Thursday, May 29, 2008

Spring Babies

Three sets of spring babies have popped out this week.

At our St. Benedict Child Development Center the 6-seater buggies have appeared from their winter garage storage. The teachers load them up with children from our East Coast Migrant Head Start Program and head off around the block on East 9th Street.

When I looked into the newly added infants' room a couple of years ago it was the first time I had seen a room full of babies without one towhead among them. But I soon forgot that blond, blue-eyed look as those big dark eyes and shiny black hair radiated from the roomful of Hispanic babies.

I never get enough of these scenes. The kids are so cute and these buggies are amazing. They are that large, heavy-duty red plastic and look like a giant version of a Fisher-Price toy in some playground. They must do the trick for they've been around for years, look like new every spring, and the kids seem to love the royal treatment as they sit back and peruse their "neighborhood kingdom" from their comfortable perches.

The second set comes as goslings and baby ducks.

We saw some at our peninsula (Presque Isle State Park) this weekend and are sure to see a family or two soon at the plastics plant pond about a half mile up the road. This photo is exactly how they look.

The third set of spring babies is a trio of baby robins we saw this week in an evergreen tree down at our Glinodo Center near the lake. We tried to get a photo but, even though we could see them quite clearly ourselves, it was too dark 18" inside the branches for the camera to distinguish them--they are just three little heads resting on the nest's edge.

Photo by Ann Muczynski, OSB

Monday, May 26, 2008

Holiday Weekend

It's been a very cold, rainy and damp month of May for us, so to have a warm and sunny Memorial Day weekend has been a welcome holiday indeed. We've been able to eat outside on the patio, actually go to prayer without wearing sweaters and just generally be thrilled to feel the warmer air and see the sunshine all day.

So here's some beauty for the first unofficial day of summer, at least here in the four-seasons northeast.

A unique shot of the roof of the walkway that connects our two residential wings. It must have been taken from one of the patios---obviously after a rainstorm.

Photo by Bernadette Sullivan, OSB

As Sunday was the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), here is an excerpt from a contemporary reading that we used in the Vigil of Sunday prayer Saturday evening.

If bread could talk,
it would tell us about silver stalks
pushing up in the dark, blind soil,
searching for sun, light and air.

If bread could talk, it would tell us about leavening--
yeast and dough and ferment.

If bread could talk,
it would tell us about a wife's breadboard--
scarred, dented, warmed by loaves lifted from the oven and left on wood to cool.

If bread could talk
it would tell us the source of tears,
of anguish and love,
of mourning and joy.

If bread could talk,
it would tell us that this earth is honey for all beings
and all beings are honey for this earth.

If bread could talk,
it would sing us forward into forgiveness
and back into the very heart of God.

Nathan Mitchell

The doors to our cloister walk that connects the chapel with the dining room. I think Stephanie caught it in just the right light.

Photo by Stephanie Schmidt, OSB

Thursday, May 22, 2008

May-June Faith magazine

The latest edition of our Erie Diocese's magazine, Faith, was just published. For my column I took things I'd already written for this blog and tweaked them a little bit for the magazine audience--which is different from this blog readership!

For this May-June issue I used two posts ("Summer Solstice" and "X Out the Days") pretty much as they were here. In the third I shared one of my friend Ellen Porter's poems, which I have done here, but I used a new poem this time. It's about dragging cancer along like a hermit crab drags its shell. The fourth entry is a revision of something I wrote in the AIM USA Newsletter after I visited the Flanders area of Belgium and reread the poem "In Flanders Fields."

The magazine lays them out as four long vertical pieces, similar to what they look like here. The online version has them in more of a prose style, but here they are if you'd like to take a look: Click here.

Downtown Erie: our bicentennial tower at sunset

Photo by Stephanie Schmidt, OSB

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monastery Bells

Daily life in a monastery is usually punctuated by the ringing of bells. Why are bells associated with churches and monasteries? Perhaps because their overtones are so strong--the high-pitched ringing sounds that decay slowly after the initial clang. In the seventeenth century Robert Fludd depicted angels as the overtones of human life. Joan of Arc loved bells, and said that she heard voices especially when bells were rung for Matins and Compline, the morning and evening hours of the church day.

Overtones, sometimes called partials by music theorists, are those elements in every experience that last long after the literal act--memories, shock, emotional residues, reactionary behavior. They are also the meanings and implications of deeds, their nuances and reverberation.

Monks are more interested in these partials of experience than in the literal facts. They are professionals in spiritual resonance. When the bell rings, they stop and listen.

Thomas Moore

This reflection by Thomas Moore came to mind last Saturday at the funeral of one of our sister's brothers. In addition to the 2-3 funerals of our own sisters each year we celebrate an additional 2-3 for members of sisters' families. Though we are quite familiar with our funeral rituals, they are always new and, we hope, memorable for the family.

I often think of the whole Mass of Christian Burial as our "gift" to the family. One of our most touching rituals is to ring our bells as the casket is taken from the chapel out the front door and into the hearse.

Our electronic carillon is set on the maximum six bell peal and continues ringing as the hearse and the procession of cars goes down the driveway and out onto East Lake Road.

If you'd like to hear it, here it is: Click on Six Bell Peal.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Southeast Asia

Much of our conversation this week has shifted from the country's political scene to the natural disasters: cyclones, earthquakes and tornadoes, that have recently occurred in Myanmar and China, and our own midwestern states.

The prioress of a community in Washington state called to see if there were any Benedictine or Cistercian communities in Myanmar that could use some assistance, as her community wanted to make a donation to the relief efforts there. We didn't know of any, but referred her to Catholic Relief Services.

There are Benedictines in China, but not many and mostly in Taiwan. In fact one of our sister's brothers is a member of the Maryknoll order and is presently stationed in Hong Kong in far southeastern China.

There are numerous monastic communities in the midwest. Nearly 2/3rds of all US Benedictine communities are within 150 miles of the Mississippi, quite a number in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma--all the way from North Dakota to Louisiana.

We added all the victims of these terrible tragedies to our prayers this week--and we also prayed for all those marvelous relief agencies who respond so quickly and generously to these disasters.

Photo by Stephanie Schmidt. OSB

Monday, May 12, 2008

A New Song

Let there be a new spirit in the
Church of Jesus.
Let the spirit be a song
of many voices.

Let each voice
sing a melody strong and pure.
Let the melodies
blend in rich sound
filling the churches.

Let the sound
rush through stained glass windows
pouring notes of hope
into the streets.

Let the notes of hope
heal hearts,
restore broken dreams,
inspire the human spirit.

Let us be a new song unto the Spirit.
Let us be a new song.

from Prayers for a New Millennium
Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB

If you haven't visited Ellen's Poems recently do give it a try. Our Ellen Porter is in the last month of her long breast cancer journey. She has captured that journey in a unique "journal"---through poetry. They don't all speak of her disease, they address life, as seen through her eyes.

In this season of Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit into our world and into our hearts, I see the Spirit in my own life more clearly because of Ellen's poems.

Photo by Ann Muczynski, OSB

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Liminal Space

This week is officially the seventh and last week of the Easter season--a holiday now long past in the "real world." These ten days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday are a kind of liminal space--still a part of the Easter season and yet more a part of the upcoming Ordinary Time that will last until the beginning of Advent.

All week we've been using "spirit" songs in our prayer. Everyone loves them, as they are inspiring, upbeat and alive. Here's a line from today's: "O Holy Spirit, by whose breath life rises vibrant out of death; come to create, renew, inspire; come, kindle in our hearts your fire."

Our Pentecost liturgy on Sunday is always a very special and creative one. I saw the outline of the liturgy yesterday and it really is going to be a glorious "Welcome Spirit" event.

This return to Ordinary Time is also a return to celebrating lots of feasts of saints. Three important English ones of the Benedictine order are coming up this month. Augustine of Canterbury, the first archbishop of the famed cathedral, was an early 7th century monk called "the Apostle to the English." Later in that century, Bede the Venerable, a doctor of the church, made his mark by his love for all things written, as he penned the classic Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The third is Julian of Norwich, most probably a Benedictine nun of the 14th century, who lived most of her life as a hermit and mystic. Her writings of her revelations of God and her spiritual life are valued by many even in our time.

Here's what Thomas Moore writes about saints:

A particularly hypnotic form of religious chanted poetry is the litany, often sung by monks on special occasions. "Te rogamus audi nos" the monks chant, as long lists of saints are sung. Hear us, we beg you.

I think of the many men and women who have touched me during my years and who form a litany of names cherished and feared and fondly remembered. Te rogamus audi nos.

Hear me, my grandparents, who gave me so much of their hearts. Hear me, friends, who stayed with me in my most unconscious and unripe years. Hear me, my ancestors, whose written words and objects of art have educated me. Hear me, former loves, who feel my rejection and coldness.

Only a finite number of names can be in our litany, and so we sing to them as precious saints who have graced our lives.

Monday, May 5, 2008


The unofficial date when Erie hummingbird lovers put up their feeders is May 1st. But because we've had such a warm spring and because one of our oblates told me last Sunday to do so, I put my two up a couple days earlier this year. I bought new ones for both sites, as the old ones were just that--old.

One is on my bedroom window and the other is here on one of the new cloister walk windows in our inner courtyard. Can you see it on the second window from the left? It is a large one but is a bit dwarfed by one of the birds' favorite perches seen here on the right.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most common and nearly the only ones that come to the eastern U.S. They are wonderfully fun with their territorial swooping at each other, their clicking and squeaking noises and, of course, their amazing colors, especially in full sun: red throats and emerald green backs--both of which look like shining mail on a suit of armor to me.

We have four hummingbird feeders around the Mount, as far as I know--maybe more. All of them receive many visitors, that will come even if you are sitting or standing quite near--as long as you stay very, very still. Lots of pictures show the birds drinking nectar held in a small feeder in one's hand. I think I may try that this year, those who write about it say it's a unique experience.

The magazine Birds and Blooms has a great website with a section that features hummingbirds: Hummingbird Central they call it. Enjoy.

Photo by Charlotte Anne Zalot, OSB

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The "Mary" Month of May

I spent the evening with the Infant of Prague this week. When I arrived at the front desk to do my monthly turn at the Mount switchboard I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and when I turned, lo and behold, there was a 20" Infant of Prague statue standing along the wall--formally dressed in gold shimmering robes. I hadn't seen one in years!

When I entered community some of the pre-Vatican II devotions were still hanging on and one of the older sisters was in charge of the large Infant of Prague statue that was on a pedestal on a landing at the turn of a long set of stairs. She had one of those small, ladies overnight bags of the time, chock-full of liturgically correct clothing. The idea, I believe, was to match the change in garments with the liturgical seasons, feasts, etc.

I had not grown up in a family that held to many Catholic devotions as such, and had never seen anything like this, but it fascinated me, of course.

Sure enough, the one I saw last week had a small plastic case with it and when my friend and I opened it, there they were--a whole wardrobe of outfits! It was like being caught in the Twilight Zone!

Anyway, as this is May 1, the traditional month of Mary, in Catholic and even other Christian circles, it brings to mind devotions--of which those to Mary were always at the top of the popularity chart. We still keep a couple--appropriately contemporary--but I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of sisters keep their own this month, too. Even I stare at a beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother right here in my office and the statue in our chapel is one of the best I've seen. And, yes, I do carry a rosary in my purse--but no miniature Infant of Prague!

Happy 1st
"Light Through

May 1, 2007-
May 1, 2008

Our Paschal candle.

Photo by Stephanie Schmidt, OSB