Thursday, August 30, 2007

Creation, Creativity, Christianity

This week our 97th Spirit of the Seasons retreat weekend took place at the Mount. That means the spring 2008 one, May 2-3-4, will bring a glorious celebration! We don't have a formal "retreat center" but we do offer some organized retreats and, for private time, three hermitages in the nearby woods and a whole floor of 16 guest rooms.

The Spirit of the Seasons program is the jewel of our retreats: weekend creation-centered spirituality that attracts three dozen participants for each season. What do they include? I'd describe them as a mix of creation, creativity, and Christianity. The four seasons themes feature earth, air, fire, and water, but it's the creativity that has made them so enduring. The coordinator is extraordinarily gifted in group process and retreat work. It's her "gift" as we say. How she and her assistants continually come up with new ideas and new prayer experiences is a wonder...but they do, and each weekend is unique and special.

Here's one long-time retreat participant's take on his experiences: "I am a United Methodist. My life has not been the same since 1998 when God intervened to bring me to this community. My family and I choose Mt. Saint Benedict, not for the benefits we receive, which are many, but for those in the future who will need to hear the truth, be transformed, and find a place of loving respite...."

Monday, August 27, 2007

She/He Loves To Read

Well, that may be what proud parents say about their 9-year-old, but recent facts about the American reading public are disappointing. A study reported that the average number of books read by adults last year was four--and that 25% of adults in the US did not read even one book all year. Women are the most avid readers and religion and popular fiction are what is read most.

Sister Joan Chittister's latest book, Welcome to the Wisdom of the World, has only been out 5 weeks, but the publishers, Wm. B. Eerdmans, have already distributed 6,000 copies. If you love wisdom stories and always wanted to know something about the major world religions, in a non-threatening way, with non-theologically choking vocabulary, you'll love this book. Since 3,000 copies is an average yearly run for a book, these early numbers are terrific.

Here's another look at the publishing world: Nielsen BookScan of White Plains, NY, reports that 1.44 million different books were sold in the US last year and 1.12 million of them (77%) sold fewer than 99 copies! I believe the seven Harry Potter books have sold something like 325 million in 65 languages. WOW! And, yes, I just finished the latest one...and it WAS great.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just Work---Just Be

"I am not doing art, I am doing theology," Brother Thomas Bezanson

Some met him years ago at Weston Priory in Vermont. Many met him here in Erie. Some were invited to his special tea ceremonies...using his own Japanese tea bowls, eating fruit and cheese and good wine. Others knew him more generally. All of the mourners who attended Brother Thomas' wake and funeral mentioned one common element: the beauty that he created and brought to the world.

A touching moment occurred when Bernie Pucker, owner of Pucker Gallery, recited from the Morning Prayer service at the synagogue that he attends daily. He read first in the Hebrew and then in English. He also told the chapel-filled group that he had been to Erie two times in the first 21 years Thomas lived here, and 16 times in the past nine months, sharing the unique experience of being part of Thomas' dying moments.

Sister Joan Chittister reflected on John's gospel and Jesus' exhortation to "Love one another" in her homily. Here is an excerpt: "Jesus message of friendship is very, very different. Jesus message about friendship is about revolutionary love. Love for the tax collectors you resent and suspect. Love for the fishermen who have no economic clout. Love for visionaries who want peace, but also for the zealots who want war. Love for the women and the lepers, for the rich and the poor, for the handicapped and the outcast, for the Jews and the Samaritans, for the Roman soldiers and the Canaanite women. Jesus message is about love, it’s about a friendship that is more than marriage, more than politics, more than convenience, more than personal comfort. It’s about being for one another. It’s about caring for one another. It’s about loving one another as God has loved us, all together, all at once.

"Thomas’ whole message, like Jesus’, these last seven months has shown us how he loved his whole life. It showed us what it means to love inclusively, to love widely, to love wholly, to love without bounds. Who here is not certain that they had a special relationship with him? He was the universal “brother” and people trooped in from across the United States, came from the homes and offices of the city, overflowed in this community. He showed us all how to be about more than the pots–whatever those talents, those gifts, those life-giving centers of creation may be–in our own lives. He showed us how to give our gifts without becoming captive to them. His work brings us all together today not because Thomas did pots, but because the pots he did generated a whole new way of living in each of us."

The full text will be posted at

Monday, August 20, 2007

An Extraordinary Talent

Twenty-five years a Benedictine monk at Weston Priory, twenty-two years an artist-in-residence at Mount Saint Benedict Monastery, internationally acclaimed potter, Brother Thomas Bezanson, died on August 16 here in Erie. An article in Erie's Saturday paper gives a beautiful overview of his life and work. If you google "Brother Thomas" you'll find books and photos and information galore. Go to Pucker Gallery (his sponsors in Boston) to see a sampling of his ceramic pottery work. Or better yet, come to Erie and see our 120 piece collection--his extravagant thank you for offering him a home and place to pursue his art for the last two decades.

Brother Thomas, Potter

Your hands
the miraculous modelers
of clay, remain long
and thin and beautiful
while the sum of your essence,
body and soul,
splinters like dry wood,
thirsting for rain.
It is the antithesis of
clay to porcelain.
Secret glazes have
fashioned pots
their value in museums
their sacredness in your heart
keep them the sole
gift of your flaming spirit.

Now cancer captivates your body.
Today you cannot sit at your wheel
and today you cannot lift virgin clay.
You rest in your studio
waiting as malignant cells
take your magnificent dreams
and, pressing them earthbound,
forbid their transformation to miracle from clay.

Ellen Porter, OSB

Thursday, August 16, 2007

R & R & R

August is time for R&R&R, rest, relaxation and retreat time. Our hermitages and guest rooms have been filled with people trying to find a precious few days before the summer ends for these three R's. I noticed that the meditation labyrinth we put in a few years ago outside the east front door is a little overgrown right now. You can still see the stones that mark the spiral path, but it takes a bit of looking. Maybe it's better that way, as a slow watchful walk is certainly the best way to move through it.

When I visited the Abbey of St. Scholastica in Dinklage in northern Germany, I happened upon their cemetery as I was strolling the grounds. It is just lovely. There were perhaps 15-20 stones...not lined up, not flat to the ground, not in a manicured setting. The cemetery is set in just a large grassy opening, surrounded by large bushes and trees. Seven or eight large flat-topped stones, marking the graves there, are placed within a long area perhaps six feet wide. The area is filled in with a ground cover of greenery. It has a very natural, very personal feel. This cemetery isn't Dinklage's "claim to fame," however. That belongs to the water-filled moat that surrounds the monastery, over which you must pass to enter. Unique? Absolutely. As is this marvelous community.

Go to , click on "Bilder" on the left side menu and enjoy browsing through their website's photos. There are some beautiful shots of the moat, grounds and the community. If you want to see the cemetery, you'll have to contact me!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sacrament of Anointing

One of the most special moments of summer community days is the annual Sacrament of Anointing. This year 25 were anointed as part of Evening Praise Thursday night. Our relatively young member, well along into Alzheimer's, was there. The sister who is in the final stage of breast cancer came with all her oxygen paraphernalia. Another, just recovering from extensive foot surgery, wheeled herself to the chapel. And, of course, our oldest members ask for anointing each year just to receive the grace of the sacrament.

Along with the sisters who were anointed was the brother of one of our sisters who resides in our infirmary, two mothers of our sisters who live at nearby Benetwood Apartments, and one of our infirmary aides who herself has serious health problems. The prioress and the director of health services accompany the priest as he makes his way from one person to the next. As the person is anointed everyone nearby joins the presider by laying a hand in blessing on the person. It is a lovely and very moving service.

Here's an excerpt from Miriam Therese Winter's prayer that we used. "Anoint me with the oil of integrity, O God, and the seal of Your sanctifying Spirit...Anoint my heart with warmth and compassion and a genuine generosity toward all who are in need...Anoint the whole of me, O Holy One, that I too may be holy..."

Thursday, August 9, 2007

LLL Days

"Learning, Leisure and Legislation," summer community days this week, features four presentations by Sister Dianne Bergant, CSA, a member of the large community of the Sisters of Saint Agnes, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Dianne is a professor of Old Testament Studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and the author of numerous articles and books in theology and liturgy. She was the editor and writer for the journal Bible Today for many years and most recently published Israel's Story, parts I and II. All four speakers for this year's community gatherings: LLL days, October and April community weekends, and June's community retreat will focus on Scripture: God's Word.

The "leisure" in LLL days features a lunchtime ride on the Victorian Princess, a Mississippi river boat that offers three-hour cruises of Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie and is docked at the foot of State Street for the summer.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Awards Weekend

A dozen community members traveled to Kansas City this weekend to be present at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) awards banquet where Sr. Joan Chittister received the 2007 LCWR Outstanding Leadership Award. Since its inception in 2003, LCWR has honored five women whose work and leadership have affected religious life for women in the United States. A DVD presentation and remarks by Sr. Joan highlighted the banquet for the 700 assembly attendees.

In Erie, prioress Sr. Christine Vladimiroff was the guest speaker at the 25th anniversary dinner for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania. Twelve sisters who have worked at the food bank or who served on its Board also attended the banquet. From 1982-1993 Sister Augusta Hamel, OSB, served as the food bank's first director and Sr. Christine served as the executive director of the Chicago-based national Second Harvest network before her election as prioress in 1998. This fall the food bank will move from its Ash Street location to Grimm Drive near 12th and Greengarden Blvd. The anniversary dinner was held in the just-opened Bayfront Convention Center built right on the shoreline of Presque Isle Bay in downtown Erie.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

An Exaltation of Larks

Since I haven't written about our deer since the end of June, it's time for an update. In the mid-90s a dozen apple trees were transplanted from the grounds of the original motherhouse in Erie to the Mount, behind the back parking lot, right next to the tree line. During the last month the first of these trees have begun producing this year's apples and the deer have gone wild! Here is our present herd as we know them: One solo doe practically lives in the orchard. She's there every morning, throughout the day, and every evening. If you arrive home in the pitch dark and turn your car lights toward the orchard, she is always there--- sometimes alone, sometimes with others. We still have the two doe and their fawn: one quite small and the other medium. One or both pairs come every day. The lady across the street who lives on the hill next to Glinodo says she has seen a doe with identical twin fawn, but I don't know of anyone who has seen them on our side of the road. The two young bucks are around, but not very often. Maybe when the rest of the apple trees produce they'll be lured back. There are probably a few others among our herd, too; it's hard to tell who's who.

The best thing about the increased sightings is the increased sightings! All of our guests are seeing the deer regularly. Nearly every breakfast and supper has people at the dining room windows watching the adult deer up on their hind legs stretching for the fruit while the fawn romp around and mimic their mother's behavior, getting their apples from the ground. If a walker is on the path or just standing watching them from a distance, they don't seem to mind. But get too close and they will disappear into the woods---just waiting until you leave to return and continue their feasting.

One of my favorite quirky books is An Exaltation of Larks (James Lipton). It contains over 1,000 group names. Here are a few: a leap of leopards, a smack of jellyfish, a kindle of kittens, a watch of nightingales, a charm of finches, a string of ponies, a tissue of lies, a parliament of owls, a college of cardinals, a skulk of friars...and on and on and on.

If you like these kinds of word games, here's a listing online of more group names: