Thursday, February 28, 2008

Real Issues--Not Just Rhetoric

Many people following the current political campaigns talk about our personality and media elections rather than discussions and awareness of the real issues. Well, two upcoming peace and justice events have been announced this week here in Erie on two such "real issues."

The first will be held today at the Mount. It's a special Evening Praise on the theme of universal health care. It's being organized by our Benedictines for Peace group. If you're not sure of the difference between health insurance and health care, this brief but excellent column from the Philadelphia Inquirer may help: "Health Insurance and Health Care are not the same." The author, a medical doctor, claims that the current candidates, and lots of us, use the terms interchangeably and that they are really quite different.

The second event is a Peace Rally and March marking five years since the U.S. invaded Iraq. It will begin downtown at Perry Square on Sunday, March 9th and is sponsored by the Erie Peace Initiative. One of our sisters is a coordinating member of this group and Benedictines for Peace is a sponsor. Marchers will carry poles of peace cranes in honor of the 4,000 U.S. troops who have lost their lives in Iraq.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The "Febs"

We've got the "Febs" here in Erie. It's that "How long is winter going to last?" question; that "We've just passed 70" of snow!" shock; that "If I don't see trees with leaves on them, tulips and crocuses blooming, and robins building nests soon, I'm going to scream!" feeling.

But hope is just around the corner, in something that is coming in March--which is this Saturday. One of our members, Mary Lou Kownacki, has a new book, A Monk in the Inner City, being published this week from Orbis Books (Maryknoll). It is a collection of 80 short essays gathered from Mary Lou's columns, articles and new reflections on her love for the poor, especially those in and around the northeast side of Erie--a neighborhood now labeled "inner-city."

Her last book, Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryoken, was a great seller for Eerdmans Publishers. Any poetry book that sells at all is considered a success and hers sold in the thousands.

Here are some of Thomas Moore's thoughts on monasteries and their neighbors. They fit well with A Monk in the Inner City:

"The life of the monk seen through rough sentimental eyes can be easily misunderstood. It's a tough life, in which sensitivity to interior thoughts and feelings are intense....In modern life it may appear that real work is located in the heroics of surviving and succeeding in the world. For the monk the challenge is in nonheroic intimacy with oneself, others, and the world.

"The monk's occupation is soul work. In religious community I was always told that the mere presence of a priory in a neighborhood was a contribution to the area. If we do not have monks in our midst, we might not know of this soul-centered approach to life that the monks model, teach, and demonstrate. Our task is to discover in the monks how to bring soul closer to the center of a generally secular life and make the switch from heroics to intimacy."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Retro vs Techie

I love lots of the new "techie stuff" and many sisters have taken to them, also: cell phones, computer games, memory sticks, IPods, some have even played Wii games.

But there's something great about things that are now called "retro," too. One example is evident in the Mount library right now. Because of new carpeting, our library is being upended this week: all the books are being taken off the shelves, boxed and moved, along with the tall shelves and other furniture, to the east side of the room so that the new flooring can be laid. Then everything will be moved back to the west side while the carpet continues through the room. Do you remember learning, somewhere along the way, how to put new sheets on a bed while the person remains in the bed? Well, it kinda reminds me of that!

But here's the unique retro part I love: the card catalogue. It's one of those real original wooden ones... it sits about 5 feet high, with maybe 24 or 30 of those thin long drawers in which those 3x5 cards fit perfectly. And each drawer has one of those long rods that fits in from the front, gliding along a thin rail, working its way through the punched hole at the bottom of each card. Sometimes I pull a rod out just for the fun of it and then try to fit it back in, making it through all the cards' holes along the entire length. What a mess if you knock anything off line!

Our library is beautiful. The entire east wall is windows, and half of the north and south walls are, a gorgeous view of the gardens between the two residence wings. It has a great selection of books, magazines, and, of course, special sections on monasticism, peace and justice, and women. Many of our guests spend hours there, browsing or reading or working at one of the tables.

Oh, and what's right across the room from the card catalogue? Another row of long thin things: books on CDs. And right next to those: a computer with email and internet access.

All the techie and retro things seem to coexist peacefully...and quietly.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gabriel's Oboe

We have an oboist in our community. Which, I discovered, is quite rare. It fact, our little town is so...well, little...that some of our orchestra groups have to hire oboists from Buffalo or Cleveland to play with them.

It is also not the easiest of instruments to play...lots of lung power needed, just the right shape of the lips, lots of patience. It's a double reed woodwind and they say that musicians that play reed instruments get rather paranoid about their reeds: too soft, too stiff, too thin, too old. They're on the endless search for the perfect reeds...which many oboists end up making themselves.

But with all that, in the season of Lent the oboe takes center stage here and we love it. We have duets with the oboe and keyboard, an occasional oboe solo, and often just brief accompaniments with a sung mantra. Its deep, resonant, haunting sound is perfect for this somber and prayerful season of the year.

Here's a 2-minute piece, "Gabriel's Oboe," from The Mission.

I'm sorry to gloat....but I just can't help it: Eat your heart out!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Plural is Cacti

In our library, greenhouse, hallways and scattered throughout the Mount are quite a number of cactus plants. During most of the year they are moved to the back rows, collecting dust, hidden behind the prettier greens and showier African Violets. They're never chosen for chapel environment when we want to add a little nature to our prayer setting.

But during Lent they are dragged out, cleaned up and brought to center stage...and here they are beautiful! This one is in our new gathering space, right outside the chapel. It is about 40" tall, and when added to the height of the pot it's in, it greets you eye to eye when you walk up to it.

Photo by Susan Freitag, OSB

"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing."
Isaiah 35

Lent is the season for the desert and the season for our cactus plants. Here's a website of stunning flowering cacti. Enjoy!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Kenyan Monastics

In Kipleian, in the Rift Valley region of Kenya, a group of Trappist monks of Our Lady of Victory Abbey are offering refuge to nearby residents. A You Tube video offers an excellent 3-minute news report that includes the abbot describing the events and the refugees they are helping.

There are a number of Benedictine and Trappist monasteries in the East African country of Kenya. Most of them are being affected by the civil unrest there following the December elections. One large community of Benedictine women in the Nairobi suburb of Karen reports that many of their secondary students haven't come to school since the beginning of the unrest--mostly because of fear of traveling from their homes to the school. Many of the workers in the sisters' various ministries have left their homes to move in with relatives who live in a safer place. Karen is named after Karen Blitzen, the author of Out of Africa. Her large farm land is now the home for numerous religious communities.

At the annual meeting of the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses last week the prioresses discussed numerous situations affecting Benedictine women in Africa. Sr. Christine called home to ask that we add the safety of all Kenyans, especially our monastic brothers and sisters, to our daily prayer .

Thursday, February 7, 2008

And So Lent Begins

This beautiful reading at Morning Praise yesterday really sets the scene for Lent perfectly.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of God shall be your rear guard.

Photo by Susan Freitag, OSB

If you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.

God will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

Isaiah 58

If you'd like to hear some lovely hymns, you can listen to our schola sing six of Sr. Mary David's at this site.

Please remember our Sister Mary Philip who died this week at the age of 91. Unique in many ways, one of them was that she entered religious life at age 32, which in the 1940s was highly unusual.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fat Tuesday and Lean Wednesday

Two of our sisters head out this week to direct retreats on Benedictine spirituality. One is going to Florida for time with a group of lay people who are strong followers of monastic Benedictine values. Her themes will come from the book Wisdom Distilled From the Daily.

The other heads to the midwest, to a women's Benedictine community there. They are quite large and organize two community retreats a in February and one in June. About half the community makes each. Her theme is the Rule of Benedict and nonviolence and peace.

Back in Erie, we're looking forward to Mardi Gras but since Erie is 1,000 miles from New Orleans and, at this moment, sporting 38 degrees and coming off a January of 33" of snow...the celeration takes on a "northern" flavor. My favorite thing about Fat Tuesday is eating fasnetskiachle, a German cinnamon covered donut..ours are made from scratch by one of the gals in our office. Mmm mmmm!

Here's a lovely excerpt from Thomas Moore that might be something to consider for the Lenten season. Surely beats giving up might not make us thinner, but it will make us more whole and holy!

Silence is not the absence of sound. That would be to imagine it negatively. Silence is a toning down of inner and outer static, noise that occupies not only the ears but also the attention. Silence allows many sounds to reach awareness that otherwise would go unheard--the sounds of birds, water, wind, trees, frogs, insects, and chipmunks, as well as conscience, daydreams, intuitions, inhibitions, and wishes. One cultivates silence not by forcing the ears not to hear, but by turning up the volume on the music of the world and the soul.