Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I See You

Photo: Trish Dick, OSB

“I see you!” These three words brought the women veterans to tears Sunday morning at the closing session of a wonderful retreat for the women veterans of Minnesota at Saint Benedict’s Monastery. There were 23 women veterans and five non-veteran support staff of the Women Veterans Initiative who participated.
The retreat provided Benedictine hospitality to the veterans.  We strove to follow what is in the Rule of Benedict, chapter 53: “All guests are to be received as if they were Christ.”  Most of these women feel they live on the margins, and are often unseen, even in their church community. The Sisters view the retreat, designed specifically for women Veterans, as a ministry to women who have been under-served and under-appreciated for their commitment of military service to our country.

The theme was: “A Taste of Wellness: Holistic Healing through Many Modalities.”  Retreat activities included various modalities for the healing of “mind, body, and spirit.” Our goal was to provide multiple ways of healing and integration.  Veterans could participate in pottery, gardening, crafting, writing, walking, resting, and experiencing many form of healing body work (foot reflexology, massage, healing touch, yoga, and Feldenkrais). Spiritual direction was also offered.  Many veterans chose to join the sisters for Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist. Being able to socialize with the sisters at meals and in activities created a bond of community.

This retreat was a good fit for us sisters because we understand the difficulties of living out a specific mission of service in a male-dominated world, something we have in common with women veterans. Sisters have been trail blazers, just as the women veterans have. We have a history of being educated entrepreneurs who model leadership roles for women in a culture where we often have been underappreciated and undervalued, just as women veterans have. We understand how important it is to have the support of a strong community of other women. The monastery was a natural and good fit for the women veterans, because it provided a safe and welcoming place for healing and reflection along with opportunities to experience prayer and community.

Our greatest hope for the women would be that they came away from the retreat knowing that their individual stories matter, that their military service is valued by others and that there are things they can do to help heal the trauma they have experienced.

We wanted them to know that we acknowledge their service to our country.  And we recognize the deep pain and struggle they have endured. Most of all, we hoped they would feel immersed in God’s love by connecting with us and by sharing our lives and sacred spaces.

This retreat humbled me; it enlarged my perspective regarding the significant suffering of women veterans who live with PTSD. Some of their stories, pain and tears haunt me, yet I am inspired by their resilience. I now have a deeper appreciation for their service to our country and a sobering understanding of some of the abuse some have endured. I am honored and proud to have been a part of this retreat.

Trish Dick, OSB

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Plant, Pray, Love!

The Sisters who live at the motherhouse, Saint Benedict’s Monastery, and also those who live at our retirement facility, Saint Scholastica Convent, are organized into small groups, which we call living groups. Some are housed in larger buildings and occupy a particular floor or portion of a floor; others, like the St. Wendelin group, live in separate accommodation on or near the monastery grounds.

St Wendelin’s isn’t a pretty building; in fact, it started life as a slaughterhouse! However, I’ve been struck on a number of occasions this summer by what a charming picture it presents, set in a green lawn and surrounded by flowers like those in this photograph taken by Sister Janine Mettling.

Walks are my time for personal prayer and meditation. As I’ve passed St. Wendelin’s, it’s provide with me with a real source of inspiration for going deeper. No, it’s not a great piece of architecture, but the Sisters who live there love it, not for its appearance, but because it’s the place that is their home and all that implies. That’s an important point. As Benedictines, we are urged not to become attached places or things but we also make a promise of stability, which means rooting ourselves in a place and way of life and doing our best to make that place better by our presence.

So what’s the difference between love and attachment? I guess I see the flowers as a symbol of the love the Wendelin Sisters have for their home and their desire to share what it means to them with others, in the sense that planting the flowers will bring joy into other people’s lives (e.g. mine!) That’s love. Attachment would be if they “owned” the flowers, laid claim to them and didn’t want them to be for anyone else. That’s a real lesson for me: we should never be afraid to love but always in a way that is inclusive; if love is exclusive, it’s selfish, and is a really a form of attachment and possessiveness.

Finally, these flowers have shared a lesson with me about simplicity. They aren't rigidly arranged. They may well be carefully planted but when you look at them words and phrases like ‘profusion’, ‘riot of color’, 'exuberance’ come to mind. But it’s exuberant simplicity. All I can say is that they’re simple and they’re beautiful and, for lots of reasons, I’m grateful for this simple, but profound, gift of beauty.

Karen Rose, OSB

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Holding the World in Prayer

Recently a friend said to me that it saddens her now that she can no longer hold the whole world in her heart!  That was a startling statement for me!  But, as I thought about it, I couldn’t help but think that it should  sadden us as Christians to read that our brothers and sisters are daily displaced from their ancestral Christian homelands because they have been given the  ultimatum to convert to Islam, leave or be killed!   

Today, suffering has reached unimaginable dimensions in Iraq and Syria where a campaign of religious cleansing has been carried out by the Islamic State group. How can we be blind to that? Is there still room in our lives to be deeply saddened?

In his 2013 book, The Global War on Christians,  John L. Allen explains that “Christianity is stereotypically associated with the West, often as an oppressor. However, today’s demographic and social reality tells a strikingly different story. Not only do 2/3 of the world’s 2.3 billion Christians currently live outside the West, but they also tend to be poor and often belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities.  As a result, they have become increasingly convenient targets of violence.”

How can we be deaf to that cry of the poor?  Is there still room in our lives to be deeply saddened?

Pope Francis, on April 6, 2015, asked for prayers for those who are “persecuted, exiled, killed, decapitated for the sole reason that they are Christian.”  He added, “They are our martyrs of today, and they are so many, we could say that they are more numerous than in the early centuries.”

How can we not pray for our martyred brothers and sisters?
O God, just as the blood of the early Christian martyrs became the seed of faith for other Christians, may the blood of our Middle Eastern Christian brothers and sisters stir up within us a deeper faith and trust in You and greater love for one another-- whoever and wherever we may live—and  especially for those on the margins of our global family. Amen.

Our prayers are needed nearer to home as well, for open hearts to welcome the many Muslim people who have immigrated to the USA, including the St. Cloud area, whose desire is to live in harmony with neighbors of all faiths and to work to make our society a better place. They need our prayers because they, too, have experienced prejudice and acts of violence against their community. This past Sunday, several of our Sisters attended an “Interfaith Picnic” at Lake George in St. Cloud. Shared experiences like this mean that, if disagreements arise, relationships already in existence which help us to talk, rather than fight or persecute. Those who took part expressed a desire to continue sharing – a way to make our prayer action and not just words.

Renée Domeier, OSB