Tag Archives: contemplation

St. Edith Stein, pray for us … a Saint for these times

I have long been haunted by a quote by Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Carmelite nun, Jewish daughter and sister, philosopher, one time atheist, convert, contemplative, martyr of Auschwitz .

“Nowadays I always feel transported into Napoleonic times, and I can imagine in what tension people lived then everywhere in Europe. I wonder: will we live to see the events of our days become ‘history’? I have a great desire to see all this sometime in the light of eternity. For one realizes ever more clearly how blind we are toward everything. One marvels at how mistakenly one viewed a lot of things before, and yet the very next moment one commits the blunder again of forming an opinion without having the necessary basis for it.” Edith Stein: A Self-Portrait in Letters, quoted in the People’s Companion to the Breviary.

This quote is included in the office book published by the Carmelites of Indianapolis. It is the reading for Week IV, Friday, evening prayer. The first time I heard this read during community prayer when I was a candidate back in 2005, my heart stopped. I didn’t know much about Edith Stein, except that she had been killed in a concentration camp. But it led me to learn more about her, which only made the quote that much more powerful.

When she was a professor of philosophy she studied the problem of empathy. Writing in 1925–the same year that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was published–she proposed that the capacity for empathy ensures “openness among human beings” rather than separation or alienation. She engaged in her philosophical study of this capacity for empathy because she believed it “to be descriptive of human reality and the foundation needed for productive action” for life in the human community.

Now, on this sad day almost 100 years later, a day which our nation’s present leader has chosen to round up children, women and men–largely of one ethnic group–transporting them to camps, separating families and causing terror to thousands of people, I cannot help but ask for her intercession.

Nowadays, I sometimes feel transported to her times. And it is a scary time to be, one that rocks one’s faith in humanity and causes one to cry out to the heavens. What tension we live in today. Are we complicit? Are we bystanders? Or do we stand on the right side of history, crying out “Not in My Name,” and acting on behalf of human dignity?

And then of course there is today’s Gospel reading, the Good Samaritan, which makes it crystal clear what we are to do. What sad twisted irony that the raids against our immigrant brothers and sisters are set to begin today when this Gospel is proclaimed in churches across our nation. Of course, no doubt, many families are staying away from church today, afraid that they might be swept up, no matter what their legal status. And others listen with deaf ears.

Today, the Carmelite Nuns of Great Britain shared a quote from Edith Stein on their Twitter account in which she reflects on today’s Gospel reading.

“‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This commandment is valid unconditionally and without qualification. The neighbour is not the one whom I ‘like’ but any and every human being with whom I come into contact, without exception.”

Without exception. Unconditional. Without qualification.

When Edith Stein was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 in the chapel of her monastery in the Netherlands and taken to a transit camp for deportation, eventually to Auschwitz, she commented: “I never knew that people could be like this, neither did I know that my brothers and sisters would have to suffer like this. … I pray for them every hour. Will God hear my prayers? He will certainly hear them in their distress.” 

When she arrived at Auschwitz, she ministered to God’s people in distress, even as she was one among them.

“It was Edith Stein’s complete calm and self-possession that marked her out from the rest of the prisoners. There was a spirit of indescribable misery in the camp; the new prisoners, especially suffered from extreme anxiety. Edith Stein went among the women like an angel, comforting, helping, and consoling them. Many of the mothers were on the brink of insanity and had sat moaning for days, without giving any thought to their children. She immediately set about taking care of these little ones. She washed them, combed their hair, and tried to make sure they were fed and cared for.” –Edith Stein,  A Biography, quoted on Carmelites of Boston website.

And so I pray.

St. Edith Stein, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, you who studied empathy, lived a life of compassionate love, pray for us. Inspire empathy, respect for human dignity, and action for justice. Lead those of us who might become bystanders instead to solidarity and compassionate love. Help us to pray for conversion of heart in those who wield their power without enough apparent capacity for empathy or neighborliness. Most of all, be with those who suffer. Comfort the mothers, fathers and children facing inhumanity in these dark times. Pray for us all, that our hearts may become wider, wide enough to encompass all our neighbors, unconditionally and without exception. Amen.

Contemplative Lessons

Today is my Mom’s 15th birthday in heaven. As often happens around anniversaries, she’s been on my heart and mind a bit of late.

I am grateful to her for so many things, not the least of which is the gift of life!  She taught me so much by her love and example.

My mom was a true contemplative in action.  She could stop and stare for hours … at the forest, at the ocean, at her own backyard.  She saw the love of God reflected in creation and knew instinctively how to soak it all in.

Mom

I used to love just watching her as she stared at the embodiment of God’s love all around us.  My Dad took this picture in West Virginia. It’s classic mom.  She’s probably a little older than I am now in this picture.  She’s got her book on her lap, but she’s contemplating the book of creation instead.

Nourished and fed by the love of God, be it at Sunday mass or all around her, my mom put it into action.  Dust did not settle under her feet.

Over the years in her work, helping prisoners at the local jail learn decision making skills or as a congressional aide helping citizens navigate our system, she found herself on the right side of justice and helped to build the kindom.

In our community, she was a leader in ways we never even knew until her wake, when person after person came up to us to tell us how she helped them with x, y and z.  So unassuming, she just did what needed to be done.

At home, journeying with her own parents through chronic illness and death, welcoming them into her own home, raising five kids, supporting her husband’s call to serve the wider world, she was most always grounded and exuding love.

Even when she herself was very ill, she would sit and ponder and teach us how to love and be loved.

I still miss you mom, and always will, but I will also always be grateful for your lessons in contemplation, action, and love.

Slowing down to keep up

Things can seem to be spinning out of control these days

From the news cycle to the general frenetic pace of life

(and from meeting upon meeting in my own life)

To the growing inequality, systemic racism, uncivil discourse and general status quo which seems to inch farther away from the benefit of ordinary folks, especially those on the margins who Jesus loved so much.

How do we/I stay centered in the midst of it all?

To do lists, crisis management and holding the powers that be (and each other) accountable, to be sure.

But also kindness?

And looking with eyes of hope for signs of joy?

And slowing down

Yes, slowing down.

Slowing down to keep up.

Morning prayer (in early spring)

Morning sunshine beckons:

Sit here a while on the back steps.

Birds singing their hopeful song-

Spring is (maybe) here.?!

In other parts of the world near and far the hope seems farther away. Bombs dropping, visits to the oncologist or a family member in detention. Life.

The birdsong fades as police sirens sing in the distance.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Peace. Hope. Mercy. Love.

Pain and promise, mixed in this thing called life.

And the sun continues to shine.

The birds sing louder.

And I hope.

Shine like the sun

I awoke this morning to brilliant orange sunlight breaking through the opening in my curtains right into my eyes.

Good morning sun, I thought. I know there is a book titled Good Night Moon … is there a morning equivalent?

Each and every day, to varying degrees depending on the weather and other sciency factors, the sun rises for everyone, everywhere.

Think about that. This same sun woke your ancestors. This same sun has shed light on good and bad alike since time began. This same sun shines on us and reminds us, to paraphrase L.L. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley, that this very day is a new fresh day without any mistakes.

We tend to focus too much on the mistakes, but the sun invites us just to shine, at least for a moment, before the clouds cast shadows and diffuse the light.

I am praying these days with a little book of meditations on the sayings of John XXIII. I happened upon this saying this morning, entirely appropriate for this train of thought (and heart).

“See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.”

The sun, like our loving God, sees it all. We see where the light shines and presume much in the shadows, at least I do. But today my prayer is that I focus on the good, give people the benefit of the doubt, and help shine the light where I can.

Incarnating Love

On the 25th of December, Christians around the world celebrate the feast of the incarnation of God’s infinite love in our midst  … the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us … a mystery for the ages to be sure.

It is an awesome thought, to paraphrase a popsong from the 90s, not what if, but that God DID become one of us. That reality brings both comfort and challenge if one manages to screen out the commercialization of the holiday to the real fundamental message, which is love.

All powerful love … and the love of a vulnerable poor child born in a stable far from his parents’ home.

Universal love … and the particular love of a family, unconventional as it may be.

Love that is meant to transform and expand exponentially to break the binds of oppression, free captives, and build beloved community.

Love incarnate, now and then and always and forever.

It’s incredible on a theological level amd mind boggling on a practical human level.

It is stretching on a heart level, and that my friends is where my Christmas reflections take me this evening. How are we, how am I, called to incarnate love? 

We incarnate love through our touch, a kind word, our presence. We can incarnate love through our dedication and faithfulness. Sometimes we are called to incarnate love through our questions and struggles, in the messiness of our lives and in the systems of oppression we resist.

Through it all, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, is our model, our wonder counselor, our friend.

Jesus, be with me as I seek to be an incarnator of love in my own life.

Amen.

To lead in fog, we must be led

I am spending this week steeped in the wisdom, presence, inspiration and challenge of my sisters in leadership at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious annual assembly. This is my fourth assembly, the second I have attended in my role as an elected leader of my own congregation (the first two I was here representing Giving Voice).  As one sister shared yesterday, this experience of contemplative listening and dialogue with 800 other sisters has been balm for my soul.

Yesterday, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF gave one of the keynote presentations, “Leading from the Allure of Holy Mystery: Contemplation and Transformation.” Pat was of course the president of LCWR during the kerfuffle with Rome. Her integrity and contemplative leadership helped us shift the narrative and reality of our relationship with the hierarchical church from one of conflict to one of faithful dialogue. I was particularly moved by this passage of her talk:

“This is our moment. The world around us teeters on the edge of both peril and promise. Breakdown and breakthrough tussle with each other. The path forward is hidden in fog. It is your time to lead. To do so you must learn to be led and to listen deeply. Together we will discover personal and communal processes for deep prayer and dialogue. We will be given what we need to tend the soul of our communities by nurturing contemplative spaciousness.”

In other words, to lead in fog, we must be led.

Yesterday, another sister shared an image that came out of her small group contemplative dialogue experience.

“When the redwood sits in the fog (rooted in contemplation) it absorbs the moisture within the fog and nourishes the entire tree and allows the moisture to reach the earth which nourishes other creatures. We (LCWR and our congregations) are a forest of redwoods focused on contemplation that the world may thrive.”

A northwesterner at heart, I immediately imagined this picture in my heart, which I took this summer on retreat in Oregon not of redwoods but evergreens in fog.

Fog

Truth be told, I have been feeling a bit lost in the fog of late. The fog of fear, hatred, and isolationism which seems to be taking hold among much of our body politic. The fog of grief and loss that is such a part of religious life these days, as our elders transition to the next phase of their journey with God.  The fog of uncertainty about exactly what the future holds for our communities which are in the midst of yet another period of transition and transformation.  Lots of fog.

This week in Atlanta has given me companions in the fog and given me a clarity in the mist. Contemplation is the way.  And so, once again, I recommit to my own regular contemplative practice, in my own life and in my life in community. As another group shared during our contemplative dialogue process, contemplation is essential to leadership.

I remember many years ago when I was discerning religious life, I felt like I was driving down a mountainous road in the dark, where my headlights only showed the way a few feet ahead. I felt an invitation to trust that when I turned the bend, I would see the next steps, and so it has been. At this particular moment, to be honest, I feel like the high beams would only reflect back to blind me. I cannot see the way forward. And yet, I feel called to stay on the path by my loving God.  Jesus is the way, even in the fog, and it is in the still quiet moments that the Spirit speaks. We need only to listen, to listen often, and to listen deeply.

Retreat Videos – You Speak

Sometimes on retreat I read. This year, I barely cracked open a page. Instead I read the pages before me of God’s creation and took oodles of photographs.

I was also recently introduced to some new to me music, thanks to the wonders of internet algorithms which accurately (and a bit spookily) suggested music I might like.  That is how I discovered the Catholic singer-song writer Audrey Assad. I spent a lot of time during retreat listening to her independent release, Fortunate Fall. It’s available on Amazon Prime, although I highly suggest downloading your own copy.

I made a few videos matching my photos with her words and music.  I’ve shared one of them above, set to “You Speak” by Audrey Assad.

You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos

From the chains of a lesser law you set me free.

In the silence of the heart, you speak.

And it is there that I will know you and you’ll know me.

You satisfy me till I am quiet an confident in the work of the Spirit I cannot see.

In the silence of the heart, you speak.

And it is there that I will know you God.

In the silence of my heart, you speak.

Her words so beautifully capture the desire to listen to our loving creator God and trust in the movement of the Spirit.  I found myself singing her words as I watched the sun rise and the birds fly and the waves crash.

Enjoy some of your own quiet time with the beauty of God’s creation speaking in your own heart.