Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Center Down

         Last week we had the privilege of having our annual retreat. This year our director was Fr. Bill Cleves, pastor of Holy Spirit parish in Newport, KY. He was and the retreat was amazing. 

          Fr. Bill is a scholar whose knowledge of Hebrew and Greek gives him an understanding of Scripture which he passed on to us each day. He gave us new perspectives on familiar stories and parables. Knowing the language and culture of Biblical times added so much to our own reflections. Even the titles of his talks were thought provoking; for example, the Good Samaritan—We lie by the side of the road, bleeding and helpless; the Prodigal Son—Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future; Deuteronomy 32:10-18—How did we wind up in the desert?           
         Besides being a scholar Fr. Bill is truly pastoral and relates the Scripture to our everyday lives, especially in this time of the pandemic. He shared a poem by Lynn Ungar message was to view the pandemic as a time of Sabbath, a time to cease from activities, a time to “center down”.

          I have had frustrations with the suspension of normal activities and the poem and the entire retreat helped me see these changes in a different and more life-giving light.

         Take this time and use it well. Center down. Stop and listen and pray. Touch those you love in ways that are less familiar. Reach out with words, with your heart.

        I thank Fr. Bill for his caring and thoughtful presentations that gave me and the community new ways of seeing and being. God bless him in all he does. 

        Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Psalm of Lament for 2020

O God, come to our assistance.
We are dazed in the desert of the pandemic.
We cannot touch, hug or embrace those we love.
We cannot assist the sick and the dying.
We must be distant from one another.
When the virus strikes,
We cannot breathe, O God.

O God, come to our assistance.
We have been a stiff-necked people
We have not listened to the voices of our brothers and sisters.
We have ignored their calls for help from prejudice, harassment, violence and death.
We were silent when they were abused and killed because of the color of their skin.
Now hatred, evil, violence, discord and fear kneel on our necks.
We cannot breathe, O God.

O God, come to our assistance.
Our planet is in distress.
The rain forests have burned.
Australia has burned.
Fires rage in the West.
The Artic is burning; permafrost is melting.
Desert winds from the Sahara spread over the world.
Locusts ravage Eastern Africa
Climate change and global warming may soon
 make it too hot to sustain human life.
We cannot breathe, O God.

O God, come to our assistance.
The country is divided.
Protesters of injustice try to gather in peace;
Their rights are violated.
They are confronted by anonymous soldiers with tear gas and guns.
We cannot talk with one another with respect.
There is no leader with understanding, compassion and dignity.
No one models care for others, righteousness and unselfishness.
In the vacuum of leadership,
We cannot breathe, O God.

Deliver us, O God,
You whose steadfast love endures forever,
Come to our aid.
Send your spirit to bring us hope,
To stir up the winds of change and freedom,
To give us  courage and hope,
To keep us from despair and to inspire creativity.
Call us back to you,
To your covenant of peace and promise,
Justice and mercy
So that we can breathe, O God.

    Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Thursday, July 23, 2020

A Quiz, a Question, and Follow-up Thoughts

          Let’s start with a quiz based on recent headlines. Can you correctly match each item in column 1 with one in col. 2?  When finished, reflect on the question that follows
1. Breonna Taylor and George Floyd
A. pejorative name for indigenous people
2. Mt. Rushmore and Keystone oil pipeline
B. excessive force by police
3. Washington pro football team
C. questionable use of confederate flag
4. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton
D. violation of native American land rights
5. Mississippi state flag and NASCAR
E. slave owners

          The question: What do these have in common?

As an older, middle-class white woman, my own thoughts about answering this question circle around racial and social inequality. These incidents and others make me realize how bias is inbred in our social system, and most of us don’t even see it.                              (QUIZ ANSWERS: 1-B; 2-D; 3-A; 4-E; 5-C)

A few random observations:
·         One popular TV reality cop show most often depicts the culprit as from a minority race, often black. Have you ever wondered why stories rarely depict a black victim and white culprit? After all, white people are much more numerous in our society. Does this mean white people are much more law abiding or could it be that it’s easier to believe black people guilty of a crime?  Because of this newly realized imbalance, the producers of one of these shows have recently pulled it off the air.
·         Some states are still tightening access to the voting booth apparently oblivious to who will now not be able to vote. As a result, the poor are often disenfranchised by their own government because they can’t afford picture ID or cost of transportation to more distant polling places or they would have to miss work because the hours to vote have been reduced.
·         How many of us, including our president and people in congress, speak of how our freedom was enshrined into the constitution and declaration of independence? When we hear this, do we remember that women and slaves were not considered people? This was obvious when the founders were talking about owning land or voting. Women had to protest for decades before they gained the right to vote; that was just 100 years ago. In our own time they and black people are still fighting to be considered equal. Despite amendments to the constitution, both groups are still struggling, women for equal pay for equal work, black people often for their very lives.
·         How often do we recall that our country has struggled with racism in one form or another since its beginnings. Even our sanitized history books refer to how various waves of immigrants were treated like inferior people - Germans, Irish, Chinese, Japanese Americans during WWII, and of course citizens of Africa who were not even considered human, but rather property. Have we outgrown these judgments?

Where do these thoughts lead us? They lead me to wondering what can be done. It all seems so entrenched. What can one person do? Here are some ideas gathered from various sources.

·         Be willing to look at our personal and collective history with more openness. Remember that the history written by victors is probably what we were taught, then consider how the stories might have been different if there had been “minority reports.”
o   A. Would we have learned about lynchings? child enslavement? separation of families? Would “Gone with the Wind” have painted a different picture?
o   B. Would we have learned that the plantations and industry that built the South were built on the backs of black men, women, and children?
o   C. Would we have studied about horrors of the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee?
o   D. Would we have spent some time reflecting on how our government cheated the native tribes in buying Alaska and Manhattan for a few beads and furs? Was this a “great deal,” imposing our system on a culture that believed no one could “own” land because it was given by the creator for everyone to use?
o   E. Would you be willing to read Sojourner Truth’s speech in 1851 and/or Frederick Douglass’ about 4th of July in 1852? (Both are fruitful reading these 160 years later.) If so, try these links: HERS: ;  HIS:

It’s not too late to reflect honestly on these questions and re-educate ourselves about things we as the majority culture have taken for granted.

Often we act as though truth is simple; it rarely is. Because of this, we must learn to open our minds and hearts to the Spirit who is wisdom and insight. God is constantly blessing us with opportunities to become more than we are at the moment. To quote the iconic John Lewis who died just recently, “Hatred is too heavy a burden to bear.” So are ignorance and apathy.

           Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Steadfast Love of God

      Now that we are back in Ordinary Time, and again using the Liturgy of the Hours book for this season, I am reminded of the experience I had five years ago when I was moved by the frequency of this beautiful phrase in the psalms for God’s faithful love – The steadfast love of God.  I actually took time to write out these verses in my journal and went back to ponder them many times.
      I located that Journal this week and noted that in the five-week cycle of psalms for Morning, Noonday, Evening and Night Prayers, the phrase is used nearly 100 times including some of the Prayers.  No wonder it has become such nourishing food for my spirit!
See some examples throughout the psalmody:
PS 33:  The Holy One loves righteousness and justice, and fills the earth with steadfast love.       The Holy One looks on those who stand in awe, on those who hope in God’s steadfast love.     Let your steadfast love rest upon us even as we hope in you.
PS 48:  We have pondered your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
PS 86:  For you, O God, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.  For great is your steadfast love toward me…But you are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
PS 89:  But I will not remove from him my steadfast love                                                              Where is your steadfast love of old?
PS 100:  For God is good, steadfast love enduring forever, and faithfulness to all generations.
PS 107:  Give thanks to God who is good, whose steadfast love endures forever, (and repeated many times through this psalm, ending with) Let those who are wise give heed to these things and consider the steadfast love of God.
PS 119:  The earth of full of your steadfast love.
PS 138:  I give thanks for your faithfulness and steadfast love. Your steadfast love endures forever.
PS 143:  Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust.
A Prayer at Noonday: “God, you do wonderful deeds in our midst and we praise you for your steadfast love.  Listen to the sound of our prayer and make us firm in our commitment to your will for us.  We pray through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
A Prayer at Night Prayer: “Dwell among us in your steadfast love, O God, and protect us through the hours of this night.  May we who are wearied by the labors of the day rest in the certainty of your love for us.  The pray through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
      In this time of so much trauma in the world: the Covid-19 Pandemic, the effects of unending wars, the upsurge of race issues especially in the US, the millions of refugees all over the world, the jobless and homeless in every country, the lack of honest leadership in so many countries, the raping of the natural resources of our good earth, the list is not ending – of the needs for prayer and concern for others.  It is so comforting to be able to trust in a Triune God who promises to stay with us always, to be faithful, to be steadfast in love with us, to stand always in our midst, from hour to hour, for day to day, no matter the trauma, no matter the pain, in the Divine Dance.  Each line of those Psalms reminds us that our passionate God constantly pursues us with steadfast love, hoping we will one day realize that a person will only love truly when he or she is truly loved.

    Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Open Every Door

Shortly after the threat of Covid-19 began shutting everything down and life changed as I (we) had known it, I came across this quote from Emily Dickinson:
                “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”
Dickinson sought inspiration for her poetry, I seek to make sense of a world seemingly turned upside down.  As the weeks passed, I have come back again and again to this quote.  Each time asking myself what is the door waiting to be opened? 
Some of the early doors opened to the fog of navigating a new reality for work and so many things in life I took for granted.  Other times there was an invitation to curiosity in exploring possibilities and the time I had on my hands. There have also been many doors which have led to deeper connection with my community, family, friends and co-workers.
In the past couple of weeks, the door opened to pain, sadness, and a sense of responsibility to do better in the face of systemic racism.  This doorway has led to candid conversations, to seeking information, to sitting in the discomfort, and the intrapersonal work to address my own biases and learn how to do better.  
As a woman of faith, I trust the dawn will come.  I seek to open the doors with a listening and humble heart, especially when the dawn seems distant and the road uncertain.  What doors might be waiting for you?

Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

My Ongoing Conversion from Prejudice

           I didn’t know that I was prejudiced until I was about 8 years old and may not have comprehended the meaning of being very prejudiced. My great-great aunt lived with us and we were attending  St Johns Children’s Home annual picnic. When we went into the lady’s room an elderly black lady was cleaning, and my aunt obviously knew her from  the small group of black people who lived two  blocks from us. They shook hands and were chatting when my aunt turned to me and said, “Jean, shake hands with the lady.” My stomach did a little flip, but I knew I had to do what Aunt Vennie told me to do. My first thought was how to find another lady’s room where I could wash my hands! 
           Two years later I was working at a Bingo Hall where my family was responsible for the concessions. My brother and I (ages 8 and 10 ) walked among the players selling soft drinks, snacks, and beer (that’s right-beer.) Some young adults volunteered to change cards and call bingos back to check for accuracy. One of the young men was black and came to tell me good-by because it was his last night. Gentleman that he was, he extended his hand and I gave him mine, not because someone told me to but because I knew it was the right thing to do. At that moment, I became determined to overcome  my prejudice --easier said than done.
           I clearly remember that my family would not attend a movie in Cincinnati because we might need to sit next to a black person. Black people were not welcome in movies or restaurants in Kentucky until 1953. Even then, I told myself that we avoided blacks  by choice, not because we were prejudiced
           Years later when I attended Catholic University for my masters degree, there were several black sisters in attendance. My opportunity had come. I found it easy to chat with them and even made a couple friends. Then one evening a black friend asked me to go swimming with her in the  University pool. I found it easy to agree. That evening I got in the pool first. To my amazement,  when my friend dove in, my stomach did another flip and the water around her dive seemed to turn chocolate. When I got out of the pool and met my friend, I knew in my heart that the illusion of chocolate water  was an end to my prejudice.  It is such a blessing. Color is no longer an issue for me when meeting anyone. Praise God!
                                    Sr. Victoria Eisenman, OSB

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Prayer for Change

      Over seventy years ago, when I was about five years old and at my grandfather’s house, some children from across the way were playing jump rope in the street.They were having a lot of fun and invited me to play with them.  Happily, I did.  Before long, my grandfather called me inside.  “If you play with those n……, you’ll turn black just like them!’  I was young, but old enough to know better.

        Confused and sad, I stayed inside. This is my earliest memory of racism. Still, today, the sadness overflows – even after all the efforts, suffering and progress toward civil and human rights. 
        Let us unite in prayer for those who continue to struggle for justice.
                                                  Prayer for Change
God of All,
   Bless and protect those uniting for the sake of needed change.  Bring us together, as a nation, with a new vision that respects the dignity of every human being, that protects the vulnerable, and that upholds human and civil rights.  Give us courage and the grace to love one another as you love us.  Comfort those who mourn. Remove all fear and let us know true peace and justice in our time.  We praise you and we thank you for your sustaining us

                    Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB