Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey

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Updated: 1 hour 42 min ago

Photo Lectio

Mon, 2019-08-19 16:39
It’s not very often that I am attentive enough or quick enough to capture moments like these.

The praying mantis is eating a yellow jacket (wasp? hornet?). It was mesmerizing to watch close up, to have the praying mantis turn and make direct eye contact with me, and to be able to take a photo, but yet, the compassion for the victim. And as I looked at the photo more closely, there was more and more to notice.
“We do not live in a simple world.” (Mary Oliver)
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Vines, Vines, & More Vines!

Sun, 2019-08-11 15:22
Thanks to the corporate commitment project that we complete as novices in our community, we now compost. One sister, who has since made first profession, decided to research and plan a composting system that would work for us. People have signed up to help with taking out food waste to our bins during their “dish week” and another sister turns the piles. It’s working wonderfully so far, and I am grateful for that. Very exciting!

Even more exciting is what we have found while taking out the buckets!

An accidental, but most welcome melon! ‘Tis the gift of stray seeds and sunshine, indeed!
In other vine-related news, the grapes, living in their natural habitats, are looking lovely on the vines during these perfect summer Sunday bike rides! I can taste them already! So sweet and juicy!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Culinary Luxuries

Sun, 2019-08-04 18:56
“Luxury is best appreciated in small portions. When it becomes routine it loses its allure."

I recently finished reading Ruth Reichl's new memoir, Save Me the Plums. It details the food writer's time as editor-in-chief of the magazine, Gourmet. I love her writing, and this was an easy and enjoyable summer read—as all summer reads should be!

The above quote about luxury stopped me in my tracks. Isn't it the truth? I had my own luxurious experience last week when I got to spend four uninterrupted hours in the kitchen, trying out something new: homemade ravioli.

I had decided I want to try and make sweet potato ravioli a while ago and had left this recipe open in a tab in Chrome for months. With the visit of a dear friend following the next evening, it was the right time. Even though it's an autumnal recipe, it worked quite well, swapping out the walnuts and basil for caramelized onions.

I don't often have the opportunity to spend such time in the kitchen, playing around with something like this. I am usually doing something a bit more practical like throwing together some veggies and some grain for a week's worth of lunch. The process of figuring out the best way to make the circles for the pasta, getting the filling right, taking the time to roll out piece after piece as prayerfully as possibly, and best of all, sharing it with others as the delicate pieces finished cooking, was such delight, a true luxury, for me.

Just before I had entered the kitchen for the afternoon, we had been talking at table about how to keep a novitiate-like quality in our busy lives. My time spent making sweet potato ravioli was just that!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Rolling out the pasta dough 
Making the sweet potato filling
The first attempt needing some re-working—looks like a pierogi!
Getting the circles right after playing around a bit
Aerial view
More and more ravioli—a delicious treat!

Happy Jubilee!

Sun, 2019-07-28 19:38
We celebrated the commitment of four of our sisters this weekend here at the monastery. Three sisters celebrated their Golden Jubilee, or 50 years of religious life. Another celebrated her Silver Jubilee, or 25 years.

It is a rather tender and moving ceremony: the statio, or monastic procession into chapel of the community preceded by the litany of deceased sisters; the praying of psalms specially selected for the day by the sisters celebrating; the renewal of vows; and my personal favorite—the singing of the Suscipe, a back and forth between the sisters and the community as we repeat:

Uphold me, O God, according to Your word
And I shall live,
And do not fail me in my hope.

It made me teary-eyed, yes. To think of living these vows of stability, obedience, and conversatio with steadfastness, for better or worse, through whatever life brought—wow, wow, wow!

It gives me such hope as I grapple with what my commitment to these vows looks like, with what it means for me to say “yes” to the monastic life here in a community of ninety women, with my own discernment journey. To know that I have said yes to a tradition so much grander than simply my own yes, to feel the love of so many women—some that I know here and now, some that I have never met...days like these are sure treasures along the way.

Congratulations and blessings to you all, Rosanne, Sue, Jacinta, and Ann. I am grateful—so grateful.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

A quiet start to the morning—so peaceful, and such luxury—summer
The melons waiting to be filled with sweet ripeness
The tables decorated with photography by Ann and Sue
Jubilee candle holders ready to go
I went in for a sneak preview of chapel.

There Is Need of Only Rhythm

Sun, 2019-07-21 18:56
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
"Do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me."
Jesus said to her in reply,
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."

(Luke 10:38-42)

The gospel story of Mary and Martha has long been a favorite of mine, with the reasons why evolving. And I was thrilled to see that it was today’s gospel reading, especially since one of my favorite presiders said our Liturgy.

George is a bit of a “mystical presider,” and when you listen to his homilies, you simply have to be ready to let it take you where it’s going to go. Today he said of Mary and Martha, “It’s rhythmic,” and I just loved that.

So often I let my Martha side get the best of me, especially when I am trying to focus on my Mary side. Or vice versa.

In my contemplation, I worry, “Am I serving enough?”
In my serving, I worry, “Am I contemplating enough?”

Rather than get anxious about what’s right for me, I just want to be present to life, however it is presenting itself at the moment.

How do we live into the peace of our own rhythms?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

contemplative summer cooking

Can We Agree?

Wed, 2019-07-17 13:05
There Is A Place Beyond Ambition
Mary Oliver

When the flute players
couldn’t think of what to say next

they laid down their pipes,
then they lay down themselves
beside the river

and just listened.
Some of them, after a while,
jumped up
and disappeared back inside the busy town.
But the rest—
so quiet, not even thoughtful—
are still there,

still listening.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Focused on Gratitude with Mary as Guide

Mon, 2019-07-08 13:14
Mary Oliver's wonderful poem, Gratitude, arrived in my inbox while I was away on vacation visiting with friends in Acadia National Park. I couldn't help but use it as a reflection on my journey through Maine. I've used it before, but I can't think of a time when I don't want to re-visit an MO poem!
Mary's version:
What did you notice?
The dew snail;the low-flying sparrow;the bat, on the wind, in the dark;big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;the sweet-hungry ants;the uproar of mice in the empty house;the tin music of the cricket’s body;the blouse of the goldenrod.
What did you hear?
The thrush greeting the morning;the little bluebirds in their hot box;the salty talk of the wren,then the deep cup of the hour of silence.
What did you admire?
The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to thepale green wand;at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquidbeauty of the flowers;then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.
What astonished you?
The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.
What would you like to see again?
My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue, herrecklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness, hersturdy legs, her curled black lip, her snap.
What was most tender?
Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;the tall, blank banks of sand;the clam, clamped down.
What was most wonderful?
The sea, and its wide shoulders;the sea and its triangles;the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.
What did you think was happening?
The green breast of the hummingbird;the eye of the pond;the wet face of the lily;the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeveof the first snow—
so the gods shake us from our sleep.
My version:
What did you notice?Clear water all around, the smell offresh pine all aroundNature giving itself in relationship to each of us,each of us willing to enter
What did you hear?The silence of the busy mountain in the early morningas the sun rose to greet us with a new day
What did you admire?
The intentionality of life on Mount Desert Island; the conservationof resources, the awareness of nature as gift, the appreciation of community  as a reality of being human.
What astonished you?The simplicity of the Roosevelt’s summer homeon Campobello Island, much simplerthan homes we find along the shore or in the suburbs today.Plus, a harmonious relationship between nations on display.

What would you like to see again?The lupine in season, flooding the fields with purple beauty
What was most tender?Dear friends and their presence...simply that.
What was most wonderful?The flavors! Lobster; blueberries; simple, fresh mealsshared as eucharist.
What did you think was happening?The experience of the joy of life lived in fullness.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Making a Return

Tue, 2019-07-02 09:46
I have been away enjoying vacation in beautiful Maine with dear friends. Suffice it to say, I have a few thoughts to share, but still in recovery mode I am. Let the beauty speak for itself. More to come.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

All You Holy Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

All you holy women, come and be with us.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Communal Retreat

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

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

Until we meet again...

Mary Oliver gives us her wisdom.

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

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

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

Let us walk in the holy presence.

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

Goslings, Double the Fun!

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

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

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

Stay strong, teachers! We’re with you!

Summer is coming!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Joy and The Challenge of Solitude

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

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

Continued Communal, Culinary Creations!

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

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

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

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

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

Liminality & Becoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us walk in the holy presence.

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