Walking in the Holy Presence by Valerie Luckey

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Updated: 1 hour 49 min ago

A Week at the Texas/Mexico Border

Sun, 2020-01-19 13:58
As I prepared to travel to the Texas/Mexico border for a week, quite a few people asked me about my expectations and hopes. I didn’t have much to say because I really didn’t know exactly what I had said “Yes” to doing. I didn’t know how many migrants we’d meet with harsher immigration policies in place; I didn’t know what the home looked like where I’d be staying; I’d never been in Texas before; I didn’t know if we’d cross over to Mexico; on and on the list of unknowns went.
The landscape at the Boerne monastery
Usually a laundry list of unknowns is extremely uncomfortable for me. But, as we made it through our three flights that ended in San Antonio, Julian of Norwich must have been with me. I truly felt, “All shall be well.”
Maybe it was that we were met with the usual Benedictine hospitality when the prioress from the Boerne community came to pick us up from the airport and then took us out for a meal. Maybe it was that the community of sisters welcomed us so warmly at the monastery, with a curiosity about us and joy to be with us. Maybe it was the 3-hour car ride to the border the next morning with two sisters from the community. All was well.
As you leave San Antonio and get closer and closer to Eagle Pass, the border city where we stayed, it gets flatter and flatter. You can try to imagine people fleeing from their homes and their countries into this unknown land, full of fear, questions, and full of so much more emotion. I could never, though, imagine the extent of the realities that would cause someone, or some family, to risk so much—me being from a safe place with so much privilege.
The view near the border
When we arrived at Sr. Ursula’s home, the Benedictine sister who lives and ministers there, we were immediately greeted by someone whose reality is the former. A mother and her two sons, who fled Honduras because of violence, live with Ursula while waiting a court date, while her husband lives in prison as he awaits his own. And while we immediately clicked with this mother who could not have been too much older than myself, I sat there in conversation wondering so much about her truth, her experience, and her future. Her two sons each have a truth of their own as they begin acclimating to a new school system, a new language, and a new culture. And for as much as we conversed, again, these are realities we could never fully appreciate or grasp.
Our day-to-day schedule was a new monastic rhythm for us. Later mornings meant later evenings; we weren’t living on our own schedule anymore. Perhaps the 8 o’clock dinners were the hardest part for me! I am usually in my pajamas by then, or close! We spent our days helping Ursula arrange donations, organize her food pantry, make beds for people staying over, unload trailers with items to give away—many tasks you might imagine. Then we would usually head across the border and into Piedras Negras, the Mexican city on the other side of the Rio Grande.
The Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo
When you cross the bridge, you see the river, called the Rio Bravo in Spanish, that migrants must cross to make it to Texas, and it doesn’t look too wide, or too dangerous. But then you find out that the water can be 10-13’ feet deep, and you hear the stories of people dying while swimming; you understand how it gets its Spanish name.
In Mexico, Sr. Ursula has an entire other ministry, one that spans helping in any way she can at a boys’ and a girls’ orphanage, a home for migrants, a home for people with disabilities, two soup kitchens, and other ministry work. It is an amazing network of people doing good, and Ursula helps to facilitate and sustain the work at these places. It was true gift to encounter these people who have significantly less still reaching out their hands in service to others. It was humbling.
At the girls’ orphanage
After the first day or two of living a different schedule, not doing things at the exact time we said we would, lingering and talking to others much longer than we would here, I found myself in one of those spiritual sticky situations where I had to quickly let go of my idea of how things would be done; I had to give up my desire to control and learn to simply be with Ursula in her ministry, helping her in any way I could. After that wake-up call, I found myself sinking into the experiences that followed with much greater joy and gratitude and much less anxiety. Of course, I didn’t know what to expect going into this week of my life, but I certainly took myself, and all my spiritual baggage, with me!
It’s hard to describe how much my time at the border meant to me, and having returned only a few days ago, it is something that is still very much unfolding and will continue. It surprised me how drastic the change felt coming back home to the Mount and back to work; there was definite new perspective—for which I am quite grateful. I know I have much more to say, especially about the beautiful monastic spirit that is Sr. Ursula (and, of course, about all the wonderful food! Olé!), but this is a start as I begin to embrace a new truth of my own that now includes having had this deeply meaningful and moving experience.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

This Day, and Probably Also Tomorrow

Sat, 2020-01-11 07:31

We are spending a week in Eagle Pass, TX doing ministry work at the U.S.A./Mexico border. I could not help but share this image of the sky looking westward into Mexico the other night, as well as this Mary Oliver poem that I came across for the first time while here. 
This Day, and Probably Also Tomorrow
Full of thought, regret, hope dashed or not dashed yet,full of memory, pride, and more than enoughof spilled, personal grief,
I begin another page, another poem,
So many notions fill the day! I give themgowns of words, sometimes I give themlittle shoes that rhyme. 
What an elite life!
While somewhere someone is kissing a face that is crying. While somewhere women are walking out, at two in the morning—     many miles to find water. While somewhere a bomb is getting ready to explode. 
Until I return...
Let us walk in the holy presence. 

The Clothing of the Monastery

Sun, 2020-01-05 15:54
I stood at the door of the Emmaus Soup Kitchen the other night alongside one of my sisters. After dinner there, we were both coming home to attend the memory service for our sisters Mary Bernard and Dorothy who died on the same date, twelve hours apart.

We often put out clothing or other items for our guests. That night at the kitchen were many pairs of white socks. My sister told me, “These were Sister Dorothy’s. Our guests like white socks.”


Benedict asks us to regard all goods as “sacred vessels of the altar.” For us it means taking care of our clothing, too. Benedict asks us later in the Rule to return our clothing “at once” to store “in a wardrobe for the poor.”

Thanks for continuing to teach me this way of life that Benedict gifts us, Dorothy!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The Last Culinary Creation of the Decade!

Tue, 2019-12-31 09:09
My brain and my spirit aren’t really registering that a new decade is upon us, but I am in a celebratory mood nonetheless.

The end of this year (the Winter Solstice, to be exact) brought with it my friend’s 30th birthday. I had tried to get some hints and found out that she wanted a rainbow cake—you know, one of those cakes with six layers, each a different color of the rainbow?!

Well, voilà!
Happy Birthday, Breanna! And Happy New Year (and New Decade) to you all!
Let us continue to walk in the holy presence.




Come, O Radiant Dawn

Sun, 2019-12-22 14:06
Yesterday we prayed to the Radiant Dawn, Oriens, on the Winter Solstice. The truth of our human life is that we are constantly in-between. And yesterday’s celebration of the winter solstice has never made it feel more true.


The heavens welcomed two of our sisters, Mary B and Dorothy, twelve hours apart into the choir of angels, just in time for Christmas. It was a day of waiting in the in-between as we vigiled and prayed.

In the in-between I learned how to make empanadas with my friend who is Argentinian...a joy-filled experience that made me even more excited about the holidays. You can see how my cinching improved from bottom to top!


And the chapel is very much herself in-between as the Advent wreath still enjoys its place as the focal point of our worship, but the Christmas tree has also made its appearance.


And we enjoy what the winter light does for this space, especially as the Solstice brings back the sun.

So, as I reflect on all that it means to be in-between people, I pray for the grace to welcome both life and death, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, harvest and drought, certitude and mystery. May Mary-of-the Bathtub cleanse me of my close-mindedness as I practice saying “Yes” to it all!


Let us walk in the holy presence.

A Smattering of Advent Days

Mon, 2019-12-16 13:20
I think the winter decorations in the monastery (note: not Christmas decorations!) did their job this weekend. The snowpeople seem to have warded off the predicted storm, bringing us a lot of rain instead. (Go check out the new scene in the basement hallway!)


You can see that the rain even melted the lingering snow, and the birds have been enjoying their winter meals!


But the highlight of the weekend came with the opportunity to see Mannheim Steamroller perform on Friday evening at the Warner. I think my favorite song was We Three Kings, but you can hear their version of Fum, Fum, Fum below.
At evening praise tomorrow night we will begin chanting the O Antiphons, beseeching Wisdom to come and guide our way to knowledge.
The days are full of joy, indeed.
Let us walk in the holy presence.

Paring Down

Mon, 2019-12-09 14:46
Although we in the monastery are not immune from the busyness of December, we do enjoy the peaceful calm of Advent as our chapel changes into a blue sanctuary, our songs often become simple mantras during prayer, and we try as desperately as possible to keep the Christmas decorations at bay. (Yes, I will admit that I did watch A Charlie Brown Christmas while visiting home last week!)

Here is a simple, yet profound poem from Irene Zimmerman titled Incarnation that reminds us to simply say “Yes!” during these days of waiting for the fullness of Christ to enter our world.

In careful hands
God held the molten world—
fragile filigree
of unfinished blown glass.

Then Mary’s word: Yes!
rose like a pillar of fire.
and Breath blew creation
into Christed crystal.

May your Advent days be filled with a peace, simple and holy.

Let us walk in the holy presence.


A Double Rainbow

Mon, 2019-11-25 12:57
Well, it's a not a double rainbow exactly, but this is the time of year best for seeing the colorful reflection of our stained-glass windows in chapel. The sun needs to be out for the full display of this most wonderful sight, an increasingly-rare occasion as the winter months arrive. Saturday happened to be one of those days graced with light.



It never gets old.

The lovely weather also afforded us a perfect day for our first walk on the trail at Winter Green Gorge. It sort of feels like "the Wissahickon of Erie," as I have decided to call it. It made me feel like I was back in Philadelphia at my favorite spot in the city.



Let us walk in the holy presence.

Celebrating the In-Between

Mon, 2019-11-18 13:09
Yesterday we celebrated an "in-between" moment of our community history as we marked the 50th anniversary of the Mount, the monastery where we live today. Fifty years ago the community moved from its inner-city motherhouse on East 9th Street seven miles east to Harborcreek. We can call that period an "in-between" time because the move occurred amidst Vatican II and the renewal of religious communities.
By entering into a new home, it called for renewal of customs and traditions that had been familiar to the sisters. This allowed the community to create a much more open way of life. Hearing the stories of this time gave me, yet again, a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices of our sisters to turn the Mount into the welcoming and loving monastery it is today. I especially appreciate the Sisters '66 show that was a fundraiser for the project.
Happy Birthday to our home!



It is also very much an "in-between" moment in the year as noted on a long, sunny walk yesterday afternoon.


Let us walk in the holy presence.

Listen With the Ear of Your Heart

Mon, 2019-11-11 12:46
I was happy to come across a nice article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about some work being done in Philadelphia by some people I know. Can radical listening transform prison culture? The project is called Just Listening and works to bring listening hearts to places where those ears and hearts are greatly needed. Very good stuff.

This weekend I enjoyed a little getaway with a friend in State College—a welcome change of pace: lingering mornings, quiet evenings, quality conversation. A gift.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Glass work, Firebird by Etsuko Nishi in the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State
Glass work, Elegance by Danny Perkins
The Harp by Augusta Savage (replica)
our own masterpiece, a fall feast!
a quirky pumpkin in the front yard

Preparing to Hibernate

Mon, 2019-11-04 16:39
Yes, even though we can still feel the warmth of our sun in the afternoon, we are definitely preparing for winter. The clocks have turned, and this weekend we put out the bird feederswith even more locations this yearin the inner courtyard, too! We are hoping the birds will come to greet our sisters and bring some much needed winter cheer and light.

This year we’ve also “enhanced” our feeder collection! One cathedral-like home given us by another sister, as well as another caged feeder that advertises as “squirrel-proof!” Fingers crossed!


And even though it isn't officially winter, this poem always helps me as I linger in many layers through the cold months.

The Winter Wood Arrives
Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let us walk in the holy presence.

what I believe to be fothergilla

Fall and Falls

Mon, 2019-10-21 13:15
It was one of those autumn days that makes you wonder if it really is the "last day" of summer. Cool in the morning, but warm and wonderfully sunny by the afternoon.

How fortuitous that my parents had come up for a visit and that we had already decided to make a trip up to Niagara Falls after a very, very cold attempt last year.

A small glimpse of the appropriately-named Rainbow Bridge...


And a ride on Maid of the Mist...







And yes, there still have been two more "last days" of summer that followed Saturday. Glory be to these splendid days!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Searching for God

Mon, 2019-10-14 20:54
Psalm 84 begins this way (from the translation we pray in our office book):

How lovely is your dwelling place,
God of Life.

I am longing and yearning,
Yearning for your presence.
My whole being cries out to you,
To you, the living God.

Even the sparrows find a home,
And the swallows a nest for their young.
As for me, I search for you,
God of Life, Eternal One.

We prayed this psalm on Sunday at morning praise, and it was those last two lines that got me.
“I search for you, God of Life.”

It’s all I really want to do—search for God, the One who gives me life. Maybe it resonated more this past Sunday because it’s been almost two years since I made my first vows to God—to search for the Divine Presence in and with this community.

What have I found? Mostly just the reality of being human—challenge, sadness, confusion, clarity, abundant joy, and plenty of love.

I shouldn’t have expected much more, I guess!

Let us journey on, sister sparrows!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

passion flower

Life and Death

Mon, 2019-10-07 19:38
I enjoyed some quiet time this weekend, taking the opportunity to reflect on a few different parts of my life.

As I looked out the window, I couldn’t help but notice how the autumn season was displaying herself.



The fullness of life and death all in one view. It reminded me of the liturgical environment created two years ago in chapel when one of our sisters made her perpetual profession—another display of life and death exhibited through nature.

That is what the vows that we, as monastics, profess are all about—embracing the inevitable death of some parts of ourselves that must happen in order to experience the fullness of life.
The self-centeredness, the desire to accumulate, the close-mindedness—all of this and more must go.

What parts of yourself do you need to embrace to live and to celebrate life? What parts must slowly fade, like what we witness in nature during these autumn days?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond 
Mary Oliver

As for life,
I’m humbled,
I’m without words
sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen —
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of holiness.

Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective. 

It suffices, it is all comfort —
along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever, 


and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can’t wait to be the hummingbird,
can you?