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 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.”
I will never forget the first time I drove on to the property at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, the west coast regional center of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. I had driven 3 hours from Portland to attend my first ever vocation retreat. While I had been in contact with the vocation director by email, I had not yet met any of the Sisters and was still a bit unsure about this whole becoming a Catholic Sister thing. Truth be told, I was more than a wee bit nervous.
And then I drove onto the property and was immediately calm and at peace. It was the trees. St. Mary’s is on a wooded property with beautiful tall cedars and evergreens. When I say tall, I mean tall. They tower over our three story residence buildings. They are majestic and strong. They provide shade and endless green. They make for a cozy peaceful spot. They speak to me of home.
This morning I arrived back at this sacred spot, flying to Seattle from New Jersey where I am living at our eastern regional center (also a beautiful spot to be sure – in its own way). We have our Spring Assembly here on the weekend. It is always good to spend time with our CSJP Sisters and Associates, whether in the East, the West, or the UK. One benefit of my new gig is that it is now part of my job to spend time with them. How lucky am I?
I have moved around quite a bit in the past decade since I entered the community, and I will be spending the next six years or so living in New Jersey. But the Pacific Northwest is home. It is the place where my being is most at peace. Several of the Sisters greeted me in the dining room earlier today, welcoming me home, even if just for a short visit. I was lucky enough to live here at St. Mary-on-the-Lake the year after the Novitiate, and this community was my home base while I was studying in Chicago. They would always welcome me home for holidays and vacations or just for a visit. It is good to have a place like that, where people and landscape make you feel at home.
Some of you may realize that the title of this blog post is a nod to one of my favorite poems, by Mary Oliver. I’ll end this post with her words, inspired by a different landscape but entirely transferable:
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, and 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.”
– Mary Oliver –