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.
My Mom knew how to be about what was important, but also knew it was important to take time away for rest, relaxation and renewal. Case in point is this qunitissential picture of her on a porch in the mountains, taking a break from her novel to ponder the beauty around her.
She is my role model in many ways, including how to vacation.
My religious community enshrines in our constitutions a philosophy I think my mother would have agreed with, and in fact lived out.
In solidarity with our sisters and brothers we engage in human labor as a means of service and sustenance. We recognize the value of leisure as contributing to restoration and wholeness. In these ways we come to share in the creative power of God. Constitution 54
This week I am blessed to have a chance to value and experience leisure, and hopefully contribute to my own restoration and wholeness. After this time of vacation, or holiday as my sisters in the UK are apt to say, I will return to what is mine to do.
But for now I am all about not having a daily schedule, but instead having a pile of novels I might read and plenty of opportunity to just ponder the beauty of creation if that is what I feel like doing. In other words, channeling Mom.
This week, on a day packed with very important zoom meetings (which seems like everyday of late, begging the question of how important they can actually be), I spotted this tableau on my way through the house.
Joseph, standing tall. The caption that came to me was “Joseph pondering the needs of the world.”
Given the caption, the needs of the world are pretty big, and Joseph, while standing tall, can barely peek into the top of the jar/well/container.
(What you don’t know is that Joseph has a broken foot, super glued back into place).
So here is Joe. Standing tall, but barely taller than the needs of the world. Standing on a broken, haphazardly fixed, ceramic foot. Looking tenderly upon the needs of our broken world. The needs of the family of God. His family.
Don’t know about you, but I found this very comforting.
St. Joseph, pray for the people of God, your family. We need your prayers and intercession!
We nurture our life of prayer by reflective reading, particularly scripture, by periods of solitude and silence,and by an annual retreat. (CSJP Constitution 30)
It has been my privilege and joy to spend the last week on my annual retreat. My planned directed retreat at a retreat house was of course cancelled, this being 2020 when everything has been disrupted. So instead I met with my spiritual director virtually and retreated within driving distance to a quiet spot to make a private retreat.
It has been a week of gentle surprises, holding the intentions of our mixed up world close to my heart, and experiencing the presence and deep love of God. In addition to spending quiet time with God and reflective reading, I took some contemplative photos on my walks with God in the beauty of creation. Prayer in action all around us!
God of love, source of all that is good, thank you.
Your creation reminds us of beauty, goodness, wonder and awe.
You are our creator, our companion, our center.
You desire us to ground ourselves in your goodness and gift one another with love, justice, and peace.
Help us to see goodness when it is hidden, even in ourselves.
Inspire us to spread goodness.
Guide us to read the signs of the times and respond by building right relationship between and among all peoples and creation.
This post is dedicated to the people in my life who are most directly impacted by the sin of racism.
My prayer of late is percolating, filled with emotion and low on words. I am a very strong “T” on the Myers Briggs (those who know me will not be surprised), but my thought bubbles right now are being outpaced by my heart bubbles.
Love for the people in my life most directly impacted by racism. Frustration at the daily challenge they face just going through life, microagressions, burdens, barriers and other things I can intellectually try to understand but never really will. Care and concern for them, especially at this time when everything is, just, everything.
Anger at the lives lost and put in danger because of the lie of white supremacy. Kids with candy or toys killed. Young men running or walking killed. Young women in their own homes or cars killed. Enough says my heart. When will it stop cries my heart.
Suprise that many well meaning people with skin tones close to mine, who normally don’t see color, are now making the NYT nonfiction best seller list decidedly anti-racist themed. Grateful even if they are late to the party. Worried that a crash course or binge read may not be the best way to do systemic work.
Hope. This moment does feel different. Fervent hope that it truly is different.
Because of the LOVE I feel deep in my heart for the people I have been blessed to call friend and family and community who are most impacted, each moment, each day, each hour, each minute by the sin of racism.
Because of the LOVE that created us and knitted us together. In the beginning, now and forever.
Today was a wonderful day, as I led my first virtual retreat live on Zoom, hosted by the Peace and Spirituality Center. More than 60 folks attended and the conversations were truly wonderful. I am very grateful to the staff at the Peace and Spirituality Center for being willing to work with me to adapt my planned in person Peace Day to an online retreat.
I have gone ahead and made a 1 hour video version of the online retreat, for anyone to use with a small group or on their own. Just visit the Online Retreat page of the blog to download the reflection guide and watch the video.
(picture of a nesting dove – our sheltering in place is itself an act of solidarity during these times)
Have you noticed that everyone (and everything) is weird these days.
And that no one is weird at the same time?
If you find yourself tired or anxious or frustrated or annoyed or even angry, of course you are. We are going on 2 months of this strange reality with no clear path forward that seems comfortable, sure or safe.
Yet here we are. Together. Alone. Safe in our homes or maybe on the newly redefined front lines, suddenly considered essential. Simple daily tasks seem daunting. We juggle home and work life all in one place. So many plans have suddenly disappeared. We might feel lost, dazed or confused.
In today’s Gospel (John 14), our friend Thomas follows his own doubts to help us find the way through. In my own simplified paraphrase of this passage, which I have often prayed with even before these pandemic days, we hear:
Thomas: How can we know the way?
Jesus: I am the way. Stay focused on me. Love a lot.
Yep. Love. A lot. Love is the way when people are weird. Love is the way when we are weird. Love is the way when your child/niece/student is sad that their graduation has been cancelled. Love is the way when you remind your grandmother/mother/sister/friend/yourself that all this isolation has a purpose. Love is the way when you reorganize your plans … again. Love is the way when [insert challenging situation here]. All the rest is distraction from what really matters.
A few years ago, in other life circumstances, my meditation on this Gospel led me to create a video prayer set to music by Sufjan Stevens. I find it is a fruitful prayer these days too, and so I offer it here in case it resonates with you.
Of course travel and in person gatherings are on hold, but in coordination with the great staff at the center I will now be holding the retreat day online. I have also adapted the topic to fit what I think we all need most right about now: Living Peace in Pandemic times. Details are on the flyer below. If you would like to join us, you can register at this link: https://conta.cc/34TTm5l
We’re all a bit off these days. Our prayer space, time and experience is probably off kilter a bit as well. For those of us used to a sacramental shared liturgical experience, we have the option of watching mass online, but it’s not the same. We all know there is SO much to pray for, but that’s just it. There’s so much.
For years now I have “prayed the news,” reading the newspaper in the morning as part of my morning prayer. I hold in my heart and mind some of the stories of human suffering, joy, and life within those written words and pray for the people and realities behind the story.
Last month, I was able to carve a little space into my oddly busy quarantine life for a mini personal retreat weekend. I walked the grounds of the convent where I live, which is perched on the palisades across the Hudson River from New York City.
New York City of course has been so hard hit by COVID-19, as has New Jersey where I live. I prayed for all of it and everyone, and later made this video prayer of photos from that day set to the song “Island” by Audrey Assad.
We are knit together Together as one Where you’re going I will go Underneath the shelter of this love We will walk each other home You be home to me I will be home to you No one is an island You be home to me I will be home to you No one is an island