as we see our God face to face.

Janet Thielges, OSB

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Cheese Is Always Cold


Cheese making

I have been a member of this community for just over eight years now and I’ve been reflecting on how my feelings about the monastery have changed in those years. I realize I’ve moved from being a polite guest to a family member with my own likes and dislikes.

What set me off thinking about this was the question of the temperature of cheese. No, I’m not being frivolous. Those small things, in the context of community, especially when added together, are a constant and real source of challenge, but I recognize that my response to them charts the course of my monastic “career” to date.

I like cheese. I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m cheese connoisseur but I’ve taken the trouble to find out a little bit about cheeses and tried lots of different kinds over the years. One thing I’ve learned is that the flavor of cheese develops at room temperature, whilst if eaten straight from the refrigerator the majority of cheeses are simply a lump of fat, distinguishable only by different colors and by slightly different textures (although my observation is that texture is also affected by temperature and there is a more noticeable difference if the cheese is at room temperature.)

Now, lots of people I know serve their cheese cold and, as a guest in their homes, I take it as it comes and say “thank you.” That’s how it was when I came to the monastery. I was so excited to be here, that I never even thought about the temperature of the cheese. Then I started to notice, about a year in, that it wasn’t quite as I liked it, so occasionally, I’d take a slice into my bedroom and let it “stand” before eating it. Three years on, I was at the stage where I would voice my feelings about the temperature of cheese to sisters I knew well. Six years and I would say it to anyone whether they wanted to know or not.

And now?  I buy cheese instead of candy. Different types of cheese, which repose in the refrigerator, clearly labelled, and which are taken out to “air” before I eat them as an evening treat. I feel completely at home with my cheese routines now, because this IS my home and it’s okay to eat my cheese the way I like it!

Karen Rose, OSB
(Photo is of curds being stirred during cheese making at Common Ground Garden - the closest I could find to a "cheese" photo!)