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 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.”
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.
Last summer I had four flight cancellations due to weather, which may explain why I wasn’t too upset when my flight from the west to east coast today was delayed three and a half hours. It was still going and it was a direct flight for me, no connections. No worries.
Of course those with connections were no doubt put out as their carefully constructed plans fell apart. I get that.
But I was fresh off a mini break weekend at the Oregon Coast with a friend I have somehow already known for 28+ years. I was renewed, mostly grumpy free, and a bit zen. I had just watched the choppy waves of the storm one day become beautiful shining waters the next day.
The plane ride itself was uneventful, until, that is, we started our descent just as the sun was setting above the skies and the storms brewing below. Breathtaking.
We landed into mid storm, with lightening strikes and tornado warnings. Ground crew were grounded, so it took awhile to get to the gate. But we were safe.
My positive attitude lasted the next hour while we waited for our bags. Remember those storms? Baggage crews were also grounded, not able to go outside and take our bags off the plane.
Bags started finally to come out of the gate and make their run around the circle. Bags from Aruba and Chicago, but none from Portland. Then the bags stopped their ride around the belt, and no new bags appeared. For quite a while. Admittedly, my positive attitude had lost some of its shine by now. But there was bonding with the other passengers. Two of us embarked on fact finding missions. And one or two walkie talkie messages later and magic … bags!
Storms come, and sometimes a grumpy or angry response is warranted and appropriate. But other times going the grumpy annoyed route just makes you grumpier. How we approach the storms of our lives makes a difference it seems.
And of course it always helps to be coming off of a three day weekend of friendship, fun and fabulous walks on the beach.
My Christmas card this year is a picture I took of a statue of St. Joseph “looking” at a Christmas tree lit up on the grounds of Bon Secours retreat center in Maryland that I took last year on retreat.
As I wrote in my Christmas Letter to family & friends:
I’ve been spending time talking to Joseph these days. In our CSJP constitutions we say about Joseph: “His courage to life a life of faith inspires us to trust in God’s abiding love, especially in times of struggle and uncertainty.”
Pope Francis writes about his own prayer practice with Joseph, and that he’s the one he goes to when he is “in a fix.” He writes little notes of problems that need fixing and slips them under a statue of Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter after all. When we spend time with the Gospel readings about the birth of Jesus, Prince of Peace, during the time of empire, we can see that Joseph understands what it’s like to keep on keeping on during challenging times.
We don’t often spend a lot of time with Joseph, but I think we all could use a little Joseph in our lives these days.
This Christmas Eve, I prayed with “As Joseph Was a Walking” recorded by Annie Lennox. If you want to spend some time with Joseph, here’s my video prayer reflection:
When I was a novice, we participated each week in an intercommunity program with novices from other religious communities–men’s and women’s communities across the entire spectrum. We gathered each week to learn about the various aspects of religious life. When it came time to learn about the vows, the presenter shared unique perspectives present in the Constitutions of each community. That is when I realized that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace “recognize the value of leisure as contributing to restorating and wholeness.”
Now, of course, this is both common sense and good self care. But we put it in our Constitutions! Not only that, we placed it in the section on the vow of poverty and in the context of work.
In solidarity with our sisters and brothers
we engage in human labor
as a means of service and sustencance.
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.
(CSJP Constitution No. 54)
For Apostolic religious women, leisure is not the aim or the goal or the norm, but it is critical, so critical that it enables us to live our vow of poverty and be about the mission of peace with joy, and from a place of wholeness. I write these words a few days into my annual summer vacation, this year a solo adventure to a spot that’s been on my bucket list for years … Prince Edward Island.
Yesterday when I was driving around a part of the Island where one of our CSJP Sisters was born, this view caught my eye and so I pulled over to take this picture:
The perfect juxtaposition of the value of human labor, leisure, and the creative power of God.
Work is the norm, but sometimes we just need to stop and soak in the beauty to remind us that in the end it’s not up to us, but to the creative power of God. And besides, we all need to stop and take some time to just soak in the sheer beauty and wonder of the world God has created, including us!