Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey

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The Skies in Erie

Mon, 2020-09-14 14:52




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

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Now, with hearts free from fear...

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

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

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Five Years Later, a Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Prioress, A New Experience

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

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

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


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


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


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

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.

It's all about the journey.

Sun, 2020-07-26 13:29
So, where to begin?
When I entered the community back in 2015, I received a gift from one of my sisters. It was a framed cross-stitch of a bicycle decked out in flowers that says, "It's all about the journey." I remember how it made me laugh back then; I have always had a keen focus on arriving at the destination, the end goal, the final product...with little appreciation for what comes in between.
So, I spent the past three weeks reflecting on the journey that has transpired over the past five years living this monastic life with these Benedictine women here in Erie. The reflection came through virtual presentations on the charisms and values of the life: prayer, ministry, good zeal, humility, obedience, among others. The reflection came through spending three days in the kitchen preparing meals for our community during our election weekend. The reflection came through learning who our new prioress would be. The reflection came through a directed retreat. The reflection came through the silence and solitude that followed the whole experience.
Needless to say, there has been much fodder for my reflection these past three weeks.
Did I learn anything?
Well, a few people have asked me about the big takeaways, awarenesses, learnings from the time.
The truth is, I am not sure that there was some big insight at all.
I think it was more of a deepening trust that this journey I am on is good, is holy, is worthwhile, is meaningful...all because this journey leads me closer and closer to Love. And what else really matters?
It meant that I felt a richer appreciation for the power and potential of commitment. I read these words from Sandra Schneiders, IHM one morning while I was in solitude in a hermitage:

By making a perpetual or lifelong commitment we take the whole of our life and being into our hands, temporally, as a concrete symbol of the qualitative whole to which we do not have access until our final breath, because it does not exist as an actual whole until then.

Clearly, this life is about a journey of daily commitment. And clearly, if I choose to make this commitment, the journey is only beginning for me. The commitment is felt in glimpses along the way, and then made whole and real in eternity.
In a presentation on fidelity and conversatio, the prioress from the Benedictines in Beech Grove, Indiana shared a line recited during the funeral liturgy for sisters in their community:
“Sister _____ has now completed her monastic profession.”
I was totally struck by this line. It totally stopped me. Maybe it's because five of our own sisters have completed their monastic profession since the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown.
Sister Kate Disbrow has now completed her monastic profession.Sister Carol Ann McLaughlin has now completed her monastic profession.Sister Anne McGreevy has now completed her monastic profession.Sister Jerome Eustace has now completed her monastic profession.Sister Mary Daniel Meahl has now completed her monastic profession.
They have given me glimpses into what it means to make a perpetual commitment. It is ongoing. They are still alive with us. Each sister's memory comes to prayer, to table, to the salt and pepper shakers she filled, to the clothing other sisters now wear, to the book I spotted in the library, to the towels she folded, to the harp she played. Their commitment to this monastic life is still so very real.
It gives me comfort to know that we are with these sisters in their eternal life; that my journey inches me there, too; that when I make a daily commitment to love and to others I, too, am offering my life to something bigger.
I am beginning to believe that this is a commitment and a journey worthy of their destination.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

What is it that you wish to seek?

Tue, 2020-06-30 16:56
Chapter 58 of the Rule of Benedict outlines the procedures for receiving people who desire to enter into the monastic life, specifically for Benedict, the cenobitic community. The chapter does not sugarcoat the process; it’s not meant to be a breeze. The elder member of the community entrusted to journey with the seeker must lay out the struggles in a candid and sincere manner. The seeker must show a love for the Liturgy of the Hours, for obedience, and for the hardships that are inevitable on the path of a communal life focused in humility and prayer and conversion.
Next week I will begin a lengthy retreat meant to focus on this discernment. Usually Scholastics (members in first profession) would travel for this experience, but here we are, in a pandemic, getting a little more practice in our vow of stability by staying put at home. Yes, we will get some solitude, and we will still be in conversation with others from different communities discerning a perpetual commitment, as well as directors, through the gift of technology. But, as is the reality with all life as affected by Covid-19, it will be different.
Someone asked me this evening what I hope to get out of the experience. I hope to continue to be affirmed in what I already know—that I love this life because it calls me to wholeness; that I love the women who make up this community because they show me how to live loving, human lives; that I love living an intentional life rooted in prayer and contemplation. I hope to remember that all my passing doubts are just that—passing, that the “What-ifs” that I ask myself are important and worth considering, but they are not the be-all/end-all because in the end “All shall be well.”
There will be a bit of a lull in this blog while I take that time away—while I continue the lifelong practice of encountering the Divine. We recently finished reading the book Keeping Faith by Fenton Johnson. Toward the end, he writes:
This act of confidence in our human right and responsibility to shape the terms of our encounter with the divine, as well as confidence in the greater order in which our search takes place—we give the name of faith.
I loved that line, “...our human right and responsibility to shape the terms of our encounter with the divine.” That is what a mature community does, together. As someone in formation moves from one phase to another, the prioress always asks the question, “What is it that you wish to seek?” I wish to seek an encounter with the Divine supported by a group of faith-filled women who also continue to seek that holy encounter. 
I think I am in a pretty good place.
Let us walk in the holy presence.
Fire at sunset

A Combination of Flavor

Mon, 2020-06-22 14:57
You know how some people have to eat all their potatoes, then all their peas, then all their carrots? You know how some people cannot handle one kind of food touching another on their plate? And, you how some other people like a little bit of potato, and peas, and carrots all in one bite?
Who knows why people choose the method they do when eating their meal, but I know that I am part of the ladder group. I love combining flavors. The other night at dinner, I had the applesauce on top of the sauerkraut, which was on a bed of mashed potatoes. I love that combination.
Well, the orioles have been back at the feeders after a brief hiatus. I have had a female at mine, and she keeps coming every day. Perhaps it's the grape jelly. A friend led us onto this trick; the birds love it!
But, to my amazement, or at least, my mild opportunity for reflection, I watched as this oriole flew up to the feeder with some green already in her mouth! I wondered if she likes combining flavors just like I do. I mean, grape jelly is basically sugar, and sugar goes super well with, well, everything!

It made me think of the movie, Ratatouille, a Disney/Pixar animated film from 2007. Of course, the combination of Disney/Pixar and a movie about food made me salivate myself. It was a wonderful film with a tear-worthy ending. There's a moment in the movie when Remy, a rat who is the main character, remembers the joy of each unique food flavor, but also the even-greater joy of combining those flavors.

Maybe the rest of the animal world is full of culinary artists, too!
Let us walk in the holy presence.

A Retreat of Small Joys

Tue, 2020-06-16 19:06
This past week our community was on its annual retreat. Understandably changed due to Covid-19, we had no Oblates present with us as we usually would, nor did we have some of our sisters who live out of the monastery since the presentations were available online. So, it was even more quiet than the week’s usual noiselessness. An additional small retreat from technology made it even nicer.

Winnie Varghese, an Episcopal priest in NYC, presented our retreat virtually on the call to love and justice. She shared many stories illuminating the reality of racism in a very timely way, and there was lots of free space to spend in reflection.

I also decided that I would use my retreat to try to practice feeling like there was nothing that I “had to do.” When a little, annoying urge to be somewhere other than where I was arose, I tried to pay attention to that. Why wasn’t I content in the present moment? I, too, had a bit more time to notice small things, literally so, as I ran past the young grapevines.

I also found such delight in the way that the morning sun glistened through the trees, making it appear as though stars were twinkling in the sky between the leaves blowing in the wind; I thought about how I always expect to find God in big ways. Then, I read a paragraph from Eve Ensler’s memoir, In the Body of the World:
I was always reaching for love, but it turns out love doesn’t involve reaching. I was always dreaming of the big love, the ultimate love, the love that would sweep me off my feet or ‘break open the hard shell of my lesser self’ (Daisaku Ikeda). The love that would inspire me to give everything. As I lay there, it occurred to me that while I had been dreaming of this big love, this ultimate love, I had, without realizing it, been giving and receiving love for most of my life. As with the trees that were right in front of me, I had been unable to value what sustained me, fed me, and gave me pleasure. And as with the trees, I was so busy waiting for and imaging and reaching and dreaming and preparing for this huge big love that I had totally missed the beauty and perfection of the soft-boiled eggs and Bolivian quinoa.
And, for me, I’ll substitute eggs and quinoa for the tiniest grapes and whimsical starry trees.
What are your soft-boiled eggs and Bolivian quinoa these days?
Let us walk in the holy presence.