From talking with friends and family, I know I’m not the only one who is a wee bit tired these days. Pandemic. Politics. Life in the midst of pandemic and politics. No elaboration is necessary. If this is where you are at these days, you might like this video prayer I just put together, set to “Show Up” by Jill Phillips.
I’ve been praying with her song this weekend. I’ve also been praying in gratitude for the book of creation. The seasons show up like clockwork, even if our human activities add stressors. The animals go about their business, sometimes letting us get close enough for inspiration. So I paired some of my recent photos I’ve taken on walks the past two months, some in Federal Way, WA and some in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. (Yes, I took my first plane trip in December, with built in quarantines on either end so that I could visit our sisters).
Back to the song. I find it both consoling and inspiring.
… Afraid that what we have to give is so small.
You don’t have to save the world. All that hero talk is only superficial stuff. If you want to change the world, What you gotta do is show up, show up, just show up.
We’re so used to an immediate response, So used to giving up when things don’t work. The road of long obedience is hard, No shortcuts will make it easier Because the journey so long But the difference is made By the million small steps along the way.
This song is a good soundtrack for my prayer right now. I share it in case it is helpful in your own prayer and discernment on how you might show up and make a difference through small things and small steps in great love.
Today is our CSJP Community Day of Thanksgiving – marking our 137th anniverary. It is also the day after the shameful insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. I shared the following reflection on today’s liturgical readings during our word and communion service today.
During the many tumultuous moments of 2020–the coronavirus pandemic, political upheaval, the beginning of our belated recokoning with white supremacy, and so much more — I found myself wondering what things would be like if people truly understood themselves, and everyone else, as beloved children of God.
In today’s first reading, John tell us it is so. “Beloved, we love God because God first loved us.”
Morover, John says, “we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey God’s commandments.”
Is it really that simple?
God loves us. We love God. God loves everyone. We love everyone. God loves all of creation. We love all of creation.
It really is that simple, and yet, we humans make it so much more complicated. Just look to what happened yesterday in our Nation’s capital.
The Gospel gives us a clear roadmap for our response in times like these as we follow Jesus. Jesus calls us to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. Jesus calls us to love as we seek peace.
Even amidst the chaos of political events, even in the difficult moments of our own lives, we, God’s beloved, are called to love one another and hold fast to the path to peace.
137 years ago today, in Nottingham, England, Bishop Edward Gilpin Bagshawe presided in Our Lady Chapel, St. Barnabas Cathedral, as the first Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace professed their vows. This is a day for which we give thanks for the gift of community and God’s blessings for our community.
Listen to the words that Bishop Bagshawe shared with our first Sisters:
“Our Divine Lord is called the Prince of Peace, and He gave peace to his disciples as his special gift, saying, ‘Peace be with you.’ … To secure this divine peace for ourselves, to procure its blessings for others in the midst of the sin and strife and turmoil and restless anxiety of this modern world is the object of your institute.”
He said those words on January 7, 1884.
Just imagine what Bishop Bagshawe would have thought of the turmoil that unfolded yesterday in Washington, D.C., or the restless anxiety so many felt as they watched our democracy be threatened like never before in our lifetimes.
We, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, are called to procure the blessings of peace in the midst of times such as these.
The psalmist apparently knew about the type of turmoil that happened at the Capitol Building yesterday.
“From fraud and violence he shall redeem them and precious shall their blood be in their sight. May they be prayed for continually; Day by Day shall they bless them.”
We are blessed with our charism of peace, not in spite of the restless anxiety and turmoil of our modern world, but because of it, for it.
And we believe that peace is possible, that peace points beyond itself in time.
Let us join our hearts and prayers for our community, church, nation, world, and Earth. That we may spread the blessings of peace, in faith, hope and love. That peace may come. That we may truly understand ourselves, and help others to understand themselves and everyone else, as beloved of God.
On this first day of 2021, I shared the following reflection on today’s Gospel during our prayer service for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Peace.
In today’s Gospel reading, the Christmas story continues with the arrival of the shepherds who told their amazing story of how they had learned about the birth of Jesus and how to find the Holy Family.
All who heard the story were amazed, but Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
A mother’s heart.
No doubt your own mother may have told you stories about you. Stories of love, care, concern, wonder, amazement, worry.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
In our amazing Christmas story, Mary, a woman, is the Mother of God. We hold this as a foundational truth today, in our own hearts. But it was hotly debated in the early church until eventually, she was given the title which had always been etched in her heart. Mother of God.
Her cousin Elizabeth of course knew this in her heart when she welcomed Mary at the Visitation, calling her “Mother of my Lord.”
“There can be no peace without a culture of care,” he says.
In other words, we need to nurture peace in our hearts, our words, and our actions. Mary, Mother of God is also known as Queen of Peace. She mothered peace, the Prince of Peace.
Pope Francis ends his Peace Day Message calling on another title of Mary we know well, Star of the Sea, Stella Maris. And Mother of Hope.
During these times of the pandemic, and these times of endless war and fractures, when we find ourselves “tossed by the storm” and seeking “a calmer and more serene horizon” we need a compass to guide us to peace.
In his message, Pope Francois points to the compass of the fundamental Catholic principles of Care—Care of the dignity and rights of each person, Care for the Common Good, and Care for Creation—as universal principles that might guide all people of Good Will on the path to peace.
“As Christians,” he writes, “we should always look to Our Lady, Star of the Sea and Mother of Hope.”
“May we work together,” he continues, “to advance towards a new horizon of love and peace, of fraternity and solidarity, of mutual support and acceptance. May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.”
And so, we pray …
Hail Mary, full of grace ….
[I created a summary document of the Message of Pope Francis for this 54th Day of Peace. You can download a copy here:
It’s a mix of old favorites by favorite artists, some newer songs and some new-to me artists, starting with three of my own prayer videos set to music. And yes, some songs are repeated! It’s 2020. All rules are flexible.
Enjoy! and Blessings of Peace!
As Joseph was a Walking – Annie Lenox Only at Christmas Time – Sufjan Stevens Joy to the World – Sufjan Stevens God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Sara Groves Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? – Sufjan Stevens Christmas (Baby Please Come HOme) – Darlene Love The Christmas Song – Aimee Mann Winter Wonderland – She & Him Jingle Bells – Ella Fitzgerald Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Phoebe Bridgers All I Want for Christmas – THe Yeah Yeah Yeahs O Come All Ye Faithful – Weezer What are You Doing New Year’s Eve? – The Head and the Heart Are You Coming Over for Christmas? – Belle & Sebastian Winter Wonderland – Radio Head The FIrst Noel – Weezer O Little Town of Bethlehem – Belle & Sebastian Jingle Bell Rock – Arcade Fire Donna & Blitzen – Badly Drawn Boy Last Christmas – Jimme Eat World Blue Christmas – Bright Eyes The Christmas Song – The Raveonettes Baby It’s Cold Outside – John Legend feat. Kelly Clarkson Frost the Snowman – Fiona Apple It’s Beginning to Look a lot LIke Christmas – Bing Crosby Skating – Vince Guaraldi 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night – Pheobe Bridgers (feat. Fiona Apple and Matt Berniger) Wonderful Christmastime – The Shins Little Drummer Boy – The Dandy Warhols Xmas Time is Here Again – My Morning Jacket O Holy Night – Weezer Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Albin Lee Meldau I Heard the Bless on Christmas Day – The Civil Wars Happy Xmas (War is Over) – The Polyphonic Spree Santa bring my baby back to me – Belle & Sebastian I Want an Alien for Christmas – Fountains of Wayne Good King Wenceslas – The Irish Rovers The Christians & The Pagans – Dar Williams Christmas in Hollis – Run DMC Last Christmas – Wham! O Holy Night – Tracy Chapman Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Frank Sinatra O Christmas Tree – Aretha Franklin Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2 On Christmas Day – Spiers & Boden The First Good Joy Our Mary Had – Fraser Freda Boyes Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer – Nowell Sing We Clear Christmas in Killarney – The Irish Rovers Let Us the Infant Greet – Loreena McKennitt Tracks in the Snow – The Civil Wars All My Christmases – Julian Edwards Christmas Song – Phoebe Bridgers Someday at Christmas – Jack Johnson I Saw Three Ships – Th Irish Rovers God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman/We Three Kings – Bare Naked Ladies Feat. Sarah McLachlan I Wonder as I Wander – Audrey Assad
Tomorrow morning it is time to lock the door to Apartment 3 at the Collegville Institute, my home away from home for the past month, and start the drive home to New Jersey. This time as a short term resident scholar has been filled with many graces, not the least of which have been rest, reflection, reading and writing. I finished a small reflection book on St. Joseph and have an outline, a good bit of reasearch and a large reading list for a larger writing project on sowing peace in chaotic times.
Our pandemic reality has made this month a mostly solitary experience, but I have had company … the trees, the fields, the lakes, sun, clouds, and even snow! In the midst of everything, seasons continue to change, a reminder that crazy as things might seem, the rhythm of life continues and invites us to pay attention.
This month has been a gift to me, a time to read, write, reflect and walk. One book I read with deep gratitude was Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh (Harper One 2015). As I finished the book this week, I found myself laughing aloud at this particular passage:
“Much of my teaching is aimed at helping people learn how to recognize suffering, embrace it, and transform it. That is an art. We have to be able to smile to our suffering with peace, just as we smile to the mud because we know that it’s only when we have mud (and know how to make good use of the mud) that we can grow lotus flowers.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
You see, I literally got stuck in the mud on a walk in the woods a few weeks ago, before the snow but after a rainstorm. I had decided to try out a new-to-me trail. After a few wrong turns, even though I had consulted a trail map, my planned 45 minute round trip walk through the woods was already 1 hour in, one way. I resorted to the GPS on my phone and saw that I was WAY off track.
No worries, I thought. I’m still in the general vicinity, and over there, I can see the marshland where I started my walk. This trail should take me in the right direction.
Up ahead I saw a giant puddle, from the night before. No worries, I thought again, I’ll just walk around the puddle. Which I did. Until my right foot got completely stuck in the mud.
No worries, I thought, still fairly calm. I’ll just hold onto this fallen log and pull my foot out. I did. My foot came out. But my shoe was still firmly in the mud.
This photo is misleading. It is not of my feet , but rather a photo from the internet depicting what would have been sensible footwear for my walk. But, remember, I had planned a short easy walk that I’d checked out on the map. I was only wearing my sneakers, and my right sneaker was now in the mud, my muddy foot was in the air. What to do?
I leaned back on the log with one arm, balancing myself, and managed to get my shoe out of the mud–after pulling off a leaf or two and some twigs off my now decidedly muddy foot–and put the sneaker back on. But by then, my other foot was stuck in the mud. The whole scenario repeated itself.
I was still pretty calm. I was not in a hurry. This was an adventure. But just as I was about to continue on my way, both feet got stuck in the mud at the same time and I fell back, plop, into the mud.
Which is when I burst out laughing.
I was laughing so hard at myself, that it was difficult to grab back onto the log and get my muddy self standing again on solid ground. It took a couple of tries. The birds and other creatures must have heard my raucous laughter. Maybe even some other hikers on other trails. God certainly did.
Eventually my uncontrollable desire to laugh at my situation subsided and I decided to continue on the trail, watching out for further mud holes and puddles. Then I realized that the trail I had taken which I thought was going in the right direction was actually a loop. I was right back where I started , at least half an hour before, when I’d first realized I was basically lost.
I laughed again. I looked down at my muddy jeans, felt my wet socks inside my muddy shoes, put one foot carefully in front of the other, and carefully traced my way back. Eventually I figured out where I’d made the wrong turn, and made it back safely to my car. Two and a half hours after I’d started, but thankfully while it was still daylight.
A few weeks later, reading these words of wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh, I felt closer to understanding. Suffering is one of the major mysteries of the universe, and has been the source of some of my most heated debates with God. This little muddy adventure was not true suffering, I know, but it taught me how it might be possible to smile to my suffering, with peace, and maybe not get so stuck in the mud.
This Sunday morning, as I listened to public radio and live streamed mass, I thought about the importance and influence of our sense of place. In our digital age, we can live stream news and even liturgy from anywhere in the world. Yet what did I chose to do? I live streamed the local public radio station and the local Sunday liturgy.
Now, were I at home in New Jersey, this would be unremarkable. As it happens, however, I am spending the month of October as a short term resident scholar at the Collegeville Institue at St. John’s University in Minnesota. When I applied for, and received, this residency opportunity, it was in a pre-pandemic world. I researched the local area. Looked forward to attending mass and prayers with the monks at the abbey and the sisters at the nearby monastery, both Benedctine. I was excited to participate in all the public lectures and other opportunities a university environment provides, especially having access to a library, as well as interacting with the other resident scholars.
Then of course, the pandemic happened. I was so grateful that the Collegeville Institute and university decided to stay open and welcome scholars, even though of course things had to be adapted for public health reasons. It has been a graced opportunity to have the time and space to read, write, and reflect. I have certainly taken advantage of the wonderful grounds, which are designated as an arboretum. The library is open, and thanks to the wonder of electronic databases I’ve been able to reserve and pick up books. Sadly, the St. John’s Bible display is closed, but I looked through the books on display in the bookstore. As to the other scholars, we’ve waved to each other on our solitary walks and had some socially distanced interactions. A different experience than the one I’d envisioned, but a blessed one nonetheless.
As I finish my month here, I feel grounded in and gifted by this place. The Collegeville Institute is nestled in the woods upon a lake. It is no surprise that I have a sense of place here, because as it happens that was intentional.
My work space looks out at the trees and the water and my squirrel friends. As I’ve worked and prayed, I’ve watched the seasons change and walked the trails through the woods and fields, which are just outside my door!
But back to my morning realization. Why did I go to the effort, shortly after I arrived, to download the Minnesota Public Radio app to my phone? After all, I already had the WNYC app downloaded, which has essentially the same NPR programs that I am accustomed to, although one hour earlier. Partly I suppose it’s an adaptation of habit. Back in the day when you actually listened to the radio at home ON a radio, which I now only do in the car, of course I’d listen to the local public radio station. Here in the 21st Century, I made a concious choice to download the app for the local public radio station to help me tap into the local, if just a bit.
This morning I reflected that this has to do with the importance and influence of my sense of place on my imagination and being. In away, during this weird covid time, it’s more important to make these concious choices to get the lay of the land and to BE in the land, even if virtually. Otherwise, with little social interaction and most time spent safely inside, wherever we are, we can settle into a kind of no land.
My first two weeks here were an official quarantine, after my travel from New Jersey. Since then I’ve had more time to walk on the grounds of the unviersity and even did some early Christmas shopping at the bookstore–masked and following social distance guidelines of course. But I’ve not yet made it into the Abbey Church.
Instead, each Sunday I have live streamed mass from the Abbey. Is it the same as physically being there? Of course not, and I do plan to go to daily mass before I leave, when there will presumably be less people present. Yet even participating in the Abbey Sunday Liturgy from my couch, looking out at the tranquil scene outside my window and then back to the screen, I feel connected. Connected to the monks and the other people there, in their masks, socially distanced, praying in this space, from this place, for the needs of the world.
This month I have the incredible privilege to be a short term scholar at the Collegeville Institute at St. John’s University in Minnesota. It is an unstructured time to read, write and reflect. I am working on a couple of projects: reflections on St. Joseph and exploring how we cultivate peace in chaotic times.
One way I am cultivating peace within myself while chaos abounds in our political situation is by taking long walks each day. Incredible autumn beauty is just outside my door here in Collegeville.
On this afternoon’s walk, the trees were calling and shining in the light. I was reminded of this poem by Mary Oliver. Really a prayer and a way to engage the chaos from a space of peace.
When I am Among the Trees
By Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
Four years ago it was my honor and privilege to be a Nun on the Bus. You remember that election I am sure. I was on the bus from Janesville, Wisconsin to Cleveland, Ohio. Along the way I met some amazing people and heard incredible stories about the joys and struggles of our brothers and sisters. My leg on the trip ended at the Republican National Convention where we passed out lemonade to delegates and asked them three questions: 1. Who is difficult to talk to about politics in your family and why. 2. What conerns you about the election. 3. What gives you hope for our nation.
“Our diversity is our strength,” one man from Wisconsin told me. “It can be scary, but over time our country will heal based on our strong values.” Another from Tennessee said, “We have overcome a lot before as a nation and can do it again.”
For that to be possible, we need to bridge the growing political divide. We need to sweeten the sour conversations in our body politic, in our families and in our communities. We need to talk with people with whom we do not normally engage. If we want to mend the gaps and reweave the fabric of society, then we need to move beyond trading barbs, attacks and presumed facts and focus instead on our hearts, probe our fears, and dare to hope for our nation.
(you can read other reflections I wrote from the bus in 2016 here, here, here, and here.
Sadly, the divide has deepened and the gaps seem even wider today. I believe that this 2020 election comes at a critical time in our nation’s story. The theme of the 2020 Nuns on the Bus Tour–which will of course be virtual given our COVID reality–is therefore quite fitting: Who We Elect Matters. For this reason, I decided to get back on the bus this year to talk about how I feel called to be a multi issue voter.
In many ways, the voter I am today is because of my Mom. My Mom knew in her bones that who we elect matters in the lives of real people, especially those who are poor and vulnerable. She taught me to care for life at all stages, to promote human dignity and the common good and to bring all those concerns into the voting booth (or onto the pages of a mail in ballot, as the case may be.)
Now, you might be wondering what a virtual Nuns on the Bus Tour looks like! Well, the journey officially begins on September 23, but the website is live now. When you click on the link you will find a map of our great country, with various stops you can make, including:
-Meet a Nun on the Bus Videos (you can watch my video here) and Site Visit videos where you can meet people involved in social service agencies and community organizations
-Sign up for live events, including Site Visits, Town Halls for Spirit Filled Voters and Dialogues Across Geographic Divides.
I will be attending events in New York City, New Jersey, Florida, Kansas, St. Louis, and Arizona — all virtually of course. I hope to maybe see some of you there!
But most importantly, I pray that all voters will take this election seriously, follow their conscience, and vote for the common good.