Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nature's Wisdom from Trees

Lately I have been taking some spring walks through our monastery woods. I have watched the trees awaken in their budding and greening. It’s a marvelous transformation. I have been thinking a lot about the trees that greet me on my walk. What can I learn from trees? They’ve been around a lot longer than I have, so probably quite a bit. Trees are incredible creatures that we often overlook -- considering the fact that they are among the primary members of our planet providing us with enough oxygen to survive. If we can become quiet and attentive enough, we realize that trees can tells us many stories of wisdom and awareness that apply to our everyday lives. As silent teachers, trees have much to share, so take a walk in your favorite woods or forest and open your heart and mind for lessons on life. 

As I ponder and wonder at the trees around me I have to believe trees share the wisdom of community and how they fit. We know that trees live where they are for tens, hundreds and sometimes even thousands of years. They accept where they are planted, the things they cannot change and continuously work to help themselves and those around them thrive. The nature of trees is to collaborate with those around them to co-create an environment that is beneficial for all its creatures, as they are inherently aware of the interconnectedness of everything. This is a very large and honorable concept, but can be boiled down to: we are interdependent people – we need each other.

Lastly, trees are vulnerable creatures.  Wild storms and extreme weather conditions can make trees dance wildly and naturally uproot. Other trees are vulnerable to humans’ wishes and whims. Yet, through all of this, some survive the test time and time again. The amazing miracle is that nothing is wasted in life. For trees (and all of nature, really) waste does not exist. Everything has a purpose; debris and dead plants become soil for new seeds to sprout on, new plants become food for another creature that fertilizes other plants. Essentially, there is nothing new, because nothing is ever thrown away. If we realize that we are also made out of materials from those that came before us, perhaps our appreciation for this life and its wonders will grow.  Take a walk in nature and ponder its wisdom.

Trish Dick, OSB

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Moderate Hospitality

Hospitality is a characteristic of Benedictine living. St. Benedict tells us in Chapter 53 of his Rule that: "All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ." Throughout the chapter he continues to suggest ways that monastics can live out that precept.

Although he is writing for monastics, what St. Benedict says applies to many of us, in all walks of life, because hospitality, for Benedict, isn't just about being pleasant and polite to people: it's a sacred duty, which must be integrated into our our gospel calling -- all of us receive that call.

For example, the community, led by the abbot, is asked to wash the feet of each guest, symbolizing Christ's washing of the disciples' feet at the Last Supper and reinforcing the idea that we find Christ in every guest. Similarly, Benedict reminds us of Christ's statement  that "the last shall be first" by saying that: "Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims ... ."

Yet, wise monk that he is, Benedict sees a need to exercise moderation and prudence when receiving guests. He recognizes that if we are busy with people all the time and don't balance our hospitality to others by allowing ourselves time to pursue our calling to seek God, then our hospitality, however abundant it might seem, will be lacking. And so, he builds in guidelines that mean monastics aren't out there all the time, leaving no time or space for prayer, meditation or building a relationship with God. Thus, the guest quarters "are to be entrusted to a God-fearing brother" meaning that one person has responsibility for that ministry in an ordered way. Monks are also told that they are "not to speak or associate with guests" without being given the go-ahead to do so. "If a brother meets or sees a guest, he is to greet him humbly ... . He asks for a blessing and continues on his way, explaining that he is not allowed to speak with a guest."

Benedict's wisdom in preaching moderation is profound. He knows that in order for guests to benefit fully from their stay at the monastery, the monks have to be able to offer not only a warm welcome, a comfortable bed and good food, but something deeper -- a connection to the holy. This can't be done without paying attention to the  foundation, which involves seeking God through prayer, an undertaking which, in its turn, demands time and some silence and solitude.

St. Benedict allows adaptation of the Rule to suit local circumstances and we, in the 21st century, have done that. Nevertheless, we keep the essence and can see that what he says about not always busily interacting, but also tending to the foundations of our hospitality, is still relevant today. Taking some time to be alone with God is necessary to each and every one of us today as we strive to follow Benedict's wise counsel by moderating our hospitality in order to make it truly a hospitality of  holiness and the heart.

Karen Rose, OSB
Photo by Jennifer Morrissette-Hesse: Symbols of hospitality laid at the altar

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Not More Perfect

We have one of those little fold-back booklets on every table in our lunch room, ones we can look at, if drinking a cup of coffee alone, or that we can read aloud to anyone who might need a good word or “thought for the day”!  Recently, I read this message: “Lord, help me to have a gentler attitude toward everyone.  I need to remember I am not more perfect than they.  Amen.”

Well, I was surprised  that the message  made me think not so much of perfection as of its opposite, brokenness, and the fact that being broken is what makes us human.

I began to sing:

'Tis a gift to be simple (to be broken)
'Tis a gift to be free (to embrace my humanness);
'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be ...
I kept singing wondering where this would take me next in thoughtfulness.

And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
We’ll be in the valley of love and delight. 

“Why in the valley of love and delight if we can accept our brokenness and that of others?” I asked myself. 

Perhaps it is because, then, we won’t have to feel shame, so that compassion could reign in our hearts.  All of us are broken ... I can see it now ... it’s not only I ... so if I think about it, I won’t have to deny my brokenness and humanity or that of others.  It seems that our brokenness  is what makes us one multi-faceted human family!

Oh, welcome to the human race, black sister, brown brother, yellow children, white rascals, limping cousins, gay friends, even war-mongers and inadequate politicians, sinners of all stripes and ages!  Whoever you are, come on in, wash your hands and have a seat at the banquet of love and delight! I’m not more perfect than you nor are you less human than the guy next to you!

Renée Domeier, OSB