Saturday, June 26, 2010

Still Trying To Listen


Written June 23, 2010

This evening on the vigil of the feast of St. John the Baptist and the 51st anniversary of my monastic profession, I sat down at my little altar in my bedroom (which also might be considered my monk cell) and listened for a long spell. Or, I guess you might say: I kept vigil. I love Vigils. They call me to stand before those things that were and are sacred. To symbolically stand before the mystery of my 51 years as a monastic was a very special prayer.

I am not so sure I knew what I was doing 51 years ago. Today as I prepare to renew my promises/vows I have a much clearer picture of why I am here although I must say that I still lack full understanding.

On the Vigil of my 51st anniversary I prayed with one of my favorite passages from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72: On the Good Zeal of Monks. I am quoting a bit of this passage for your own reflection because the message is very obviously one that could speak to you in whatever way of life you have chosen.

“…This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love; “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other." (Rom12:10) supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. …and let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”

June 24, 2010

My anniversary was made even more special this year by the fact that Sister Cecelia Marie made her final profession today. As I was praying with the word “final” in regard to my own monastic life I found myself smiling with a kind of new enlightenment. I know what final is supposed to mean.; I have pondered often on the promise of stability in the monastic way of life and am aware of the possibility of finding God wherever I am. I do not have to get on a jet plane to find Christ in some foreign place (although that could at times be a true call). In a world that finds stability difficult I choose stability.

But today I also was given the insight that nothing is final, not even monastic promises. Every morning I must renew my vows again. Every morning I discover new ways to say, “Yes.” Every morning I stand before the mystery of my “Suscipe” and renovate my way of being obedient to Christ in this community. Every day I renovate my heart.
I Am Still Trying to Listen With
the Ear of My Heart!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


When I visited the Sistine Chapel in summer of 2008 the guards were forever crying out, SILENCIO. People would become silent for awhile and then their voices would rise again. I appreciated the reminder to view all that awesome sacred art in silence.

Whenever I stand before beauty, I tend to be drawn into what I call a natural silence. There are many kinds of beauty: a loaf of bread--just out of the oven, a rotten log surrounded by buttercups, a tear, a smile, mist rising from the pond, flowers struggling in the summer heat, orchards and vineyards laden with fruit. It may not be the Sistine Chapel but in these moments also I often hear an unknown voice chanting, SILENCIO. What do you say when there's nothing to say? Say nothing!

I reflected on this last week while I was in silence during our community retreat. We didn’t have any sister-guards standing around calling out SILENCIO, and for the most part that wasn’t needed. In a monastic community, silence during a retreat is kind of taken for granted. We need to go beyond just taking it for granted though. Each time I attend a retreat, the value of silence is renewed for me. I find myself being encouraged and invited to build time for solitude and silence every day—not just while on retreat.

I will be leading a contemplative retreat in Colorado Springs in October of 2010 and was recently asked by one of the leaders if the retreat was a totally silent retreat. In my prayer I reflected on how to answer that question and these are the words I was given:

“Although the retreat is not totally silent we assume that if you come to a contemplative experience you will have some desire to be led to the deepening places which requires a faithful listening to the spaces between the words. We would also hope to find in you a willingness to help create the kind of atmosphere in which your companion seekers in the retreat will be led to live in the shade and the shadow of God’s wings.”

As I think over that answer I am reminded of a moment during our community retreat when I was drawn into gratitude because of the sensitivity of the people who work at our monastery. I was alone in the dining room having coffee after one of the conferences. Two of our workman came in and sat down at a table to have coffee. Aware of my presence, they were totally silent even though they ordinarily talk at their coffee break. Their choice of silence struck me as a gesture of loving support for my retreat. I received it as their gift to me.

As I walk through the garden these hot summer days it is as though all of nature is crying out without words: SILENCIO.

Where do you find moments for silence
and solitude in your daily life?
What calls you into the quiet?

At dawn, after struggling to be born;

The Moon Flower lifts up its face

and again I hear the invitation,


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Traveling Without a Camera

On my recent trip I decided to leave my camera at home. Sometimes when I travel with a camera I am not truly present to the beauty I see because I am trying to capture everything. My intention was to be more mindful and simply take it all in through the lens of my eye. It was a wonderful spiritual practice although I had my moments of longing for the camera. I was in western Pennsylvania surrounded by the Allegheny National Forest and there were certainly many photographic moments that I had to sacrifice. The Olmstead Manor Retreat Center was beautifully bathed in Spring Blossoms, little waterfalls coming from the forest hills was music for the heart. Mt. St. Benedict Monastery in Erie, PA also provided much meditation material. Even my sojourn in airports fed my soul because I made the intention to see as purely and contemplatively as possible. I practiced beholding all the beauty. I relied on my heart’s memory and brought it all home with me. This morning while praying I decided to take out my snapshot memories and pray with them. So although I don’t have any photos to share with you, here are some of my memories, I invited you to envision them like a slide show and let each one be as a beautiful icon in a picture frame. You might even hang them on the wall of your heart:

  • two red-tailed hawks playing in the clouds
  • the window in my bedroom framing pink and white blossoms supported by tree branches of lacy green leaves.
  • streams of water flowing through green moss and falling into small pools of water
  • the morning mist encircling a lone walker on the labyrinth
  • freshly anointed stones on a small altar, built in honor of the places where God has visited us.
  • retreatants sitting quietly in green places, meditating
  • the prelude to a sunset on Lake Erie
  • a little girl in the airport, dancing without reserve
  • moving slowly through the light filled tunnel in the Detroit airport even though I was aware that my plane was already boarding and I had a long hike to the gate
  • Belle flowers (which I had never seen before) pink, purple and white, making silent music
  • the night blooming cereus
  • stones loving placed in the memory garden on the grounds of Mt. St. Benedict Monastery in Erie, PA
  • a small flower growing out of a piece of bark

Yes, the lens of the eye is sacred. It, too, has its memory card. Sometimes I see things more clearly with the pure light of the soul. Constantly, life unfurls before our eyes--even when we aren't looking. Open your eyes this week. At the end of the week (or day) you, too, might want to share a few photograpic icons stored in your soul's memory card.