Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey

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Updated: 1 hour 3 min ago

Happy New Year—Always We Begin Again

Sun, 2020-11-29 11:14
We are less than 24 hours into Advent, and I am officially in love with our new wreath. Designed by our novice, Jen, and assisted by one of our maintenance men in its construction, the wreath is a spiral that winds its way up to Christmas, a holiday with symbolism we so desperately seek this year.
Since Advent starts the new liturgical year, can we just say that it's 2021 now?! Please?!

What is so beautiful about the Advent wreath is not only the structure, but also its symbolism. When we walked into chapel for our first vigil last night, there was a paper with an explanation of the wreath for us to read. (Kudos to whomever wrote this...I don't know where to give credit.)
Symbols surround us. This Advent season, the Advent wreath is one that invites us to remember that we are one (the circle) and that each candle invites us to focus on a specific attribute: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace.
We have inserted the spiral into the center of the wreath to call to mind one of the most ancient symbols in nature, science, and the spiritual journey.
In many ancient cultures the spiral depicts the path that leads the soul to evolve and move toward knowledge of the path of enlightenment. It is also a feminine symbol which is linked to the generative force of the universe and the mystery of birth.
Even science has confirmed that the universe moves in spirals. If you look, spirals are everywhere: from shells to the movement of electrons, from fingerprints to the shape of hurricanes.
The Advent wreath invites you to move around it as it has a different perspective from every point of view. May your Advent journey invite you to do the same.
Great...right? Here are a few more angles that I photographed as the light poured in this morning. Again, this is the best time of year for standing in awe at our stained-glass windows in chapel.

And, of course, what would a new year be without a new baking endeavor. Inspired by the finale of the Great British Baking Show, I decided to try making something I haven't tried before...puff pastry...in the form of pain au chocolat. You have to make dough, and then laminate it with butter by folding and resting the dough three times, creating 81 flaky layers through the gift of exponential growth. I began the process on Friday evening, and they came out of the oven this morning. Yes, they were delicious.
Before...(Yes, that is a slab of butter.)


May your Advent be full of renewed hope, love, joy, and peace.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Parable of the Talents

Mon, 2020-11-16 10:51
These are the reflections I offered on the gospel (Matthew 25:14-30) during yesterday's Liturgy of the Word.

My favorite poem comes from none other than my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. In the poem, At the River Clarion, she begins, “I don’t know who God is exactly.” And she continues, “But I’ll tell you this.” Then Oliver writes about God being part of all creation: the good/the bad, the happy/the unhappy, and so on. She tells us that “we do not live in a simple world,” and a few lines later that “we receive, then we give back.”

I stood up here about eight months ago as I reflected on the Samaritan woman. I told you all that I wanted to practice seeing creation outside a binary view: no good and bad; no right or wrong. I told you that doing this required a movement out of my brain and into my heart.

Well, I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: In my lectio with The Parable of the Talents there is the obvious interpretation toward which my brain instinctively leaps: Use your gifts and don’t squander them, lest something bad happens. There is also the less obvious, like the interpretation Benedictine Abbot John Klassen offered us during our 2018 retreat: Maybe those two servants who doubled their talents took advantage of others to multiply what had been given, and the third servant wasn’t interested in playing the same games. And then there’s the movement into my heart in which Jesus challenges me to go deeper with the parables, not to simply say that I will be punished if I do not use my gifts, or that the older brother should have been less resentful when his younger sibling returned home. We do not live in a simple world.

I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: I hear the third servant say to the master, “I was afraid,” and I connect because I know how often fear becomes the reason I choose to bury my talents: fear of being overextended, fear of not using my gifts perfectly, fear of feeling as though my talents aren’t as useful or as important as someone else’s. It is in those moments when I choose fear that a voice of God enters into my head, saying, “You wicked and lazy servant.”

I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: Those words are not the voice of God. Rather, they are a voice of God that I allow my brain to manifest when fear overtakes love. They are a voice of God that enters my brain when my trust in the goodness of creation, and the piece I am of it, wanes.

The Parable of The Talents is not about God judging me for my choices. That’s a simple way for my brain to explain away my own judgments of how I use, or fail to use, my gifts, and we do not live in a simple world. For me, this parable is about what happens when I bury my talents in fear. And in those moments, God does not punish me and send me away. No, what God does is beckon me closer to the Source of Love; God uses the Holy Fire deep within to illuminate more clearly all that I have received, and to ignite me to give it all back. At least that has been my experience thus far. But, that beckoning does feel like a punishment when I would rather take the easy road and ignore the sacred wealth I have received.

I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: God has entered our human existence in the fullest way. And if God is here in our midst, and we take that truth seriously, then we, too, must become that beckoning divine source for one another in community. We must challenge the fear-based behaviors around us. When we challenge with love, it is not a punishment, but rather a call to the conversatio that we have vowed to one another.

I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: I have no idea how God is going to continue challenging me to use my talents. But I know that if I believe in a God who will call me a wicked and lazy servant, I will be fearful to use them. I believe that our God, who is here and now, and who will come again, we know not when, is an all-encompassing pulse of love. There’s no possibility for any of us to be wicked and lazy servants in the heart of that Love. The voice of God says to us, “Your pulse beats in rhythm with mine. You can trust what you have received, and give it back freely. That’s all it takes for a job well done.”

May we continue to live in the Love of God.
Let us walk in the holy presence.
P.S. Pray for our beloved Amma Willow. The intense wind in NWPA uprooted her yesterday.

Do you have time to linger?

Thu, 2020-11-12 10:57
With the gift of a late start to the workday yesterday, I found myself in my room while the birds were eating breakfast. I had also noticed that my feeder on my window was beginning to slip. I opened it up to try and fix the suction cups, but it didn't work. I decided to hold out the feeder since the birds were still flying close by. After some continued to land in my "hand-held feeder," I thought I would try something that I've been meaning to do for a while.
One of my sisters had told me that she was able to get birds to land directly in her hand when she held food there. A bird-tamer of sorts, she showed up at the same time each day, and the birds, as smart as they are, began showing up with her. It wasn't long before she literally had them eating out of her hands!
After a little experimentation myself, combined with a little morning lingering, I enjoyed the same beauty and joy. For all you bird lovers, it was as wonderful as you might imagine. A treat for all!

And a bonus...an iris blooming in fall!

Let us walk in the holy presence.
InvitationMary Oliver
Oh do you have timeto lingerfor just a little whileout of your busy
and very important dayfor the goldfinchesthat have gatheredin a field of thistles
for a musical battle,to see who can singthe highest note,or the lowest,
or the most expressive of mirth,or the most tender?Their strong, blunt beaksdrink the air
as they strivemelodiouslynot for your sakeand not for mine
and not for the sake of winningbut for sheer delight and gratitude –believe us, they say,it is a serious thing
just to be aliveon this fresh morningin the broken world.I beg of you,
do not walk bywithout pausingto attend to thisrather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something.It could mean everything.It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:You must change your life.

A Song Keeping Me Going These Days

Mon, 2020-11-02 23:02
Yes, just like everyone else, I am experiencing very human days lately. My emotions are a little bit of everywhere, and this afternoon I could feel my election anxiety beginning to spike even higher.

I am grateful that our community is part of the group of women religious vigiling for peace, for the safety of voters and poll workers, and for the unity of our country. We are taking turns here, in quiet prayer in our chapel, from 8pm this evening through 8pm tomorrow night. I just returned from my 30-minute contribution a moment ago.
May you find moments of peace tomorrow and beyond. I hope this song, that I found via a friend's Facebook post, gives you a moment of respite, too.
Please. Please. Please. VOTE.
From my home to yours, peace upon you and upon our country.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Finding Monasticism in Pop Culture

Fri, 2020-10-23 11:26
I am not exactly sure when I started watching Schitt's Creek, the comedy series that recently swept the Emmy awards. But I very much remember getting misty-eyed while watching the series finale, which is saying a lot for this gal who rarely sheds a tear.
If you haven't watched or heard, the premise of Schitt's Creek centers on a wealthy family, the Rose's, who lose all their wealth and must relocate to a town named Schitt's Creek, which they had once purchased as a joke. The family ends up forming relationships with the residents there and lots of great stories follow.

The other day my friend and I were talking about the show. She is currently breezing her way through and falling in love as I did. She had sent me a text the night before about a particular character, "Really cheering for Alexis and all her self-growth." Young monk that I am, the word conversatio came to mind, and I thought of all the characters. Each of them goes through their own journey of conversion, of selfish to selfless, of greedy to giving, during the six seasons of the show. It's one mark of a show that I know I am going to love. As we talked, she said that she has been paying to attention to the places where monasticism intersects with pop culture these days.

Naturally, the other two monastic vows came to mind: obedience and stability. And there's lots of that in the show, too. In the relationships formed, the family learns to listen to people that they normally wouldn't even give a first chance...obedience. And they grow deeply committed to the community there, creating strong bonds and contributing to the greater good...stability.
Without giving away anything else, let me highly recommend Schitt's Creek to you!
Let us walk in the holy presence.
fun socks I received in the mail yesterday...a beautiful example of someone committed to conversion, obedience, stability.

Covid Travels

Tue, 2020-10-13 15:14
I made my first excursion out of Erie (at least my first in the past six months!) last week to visit my new nephew back home. An odd experience to travel with plenty of gloves for pumping gas, constant applications of hand sanitizer, and a general heightened awareness of my surroundings, but all was worth it to hold the newest member of the family. Even Bob Ross reminded us to wear our masks at the art store!

So, there was lots of time spent outside, and I was thankful for the lovely fall weather. Here are some scenes from the opposite corner of Pennsylvania.

We enjoyed a walk in Cedar Creek Park on a sunny afternoon. Literally fifteen minutes from my house, I don't think I'd ever been there my entire life, at least within my range of memory! There are lovely Rose Gardens are located in the park, as well. It was a perfect little oasis in the middle of Allentown.
I had, on the other hand, been to Lake Nockamixon many times before, having gone there every summer for a hike and a picnic when we were younger. But with only childhood memories, it was great to experience anew. Again, a totally gorgeous day.

But, of course, wherever you are these days, the political divide remains the same. I had to chuckle upon spotting these twin homes in my hometown while out for a walk.

It's always an eye-opening to return home because I have different eyes each visit. Oh, the gift of evolution. I was grateful for a more "outside visit" that allowed me to explore some places I otherwise wouldn't have experienced.
Now, to quarantine...!!!
Let us walk in the holy presence.

The sea says...

Tue, 2020-09-29 15:25
I'd been planning to post this particular Mary Oliver poem on the blog for a week or two, and it showed up in my inbox yesterday morning, so I figured it must be the time to post it here, too:
I Go Down To The ShoreI go down to the shore in the morningand depending on the hour the wavesare rolling in or moving out,and I say, oh, I am miserable,what shall—what should I do? And the sea saysin its lovely voice:Excuse me, I have work to do.”
It certainly can't hurt to read those words more than once, or twice, or...
Of course, it's so easy to feel miserable these days, and yet, it also feels like there is more work to do than ever. How do we discern the part we are called to contribute when there is so much calling us? How do we not get overwhelmed by the enormity of it all?
These are questions that so many are asking right now.
I enjoyed my own little wake-up call on a long bike ride around the peninsula last week.

Let us continue the work of Love. Who is the voice of the sea for you these days?
Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Skies in Erie

Mon, 2020-09-14 14:52

OneMary Oliver
The mosquito is so smallit takes almost nothing to ruin it.Each leaf, the same.And the black ant, hurrying.So many lives, so many fortunes!Every morning, I walk softly and with forward glancesdown to the ponds and through the pinewoods.Mushrooms, even, have but a brief hourbefore the slug creeps to the feast,before the pine needles hustle downunder the bundles of harsh, beneficent rain.
How many, how many, how manymake up a world!And then I think of that old idea: the singularand the eternal.One cup, in which everything is swirledback to the color of the sea and sky.Imagine it!
A shining cup, surely!In the moment in which there is no windover your shoulder,you stare down into it,and there you are,your own darling face, your own eyes.And then the wind, not thinking of you, just passes by,touching the ant, the mosquito, the leaf,and you know what else!How blue is the sea, how blue is the sky,how blue and tiny and redeemable everything is, even you,even your eyes, even your imagination.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Now, with hearts free from fear...

Tue, 2020-09-01 14:16
With my sisters I've proclaimed the Benedictus, Zechariah's Canticle, each morning for five years. And in these past few weeks, the words are hitting home in new ways. The canticle, based on Zechariah's prophesy in Luke 1:68-79, follows both Mary's own canticle, the Magnificat, and the birth of John the Baptist, his son.
With so many parts of life in transition, in liminal space, in uncertainty right now; the general state of affairs across the globe; as well as anything else that enters my heart-space at any given moment, anxiety and fear often creep in, too. I was feeling particularly anxious and fearful one morning the other week as we all made the Sign of the Cross and began singing in choruses. Then, in the third stanza of the Benedictus, it was our turn again. We proclaimed:
Now, with hearts free from fear,we stand in your presence all our days,holy and acceptable to you,O loving Creator.
And that was it. That was the answer. We stand in God's presence, our hearts free from fear. As if I didn't already know that truth.

But, it's not really that easy. Yes, I know for certain that it's not that easy. Standing constantly in the Holy Presence, much less walking in it, is far from a given, even for those of us who commit our lives and make vows to try to do so faithfully and daily. But I wondered how I hadn't been touched by those words in such a significant way before...you know...having sung or heard them approximately 2,555 times prior.
Perhaps that's the gift of the quotidian practice of attentiveness and intentionality.
My freedom from fear, from useless worry, from anxiety comes when I live openly and honestly in God's presence. God acts as my salvation from the hands of anything less than Love. And even better than that, my open and honest and sometimes far-from-perfect living in that presence is both holy and acceptable. What a message to hear and savor each day during these months that have stretched us in copious demanding and unique ways.
But, it doesn't stop there. In this particular translation, the final stanza affirms the steadfastness of God's love this way:
In your tender compassionthe morning sun will rise upon us,giving light to those in darknessand guiding us in ways of peace.
(Text by Jean Wolbert, OSB)
Here comes the sun, indeed.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Five Years Later, a Review

Tue, 2020-08-25 07:59
There is a sister in our community who is quite remarkable in her ability to keep track of even the smallest anniversaries. Although one might want to roll her eyes when being reminded that it’s the seventeenth anniversary of the day when the community first used the blue tablecloths, you cannot help but appreciate the sentimental side of these celebrations. (And, I might be exaggerating anyway.)

Today marks five years since I packed up my beloved Chevy Malibu and drove from one corner of the state to the other, moving into the monastery to begin my journey into the Benedictine life.
I know this because I just filled in the final space in my five-year journal that I purchased before I moved to Erie. Knowing that the formation process was around five years, give-or-take, and seeing it online a month or so prior, I knew this little book would be a good use of my still-existing-at-that-time bank account.

Each page lists a day of the year at the top and has five lined spaces underneath for each year to fill in with a few memories about the day. I remember filling it in during those early days, wondering so many things, and now that it’s completely filled, it chronicles what has been an overall joyful span of time, full of some growth and many beautiful relationships.
As I was reflecting on my day yesterday, deciding what to write, I thought of something I’d heard. One of my sisters defined monasticism as a “rhythm of life that fosters mindfulness.” Perfectly-stated. Yesterday went a bit like this: after morning praise, I sat down with extra coffee and Sue Monk Kidd’s new novel, a fictional take on Jesus’ wife, named Ana. I rode my bike to the office and had two conversations with sisters who I consider wisdom figures in my life. I headed over to the soup kitchen where I began to make meat sauce, as I was preparing fourteen lasagnas to serve for dinner that evening with some help from others. I interacted with staff members, as well as people simply dropping off donations. We cut up fresh vegetables from the garden to use in the salad, and some oblates who I consider friends came to help serve the meal. Then I rode my bike back home before evening prayer. I had a meeting for some ministry work I am doing, and I helped a friend with a little project after dinner. If there’s ever been a day that I would define as “monastic,” it would look quite a bit like my day yesterday.
As I wound down for the night, I decided to go back to my journals from August 2015 and reflect on where I was when I set out on the path half a decade ago. I found this entry from a week before my move:

I cannot help but believe that I am doing the exact right thing. I need to practice being comfortable in challenging conversations. I need to practice being okay with vulnerability. I need to practice living into the moment without my brain taking over. I need to practice knowing that things are okay. And, I know that Erie, with this community, is the place to practice these things.

Looking back, I think I was right to say all of those things—because the sentiment in the hymn we sang this morning at prayer captures it all:
Gathered in the love of Christ,We are one in the family of God,We are the dwelling place that love has made,We are formed to be goodness and light in the world.

God is light in God there is no darkness,
Let us walk in the light of life,
If we live in God, then we must love each other,
Ever follow the way of truth and life.
(Marty Haugen)

We are fostering mindful lives of prayer and relationship in this community, in ways that make God’s light visible to others. I am grateful to be here, continuing to practice “this little path for beginners” that Benedict gifted us 5x300 years ago.
Let us walk in the holy presence.
Still so grateful to live by the lake!

A New Prioress, A New Experience

Tue, 2020-08-18 15:27
I tried to listen to my sisters as carefully as possible as they told me their memories of previous prioress installations. It was the first time for me, and my curiosity was running high.

One told me about an old practice; the newly-elected prioress assumed the position immediately after the election—how daunting!

Another told me that the community used to go up and kiss her ring, just like the pope!
On Saturday Sister Stephanie Schmidt became our new prioress during a late-afternoon ceremony. It really was quite moving. She had been elected back in July, not only minutes before like the "old days." And we didn't kiss her ring, but she did give each of us a photograph she had taken with the words "With God all things are possible" overlaid on the image.
Sister Anne, our outgoing prioress, asked Stephanie if she accepted the community's call, and after she said that she did, there was a line in which the community said together, "Sister Stephanie, our prioress," and it hit me. There was a new prioress. If you hadn't been paying too much attention to the words, you might not have even realized it happened. It was just a simple verbal consent that changed everything.
But, of course, we know that that is how it goes with words. So mundane, so powerful.
Joan Chittister's commentary on the Rule of Benedict regarding the prioress offers these words, among other reflections:
At the end of an entire series of injunctions and prescriptions, Benedict suddenly reintroduces a description of the kind of abbot or prioress whom he believes should guide a Benedictine community. He is, in other words, giving us a theology of authority or parenting or leadership. The Talmud reads, "Happy is the time where the great listen to the small, for in such a generation the small will listen to the great." In the Rule of Benedict the prioress and abbot are told to display the good like a blazing fire but always to "let mercy triumph over judgment" and to "strive to be loved rather than feared." Authority in Benedictine spirituality is not an end in itself nor is it an excuse to oppress the people from whom all law is made. Law is simply a candle on the path of life to lead us to the good we seek.
Let us be grateful for Sisters Stephanie and Anne, as well as all Benedictine leaders, as they guide us with humility and love toward goodness and fullness of life.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

P.S. Here is some of my photo journal from the day.
I decided to make homemade sticky buns for the community to enjoy at breakfast time! Try to figure out which one received an early taste test from me!

We, in initial monastic formation, decorated the community room. I enjoyed helping with flowers—gladioli on the divider (still coming into full bloom now!) and Black-eyed Susans for the dining room tables.

And from our celebratory drive-by greeting with oblates and friends...(Read about it here.)
Waiting for everyone to arrive!
Getting ready to take photos.
Having a little fun with some outdoor toys.
We miss you all!