Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey

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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.
Alone.
Empty
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.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.

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!

Yum!

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.

Simple Joys

Tue, 2019-01-01 13:26
Besides the chickadee visiting my window feeder (which I have yet to capture on camera), there have been simple joys abounding between Christmas and New Year’s at the Mount, as well as a visit home in between the two.

One of my favorite yearly joys: the lights on the bare magnolia tree in the inner courtyard that shine each night.

Trying a new vegetable: I tasted for the first time tat soi, a relative of bok choy, while cooking a meal full of flavor with a dear friend at home.

A new, silly pair of socks that came as a gift (and wearing someone else’s slippers when one doesn’t pack her own!)

The best, most appropriate card that I received—given by a friend, made by an artist in Minnesota.

A unique variety of Poinsettia in the Eucharistic chapel...additionally the sister that also spotted it and bent over to give it a big kiss in gratitude for the beauty it shares with us.

A celebratory set of ribbons adorning my shoe collection outside my door!

May your year be full of simple joys. May you be present to them. May your gratitude run deeply for them. Happy New Year!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

A Christmas Miracle, in verse

Mon, 2018-12-24 07:04
A gift certificate,
So, a Christmas dinner—
Rescheduled once or twice.

Two friends,
Open a door of books
And a bottle of wine
To enter into conversation
And communion.

Still hungry?
Ice cream, always.
McDonald’s—
The simplest of cones.

Christmas gift exchange—
Why not?

In the parking lot on 12th Street,
Unwrapped gifts
Wrapped discreetly—and quickly—in scarves,
Also newspaper and blue ribbon.

Thoughtful and simple,
Coffee, Marian images.
A Christmas moment
To remember.

The miracle of friendship.


Yes, my dear friend and I ended up exchanging gifts in a bit of an impromptu manner last week. It was perfectly us, especially as Annie Lennox’s incredible version of The First Noel and First Aid Kit played in the background.

Christmas is here. God is with us, indeed.

Merry Christmas to you, one and all. Many, many blessings and miracles be with you.

Let us walk in the holy presence.



I saw a sister of mine come into the community room sans shoes. I pointed this out to her. She said she was hoping someone would notice. Look at those socks! Ho, ho, ho!

Loved Like That

Wed, 2018-12-19 13:55
A friend of mine recently shared a poem by Marie Howe with me. It is called Annunciation.

Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel itI know it is—and that if once it hailed meit ever does— And so it is myself I want to turn in that directionnot as towards a place, but it was a tiltingwithin myself,as one turns a mirror to flash the light to whereit isn’t—I was blinded like that—and swamin what shone at meonly able to endure it by being no one and sospecifically myself I thought I’d diefrom being loved like that.
Beyond being a gorgeous piece of writing, it's just the right poem to take me into Christmas. The monastery is doing a great job of keeping us in Advent though. Not too many signs of Christmas have popped up yet, besides a bit of fruitcake, a few wreathes, and other smaller signs. We do try to make an effort, but Friday night the tree will come to grace the center of the community room; we will decorate it, bless it, and sing carols around it, as the most senior sister turns on its lights. It's one of my favorite traditions, among the myriad ones that come alive each year at this time in the monastery. It definitely is starting to feel of that "in-between time" as Advent ends and the Christmastide begins.
It's nearly impossible for me to feel anything less than deep, deep love as we join to celebrate with our community of Oblates, friends, and family. Christmas affords us a significant time to treasure the beauty of being human, of being so deeply loved by God. As we will sing in what might be my favorite tradition--Christmas Eve Vigil prayer--"Emmanuel, Emmanuel, who we are that you have loved us so well?"
May we turn in that direction, always tilting toward Love.
Let us walk in the holy presence.
a lovely Christmas scene at a recent dinner

Sun-days

Tue, 2018-12-11 11:58
Curious, distant
Bright sensation on my face
Who is this stranger?


Sunday has taken its name seriously the past two weeks—a gift amidst the necessary, preparatory darkness of Advent. Erie gets a little bleak this time of year as we wait for the Solstice to give us hope; needless to say, days like this are extraordinary moments. (I even write a haiku, or two!)

I got outside for a bike ride and a walk these two Sundays. I cranked up my current favorite band, First Aid Kit. I allowed nature to do its thing to my soul. There is little I can think of more satisfying than making it to the top of one of the longer hills that I hike up on two wheels on East Lake, but the view is, without fail, worth it.

I think a lot about the barrenness of these winter months, especially when I am outside, especially seeing the empty grape vines that were so recently full of fragrance, especially during Advent when the goal is to make space to live an authentic Christian life as our true Hope emerges again.

Don't think the garden losesit's ecstasy in winter. It's quiet.But the roots are down there riotous.
Rumi, too, gives us poetic hope. I take great comfort in these words each winter, but it takes great effort to get to that point. Trust is hard enough with others, but to trust ourselves and God at work in our lives--that's an entirely different ball game!
Advent is such an opportune moment to practice our trust and our hope--so intertwined they are--especially in this liturgical season. May our Christian life be the practice we need.
Let us walk in the holy presence.
a taste of First Aid Kit

An Advent PSA

Tue, 2018-12-04 19:45
This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.


A breath unbreathed,
      Spirit,
           suspended,
                waiting.

She did not cry, “I cannot, I am not worthy,”
nor, “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
             raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
      consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
   and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
   courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.


Consent, Denise Levertov






Let us walk in the holy presence.

Art as Life

Mon, 2018-11-26 20:19
When we were at the Renwick Gallery during our time in Washington D.C., one artist’s work focused on the U.S./Mexico border. Tanya Aguiñiga founded AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides). Here is a description of the work she and others are doing:

Quipu Fronterizo/Border Quipu engages US/Mexico border commuters on both sides of the border by asking about their experiences and asking them to anonymously tie a knot. The AMBOS team walks among the cars in traffic, pedestrians waiting in line, and surrounding areas of the crossing asking for participation in an art project that focuses on the lives of those who cross the border and/or live in the borderlands. Postcards that read “¿Qué piensas cuando cruzas esta frontera? / What are your thoughts when you cross this border?” are passed out with pencils for participants to record their thoughts in the space provided. All of those who work or live along the border are invited to participate, and asked what they think if they can cross the border, and if not, their opinions on living there. On the opposite side of the postcard, there is a explanation of the exercise for the quipu that we create with the help of participants. Commuters are given two strands of thread and asked to tie them into a knot reflecting their time and emotions spent crossing. The strands represent the US and Mexico’s relationship to one another, our self at either sides of the border, and our own mental state at the point of crossing.

These knots were on display at the Renwick, which allowed us to spend time in prayerful contemplation of the current situation.

Let us pray for all those at the border in Tijuana and an untangling of this humanitarian crisis.

Let us walk in the holy presence.


Walking Through Washington

Sun, 2018-11-18 21:09
I spent the past week in Washington D.C. attending an early childhood education conference. Quite the experience to see so many EC educators in one place, not only from this country, but representing teachers on an international scale. The highlights for me were workshops on making experiences with block play and math more intentional and meaningful for children.

Staying a good 40-minute walk away from the convention center allowed some opportunities to take in the nation’s capital, a place where I have spent quite a bit of time, but the majority of that as a kid who visited every year.

This time I had the chance to visit the Renwick Gallery with a friend. Currently on display was an exhibit focusing on the Burning Man Festival that takes place each year in Nevada. As its websites describes, the people attending Burning Man create a city unto themselves, “a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. In this crucible of creativity, all are welcome.”

One central part of Burning Man is a temple designed anew each year, which gets burned at the end of the festival in addition to the namesake “Man.” In this exhibit there, too, was a temple erected completely out of wood.



What is so beautiful about this particular temple is that it was created to honor the experience of grief and loss. You can read more.


We had been looking for a way to remember a young man, the son of a friend, who died unexpectedly earlier this summer. And lo and behold, here was the temple. A total gift. It calls to mind lines from Maya Stein that I love:

We are each of us inches from death.
We are each of us inches from life.
We are each of us inches from one another.


Although we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let us lift up also those experiencing grief and loss  wherever they may be.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Transcendence, Enlightenment, etc.

Fri, 2018-11-09 13:41
My friend and I have been spending some time swapping messages about transcendence and enlightenment recently. Of course, we have yet to figure out how to achieve either, but this story we love gives us a good hint:

When I was twenty-one and on a Buddhist studies program in India, I ordained temporarily with two Burmese nuns. In the Theravada tradition, monks and nuns cannot eat after noon, so around 5 p.m. every day the nuns would gather to drink lemon tea and talk about the dharma.

At that point in my life, I was jazzed about enlightenment and the end of suffering. I spoke passionately and intellectually about my experiences of noticing impermanence during meditation. After I shared some such heady, proud insights, one of the nuns smiled.

“When I first ordained as a nun,” she said, “I was always hoping to get enlightened. But now, after forty years of practice, nothing has happened!”

Then she burst out laughing, overflowing with joy. “Nothing happens!”

The other nun joined in gleefully. “Nothing happens! Nothing happens!” And they continued to laugh good-naturedly about this.

Nothing happens. Try as we might.

Funny enough, this morning I opened up a book of talks that John Main, OSB gave to oblates, and the title of the first talk?

Conversion and Transcendence!

I laughed good-naturedly about this. The monk adds a Benedictine bent to the theme (from the book, Community of Love):

St. Benedict was clear in the Rule that we must approach the mystery of God not through someone else’s witness but through our own experience. He has the monk recite every day, “Oh that today you would hear his voice. Harden not your heart.” And so, a key personal word in the Rule of St. Benedict is the word “conversion.” As you know, the Christian is one converted to Christ. St. Benedict asks us to live this conversion as the main thrust of our life. What does this mean, conversion, for us as men and women of the twentieth century? What I would like to put before you now is that I think we can best understand conversion in the vocabulary of the twentieth century if we think of it in terms of transcendence. That means the expansion of our being that comes about as we cross the frontiers of our own limitations and leave self behind to cross to the further shore. The whole purpose of the Rule of St. Benedict and of monastic life is to leave self behind, to burst the bubble and illusion of egoism. Transcendence is a dynamic motion beyond ourselves in which we leave every limiting factor behind and in the power of Christ enter into a truly creative development of our own being.

Just a few more reminders that the journey is all about letting go! Here's our dear Mother Earth doing her part to teach us, too.





Let us walk in the holy presence.

What is a monk?

Wed, 2018-10-31 19:01
Isn’t this the million dollar question, the question that can help us unlock the future of our life as monastics, and specifically for us, as Benedictines?

Over the next five weeks, we are watching a series from Michael Casey, OCSO titled Monasticism in the 21st Century: A View From the Trenches. It seems Fr. Casey will be addressing the current situation where the monastic family finds itself, emerging features of the life, and how we form ourselves to live this life into the future. 
One issue the Cistercian monk raised was that it is difficult to define monasticism and the monk. Because the life is so dynamic and varied, it therefore carries with it a less-than-concrete definition. There are many orders, many ministries, many cultures, many, many, many. Because of this, there can be a lack of coherent vision about monastic life. 
He joked, “The monastery is about raising cows,” referencing some of the more agricultural communities. One sister sitting behind me misheard the quote, asking, “Raising hell? Did he say the monastery is about raising hell?” I told her his actual words, and neither of us could stop laughing. 
But isn’t that a great vision? The monastery is about raising hell. It is about speaking up about the individualism that is destroying the collective good. It is about speaking up about the culture of violence that teaches children at younger and younger ages that it is okay to hate and act on that hatred. It is about speaking up about the gospel vision where the words of Mary’s Magnificat ring true for all and in all.
The monk therefore lives in community as a witness of abundance, radical equality, and shared goods. The monk lives nonviolently not only with her sisters, but with her larger community, and with the natural world. The monk lives rejoicing in the one true God who calls each of us favored. 
Of course there are one million ways to live that vision, but as long as I can be a part of bringing that tradition into the future, however it looks, count me in.

Let us walk in the holy presence.