Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Legacy of Hope

In August 2007 our 25-year artist-in-residence, Brother Thomas Bezanson, passed away. Last week the Boston Globe reported on the recipients of the first Brother Thomas Foundation grants. Here's an excerpt from that story. I know you'll be as inspired as all of us were when we read it.

"A monk-turned-potter’s bequest lightens the load for eight local artists."

One of the most overworked cliches about the creative world is the notion of “the struggling artist,’’ with its connotations of unheated garrets, paint-spattered clothing, crumpled paper littering the floor.

But to Brother Thomas Bezanson, the struggle was very real. Long before the Benedictine monk-turned-potter was celebrated for his fine ceramics, which are now in the collections of more than 80 museums around the world and have fetched as much as $100,000, there was a time when he couldn’t afford the propane gas to fire his pots. He knew small amounts of money could make a critical difference to an artist, and he never forgot the kindness bestowed on him by the friend who gave him $500 to buy propane, or the couple who helped support him so he could dedicate himself to his art.

That is why, a few months before he died in 2007, he ensured that funds from future sales of his work would be used “to help other artists as I was helped," as Brother Thomas wrote to Bernie Pucker, co-owner of the Pucker Gallery on Newbury Street, the agent for selling his art.

Last October, the Boston Foundation announced that eight Boston-area artists—poets, filmmakers, a playwright, jeweler, composer, and new media artist—received the first $15,000 Brother Thomas Fellowships. It’s a small sum compared to say, a $500,000 MacArthur “genius’’ fellowship. But to the first group of Brother Thomas fellows, it’s been a breathtaking gift.

What have they done with the $15,000? The fellows speak of health insurance paid, teaching responsibilities lightened, confidence and spirits boosted. More than anything, the money has afforded them something intangible, but critical: the gift of time to be creative.

Barbara Helfgott Hyett, 65, Poet, teacher: “In order to live, I teach. . . . I also work as a poet-in-the-school, artist-in-residence, a public lecturer. My royalties reach, yearly, nearly $200. In whatever time is spare, I write: late at night after class, early Sunday mornings. There are days I teach 12 hours a day, in the name of economic survival. . . . The grant is a miracle. I immediately paid for flood repairs, then put aside the remainder to rent a cottage on a beach in late August when I take my one week off! In that paradise, I shall imagine a new book. . . . The fellowship is the first award of significant substance — enough funding to buy me walks on the sea and a kitchen table in the rented kitchen, to attend to my own soul, my poem-work."

Heather White, 41, Jeweler, associate professor of art, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “This award will provide me with the opportunity to study abroad, cultivating and creating bridges with studio jewelers throughout Europe. . . . Since I am wholly committed to a field that is by nature an underdog, the recognition helps fuel my belief in the power of craft as an artistic expression. . . . This grant will also allow me to hire a studio assistant to help with the labor-intensive cutting, filing, sanding, and resurfacing of the metal components of the work."

John Oluwole Adekoje, 39, Filmmaker and playwright, teacher at Boston Arts Academy. “I truly believe creating art is a way of life. However, our money-driven society makes it very difficult to focus on your art and pay the bills. . . . To be good, great at one’s craft, it takes thousands of hours of working day and night. Studying, practicing, and experimenting. . . . I am using my money to begin producing my screenplay, “Knock Around Kids,’’ about three young kids under the age of 16 living in a group home. . . . I have been working on this project for five years [but] didn’t have the cash to truly start."

Brian Knep, 41, New media artist, artist-in-residence at Harvard Medical School. “The amount of money I make is very little compared to most people. I have enough to live on but not enough to save. The more money you have, the more you can work on getting better exposure, and the more exposure you have, the better it is for getting money. . . . This $15,000 is wonderful. I’ll use it for rent, health insurance, the basic necessities of life. It will go to my living expenses and my studio. . . . Health insurance is a huge part of my budget, like over $400 a month. . . . To me, it’s important that when I make art, it doesn’t just speak to the art world. It’s very lonely, and to be recognized, it puts a little wind in your sail."

Part of our collection of Brother Thomas's works.

P.S. Today marks the end of three years of "Light Through Stained-Glass Windows." It's hard to believe that means over 300 entries! It's also hard not to be repetitious week by week--after all, repetition is one of the characteristics of most of life--and especially in monastic life with our regular prayer schedule, feasts, and even ordinary days. For those of you who are still faithfully hanging in there reading this site, here's a consideration for you: If there is anything you'd like me to specifically write about or share about our "ordinary life" as Benedictine Sisters of Erie, let me know and I'll do what I can. And thanks to all of you for being LTSGW readers through these many weeks and months--that have now somehow miraculously turned into three years!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Women and Peace

This is my first attempt at sharing a video with you. Here is a 26-minute presentation that our Joan Chittister gave as the closing keynote of the conference "International Gender Justice Dialogue" held last week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The executive director of the Gender Justice group, headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, was with us for Holy Week. It was co-sponsored by the Nobel Women's Initiative, a group of seven women Nobel Peace Prize winners, working for peace in the world.

This is a shorter version of one of Sister Joan's most recent and most powerful lectures,"Women, Power and Peace." Find 26 minutes---I think you'll like it.

International Gender Justice Dialogue: Dr. Joan Chittister from Nobel Women's Initiative on Vimeo.

Though the daffodils in our gardens are more noticeable and expected, I think the unplanned, wild ones we just "come upon" in our woods are more appreciated. They are such a wonderful surprise.

New Morning and Evening Prayer for second half of Easter season.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring Community Weekend

This weekend we come together for our annual Spring Community Weekend. Saturday, Sr. Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS, will be with us for two sessions. She is the director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry in Dayton, Ohio and is the author of numerous articles in many areas of liturgy. Her two presentations are titled: "Building Blocks of Good Celebrations" and "Rhythm of Celebrating and Living."

Following in a long Benedictine, monastic tradition our community is blessed to have a half dozen sisters with advanced degrees and years of experience in liturgy as well as a large number of sisters who have learned from them about Eucharistic liturgies, the Opus Dei, and other liturgical experiences.

This weekend also brings some early preparation for our community discernment process leading up to the election of a new prioress, May 28-31.

The library courtyard between the two residence wings is in full bloom, including this flowering pear tree in the very middle. Happy 40th Earth Day!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekend and more Mary

This was Jubilee weekend for nine of our sisters: two celebrated 60 years of monastic profession, five 50 years, and two 25 years. If you'd like to read a short bio. on each of them, see this link to our spring Mount magazine. It's in pdf form. The article is on pages 8-15.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

Thursday, April 15, 2010


We're well into the 6-week Easter season now, adding Alleluia to the end of every beginning and ending antiphon of the psalms each prayer period. So, I thought it would be nice to just go for pure beauty and exaltation today.

The first is our schola singing during the Triduum "Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs."

The second comes from my trip to Cleveland this week to see and hear Mary Oliver recite her poetry. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my lifetime. A young architect from Cleveland, whose firm was one of the sponsors of the event, introduced her. He spoke eloquently and from the heart. He spoke of a down time in his own life when a friend shared with him one of Mary's poems and how that moment transformed his life. He ended by telling the audience that he hopes someday each one of us has a friend who is with us at such a moment when a similar gift is needed--from Mary. Here is the poem he received. As Mary, who was very funny and witty throughout the hour and a half reading and Q&A, introduced it, "I think I'd better read 'Wild Geese' or I'll be run out of town tonight!"

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things

Mary Oliver

Monday, April 12, 2010

Easter Week endings

The first week of Easter ended with a flurry of activity--all of it very nice. First, the eight collegians from Canisius College left Saturday morning, having charmed all of us with their energy, delight and willingness to enter into everything we offered this week. Second, the weekend brought 35 retreatants for a spring Seasons of the Spirit retreat--again, lots of energy and beautiful weather for their reflections. Third, with the help of the college students, we were able to make the switch over to our new office book covers: one for Morning Praise and one for Evening.

They each have three of those ribbons that all the old missals used to come with. I think the one I had as a child had 5 ribbons! What fun arranging and rearranging them to the places I wanted--and trying to keep them flat and not get wrinkled.

I've been trying to capture some of the Easter "atmosphere" here, especially for those of you who aren't within visiting distance. Here are a couple attempts.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Carry-over Visitors

Eight collegians from Jesuit-founded Canisius College in Buffalo are here this week for alternative spring break volunteering: 7 gals and 1 guy--and he from the country of Rwanda in eastern Africa.

The first day he was here John volunteered at our St. Benedict Education Center which has a program right now in English and cultural adaptation for the large number of recent African and Middle Eastern immigrants to Erie. They were very surprised to have someone who spoke Swahili with them!

There used to be 5-6 Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries in Rwanda, but at least some of them had to disperse for some time during a cruel civil war in the 90s. I think most of the houses are up and running again, but I'm not 100% sure. Many of them were founded from monasteries in Belgium. Some of the monks and sisters were taken to Europe during the most violent times.

Our early spring continues and, because of the lifting of our normal late-winter cloudy skies, nightly sunsets over the lake can be seen again. Here's one from this week taken right at our lake shore.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Week

By some every-ten-years turn of the winds and the jet stream, we here in the Great Lakes experienced a triduum of 80+ degree days---tying or breaking each day's record high.

This rarity caused our budding flowers and trees to think it was late April instead of early in the month and they burst out all over the place over the weekend--another rarity: daffodils for Easter Sunday.

Here's a look around our place on Holy Saturday afternoon with Happy Easter week wishes to you.

PS. This year's Easter collection, taken at our Easter vigil and morning liturgy, was given to the Community of Caring, a grass roots group in downtown Erie offering all kinds of assistance to the very poor. It was founded and is still run by oblates of our community.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Triduum

This is my photo of a cross we often use in our chapel. It was designed by the late Br. Frank Kacmarcik, OSB, of St. John's Abbey. Our Sr. Charlotte wrote her doctoral dissertation on Brother Frank's outstanding artistic contributions to liturgy which included, among others, graphic designs and worship space design. Her article on him is online---go to page 4. She's also the one who first saw this "photo opportunity" on the wall right behind us one Sunday morning during our pre-liturgy music practice.

Blessings of the holy days of this weekend to all of you.

The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church: The Eucharist

Something has happened
to the bread
and the wine.

They have been blessed.
What now?
The body leans forward

to receive the gift
from the priest's hand,
than the chalice.

They are something else now
from what they were
before this began.

I want
to see Jesus,
maybe in the clouds

or on the shore,
just walking,
beautiful man

and clearly
someone else

On the hard days
I ask myself
if I ever will.

Also there are times
my body whispers to me
that I have.

Mary Oliver