Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey

Subscribe to Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey feed
Updated: 7 min 27 sec ago

A "Busy," "Normal" Weekend

Sun, 2021-02-28 21:04
You know how sometimes you experience moments, and they almost feel "normal." Like a moment that you would have experienced before March 2020. This weekend had a touch of that.

On Saturday we heard an excellent presentation on contemplation and grief. When I say "excellent," I mean, it was the kind of material that one works with for the rest of her life. One of the lines that I wrote down and will contemplate for a while was:

I have to believe that I can never have an experience apart from God.

Today we listened in on Zoom as our sister, Joan, spoke on the theme of beauty to inaugurate a lecture series on Art and Spirituality sponsored by the Pucker Gallery, where much of the pottery collection of Brother Thomas, who was an artist-in-residence in our community, is located.
Today, in the mild, about 50-degree weather, I even gave a haircut to one of my sister's outside!
Last night, in our Lenten vigil reflections, we heard about "sacred encounters" as this weekend's gospel was the Transfiguration. Our sister who reflected reminded us, so simply and wonderfully, that all experiences have the potential to be a sacred encounter with the present moment, with the Divine.
I have to believe that I can never have an experience apart from God, indeed.
This weekend was full of those holy moments. I hope you had a few, too.
Blessings as we continue on this journey.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Our squirrel friend is usually not so still and centered while on the feeder pole.He's usually an acrobat! In this moment, a Zen master! Goals.

In-between, yet again

Tue, 2021-02-16 08:05
I was indulging in some winter self-care the other morning, a February necessity. Sure, there are thoughts and memories of spring, but not yet any visible signs presenting themselves in nature. We are straddling that space—the in-between of winter and spring, as the feast we celebrated on the first day of this month, Imbolc, reminds us. Imbolc marks winter's midpoint, and it is also the Feast Day of St. Brigid of Kildare, that wonderful woman saint who you'll remember by her miracle where she turned water into beer.
I've made it pretty clear that winter is not my strong suit, but I am trudging through. I haven't been outside yet today, or checked any official measurements, but by simply looking out the window, it seems as though last night's storm wasn't as bad as predicted here in Erie. We pray for those in the south and midwest going through major power outages and conditions very much unseasonable even by winter standards in those areas.
The other day I smiled when I looked at the "divider," as we call it here at the monastery (it divides the dining room and community room), and saw this very visible reminder that we are in-between winter and spring...a poinsettia and a daffodil! Ha! Yes, there is snow outside, but it is no longer completely dark as we leave evening prayer these days.
We are on the way.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Some Thoughts on The Words of Jesus

Mon, 2021-02-01 10:13
During quarantine I have been reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart with my friend. We have spent time talking about the relationship between the Buddhist teachings found in the book and the teachings of our Christian faith. After reading a particularly challenging chapter, my friend, summing up what we read, used her own words to quote Jesus:

“Drop everything and follow me.”

Or, as Matthew 19, verse 21 says: “‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to poor people, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.’”

Jesus doubles down on what it means to follow the call of Christ. We heard it just last week in the first chapter of Mark (vv. 17-18): “Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me; I will make you fishers of humankind.’ They immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus.” And again in chapter 9 of Luke (v. 3): “Jesus told them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither walking staff, nor traveling bag, nor bread, nor money. Don’t even take a change of clothes.’”

In other words, “Drop everything and follow me.”

The reason these words left me astounded was in the connection to Pema’s writing. When I think of dropping everything to follow Jesus, I think of dropping my possessions, my agenda, maybe the physical proximity of relationships I treasure.

Pema says the way to inner freedom is through an embrace of the three truths of our existence: impermanence, suffering, and egolessness. Impermanence in every regard: of our emotions, of the present moment, impermanence even of our suffering. Nothing—not the good, or the bad, the happy or the sad, or the labels we put on any of it—lasts. Because of this, we can practice relaxing with what’s in front of us because it’s going to pass. We can practice embracing and then dropping it all: our emotions, our current realities, and especially our judgments about it all. When we are able to drop the moment, recognizing that its very nature is to come and go, we experience freedom and peace. Simple, right? Needless to say, this has been very important pandemic reading.

Our Christian dharma says that freedom comes from following and living the arc of Jesus’ life with him. Egolessness, suffering, and impermanence, by other words, are the way of humility and resurrection. The way to follow Christ is to let go. But, this isn’t just about dropping my possessions, or letting go of whatever I’m doing. To truly follow Christ I have to drop so much more, and it’s really hard stuff to drop. I have to be willing to drop my grudges, my sense of security, my view of right and wrong, my expectations, and even the things that make me happy and feel good. In that letting go, I will find a very tender openness that readies me to welcome what comes next.

In that emptiness, I have to be able to hold everything ever-so-loosely and let go even of the things I love. Haven’t we learned that over and over again this past year? All we have is the present moment. And we gracefully drop that so the next moment might arise in us unhindered by our expectations and our ego. We let life resurrect, and in turn, we find that we ourselves are doing the same.

Isn’t this the way of Christ—humility and resurrection? Isn’t that the faith we profess to live?

Drop everything and follow Jesus.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

*Bible verses quoted from The Inclusive Bible.

Spot the Difference

Tue, 2021-01-19 15:55
When I was a kid, one of my favorite things was page 14 of the Highlights magazine. It was the page that had the photo where you had to find the hidden items within the photo. I LOVED IT! I also enjoyed the side-by-side photos where you had to spot the difference. These were always fun challenges for me! Here's a similar story...I was excited to post some photos that I took in the woods less than a week ago. I love the way the sun looks when it comes through the trees, especially when they're barren.

But, as of yesterday, they don't reflect our current reality. Here's the "side-by-side" that reflects what we're seeing now.

We've had some pretty steady snow since Sunday night, and we are blessed that we don't have to go out in this weather. Everyone seems to be enjoying the landscape with the beauty it provides. A snow storm always makes me think of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems.
The Winter Wood Arrives

I think
     I could have
          built a little house
               to live in

with the single cord—
     half seasoned, half not—
          trucked into the
               driveway and

tumbled down. But, instead,
     friends came
          and together we stacked it
               for the long, cold days

that are—
     maybe the only sure thing in the world—
          coming soon.
               How to keep warm

is always a problem,
     isn’t it?
          Of course, there’s love.
               And there’s prayer.

I don’t belittle them,
     and they have warmed me,
          but differently,
               from the heart outwards.

     what swirls of frost will cling
          to the windows, what white lawns
               I will look out on

as I rise from morning prayers,
     as I remember love, that leaves yet never leaves,
          as I go out into the yard
               and bring the wood in

with struggling steps,
     with struggling thoughts,
          bundle by bundle,
               to be burned.

Hope you're all safe wherever you are—
With prayers for peace and unity—
Let us walk in the holy presence.
(from wikipedia.com)
(from pinterest.com)

Joy is Not Made to be a Crumb

Tue, 2021-01-12 11:11
Yes, we are in quarantine here at the monastery, with positive cases. (You can read the statement from our prioress on the front page of our website.)
Many are pitching in to keep things going (and keep stomachs filled). Needless to say, this is a unique time for us. Certainly it is a unique time for someone discerning a commitment to this life and this community. In my lesser moments, I get down and anxious, but in my better moments, I recall the parts of the Rule of Benedict that should underlie our behavior and actions during such a vulnerable time.
Good Zeal (Chapter 72) is essential always, but in a new light, right now.
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which members must foster with fervent love: "They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Romans 12:10)," supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what she judges better for herself, but instead, what she judges better for someone else. Among themselves they show the pure love of sisters; to God, reverent love; to their prioress, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.
For me to try to live with good zeal, I try to focus on joy and gratitude. Spotting a rose in winter helped me this morning as I went for my walk.

And there's always Mary Oliver's poetry. (Titled Don't Hesitate)
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plentyof lives and whole towns destroyed or aboutto be. We are not wise, and not very oftenkind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimessomething happens better than all the richesor power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often thecase. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraidof its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
And this funny meme that my friend sent me, gives me a good laugh—laughter being another "essential" during this time. (Source unknown)

I hope it gives you a smile, too.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Winter Wonderland

Sun, 2020-12-27 10:52
A taste of the beauty...

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Christmas in Quarantine: Some Reflections

Thu, 2020-12-24 08:48
On Monday morning I got the call that I had been exposed to someone who tested positive. Just before that, I had been running through a list of Christmas “to-do” things in my mind, a list which suddenly evaporated. The new list that began running through my mind was just one question, “Now what?” on repeat.

After a dozen-or-so phone calls to get the logistics settled, I gathered my things that I could gather in the moment and headed into the world of quarantine, a world which has become so familiar to so many during these months of 2020.

My brain obviously needed to do some readjusting—Christmas in quarantine was my new reality—so, developing some acceptance became important. I felt okay with it, but also wondered how I would feel once reality actually set in.

Texts and phone calls checking on me, seeing how I was managing that reality, began sounding on my phone. Still, I felt okay and tried to convey that as best I could.

You see, I am pretty bent toward solitude by nature; I thoroughly enjoy time spent alone in silence. But, I am also part of a community. Indeed, I have chosen to pitch my tent with others; it was not a decision forced upon me. I find greater joy living the truth of our human connectedness than I do living a solitary life, as challenging as it can be at times. So, there is the basic assumption that these are the people with whom I will celebrate life and all the moments that we collectively acknowledge give meaning to it. Certainly Christ’s being born anew in our world is one of those things. Certainly this year we seek glimpses of that birth more than ever.

On the second day being in quarantine I made a list of all the communal traditions that I would miss—not just physically miss being present for, but emotionally miss in my heart—the songs I wouldn’t hear, the rituals I wouldn’t experience. Reality was a bit more difficult to stomach.

But, so many have checked in via the world of virtual connection, a world that, too, has become oh-so-familiar during 2020. People have dropped off the things I have needed (or just wanted) and have done things for me at the monastery that had been on my “to-do” list before Monday morning. I feel far from isolated.

And, this extra quiet gives me more time to connect with those who have been truly isolated since March, or whenever the pandemic began affecting the normal routine of their lives. It gives me a different opportunity to connect with the families and communities worldwide who have suffered losses beyond belief, whose new reality may never fully set in.

I had sent a favorite Mary Oliver essay of mine to a friend along with her Christmas card. The piece is titled Winter Hours, and I try to read it each year as the season returns. After she finished reading it, she sent me a favorite paragraph, which just happens to be the one that I always highlight, too:

Sometimes I think, were I just a little rougher made, I would go altogether to the woods—to my work entirely, and solitude, a few friends, books, my dogs, all things peaceful, ready for meditation and industry—if for no other reason than to escape the heart-jamming damages and discouragements of the world’s mean spirits. But, no use. Even the most solitudinous of us is communal by habit, and indeed by commitment to the bravest of our dreams, which is to make a moral world. The whirlwind of human behavior is not to be set aside.

That paragraph is such truth for me. I often think about how I could live a peaceful and contented, productive life as a hermit. The pleasure I can find in my own company is a pleasure I have felt during most of the solitudinous stretches I have experienced in my life. And sometimes when I let my brain begin wandering in that direction, I get carried away with the possibility. But, more often and more strongly than that, the words and wisdom of Benedict begin echoing through me. He says, in other words: we are called to journey together; we are called to support one another; serving our sisters and brothers is real love; our prayers rise powerfully together; the work of conversion happens communally. In my five years in Erie, his wisdom has become my truth.

I know that wherever I am, wherever we find ourselves this year, that Christ is being born anew in our communal world. I know that I am connected to that world, and in a special way, with my sisters tonight as the traditions we celebrate together unfold in our monastery in adapted ways. Christ—whose name, for me, is synonymous with light, with love, with compassion—overcomes darkness. Let us celebrate our faith so deeply this year.

Let us walk in the holy presence. Merry Christmas.
enjoying an adapted Christmas tree, created from my surroundings
solitudinous spaces
what I'll miss the most...singing Emanuel with my sisters at Vigil prayer

Where Does the Story End? (A Willow Update)

Fri, 2020-12-11 10:55
"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story."Orson Welles
I recently devoured the memoir, Memorial Drive. The book tells the story of a daughter whose mother was murdered by her step-father. I couldn't stop reading it. I found the above quote at the end of one of the chapters.
Earlier that day, one of our novices told me some much-appreciated-during-these-days exciting news. To catch everyone up, remember our beautiful willow tree in the "backyard" that succumbed to wind a few weeks ago? Well, after it fell, two of the novices went out to salvage some of the branches and see if it would be possible to re-root the tree.
They did some research on care and length of time for re-rooting. They put some of their gatherings in different places to see if conditions would affect growth. (Such scientists!)
Well, Jackie reported to me that, indeed, the branches have grown new leaves! There seem to be hints of roots beginning to become visible, too!
Resurrection at its finest. This also reminds me of one of my favorite passages from all our prayer periods of the year, from Friday morning Tenebrae during the Triduum. The words are:

Even the bleakest life
sustains the consciousness
that somewhere, somehow,
there is going to be a resurrection,

a rebirth of life, of joy, of beauty,
that will never fade.

There is going to be a resurrection,
a rebirth of joy,
of beauty that will never fade.

This re-rooting is giving us "nature nerds" a little joy during an otherwise bleak time. These words re-new my hope during an otherwise bleak time.
Thanks for the good news and for reading poetry to our new trees daily, giving them the CO2 they desire, Jackie!
I love this photo because you can see Amma Willow in the background,through the window...with some beautiful sunshine, too.
It's easier to see those few new leaves in the photo on the right.
We think these could be new roots!

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 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!

Sunrise, Sunset

Sun, 2020-08-09 12:57

I started yesterday morning with a bike ride. Not knowing that sunrise would coincide with my pedaling, I stopped more than once to take photos on my eastward journey.

And then we enjoyed a camp fire at night, with an equally glorious sunset to boot. As I watched the sun go down on the day, I thought it perfectly monastic...The day's events combining themselves into a worthy horarium for this young monk.

Let us walk in the holy presence.