Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Talk

Our Joan Chittister just returned from a 3-day promotional trip for her new book, The Gift of Years. She spoke at three venues: St. Bart's, the large Episcopal congregation in the city, at St. Mark's in nearby New Canaan, CT, and at St. Ignatius Retreat Center on Long Island.

We checked after she returned and the book ranked #1,297 out of their 300,000 some books---quite a coup! And the book really is great. As one of the reviewers, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner wrote, "Joan Chittister is one of the great spiritual teachers of our generation." By the way, his Kabbalah: a love story, was a great read, too.

One more book plug: I just got a copy of one of my very favorite author's latest: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell. If you've never given one of her four books a try, do read about them on amazon, on a similar site, or just google her name. She is one very creative and talented writer. I started the new one this weekend and am really trying to go slowly and savor it for a bit. Don't you just love finding a writer whose books you don't want to end--even while you're reading them?!

Springtime in Erie.

Photo by Stephanie Schmidt, OSB

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sophia Wisdom

This Saturday and Sunday is our annual spring Community Weekend. Our speaker is Ronald Witherup, SS, provincial of the Sulpician order and, coincidently, an Erie native. He will give two presentations on Saturday on Sophia Wisdom.

The image of Sophia as the wisdom of God is a popular one in Benedictine circles as the great abbess Hildegard of Bingen, in 12th century Germany, had Sophia Wisdom as one of her famous visions.

Elizabeth Johnson in her landmark book, She Who Is, details the appearance of Sophia throughout the books of the Old and New Testaments (Hebrew and Christian Scriptures), as a "starling female personification of the mystery of God in powerful and close engagement with the world."

Here is a modern day icon of Sophia Wisdom by the Franciscan iconographer Robert Lentz.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monastic Lexicon #1


Here begins a little feature on monastic vocabulary or, more specifically, vocabulary particular to our monastic community that may or may not be so to another monastic house!

I'll begin with a word that I did not know up until a couple of years ago: clerestory. "An outside wall that rises above an adjoining roof and contains windows." Here is a view of ours from the front yard. It does look like it kinda' landed on the roof of the chapel, like a little beret or something out of E.T. but it's already hard to imagine the skyline without it! When we renovated the chapel last year, we really didn't build too much from scratch, but since we had to re-do the chapel roof because of leaking and ice damage and since there are no clear windows in it, only 16 beautiful stained-glass ones, this clerestory was added...and it is gorgeous.

And here it is from the inside--the view right as you walk into the chapel and look up.

It always reminds me of a lighthouse and, since we have three lighthouses here along our lakeshore, I guess that's understandable. Watching the morning clouds and sunrise during Morning Praise is the best treat. Even a passing storm is awesome!

Click here to view more clerestories.

Photos by Charlotte Anne Zalot, OSB

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Poem in Your Pocket Day

The Neighborhood Art House will celebrate national Poem In Your Pocket Day as part of its National Poetry Month commemoration tonight. Winners of the NAH's poetry contests will recite their poems and the Art House's Poetry on Stage troupe will perform a version of "The Ant and Grasshopper" fable by Toni Morrison. For readers who are locals, come on down...7:00 pm tonight. It's great fun! Here's a one-minute preview video.

Students from the Poetry on Stage class at the Art House will perform as part of the celebration of National Poetry Month.

More on Poem in Your Pocket Day from

The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 17.

Some ideas for Poem in Your Pocket Day--
* Post pocket-sized verses in public places
* Handwrite a poem on your business cards
* Leave some poems in a restaurant
* Distribute bookmarks with your favorite lines
* Add a poem to your email footer
* Post a poem on your blog or social networking page
* Text a poem to friends

I'll be acting as the MC for the event and here is the poem I'll be carrying in my pocket:

The Place I Want to Get Back To

is where
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
the darkness

and first light
two deer
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay.
Let's see who she is
and why she is sitting

on the ground, like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can't be repeated.

If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named

Mary Oliver

Monday, April 14, 2008

Flora and Fauna = Spring

In the spirit of full disclosure, yes, we had nearly 10' of snow this season--118" to be exact. But, spring really does follow winter, and it's here! Two indisputable proofs showed up this week to put the lid on any debate:

#1) Crocuses and daffodils are up--in full color and heralding spring with all their hearts! One group of crocuses never ceases to amaze. They "live" in a 10' by 4' plot of dirt--not soil, dirt--on the edge of an old asphalt driveway where I work, that is frequented by speeding cars that pay no heed to this border, running over it with regularity, as do the snowplows throughout the winter. For 50 weeks of the year this strip is black and ugly. Every April I swear that this will be the year the crocuses say, "We've had enough; there is no way we're blooming here." And every year they come through again, the first ones of the whole area. They are deep purple, strong and plentiful bloomers, and absolutely miraculous. The daffodils, of course, are everywhere: tall, fragile and lovely. Our local cancer society uses them for a fundraiser every spring and large bouquets don every table and sideboard these weeks.

#2) Our deer have survived the winter. We are seeing them regularly now--most commonly between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. which makes for some suppertime appearances--to the delight of all. They are traveling in little herds. We've seen sixes, fours, and twos, but not many singles. Their coats are still very dark; by July they will be golden.

PS: The early Easter was a disaster for one of our "environment artists," she had no forsythia to put in with the Easter flowers. Lo and behold, this week our forsythia burst forth and proudly joined our mini-gardens throughout the chapel. Next year they should make it for the big day itself: April 12th.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An Anniversary-Posting #100

Today we celebrate the 100th entry on this blog, "Light through Stained-Glass Windows." For the occasion I thought I'd do a David Letterman type countdown and share with you the top 10 experiences I've had courtesy of the blogging world. Here they are:

#10. The stated intent was to share the everyday life of our wonderful community (not a perfect group of people, in fact a very human group of people, but a wonderful group nonetheless) and that's exactly what the intent has remained and, I think, accomplished in a small way.

#9. One of the basic things writers-to-be are taught is to write every single day...write anything, but write something. In the last year I know I have become, not a great writer, but a much better writer and I have, in large part, Mary Lou Kownacki to thank. I worked with her for 12 years and wrote 100s of newsletter, magazine and PR articles under her tutelage..she truly helped me to write better. And this blog has, too.

#8. I have been able to share Thomas Moore's reflections, which I think are beautiful.

#7. Through the generosity of some of our photographers, namely Ann, Charlotte and Susan, I began to add pictures in December and that's added a visual dimension that makes the entries much better.

#6. I still can't get over the reactions of readers, especially our oblates, who tell me all the time how much they read this and like it. I'm continually amazed.

#5. Finding and sharing "Gabriel's Oboe," which now has a permanent link in the right-hand column. I must have listened to it 50 times and received many responses on that day's entry.

#4. Google analytics: which tracks statistics on all the Visits to a site, including what countries and states they're from, whether they come directly to the blog or through a referred site, number of readers per day, month, and even hourly. i.e.: January 1-April 8: I had over 3,800 visits from 47 countries and 48 US states plus Washington, DC (no readers from Wyoming or West Virginia!) Again, I'm amazed.

#3. I am able to share this new-found knowledge by adding a blog for "Ellen's Poems," help our oblate director set up her own blog: erieoblates.blogspot. com and, just last week, show a Benedictine sister from Indiana how to set up one for her vocation work.

#2. Having the editor of our diocesan magazine, Faith, offer me a blog-like column in their bimonthly publication. I just sent in four entries for the May-June issue due out May 9th.

And #1. Without a doubt, the best experience has been sharing the enthusiasm and support of the community and my close friends throughout this endeavor. Special thanks to my friend, Anne...our own oboist, for her years of teaching 7th and 8th grade grammar and knowing by heart all the rules that nobody else can remember except for her...she? her?...just kidding, it's "her." And to all my many other friends who think every entry is "just great!" And isn't that exactly what friends always say....and really mean it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Snap, Crackle and Pop

Clink, clank, bang, smash, thud, CRASH, drip, drop, trickle, gush, thwack, clunk, CRASH, ring, knock, drill, shatter, whack, CRASH, heave, haul, shake, tear, whir, pound, thump, buzz, CRASH, CRASH, rap-rap-rap, slash, whoosh, split, vibrate, CRASH, CRASH, CRASH!

And the second floor demolition is done!

Photo by Charlotte Anne Zalot, OSB

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hillary Clinton-John Dear in Erie

With the Pennsylvania primary April 22nd, the national candidates are campaigning throughout the state. Tuesday, Hillary Clinton was here. She spoke at Mercyhurst College, which has invited all the presidential candidates to come and address their students.

A number of our sisters attended her presentation that evening. Sr. Joan Chittister was asked to be part of a small group that met with Senator Clinton prior to her speaking. She told Hillary, "Hope without a vision leaves you hopelessly lost," and Hillary used it in her presentation minutes later! A number of our sisters can be seen in the video at the event---in the background on the left. Video; Text.

Her appearance, as does that of almost any pro-choice politician, engendered differences of opinions in our local media. Tuesday, the local paper carried statements by Catholic Bishop Donald Trautman and other views from the college and its students.

Hopefully, Senator Obama will be able to campaign in Erie soon, too.

Tonight many peace groups in our area are sponsoring an appearance in Erie of the long-time Jesuit peace activist, John Dear, SJ. John is an author and lecturer and an international voice of nonviolence and peace efforts. He has traveled to war zones around the world, including Iraq, Palestine and Nicaragua. Bishop Desmond Tutu has nominated him for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.