Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey

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Updated: 1 hour 21 min ago

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.

Patience Obtains All Things

Mon, 2019-03-04 16:46
My friends and I spend a lot of time wondering how we can speed along the process of becoming patient people. (Yes, we understand the inherent issue.) We spend a lot of time looking for answers. We spend a lot of time doing things that only come with faith in the Holy Mystery.

Having this poem (The Secret by Denise Levertov) show up in my inbox last week was an answer.

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of

I who don't know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can't find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

staring at starlings

Two Stories

Mon, 2019-02-25 13:58
At the end of last week, I had two meaningful experiences while at ministry.

On Thursday, I worked the closing shift. After we had finished playing in the gym: balancing on a beam, playing basketball, and watching 4-year olds be more agile with a hula hoop than I am, we went back into the classroom. One of the kids changed demeanor quickly, and I asked him what was wrong. He started to pat his stomach. I held him, and I felt his head...burning up. We went to check his temperature, and unsurprisingly, he had a fever. So I spent the last 10 minutes of the day letting him sleep next to me while I comforted him.

On Friday, we went for a walk because it was *finally* sunny. As we got ready to round the last corner, one of the kids started to squirm. He couldn't hold it anymore and needed to go to the bathroom. And he definitely wasn't playing like some of my fourth graders used to do. But, we still had a bit farther to go. So I picked him up, held him, and started running to get him back to the building. (Yes, we made it back successfully.)

Ah, a day in the life.

Working with children is often weird, gross, sublime, and exciting...all at the same time. It makes me think of this poem from Naomi Shihab Nye:

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world's most sensitive cargo
but he's not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy's dream
deep inside him.

We're not going to be able
to live in this world
if we're not willing to do what he's doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

Let us handle life with care and with love.


Let us walk in the holy presence.

my newest plant friend that I will love

Número 300

Sun, 2019-02-17 15:04
This is post #300! Yay! This little blog really started as a way for me to keep in touch with friends at home when I moved across the state three and a half years ago.

Oh, how life has changed.

Let me express gratitude for all the encouragement I have received along the way to keep up with writing even when my energy for keeping up with the blog has dwindled. It has always seemed that just the right words have come along when I needed them. (And not just about the blog!)

And, as always...

Let us walk in the holy presence.

a new day at the monastery

You see,
I want a lot.

Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
The shimmering light of each ascent.

So many creative who don’t seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
As though untouched.

But you take pleasure in the faces
Of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
Who grip you for survival.

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
To open your depths by plunging into them
And drink in the life
That reveals itself quietly there.


Prophets of Peace

Mon, 2019-02-11 14:07
We spent this weekend celebrating the Feast of Saint Scholastica, Benedict's twin sister. Each year the community gives an award called the Prophet of Peace to someone (or some group) working for peace. This year we celebrated the writer, retreat leader, social justice activist Edwina Gateley. It was a lovely celebration.

The next day, at Sunday's Liturgy, our presider gave an equally lovely homily about Scholastica, citing Gregory the Great's Dialogues where he writes of Benedict's sister, "She could do more because she loved more." Rather than celebrate the Liturgy for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we celebrated the Liturgy for the Feast, which led us to the Song of Solomon and the story of Mary and Martha, the quote, "She could do more because she loved more" tying in quite nicely as we reflected on the ways in which the two women serve in Christ's presence. Our presider reminded us that Jesus led Martha to love, not her anxieties about getting the work done. "There is need of only one thing," indeed.

Edwina has written a perfectly complementary poem, Let Your God Love You:

Be silent.
Be still.
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.

Let your God—
Love you.

Congratulations, Edwina!
Let us walk in the holy presence.
Another prophet of peace in our midst--the blooming amaryllis!

Darkness to Light

Mon, 2019-02-04 20:18
Two years ago we did some liturgical movement to a song about St. Brigid with lyrics that began "Darkness to light."

We have seen crazy switches in weather the past few days. Last Wednesday and Thursday we were off for sub-zero temperatures. This Sunday we sat outside on the back patio and enjoyed some snacks after our community meeting...sans jackets.
But these photos are from the last weekend in January when I enjoyed some solitude over at the lake. While I was there, there was a bit of a crazy storm with high winds and at least a foot of snow. (The kids certainly enjoyed splashing in the remnant puddles today while we went for a warm-weather walk!)
Here was the scene at the lake when I ventured out without realizing I shouldn't have been venturing during that weekend of solitude.

The snow blew in my face; my legs were red from the chill. It was unreal cold. I didn't even step outside last week when we had off; I have no idea how bad it was. We pray for those who have no choice but to be outside in those chills, for whatever reason.

That evening, though, it had already started to break. Look at the juxtaposition of the skies in the scene at sunset.

Darkness to light, indeed.

The next morning was also full of winter beauty.

As challenging as the winter months can be, there is such beauty for those of us blessed enough to enjoy it safely and in warmth.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Culinary Cultures

Tue, 2019-01-29 13:48
One of my favorite things about working at our community's child development center is the opportunity to work with people from cultures not my own. One of my favorite things is experiencing different food and flavors--literally an added treat. Tacos, tamales, enchiladas, and pozole, among other delicious dishes have been savored. Momos, it turns out, are also wonderful.

Of course, we've all had a taco before. But recently I got to have a first-hand experience making authentic Mexican tacos with a dear friend of mine. We prepared everything from scratch: tortillas, salsa, and all!

Here is our journey...

We had to cut up lots and lots of steak (bistec) and season it with salt, garlic, and lime juice...

To begin the salsa, we peeled the tomatillos...

And roasted them up, along with three types of peppers...

Maza, corn flour, mixed with a bit of regular flour, and water created the beginnings of tortillas...

And the press to flatten them into discs...

I clearly need some more practice...

Because mine turned into Pac-Man!...

Blending the salsa...

And serving up the toppings...

To create some truly delicious food!


Let us walk in the holy presence.

Mary, Mary–How Does Your Garden Grow?

Sun, 2019-01-20 18:33
I did post on here last week about the death of our beloved poet, Mary Oliver. But, I still feel I must give her a more proper tribute.

I thought about going back and figuring out how many of the posts I've written have included a Mary poem, but I will just hypothesize that it's a pretty high ratio.

I remember first befriending Mary Oliver; it was my first year of teaching. A friend gave me a book of poetry with words inspiring for teachers. Obviously Mary featured prominently. Wild Geese, The Journey, The Summer Day–all of these poems would help an educator through the highs and lows of the school year; they certainly did that for me.

But, it was just the beginning. I don't even know which book I bought first...maybe Why I Wake Early. My mentor and I would read her words together, reveling in the sheer beauty of simple diction and deep attentiveness. We'd often say, "How does she do it?" after a healthy pause when finishing a read aloud.

As I was coming into my own appreciation for nature, walking in the Wissahickon Park and sitting at the shores of Lake Erie, Mary was nearly constant company. While my favorite poem has been At the River Clarion for quite some time, I have also been taken by her essay, Winter Hours, since first reading it last year. Here is an excerpt, appropriate to re-read in the immediate days following our own recent storm here in Erie.

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 dreams, which is to make a moral world. The whirlwind of human behavior is not to be set aside.

I'm not sure any of us will ever be able to write about you, Mary, in the past tense. I'm not sure any of us can count the number of times your poems consoled us. Your words sustain us on our journeys, dear friend. They live on inside so many of us. We are so grateful.
Let us walk in the holy presence.
The current collection, which has grown over time!

“When I Find Myself in Times of Trouble, Mother Mary Comes to Me.”

Thu, 2019-01-17 19:17
Mary, we will surely miss you.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Thank you, Mary Oliver.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Life, Life, and More Life

Mon, 2019-01-14 16:43
Life abounds at the Mount right now. Appropriately enough, I guess, since we have just been gifted with a season of Incarnation.

Yesterday two new postulants formally entered the community by knocking on the front door of the monastery. We welcome Jennifer and Jen as they continue to seek God with us. Benedict reminds us in chapter 58 of the Rule that seeking God is what matters, first and foremost, in a monk's journey. May they find what they seek, and may we all uphold them in that journey. I loved catching a few candid glimpses of the moments leading up to the Ritual of Entry.

We also enjoyed another evening of Mindful Eating last night, a project I help coordinate with three other lovely women. It was an evening of mindful snacking, which had me on my feet from 1pm until 8pm to prepare and share. The end result was totally worth it--lots of happy faces and full stomachs! The tables are always decorated so beautifully. I am grateful to those who have the talent to make a table come alive. Here's the set-up, complete with fun creatures.

And finally, life abounds on my "meditative plant table" in my room. The paper whites are growing inch-by-inch. The jade plant grows centimeter-by-centimeter. It all makes a smile grow on my face. I love the gift of green in my room.

We are blessed by the seeds of Christ planted in and around us during the Christmas season, but now, and I think others would agree, we are grateful for the return of Ordinary Time when we have space to watch those seeds begin to grow with the sense of normalcy and dailiness with which this "ordinary season" gifts us.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

New Beginnings

Mon, 2019-01-07 13:37
On Saturday evening we began our journey through the Feast of Epiphany at Vigil prayer. It is definitely one of my favorites, especially with the handbells accompanying during the opening processional; it's just beautiful.

But the thing that caught my eye this year was a little stink bug who somehow got stuck on his back by the poinsettias and candles in the center of chapel. Probably having come in on our Christmas tree, or simply some other way seeking warmth, he struggled the entire time to get himself turned over. That's one of the fun parts of sitting in the front row of chapel--catching these little glimpses.

I had every intention of going over after prayer ended to help him out, but as soon as the recessional began, I saw him begin to scurry away. He got himself going the right way on his own, and off he went. Although it was a stink bug, it was rather precious to watch his little journey--a bit epiphanic for myself as it brought to mind a Mary Oliver favorite, Song of the Builders.

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

There are many small epiphanies along the way that help us seek our true work for building the universe. I didn't even know how stink bugs help to build the universe before a quick Google search. It seems that in some cases they don't (like if myriads were to come into your home for warmth), but in other cases they themselves help control pest problems in crops.

I think this Mary Oliver poem is a worthy reflection for Epiphany and as we enter into the new year. May you each travel your own way.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

an overcast day at the lake.