Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Downsizing: A Complex and Challenging Process

       For one reason or another, a lot of people seem to be downsizing lately, and I'm one of them. I'm moving from one of our smaller houses on the monastery grounds to the main building. This has entailed sifting through years of files, libraries of books and photos, archives, and much else. 
       What a journey! Dust covered memories resurrect names, faces, and forces that helped create the person I am today. Gratitude spills out of packs of old letters, cards, and meeting notes as I unearth encounters with people who were important and whose imprint is still somewhere deep within me. 
       My mind dances through the reminders of people I loved, projects I relished, and trips I embraced. My heart once again wraps itself around the painful contacts that generated growth into new relationships even while it grieves over losses. 
       Questions arise about long-ago sharings: Where is he now? Does she remember like I do? Is he still living? What is she doing these days? (I've even created a little file of "lost contacts" to see about tracking them down, something made feasible today by the internet.) 
       The downsizing process is also an exercise in discerning treasure from trash. It's hard when one part of me treasures something at the same time another part of me says it's more sentimentality than treasure. Which is more true? 
       Then there's the physical and psychological stress of the process brought about by deadlines met and missed, goals that seem unachievable, and all the other demands that don't stop because of the need to move. 
       Yes, downsizing is a 2-sided coin, joy and pleasure on one side and painful challenges on the other. We do need to spend the coin, however, to reach a different phase in our life, a place where we can use our past more effectively to renew ourselves and those around us. And, if we are lucky enough to have folks willing to help with this stripping-down process, even our "thank you's" are tinged with the pain of the process. Maybe it's something like mountain climbing: to get to the top is a lot more possible with the support of a team, but it is still a personal act we have to perform, this alternation between releasing one thing and grabbing something new. 
       To all who have downsizing in their present or future, may the joys of remembering and reconnecting outweigh by far the pains of letting go. 
       Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Friday, September 25, 2015

Resilience and Benedict

            As I’ve listened to the news, read the paper and talk with people, I hear the many struggles, losses and challenges facing people around the world. In the midst of the turmoil I am also hearing about the resilience present in so many, their capacity to adapt and overcome risk and adversity. Each of us, in different ways, experience challenges as we move through life.  We also each have the opportunity to cultivate resilience in others and in ourselves. 
            I found myself wondering one evening last week how the Rule of St. Benedict supports resilience both within and outside the monastery. Benedict’s Rule is lived out in community and the goal is for all to move forward together towards everlasting life.  Community is a source of support, a witness of fidelity and some days provides us with opportunities to move through challenging times together (not so different from any family). Benedict’s rhythm of work and prayer creates a framework which builds character and confidence both of which contribute to our resilience. Benedict understood our humanness and provides forgiveness (often more than one chance), wisdom figures to intervene, and good zeal to urge us to be the first to do good for another.

            Benedict’s values of community, a rhythm of life which nurtures balance and wholeness, forgiveness and striving towards good can set us towards being more resilient. We have the opportunity in our lives, both within and outside the monastery, to provide support, forgiveness, celebrate strengths in each another and spread good zeal. May we each find a way to tap into our potential for goodness and resilience in the rhythms of our lives. 
          Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A prayer before Pope Francis comes to the United States

          This summer I attended the Benedictine Development Symposium in Schuyler, Nebraska and met a extraordinary speaker and writer. He may not thank me for this mention, but I was impressed by his writing skils and passion. And so I share with you a snippet of Brian Doyle, editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland. He is the author of Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies, A Shimmer of Something: Lean Stories of Spiritual Substance, and many more.
         Today I‘m sharing with you a prayer from Brian Doyle's A Book of Uncommon Prayer:100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary. Sorin Books, 2014, pp. 17-18
          Brian’s prayers remind me of Daniel Berrigan’s psalm prayers in Uncommon Prayer: a Book of Psalms and Walter Brueggemann’s prayers in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. Brian, Daniel and Walter share the same passion for the apt word/ phrase, for social justice, for an intense struggling relationship with God and for speaking the hard truth of human suffering and small delights. Their prayers are not easy to pray, just as many of the psalms are not easy to pray. Their prayers like the psalms come from the deepest part of us and stun us with their power.
          I present Brian Doyle’s prayer as an example of a modern yet Biblical way of calling out to God It is also a good prayer for the week before Pope Francis comes to visit.

Furious Prayer for the Church I Love and Have Always Loved but Which Drives me Insane with Is Fussy Fidgety Prim Tin-Eared Thirst for Control and Rules and Power and Money Rather Than the One Simple Thing the Founder Insisted On
Granted, it’s a tough assignment, the original assignment. I get that. Love—Lord help us, could we not have been assigned something easier, like astrophysics or quantum mechanics? But no—love those you cannot love. Love those who are poor and broken and fouled and dirty and sick with sores. Love those who wish to strike you on both cheeks. Love the blowhard, the pompous ass, the arrogant liar. Find the Christ in each heart, even those. Preach the Gospel and only if necessary talk about it. Be the Word. It is easy to advise and pronounce and counsel and suggest and lecture; it is not so easy to do what must be done without sometimes shrieking. Bring love like a bright weapon against the dark. The Rabbi did not say build churches, or retreat houses, or secure a fleet of cars for general use, or convene conferences or issue position papers. He was pretty blunt about the hungry and the naked and the sick. He was not reasonable. We forget this. The Church is not a reasonable idea. The Church should be a verb. When it is only a noun it is not what the Founder asked of us. Let us pray that we are ever after dissolving the formal officious arrogant thing that wants to rise, and ever fomenting the contradictory revolutionary counter-cultural thing that could change life on this planet. It could, you know. Let’s try again today. And so: amen.

Thank you, Brian Doyle.

        Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"Good evening. St. Walburg Monastery"

       “Good evening.  St. Walburg Monastery.”  I gave my usual message when answering the phone.
       “Are you taking new members?”
       “We are.”
       “Well what are the qualifications?”
Taken back by the bluntness of the question I hesitated and then blurted out, “Your best bet is to come and see and we can find out if we would be a good match.”

The brief conversation prompted me to reflect on my own journey.  B.C.; that is, Before Convent I enjoyed life, school and all the pleasures of youth. I thought I was on the path to be married. I also prayed, going to daily Mass frequently, being quietly reflective and studying the Gospels with friends.  One of my favorite places to pray then, and still is, is flat on my back in bed.  So one night I said to Jesus, “I wonder what I’ll be doing next year at this time.”  The answer came back, “You’ll be in the convent (monastery).”  I was shocked.  It was out of the blue.
            So the path began, talking to a priest several times, being interviewed by the prioress, being given a date to enter, finally telling my family and friends, not all of whom were happy. I did come to live here and thus began several years of what might be called the engagement period.  It was a time of discovery for me and for the members of the community.  Needless to say, I did make a life-long commitment. The journey continues. We are a good match.
       Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How Can I Keep from Singing?

                Sixty-seven years ago I was at my home across from Pleasure Isle on Kentucky 17*, making arrangements in preparation for entering St. Walburg Monastery. I had my trunk, my black shoes, my black stockings and my aprons. I had my new Bible and a Missal given to me by my pastor, Father Charles A. Towel who along with Sr. Ancille Happe, was very influential in my becoming a nun.
                As I began writing this post it came to me that I have never once, in these sixty-seven years, doubted or questioned my vocation even during difficult times. That insight came to me as a surprise and as a gift because I often question myself. I say, “I should have done thar “ or “I should not have done this” or “I wish I had or I wish I hadn’t.”

                Every day I grow more grateful for my life as a Benedictine sister. I thank God and my community, family, friends and all who have been part of my life. I finish this post a song comes to me uninvited, “How Can I Keep from Singing!”
        Sr. Justina Franxman, OSB
*For more information about Pleasure Isle, a well know Northern Kentucky pool and picnic area, see,  p. 6.