Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Seeing God's Handiwork

    One of the favorite poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins from my youth is about seeing.   
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,                                                                                      but only he who sees takes off his shoes.                                                                                                  the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” 

      If only we could see as God sees!

      A few yards from our Guest House front porch is a huge oak tree. Despite its age, the tree still continues to produce a multitude of acorns. Recently I was working in the flower bed in front of the porch when something hit the top of my head - an acorn  Within a minute a twig with leaves and then a second acorn hit!  I had to laugh!  A gentle nudge? 

    This dear old tree with its diminishing branches, will not last many more years, I fear, but its beauty, its shade, its “dwelling space” and, yes, even its bothersome seeds, have become a part of me and will live in my memory.  I am grateful.

     Let us seek your face, O God, let our hearts be open to embrace all creation, especially our brothers and sisters, made in your image and likeness.  Open our eyes that we may see as you see, with a  new vision  for our Earth, with compassionate and thankful hearts.  As we age, may the seeds you have planted in us bear fruit for the next generation.  Amen.
       That in all things God may be glorified!  
                         Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Seduced World

Searching for a way to make prayer more meaningful for the group of seniors with whom I pray, I “happened” upon AWED to HEAVEN ROOTED to EARTH a book by Wa lter Brueggemann.  It challenged me.  It also delighted me with his use of unique phrases and wonderful words. It seemed to be the catalyst I needed.
For Professor Brueggemann “Prayer is an exercise in faith, obedience and praise that cannot be done apart from God’s presence and guidance.”  In the 41 years that he taught in seminaries he steadfastly began each class with prayer.  AWED to HEAVEN ROOTED to EARTH is a collection of these prayers.  He offers these as “possible resources for those who habitually utter public prayer.” He says that prayer needs “to be figured in fresh ways and that that figuring is scripture.”  It must be “well said.”
                “I believe that in an intensely secularized context the task of prayer is to re-imagine our life in the presence of God and therefore offer direct address to God—that playfully said invites interaction with the God who has pledged to hear.”
                My hope is to read and re-read his ideas and put them into my preparation for prayer with my group of seniors.  As a retired teacher myself, I admire his honesty as he prepares to retire, “Over that time I have of course studied with a variegated assemblage of students.  For some of them I have been a treasured teacher, for others not at all.  But all of them, by choice or not, prayed with me, and some I have found to be more mature in prayer than I.”
                His use of scripture certainly “figures” in the following prayer.
“Ours is a seduced world”
God of all truth, we give thanks for your faithful utterance of reality.
In your truthfulness, you have called the world “very good.”
In your truthfulness you have promised,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
In your truthfulness, you have assured,
“This is my beloved Son.”
In your truthfulness, you have voiced, “Fear not I am with you.”
In your truthfulness, you have guaranteed that
“Nothing shall separate us from your love in Jesus Christ.”
It is by your truthfulness that we love.
And yet, we live in a world phony down deep,
In which we participate at a slant.
Ours is a seduced world,
where we call evil good and good evil,
where we put darkness for light and light for darkness,
where we call bitter sweet and sweet bitter (Isa.5:20),
where we call war peace and peace war,
so that we rarely see the truth of the matter.
Give us courage to depart the pretend world of euphemism,
To call things by their right name,
To use things for their right use,
To love our neighbor as you love us.
Overwhelm our fearful need to distort,
that we may fall back into your truth-telling about us,
that we may be tellers of truth and practitioners of truth.
We pray in the name of the One whom you have filled
with “grace and truth.”  Amen.

 Sister Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Mystery of Friendship

     Do you have a friend, a really good friend? Have you ever thought about what holds the two of you together? Sometimes there is no ready answer to this question? Why this person and not another? Personally I have never really tried to dissect any of these relationships, but I appreciate them as rare gifts.

     Recently I’ve begun to see these gifts as part of a much bigger treasure. Each relationship is somehow a part of the mystery of God and a glimpse into the living reality of God’s incarnation into our world.

     The other day Fr. Bill Cleves gave a presentation here at St.Walburg on Pope Francis’ Exsultate et Gaudete; the letter is about our call to holiness. Fr. Cleves'  talk was rich with insight into Francis’ reflections. One of the threads I found weaving through his remarks was the theme of God as community and how, as a people of faith, we are part of this divine relationship. He points out that for Francis, the call to holiness is a journey with others, not alone. This is where I see the God-connection with friendship.

     A major element in friendship is in the self--giving that occurs in moments or over years. As each person gives part of self, bonds get stronger. These are Godly acts! We find in the Hebrew bible and other sacred texts across many cultures that creation is God’s self-giving, God’s outpouring. God as Father, Son, and Spirit, is a Trinity of Self-giving, which is another way of saying God is Love and the Source of all bonding within creation. God is Community. The Dalai Lama has said, “…our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence,” and Fr. Cleves reflected the other day: “We are most divine when we are in communion.” These things are true because God is communion.

     One doesn’t have to be a theologian, however, to recognize the reality and significance of the bonds between human beings.
  •  “If we were good at everything we would have no need for each other.” Simon Sinek, British-American author and organizational consultant.
  • “Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence…” Erik Erikson, German-American psychologist and psychoanalyst.
  • “When we seek for connection we restore the world to wholeness.” Margaret J. Wheatley, American writer and management consultant
     Then too, a casual stroll through almost any drug, grocery, or discount store will reveal hundreds of greeting cards for almost any occasion. Each card is a reminder of how often people want to connect with another person. A friend lets us know that we matter!

           Looking at all this in another way, God gives us other people to remind us that the Divine Presence is always near. During his presentation Fr. Cleves suggested another name for God: “I’m Right Here!”  When we open our eyes and our heart to appreciate a friendly gesture or a jaw-dropping event, that's God saying to us, "I'm Right Here." If we reach out to someone with a consoling or forgiving word, that's God saying to the hurting person, "I'm Right Here."  There is the mystery; there is a re-enactment of the Incarnation. The mystery of God and the mystery of humanity are once again visibly intertwined, God reaching into human life to make us more divine. Through friendship we are truly  immersed in mystery.

       What a gift!

       Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

“Are you hastening toward your heavenly home?”

     The above quote is from the Holy Rule of St. Benedict [1980 translation].
In a recent community retreat at St. Walburg Monastery, Cistercian Abbot
Paul Mark based his conferences on questions found in the Holy Rule and
In Scripture.  In a reference to Sr. Ephrem Hall, OSB; he noted that
“God’s questions [ in Scripture ] to us are invitations to open our hearts and
minds in a divine-human communication and relationship. Abbot  Paul Mark
shared that the questions St. Benedict presented in the Holy Rule can be taken
as doorways to enter the mystery of the person of Christ and there to be clothed in Christ, having the mind of Christ imbued within us.

     Are you hastening to your heavenly home? This quote from the Rule of Benedict is found in Chapter 73:8.  The term ‘hastening’ intrigued me to search  some of its myriad meanings.  

    Make hurry in a rash manner i.e. as in ‘willy-nilly’.
    Hurry in a rushed careless way without any real reason nor purpose.
    Rush, speed-up.
    Swiftly, rapidly urgently.
    Just get it done now.

    To hasten heedfully however needs to be goal-oriented to avoid being disoriented.

     Through the sacrament of Baptism our goal automatically resides in seeking
The Kingdom of God which embodies the fulfillment in ‘The Body of Christ’
In the prayer Jesus taught us “Our Father”: we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done and earth as in heaven.’
To enter into this Kingdom of Love personified in the communion of the father, son, and holy spirit our strength and energy will come in our participation in the Love.  St. Benedict in chapter 72:11-12  states:”Let us prefer nothing whatever
to  Christ and may He bring us altogether to the kingdom of everlasting life.” 
     There will be a new heaven and a new earth that shines so bright with God’s
love and glory that we will have no reason to deny that there is not enough sight

to walk in this light. So now let us hasten to our heavenly home.

           Sr. Joan Gripshover, OSB

Monday, September 10, 2018

Mary, Our Mother

       During September we celebrate two Marian Feasts that highlight the ups and downs of everyone’s life whether outstanding saint or worst of sinner. On September 8, we celebrate the Nativity of Mary. Exactly one week later we encounter Our Lady of Sorrows.
       The entrance antiphon for the Mass of Mary’s nativity sets the tone for our celebration,”Let  us celebrate with joy the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for from her arose the sun of justice, Christ our God.” I smile when I compare these words with what Joachim and Ann may have uttered. Elated as they were, how different our perspective after over two- thousand years. In awe and joy, we can pray,”Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”   
       Many of us at St. Walburg also celebrate Mary’s nativity as the anniversary of the day we entered this Monastery. In the days when a group of young ladies were simultaneously expressing interest in becoming nuns, they were encouraged to enter the same day; namely on Sept. 8. After a period of postulancy and a year as a novice, we received a new name. The name of Mary then took on new significance as the name Mary preceded the new name, which for me was Sr. Mary Victoria. While many of us just use the second part of our title, the name Mary is written in our hearts.
       What a contrast one week later when we celebrate Our Lady of Sorrows!  Almost any reference lists Mary’s sorrows as seven beginning with the prophesy of Simeon that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart and ending with Christ’s entombment. While seven may be obviously Mary’s very worse sorrows, much of her life likely contributed to her title as Our Lady of Sorrows.
       So many of today’s headlines refer to mothers who live with unbearable sorrows: refugee mothers who do not know where their children are, mothers whose children were murdered or kidnapped, mothers who mourn for their children who are addicted or commit suicide. The list could be endless. Our Lady of Sorrows, comfort the hearts of all sorrowful mothers.

          Sr. Victoria Eisenman, OSB

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

(Extra) Ordinary Time

Have you had a peak experience recently? A real mountaintop? Or just feeling on top of the world? Don’t let go of it. Remember it!
            Recently we celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration; for us at this monastery it was at the end of our community retreat – a peak experience for me as summer nears its end. “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”  Peter exclaimed in the Gospel for the day. And the next day, like the three privileged apostles after their vision, it’s back to reality – ordinary places, ordinary people, ordinary time!
            I was reminded of a similar experience I had one summer participating in an NEH Seminar on Early Christian Monasticism. The final week was a full immersion in a Trappist monastery with the final day ending on – you guessed it – August 6, the Transfiguration. It was so good for us to be there. But then, we had to say Good-bye to the sixteen other persons from all over the country whom we’ll never see again on this earth, and we remarked that we had been to the mountaintop.  Now we go back home, remembering, and living what’s been learned.
            So here we are, August 2018, once again another year that goes back to “normal, back to “ordinary time.” For a new school term has begun, and that means for us teachers, life seems to be normal, ordinary, after a summer break, after Transfiguration. Have we been changed by it? Sure, there will be new students along with the old, maybe new subjects, new ways of approaching the old familiar ones. Or is it now just the “day-to-day,” the “same old same old” ordinary time?
            Can we enrich it with the good news we experienced in the Transfiguration moments? Christ gives us a glimpse of His glorious, Godly self, and promises the new life after our resurrection from the dead. Surely this memory can permeate our everyday actions with the joy that is to come. Not just for ourselves, but pass it on to those we meet in our everyday life. It could be an “extra” ordinary time! Lord it is good for us to be here, too! Joy! Joy! Joy!

Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Bananas in the Meatloaf

           The call went out, Peach party at 10. Eight sisters showed up to peel and chunk a large quantity of peaches for cobbler—a gift from a benefactor. That prompted memories of other “parties” at the monastery, some featuring our own farm produce and some from generous families and neighbors. Every sister remembers her novitiate as including lunchtime “recreation” at these extra work details.

           Picking blackberries on the property seems to have been a common experience. The berries were not thornless; the ground was not chigger-free (Off was yet to be invented), but the dessert was great! Apple trees produced well. Concord grapes purpled the pickers’ hands and sometimes their coifs, when served on Sunday as grape juice. There were trips to a strawberry farm near Union, and to Scott’s peach orchard on Amsterdam. You might get sent to the field to cut kale or to squash bean beetles.

           And then there were the train wrecks and overturned trucks full of produce. When the produce company was not able to sell the contents to a store, communities of sisters were often the beneficiaries. No one will ever forget the bananas. There was a silent retreat going on, and at every meal sisters looked for the form the bananas would take. Banana bread, or banana slices on top of the chocolate pudding, or underneath in the leftover pudding. Lots of eyeball rolling at the silent meals. One night no one could find the bananas, but the tablewaiters knew, for they ate before the others. Someone in the kitchen had let it slip that the bananas were in the meatloaf!

           A few years ago Sr. Cathy started a garden in our back yard, growing cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, dill, lettuce and sunflowers. We enjoy year-round pickles owing to her efforts and that of a few others. Families and friends still provide us with produce, sometimes in large quantities. A generous local market gives us a range of produce.

           Once in a while we get bananas. Someone makes banana bread, but there have been no repeats of that famous meatloaf!

            Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB