Thursday, January 31, 2008

Almost Ready

Everyone who follows the liturgical calendar is talking about Easter this year....yes, it's the 2nd earliest date it can possibly be: March 23....and that makes Ash Wednesday, next week, unimaginably early, also. Nonetheless, even though our Liturgy Committee probably was finalizing their plans for Lent on January 3rd, more signs of "Lent-is-just-around-the-corner" are everywhere in the community.

Benetvision has sold thousands of its 2008 Lenten product, 40-Day Journey with Joan Chittister, ed. Beverly Lanzetta, (Augsburg Books).

The schola and handbell choirs have begun Lent and Easter songs (the schizophrenia needed in the world of music preparation!)

Wednesday and Friday meals will be simple: soup and bread/rolls beginning with 20 minutes of table reading. This year's book is Silence, Solitude, Simplicity: a hermit's love affair with a noisy, crowded and complicated world by Benedictine Sr. Jeremy Hall of Minnesota.

Small faith-sharing lectio groups are being formed. They will continue discussing Demetrius Dumm's book from the Advent groups.

Finally, the chapel environment artists are ready to swoop down next Tuesday evening to set up for our first season of Lent in the space.

P.S. And, even in a country where 30% of Catholics attend weekly mass and whatever-your-best-guess-is don't eat meat on Fridays in Lent, I'm sure McDonald's, restaurants of all sorts, and parish fundraising groups are well-stocked with the supplies needed for their fish fillet sandwiches and Friday "Lenten specials." (Every Thursday our local newspaper's insert, Showcase, carries big announcements of the week's Friday Lenten dinners around town. They are tremendously popular.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

That All May Be One

Sadly religion is at the base of many of the world's conflicts today...both among peoples within a country and between peoples of different countries.

This is one of the many thoughts shared by our prioress, Christine Vladimiroff, during her reflections Sunday afternoon at "An Ecumenical Celebration of the Word of God" held in the new chapel at the monastery. For 100 years Christians have joined together during the annual January Week of Prayer for Christian Unity to pray that "we all may be one." Locally, our organization is the Inter-Church Ministries of Erie County.

"It was wonderful to see such a diverse group of Christians in our chapel," said one sister. "And to have all those ministers participating was very touching and inspiring."

Our keyboardists, schola, handbell choir, cantors, and other musicians provided much of the music for the 1-hour service. Following the prayer the 150+ participants enjoyed homemade cookies and drinks in the dining room. There's another thing we all seem to share!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Snow Down Under?

Photo by Charlotte Anne Zalot, OSB

No, I guess there isn't much snow down under, as attested by the fascination that Sr. Clare has had with the 3-4 very wintery days of snow we've had this week! She told me that she had never actually seen snow fall before....and that she was amazed that it fell so silently...unlike rain or sleet or hail. She is prioress of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan (the Good Sams), a very large active community from Australia who follow the Rule of Benedict.

Visiting sisters from the Pacific northwest coast, New Jersey and Oklahoma, also don't see much of it and have enjoyed the winter wonderland effect we've woken up to the past few mornings. Luckily our lakeshore area had a manageable amount and driving hasn't been too bad. Not so for some "south of I-90" towns, who received 10-12" earlier this week. Then this morning, we on the lakeshore got up to 4-5" additional inches overnight! Lots and lots of soft, fluffy snow..but no ice, so everyone's trudging through!

All of this adds up to a week of evenings spent reading, DVD watching, catching up on little projects, and even some exercising in our fitness room...though I also saw a hardy bunch bundled up for a walk down to the lake.

Since such winter weeks just beg for a good book, I'll take the opportunity to "plug" one of my favorite authors: Mary Doria Russell. She's written, and I've read, The Sparrow, Children of God and A Thread of Grace. Her newest book, Dreamers of the Day, is due out in March. I can't wait. Her writing is terrific. You can read about them here at

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thoughts for MLK, Jr Day

Some serious thoughts on the anniversary of a serious and sad moment in our nation's history, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A number of our sisters will be attending local observances in downtown Erie. Most of our corporately-sponsored ministries have a significant number of attendees who are struggling economically, educationally and personally--these include many African-Americans.

In newspapers, on the web, TV shows--in every media available--there are 100s of columnists offering their commentary on current events. I read only those recommended by astute friends or presented by good writers/observers. Here are two that were published this week. Both reflect on our present political climate and the phenomenon of having a woman and a black man as major contenders for nomination for President.

One is by Anna Quindlan of Newsweek, the other by our Joan Chittister from her NCR webcolumn. Both are excellent...and not too long.

Joan's: "What about the ones who are both sexist and racist?"

Anna's: "The End of Apathy."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winter visitors

Visitors who come to our place in the winter are into some serious seeking. They don't come for the sun and lake shore meditation. They don't come for summer R&R, to walk or sit and read outside and spend evenings outdoors till 9:00 pm. There is none of that in January. And yet, we have many visitors at this time of year. I watch them with admiration as they take time---in the midst of grey skies, snow clouds, short days and hours spent indoors---for spiritual pursuits.

In December we hosted an Anglican vicar from a small village in England. He was taking a month's sabbatical---with his bishop's and wife's "permission"! He was in one of our hermitages by day, but came over for Evening Praise and supper every night. Here is an excerpt from his thank you letter: "The stay was at the right time for me - I had almost given up on the Anglican Church (or any Church) picking up my weekly church newspaper and seeing the swerve to fundamentalist thinking - but your community reminded me that it was important to stay - and to focus on what was important for the sake of those we thanks to you all. I have to say I have never stayed in a more hospitable religious house - so may your various ministries prosper."

This weekend will bring 30 winter retreatants who are coming for the 99th Spirit of the Seasons. Yes, May's will be the 100th---and quite a celebration.

An extra treat for today: One of our liturgists, Sr. Marilyn, did a 5-minute interview recently for Franciscan Radio. It highlights her own music background and the chant of our community. You can hear both Marilyn and our chant on their website. Her interview begins about 5:15 into the program. It's program #07-52 from December 24th in case it's off their main page and you have to search for it!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Just an ordinary weekend

Photo by Susan Freitag, OSB

Seven dance majors from Mercyhurst College came for Sunday liturgy and performed a lovely liturgical dance for the communion meditation. After mass they stayed and shared a 20-minute excerpt from their Christmas Show. was just beautiful.

At 2:00 pm local Brownie Scout Troop #595, which includes the daughter of our infirmary manager, came for an afternoon of activities to earn their Outdoor Fun Badge! You see, one of our sisters is a recreational therapist extraordinaire. She, along with three sister-helpers and a cooperative mild winter afternoon, gave the seventeen 8-year-olds an afternoon to remember.

Photo by Charlotte Anne Zalot, OSB

Here's what you do to earn your Outdoor Fun Badge: you learn to build a fire, first by making a candy campfire indoors and then by helping to build a real one in the fire pit outdoors; then you learn trail signs and make a trail through the woods; you can even use the outdoor bathroom/tent that was set up between two trees if needed; finally you roast hot dogs and maybe even S'mores over the hot embers. Then it's clean up---restoring the woods and campfire sites---and you've got your Outdoor Fun Badge.

For those who know the set up of our property, the wooded area near the path to Benetwood Apartments was the scene for this Girl Scouting event.

We told our R.T. that she could probably earn six figures as an Events Planner for any national corporation! She just laughed and responded, "Maybe, but what would Brownie Troop #595 do then?"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christmas Valentine Cards

Tomorrow night we'll have our un-trim the tree party. All decorations will be tucked away in crawl spaces and at the bottom of closets. On Saturday the Christmas season officially ends...liturgically. Never mind that valentines are already being displayed in local stores, we're still singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"...we live in two calendar worlds!

I use to wonder how odd it must be for the Jewish community to proclaim two different years and seemly to operate with two different calendars. Then I realized that my life is the same...and that many people of faith have a similar dual time anomaly. We acknowledged New Year's on January 1, 2008, but our other new year began on a different day....last December 2nd with the First Sunday of Advent.

Today is the beginning of the Islamic New Year, Muharram, A.H. 1429---calculated from the time Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina. The new Jewish year, 5766, began last September 12th. The Chinese Lantern Festival will kick off the year of the rat, the year 4076, on February 7th. The Buddhist and Hindu religions have New Year's celebrations also. Though they vary by country, they generally follow the coming of spring in the lunar cycles.

P.S. This end of the Christmas season also brings a return to what is liturgically referred to as ordinary or feria time. Ha, ha, we shall see! As if there is anything really "ordinary" about our days!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Out of Africa

This weekend we had an Africa theme birthday party for our prioress. The menu said that the main entree was "elephant's ear" but it looked suspiciously like rolled, stuffed American beef to me. It was an appropriate theme since she was just in the country of South Africa in early December helping a small, fragile Benedictine community of women with their General Chapter and elections. Over a dozen other community members have been to Africa also.

There are quite a number of Benedictine monasteries and abbeys on this continent. Most were begun by missionaries from Europe: Germany, Belgium, France, England and Italy had the most. The largest number are in Tanzania, the Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. There are a few very large groups, 100 or more members, but most have between 10-60 members. By now many of them are independent but they are still a member of a large congregation. The ones that do not belong to a larger federation or congregation were often founded by a local bishop and are somewhat "diocesan" in nature. Many of the communities are still rural and a large number live very simply; more than a few are quite poor.

One of the highlights of the birthday party was the decorations. There were kangas everywhere...the brightly colored wraps worn by African women. We have great pictures of African Benedictine sisters wearing beautiful kangas over their habits during community celebrations!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Epiphany Memories

Here is my favorite Magi picture. It's by Janet McKenzie, the artist whose "Jesus of the People" won the NCR's millennium contest for a new image of Jesus. Sr. Wendy Beckett of PBS fame was the judge. Scroll down to her painting, "Epiphany."

Hermana Marietta, with whom I lived for a dozen years or so, had a particular devotion to the Epiphany. Every year she'd ask all the sisters if she could have their Christmas cards with the Three Wise Men on them. She'd use them faithfully in her Latin and Spanish classes around January 6th.

In our community room we have a basket on one of the side tables into which is stuffed all the Christmas cards received by the community. I sit and go through them a couple times during the season and am always attracted to the ones with the Magi, wondering if Hermana would like this one or that.

A secret, heretofore never revealed: I pick a card out every favorite...and take it! I mean really, we receive 100s so who's going to miss just one. Some years there's a tie between two or three and I really have to carefully choose the one that will be on the mirror in my room for a few months. But not so this year...2007's outshone all the rest as soon as I saw it.

It's a beautiful Madonna and child painted by the artist Emmanuel Pieper from the Benedictines in Kentucky. No Magi on it, but instead, the one for whom they made the trip.