Monday, October 29, 2007

War is not the Way to Peace

Back in March, on the anniversary of the Iraq War, ten local peace advocates were arrested for blocking an entrance of our local federal courthouse. They were fined, but 6 of the 10 did not pay it. As a result, last Thursday the six were sentenced to five days in our local county jail. One of our sisters is a member of that group. The stories, experiences, and philosophies they shared at their hearing were impressive, heart-wrenching, and inspiring.

Our community has been known for its efforts in peacemaking since the end of the 60s and the Vietnam War. Our Benedictines for Peace group has over 140 members. Dozens of sisters turn out for any local peace event in town, many more come to events we sponsor at the Mount. One of the mottoes of Benedictine life is Pax, peace. This is one way we live it.

Here is a beautiful poem to encourage us all in our life commitments:

The Low Road
by Marge Piercy

Alone you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Update: The six were released Monday, October 29.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wild and Wonderful Weekend

This will be a wild and wonderful 90-some oblates "come home" for the October Community Weekend. This annual event includes a ceremony for new initiates into our oblate program..this year 18 of them, as well as the annual re-commitment of all oblates.

Of our 200 oblates, a number live outside of Erie and do not make the trip to the Mount very often. The oblates who live in Erie we see quite a lot. Some come every Sunday for liturgy. Some work in community ministries. Some are part of standing committees/groups such as Benedictines for Peace. Some participate in community peace rallies, Take Back the Site vigils, etc. Quite a number are former members of a religious community, so have "come back" to a community connection again. All of them are committed to living Benedictine spirituality in their everyday life.

There is a surge of books these days on that very subject:
How to be a monastic and not leave your day job--Tvedton;
The monk in the world: cultivating a spiritual life--Teasdale and Wilber;
Finding sanctuary: monastic steps for everyday life--Jamison;
The Family cloister: Benedictine wisdom for the home--Robinson;
Illuminated life: monastic wisdom for seekers of light--Chittister;
and Kathleen Norris has a new book due out in December:
Monk habits for everyday people.

Why did I title this wild and wonderful? Because, although they are all wonderful, there are a few that are totally w-i-l-d women....loads and loads of fun...but it takes a few days to recover from their visit!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Musicians All

A first-time event for us took place last Saturday: the Erie diocese's chapter of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians held their annual workshop and reflection day at the Mount. Forty-five musicians from parishes and other religious institutions (nursing homes, religious communities, etc) spent the day together---singing, sharing, praying. The facilitators were two of our sisters who are professional musicians themselves and hold degrees in liturgy and music. Three other sister-musicians were part of the musical accompaniment for the many songs.

Two of the four sessions were held in the new chapel and, with no offense meant to our everyday singing, the sound that came from this large group of trained singers was gorgeous---as song after song, as the poets say, soared into our new space and beyond. They were really, really good!

One of the side benefits of our chapel renovation is to be able to host events such as Thomas Moore's lecture a couple weeks ago, this workshop, and other large gatherings. There are about 200 permanent (yet movable) seats set up, with perhaps another 150+ easily accommodated.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Guests from Benetwood

Twenty-five years ago, through the HUD federal program, a 75-unit apartment complex for low income or handicapped seniors, Benetwood, was built behind the Mount---on the other side of the back woods. Each year we invite our "neighbors" for evening prayer and supper. Wednesday was this year's event as 57 men and women from Benetwood Apartments came over for an evening with the community.

Currently four sisters minister at Benetwood, which has also been the home to many oblates and parents of community members. When BenetPress was active, ladies from Benetwood would come over to the Mount to collate printing projects. Nowadays the most consistent Benetwood visitors are two women who help out as aides in our infirmary and another who is a faithful member of our Friday night card club that meets weekly in the community room. I think their #1 favorite is a rummy/canasta game called Hand and Foot!

Monday, October 15, 2007


The AIM USA Board of Trustees meets at the Mount today. AIM, the Alliance for International Monasticism, was founded by a retired French abbot in the early 1960s to offer assistance by Benedictine and Cistercian communities in what used to be called the "first world," to Benedictine and Cistercian communities in what used to be called the "third world," now more commonly referred to as the "developing world."

Although the international office remains outside of Paris, today there are national secretariats in six countries bringing alliances between 100s of monastic communities in Europe and North America with those in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. The US secretariat, which has been in Erie and sponsored by our community since 1990, coordinates fund raising, used book distribution, spirituality magazine subscriptions, mass stipends and yearly trips to women's Benedictine communities in sub-Saharan Africa for US monastic women.

This fall AIM USA has responded to the HIV/AIDS pandemic by producing a "Prayer of Monastics in Response to the AIDS Pandemic" and distributed it to communities worldwide calling for a common prayer on December 1, World AIDS Day. Special awareness is focused on monastic communities who minister to HIV/AIDS patients. The Prayer Service will be posted on the the AIM USA website soon or contact them at and ask for a copy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Care of the Soul

What a gift! Thomas Moore, author of the huge best-seller Care of the Soul, was in Erie this week for a lecture at Mercyhurst College...and, yesterday, he came to the Mount for a question and answer session with community members, prayer, supper, and then a public presentation. In response to the most frequent subject that people talk to him about: that they have left formal church membership because it holds no meaning for them yet they are on a continual search for the spiritual in their lives, he is writing a book on the Gospels, looking at the original Greek that he studied as a collegian, to uncover fresh and original meanings. He is concentrating on four words that he believes are the basis of Jesus' message: kingdom, metanoia, healing and agape.

If you have the time, this link is a short but very good interview with him that's worth reading.

Two more things: a) He has been a psychotherapist for 30 years. His definition of psychotherapy? "Care of the soul." b) Was he as great as you'd think he would be? Yes....maybe even better!

Monday, October 8, 2007

October Art Show

Our Chapter 57 Gallery opened a month long art show Sunday, as Sister Margaret Ann hung nearly 50 of her latest pieces, including numerous color photographs of our chapel windows and their reflections on the bordering ceramic tile. Titled "The mystery of it all," she explains her new works as "seeing light in a new way, seeing nature in a new light and seeing what is ordinary and celebrating life."

The Gallery, which is a long inner hallway, is highlighted by an 8' by 2' glass exhibition case cut out of one wall. One side of the case is on the hall/gallery side, the other is in the adjacent community room. It's perfect for displaying three-dimensional pieces. We are fortunate to have a number of talented artists and crafters and two or three times a year Margaret Ann organizes a showing of their latest creations. This show is unique, however, as it is all her own work.

The name Chapter 57? It's a reference to chapter 57 in the Rule of Benedict where he discusses the role of artists in the monastery.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah

The Tent of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah, a group of Jews, Christians and Muslims who have joined together to promote shared concerns for peace, justice and care for the earth, have designated Monday, October 8 as a day of fast and prayer: "a day to come together, to turn attention to spiritual depth and communal sharing."

The month of October brings holy days for many faith traditions: the month of Ramadan and the Night of Power; the High Holy Days and Sukkot; the feast of Francis of Assisi and Worldwide Communion Sunday; Pavarana/Sangha Day; and Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.

Our community will hold a special evening praise at 6:30 p.m. Monday followed by a meal to end the all-day fast. Rabbi Leonard Lifshen will open the Vespers service with the playing of the shofar. The public is welcome and invited to join us.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Motley Crew

Another word about this year's jubilee celebration, as it did encompass the entire weekend--a special supper Friday night, the jubilee Vespers on Saturday, and special inclusions at liturgy on Sunday morning. Being another "first" in our renovated chapel, there were lots of new rituals, two of which were particularly nice: the Sisters' seven title banners were hung in the cloister walk from chapel to the dining room, and, after renewing their vows, the jubilarians stood in two rows to sing the "Suscipe" as they moved from the ambo to the altar. All in all everything was lovely--and shared by 200 friends and relatives, in addition to the community.

I always thought the phrase, "What a motley crew!" was one of those hidden compliments that says: We're not all the same, Look at our diversity, We've got a little bit of everything! Well, this jubilee group has a good claim on being a motley crew, not to be confused with the rock band, Motley Crue, of course! Only four of the seven entered this community originally. Two were part of the Benedictine Sisters of Benet Lake, WI, whose community merged with ours in 1991 and the seventh was a Sister of St. Joseph before transferring here 25 years ago.

In fact the whole community has this flavor. Out of the 112 members, 30 (over 25%), were novices or professed members somewhere else. Some came directly from their first community, others were out of religious life for some years and then re-entered here. This certainly qualifies us as a motley crew...and it does make for an interesting variety of backgrounds. No cookie cutter cutouts are we!