Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey

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Updated: 49 min 30 sec ago

All You Holy Women

Sun, 2019-06-16 13:00
“God comes to us as we are and allows our abilities to express Divine Truth.” I heard one of my sisters say this a few weeks ago. An obviously powerful line, it stuck with me.

I heard another one of my sisters say to me the other day, “I feel like admitting that you are a perfectionist is half the battle, like, ‘Hi, I’m Val, and I am a perfectionist.’”
This past week the community has slowed down to take in our annual retreat. As mentioned in my last post, our sister, Joan, directed us through these days. She told stories of sisters about whom she had journaled during her time as prioress, sisters who came in at the top of the list in community rank back in the 80’s. These elder sisters had lots to teach her about the wisdom it takes to live life well, and she used this week to share that wisdom with us. She partnered each highlighted sister with a quality of the spiritual life, reflected on its different facets, and offered questions for our own growth. These conferences were loaded with wonderfully insightful material, even though at times it felt overwhelming—the amount of self-reflection possible with such meaty, developed reflections.

Compassion combined with selfishness; serenity combined with anxiety...and so on...Joan examined both sides of ten qualities. On our desert day, Joan combined vitality with perfectionism.
Oh no.
Just what this perfectionist needed to enter a day of silence and solitude...the aspect of myself that makes the most noise in my head and that tries to partner up with me most often to try and pull me away from my Divine Truth.
I have to admit; it wasn’t easy. Nope.

Because then I had an entire day to reflect on what I heard: “Perfection is bad for you the way smoking is bad for you.” “Perfectionism is an illusion.”

Perfectionism is this vicious cycle for me. The vulnerability that it takes to inch away from perfectionism by admitting your humanity—your incompleteness in order to grow into your true self, that vulnerability is often so difficult to muster up in the first place because of said perfectionism. And I know that I am not the only one with the challenge because I heard and saw others resonating, but perfectionism is often lonely because it’s hard to talk about.

I am so grateful for the retreat that Joan gifted to us; it reminded me of the history behind me, supporting me, upholding me. These women who compose our Benedictine family still offer us gifts, too—they remind me that I am on a journey, not only my own, but communally, too. They remind me to laugh about my daily foibles and general humanity that usually cause me to beat up on myself. They remind me to seek and live from my Divine Truth. They remind me to keep running on the path of love.

All you holy women, come and be with us.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Communal Retreat

Mon, 2019-06-10 13:08
This week our community, along with friends/oblates, will enter into retreat together.

Pray for us (as we will for you) while we hear our own Joan Chittister speak on women and holiness--an opportunity for reflection and growth.

Until we meet again...

Mary Oliver gives us her wisdom.

First Happenings
A morning-glory morning with its usual glory,
dawn particularly startling with citrons and
mauves, petunias in the garden flashing their
tender signals of gratitude. The sunflowers
creak in their grass-colored dresses. Cosmos,
the four o'clocks, the sweet alyssum nod to
the roses who so very politely nod back.

And now it is time to go to work. At my desk
I look out over the fluttering petals, little
fires. Each one fresh and almost but not quite

Consider wearing such a satisfying body!
Consider being, with your entire self, such
a quiet prayer!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

(Planting our own quiet prayers--four rows of corn--to be greeted in a couple of months!)

Goslings, Double the Fun!

Mon, 2019-06-03 18:41
This weekend I went for a run. As I headed back toward the monastery, I noticed a family of geese crossing the road. The goslings grow so fast!

Which got me thinking: goslings. It’s June! Teachers are in the homestretch! I remember those days when I was teaching fourth grade, just waiting for that last day, totally exhausted. We would be at the point in the year where we would have kids balance ice cubes on their heads in contests. Yes, there was no air conditioning!

I thought about the Ryan Gosling “Hey girl” memes. Here are a few for those teachers in the homestretch looking for a laugh. (All from Google Images.)

Stay strong, teachers! We’re with you!

Summer is coming!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Joy and The Challenge of Solitude

Mon, 2019-05-27 20:30
I spent the long weekend enjoying some down time over at Glinodo. Although I crave regular doses of solitude, I am usually more than uninterested in dealing with the personal “stuff” that solitude allows to arise. Oh well—it’s a trade-off, I presume. I do love solitude, though, because while all that “stuff” is arising, I sense deep peace, too. Solitude reminds me that I can—and must—find peace amidst the complexity and challenge of being human.
And when that doesn’t work, just go to nature! Here’s a few scenes from Friday’s sunset.

Just as the Calendar Began to Say SummerMary Oliver
I went out of the schoolhouse fastand through the gardens and to the woods,and spent all summer forgetting what I’d been taught—
two times two, and diligence, and so forth,how to be modest and useful, and how to succeed and so forth,machines and oil and plastic and money and so forth.
By fall I had healed somewhat, but was summoned backto the chalky rooms and the desks, to sit and remember
the way the river kept rolling its pebbles,the way the wild wrens sang though they hadn’t a penny in the bank,the way the flowers were dressed in nothing but light.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Continued Communal, Culinary Creations!

Sat, 2019-05-11 12:16
In the kitchen I played again, this time attempting to create something playful for a 6-year old going on 7. My friend’s daughter celebrated her birthday this past week, and I offered to make the treats. My friend showed me a picture of unicorn cupcakes, unicorns being “all the rage” these days for the kiddos. Although I hadn’t attempted anything like it, I said, “Sure, I can do that!”
Away we went.
Of course, I must say “we” because I did not pull this off on my own...community coming to the rescue yet again. I had to make fondant for the first time to shape the unicorn horns and ears, as well as tie-dye frosting for the first time, too. After some internet research, I had a plan. Here’s how these edible, sweet unicorns came to life.

This was the creation of fondant. Although the recipe claimed that it would be a messy experience, I should have trusted the words a bit more. Melting marshmallows, adding heaps of confectioner’s sugar, and kneading it all together left us gooey and full of laughs. Thanks to all who cut open bags of sugar, scraped the mess off our hands, and a special “Thank you!” to the saint who cleaned up the sticky remnants when we only had 6 minutes left to get to our new class on the Gospel of John!

The next afternoon, I ventured to create tie-dye frosting in bright colors. This involved making icing, dividing it up and coloring it vibrantly, then placing it in a piping bag in thirds. Finally, squeeze away!

Lastly, the belles of the ball, the unicorns! Fondant was much harder to work with and much more unwieldy than expected. You can see how the “slimy substance” became more solid overnight and with—yes!—more sugar. This got rolled out and shaped into horns and ears. Jackie was an inspired co-decorator!
What fun it was to create these little mythical, magical monsters. And when I saw the recipient’s reaction, “Oh wow! These are beautiful!” the effort was well worth it!
Let us walk in the holy presence.

P.S. Bonus! Spring-time-flowers-and-unfurling-ferns edition!

Liminality & Becoming

Sun, 2019-05-05 17:11
I am not sure how many posts I’ve written about liminality since I began writing this blog, but I know it’s at least a handful.

It’s impossible to not write about it yet again as we have reached a unique time nestled within the season of spring, the time in which trees become a home for both flowers and leaves in the same moment. I took notice this morning while running, and then again while looking at the gorgeous tree outside our library window with another sister later in the day. I thought about how the trees know they must transform those lovely blooms in favor of the leaves that will sustain them in the summer and into the fall—less showy, for sure, but outstanding nonetheless.

I thought about how full of life and color we are in our youth and how things might mask themselves as sameness in our lives as we get older, but the green on those leaves certainly changes throughout the months they live on branches.

I thought about my friend who entered the monastery one week ago, who is definitely lingering in liminal space. I thought about myself, who feels settled at times, but who is still most definitely living liminality in discerning her vocation. (I think about this each Sunday as we pray for those discerning a vocation in our Prayers of the Faithful; although some might think of those people as the women who are considering entering the community, that prayer spans a larger group—in my opinion.)

I thought about my sisters who have lived this life for a decade, or maybe many decades. They must discern to stay and live this life each day; anyone living life authentically must do it each day with whatever path they have chosen.

Liminality is an uncomfortable reality of being human; there is no certainty. And that uncertainty and liminality—they’re constant, though some experiences of them are more pronounced than others. Besides experiencing liminality in nature, I think I might be pondering this because I just finished reading Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. In the epilogue, she writes:

For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as a forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end...It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.

I want to be patient with my liminality, as much as it makes me feel weird inside. I want to be patient with others’ liminality, recognizing the call to compassion when being present to others in their evolving. I want to be rigorous about attempting to live authentically. I want to learn from the trees.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

All that fog: unable to see what came next on the morning’s run
Living in-between: Our lovely tree outside the library
Another teacher

Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!

Mon, 2019-04-29 14:35
Although she has been helping out on dish teams, reading at prayer regularly, and working at a community ministry for more than a year, yesterday was a special day, indeed. The Erie Benedictine community welcomed Jackie Small as a postulant, the first part of the journey toward discerning a monastic vocation with our community.

The ceremony, which involves knocking on the door to the welcome and blessing of the women who create the community, is simple, yet touching. I still remember looking at the group of people in front of me when I knocked three and a half years ago and seeing those women who would teach, guide, listen, and accompany; it was a bit overwhelming and so full of gratitude

Whatever Jackie ends up discerning for herself, we are graced with her presence in the here and now, and we offer our prayers of support to her. Of course, I might be a bit biased, but I hope her journey with the community lasts and lasts and joy and more of it.

Jackie is a wise woman, a passionate voice, and a true seeker. Yay for us all!

This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
She did not cry, “I cannot, I am not worthy,”
nor, “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

(Consent, by Denise Levertov)

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Happy Dirt Day!

Mon, 2019-04-22 16:39
Today is a gorgeous, sunny day here in Erie, the perfect day for Jackie Small, our upcoming newest postulant, to move into the monastery. It also happens to be Earth Day, a perfect day to celebrate the new life that Easter brought us this weekend. As I took a walk in the sunshine today, I listened to a fantastic episode of On Being featuring the poet Sharon Olds. In it, she read a poem called Ode To Dirt, and I couldn’t help posting it here on this feast of our planet, our land and waters so in need of the new life and love that we can offer to them.

Also, enjoy a photo of Jackie holding dirt, or to be more politically correct, soil. One of Jackie’s resolutions, as she tries on monastic life, is to grow a deeper appreciation for nature. Call this photo “forced growth” on my part, a pre-official-entrance foray into conversatio morum.

Dear dirt, I am sorry I slighted you,
I thought that you were only the background
for the leading characters—the plants
and animals and human animals.
It’s as if I had loved only the stars
and not the sky which gave them space
in which to shine. Subtle, various,
sensitive, you are the skin of our terrain,
you’re our democracy. When I understood
I had never honored you as a living
equal, I was ashamed of myself,
as if I had not recognized
a character who looked so different from me,
but now I can see us all, made of the

same basic materials—
cousins of that first exploding from nothing—
in our intricate equation together. O dirt,
help us find ways to serve your life,
you who have brought us forth, and fed us,
and who at the end will take us in
and rotate with us, and wobble, and orbit.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Welcome, Jackie!

Waiting—“Triduum at the Monastery” edition

Sat, 2019-04-20 19:49
Triduum has been a most blessed time here at the Mount. And now, “This is the night.” Here is a bit of a photo log from the past few days.

The tables waiting for Holy Thursday dinner...

The fog waiting to clear on Good Friday morning...

This year’s Good Friday Peace Pilgrimage focused on the climate crisis. Cherylann was a beautiful Mother Earth, waiting to begin the Stations...
Processing down State Street to Dobbins Landing, waiting at the crosswalk...
The Vigil candles lit walking into chapel, waiting for the day to break...
The Tenebrae candles ready for prayer, waiting to be lit...
Flowers waiting to be placed...
The Easter cloth unfurling over the balcony, waiting to be seen...
The Easter fire, waiting to ignite us into “Alleluia”...
The Exultet waiting to be proclaimed...
A chickadee feasting at the window, waiting for me not to look...
How I’ll feast tomorrow!
The wait is over. Gone is the night.
Happy Easter everyone!
Let us walk in the Holy Paschal Presence.

A Weekend of Wonders

Mon, 2019-04-15 13:20
This past weekend held much magic and wonder:
  • An early-morning bike ride in which the day slowly revealed itself
  • The first hammock sit/read of the year
  • An incorporation of Mary Oliver poetry into a Lenten reflection
  • A pitch-perfect Passion Sunday Liturgy
  • A gearing-up for Holy Week via practices and anticipatory Spirit
  • A birthday celebration gathering/garden blessing/friend sing-along

It was just lovely. 
Private LivesAllan Peterson

How orb-weavers patch up the air in places
like fibrinogen, or live in the fence lock.
How the broom holds lizards.
How if you stand back you will miss them
afflicted by sunset,
the digger bees mining the yard,
birds too fast to have shadows,
the life that lives in the wren whistle.
You will see moth-clouds
that are moving breaths
and perhaps something like the star
that fell on Alabama
through the roof of Mrs. E. Hulitt Hodges
and hit her radio, then her.
No, you must be close for the real story.
I remember being made
to stand in the corner for punishment
because it would be dull and empty
and I would be sorry.
But instead it was a museum of small wonders,
a place of three walls
with a weather my breath influenced,
an archaeology of layers, of painted molding,
a meadow as we called them then
of repeatable pale roses,
an eight-eyed spider in a tear of wallpaper
turning my corner.
The texture. The soft echo if I talked,
if I said I am not bad if this is the world.

Let us seek and find the smallest of wonders in this holiest of weeks.
Let us walk in the holy presence.


Tue, 2019-04-09 08:09
This past weekend we enjoyed an inter-community formation gathering in Villa Maria, PA, as we do a few times each year. Fr. Tony Gittins, CSSp was the presenter; he spoke on intercultural mission, and he was quite a fine presenter at that. Tony used the sessions to help define for us interculturality, distinguish it from multiculturality and crossculturality, and incorporate these ideas into the Christ life and discipleship.
Tony even admonished us to never put our race on a form; always write in the word "human," as is the truth of our shared life. This made me think of these words from Joseph Campbell, this week's poem for National Poetry Month.
The divine manifestation is ubiquitous,
Only our eyes are not open to it.
Awe is what moves us forward.

Live from your own center.
The divine lives within you.
The separateness apparent in the world is secondary.
Beyond the world of opposites is an unseen,
but experienced, unity and identity in us all.

Today the planet is the only proper “in group.”
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
We cannot cure the world of sorrows,
but we can choose to live in joy.

You must return with the bliss and integrate it.
The return is seeing the radiance is everywhere.
The world is a match for us.
We are a match for the world.
The spirit is the bouquet of nature.

Sanctify the place you are in.
Follow your bliss...

Let us walk in the holy presence.
total bliss imbibing the gift of morning in the natural world

Poetry, Again...Or Always

Tue, 2019-04-02 12:58
It's that time of year again; April marks National Poetry Month—a rather joy-filled time for all of us lovers of verse. So, in keeping with tradition, I will exclusively post poems this month.

Naturally, I begin with Mary Oliver. This selection, Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?, is a bit longer than usual, but it came to mind during some recent conversations I've had about showing up as our whole self—a not-so-often-easy thing to do. First we must discover the truth of who we are, and then we must live that truth with integrity. From my young understanding, it takes a lifetime. Read about Mary Oliver's own journey of discovery.

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches
     of other lives—
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey,
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early summer,
     feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
     with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over
     the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
     that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
     in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
     with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left—
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
     from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one's foot into the door of the grass, which is
     the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
     not be afraid!

To set one's foot in the door of death, and be overcome
     with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
     god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,

nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
     present hour,

to the song falling out of the mockingbird's pink mouth,

to the tiplets of the honeysuckle, that have opened
     in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
     to the wild roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge-red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
    caution and prudence?

Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what's coming next
     is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
     upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn't ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean's edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

Cheers to poetry! Cheers to the journey!

Let us all ramble back home.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Feasting During Lent

Sun, 2019-03-24 19:29
There’s really nothing we can do about the Liturgical calendar...except embrace it.

On March 17th we celebrate St. Patrick. (He is the patron saint of our diocese.)

On March 19th we celebrate St. Joseph.

On March 21st we celebrate St. Benedict.

It makes for an interesting Lent with so many major days interspersed. You feel like you’ve just caught your breath, and then you hear people asking people to read Scripture at Easter Vigil.

True story.

In feeling overwhelmed by the pace the past few weeks, today we heard a nice homily from our presider, reminding us to simply be. A welcome Lenten reminder, indeed.

Here are some reminders from nature “to simply be” that I’ve glimpsed the past few days:

A shamrock that I had to re-root...Happy Feast, St. Patrick!

The sun glistening on Seven-Mile creek:

A wonderful Lake Erie sunset, taken at 8:14pm! (Hoorah for lengthening days!)

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Lingering with Mary

Tue, 2019-03-12 20:11
Oh do you have time
     to linger
          for just a little while
               out of your busy

and very important day
     for the goldfinches
          that have gathered
               in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
     to see who can sing
          the highest note,
                or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
     or the most tender?
          their strong, blunt beaks
               drink the air

as they strive
          not for your sake
               and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
     but for sheer delight and gratitude—
          believe us, they say,
               it is a serious thing

just to be alive
    on this fresh morning
          in this broken world.
               I beg of you,

do not walk by
     without pausing
          to attend to this
               rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
     It could mean everything.
          It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
               You must change your life.

Last Thursday a group gathered at The Writing Studio at St. Mary's to celebrate the life of poet Mary Oliver, who died in January. There were readings of Oliver's poems, stories about the ways that she affected lives, and anecdotes about the power of the late poet's words to make us think, reflect, and pay attention.

All in all it was a joyful evening, giving us an opportunity to relax and enjoy each other's company while sharing--a real gift of community. I have been thinking about this poem of Mary Oliver's, Invitation, as I continue to spend extra time with her words following her death.

To be attentive to the simple gift of life, all around all the time, always available to us when we stop. Yes, the world aches, and yes, the world is beautiful all the same. This Lenten season calls me to let go of my own agenda for myself a bit, with its self-created demands for personal growth, and to attend to the "rather ridiculous performances" which bring me out of my self daily--feasts for the heart and soul.

Thank you, Mary, for the reminder. And thank you to those who gathered to celebrate her.

Let us walk in the holy presence.