Thursday, September 27, 2012

SVT Sweden

We had quite the exciting time this week as two women from Sweden visited us to interview Sister Joan, meet our sisters and film some of our community ministries and prayer. Lena Scherman, reporter, editor and host of a 1/2 hour show on world issues for SVT, a Swedish TV network, has traveled the world making documentaries and presenting world issues to the people of Scandinavia. Lena has produced numerous programs on women and issues concerning women's plight today. (Hint: if you can "turn on" google translator it will translate these pages into English.)

The show is set to air on October 23 and they promised to send us a DVD of it. I'll post a reminder nearer the time so those of you who are adventurous web browsers can access it!

Lena Scherman (right) and her camera gal, Linda H. from Stockholm. Oh, what brought them here? Two things: the recent Vatican issues with US sisters and an article Lena read by Joan Chittister. She said to herself, "I have to go and meet these women"--and she did!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kinsey Millhone

Here is my column from the September/October issue--the annual Teen Issue--of our Catholic diocesan magazine, Faith.

A number of years ago I began reading Sue Grafton’s mysteries, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc. I read about six or seven of them and then I moved onto other books and over time forgot which letters I read and which I hadn’t. This summer I came upon U is for Undertow and thought that I’d be safe, as it was far enough along in the alphabet to not have been read yet.

I again quickly enjoyed her writing style and her quirky, California-based detective, Kinsey — until I got to this paragraph. Kinsey is describing problems that gave her math anxiety in high school:

"A train leaves Chicago for Boston traveling 60 mph, while a second train leaves Boston for Chicago at 80 mph. A bird flies back and forth between the two…” And that’s as far as I’d get. I’d start wondering why the bird was behaving so erratically, positing a virus affecting the bird’s internal gyroscope. I’d daydream about who was on the train and why they were going from Chicago to Boston. Then I’d fret about what as happening in Boston that residents had crowded into the fastest train out. I’d never been to Boston and now I was forced to scratch it off my list.

I laughed right out loud, over and over again-and then spent the next few days wondering why I had tried to convince so many teenagers of the importance of solving such mathematical quandaries. In those teaching moments I might have suggested that to solve these “distance problems” my students should: call up any knowledge or examples they might have gathered in class up to that point, check-in with their best phone-a-friend for help, use a healthy dose of common sense and then take a stab at it!

This theory is not particular to crazy algebra problems; it’s how many of us get through the stickier parts of life. Something comes up and we’re perplexed. What to do? What to consider? How to handle it? What decision to make? I suggest we follow some of the steps above: gather in all the information we know and experiences we’ve had, check with our best advisors and guides and don’t forget common sense.

Additionally, I think Kinsey’s attitude helps with perspective: there’s often a broader picture to consider, fresh angles that could bring in other views of the issue. Life has its harsh moments, without a doubt some are downright grueling. But, we’re not in this alone. We’re part of a community and “Where two or three are gathered together…”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Autumn is a comin'

The Benetwood grape arbor, devoid of most of its fruit now: by animals and humans.

I wonder if this is an actual lavender bush. If not, it's a very pretty lavender color anyway.

And what is this? First guess, turkey; second, goose, which fly over constantly.

A neatly stacked pile of logs, surely for burning indoors this winter, stacked in the woods.

Don't miss new Smileboxes on our Jubilee and the Poetry Park dedication last weekend. Both are on our community site.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What a weekend!

We had one of our glorious weekends of events these last two days: Jubilee on Saturday and a continuation Sunday for liturgy and the dedication of the Poetry Park, an extension of one of our ministries on E. 22nd Street in Erie. Fortunately, Erie gave us a warm late summer/early fall weekend with plenty of sun. See our community website for the prioress's reflections and more.

In between events I continue along in my Anne Tyler stage--reading everything of hers that I can get my hands on. What a first-class novelist, especially with dialogue and interesting characters. Her Breathing Lessons won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in the mid-80s, but I've liked everything of hers that I've read. I always end one with the same question, Where did she come up with these characters and this story? I wonder if she dreams them up, thinks of them after experiencing something particular or just fashions them from some people or situation she imagines. They are really something!

Here's the latest in our wildlife menagerie--two wild turkeys and their 7 offspring. We caught them on the front lawn one early morning, but they are making backyard appearances, too, usually preceded by, "What are those things in the backyard?"

Attention all you Trekkies: Google Doodles had a clever one on September 8th, the 46th anniversary of Star Trek's first TV show. Be sure to move your cursor around as there is a whole series of scenes, each with action and Star Trek's iconic music.

"Live long and prosper."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Taste of the Arts

Taste of the Arts, the annual fundraiser for the Neighborhood Art House, took place this week. Here are some highlights from our time there.

The theme was "Color My World" and the tables and centerpieces echoed that.

A local caterer set up a lovely buffet for the 300+ guests.

The best of the children's art was on display--this caterpillar is made entirely of bottle caps!

Local artists donated works for the Silent Auction. This is Robo-Man.

Fashioned from local pieces of wood, these wood vases were stunning.

A neighbor boy stopped by to look in the tent to see the action. When he's 7, he can come himself.

More photos on our community site.

Monday, September 10, 2012


  by Mary Oliver

Oh, do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude--
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

A monastery is in the business of changing lives--our own and maybe yours if you visit too often. The women who came to the retreat this weekend are in such danger, as are the L'Arche community who celebrated 40 years of their Erie houses at our Glinodo Center on Saturday. And all the people who came to Sunday liturgy and heard our homilist (who regularly changes lives, I fear) are in danger, too--if they keep coming and keep listening.

We went for a ride to our Presque Isle State Park and saw early September scenes like this one. I've gone there way too much over the years. It has changed my life considerably.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Haunts, cont'd

Back on April 16th I started what I thought was going to be a little series, Benedictine haunts. I just wanted to show some readers who don't live in Erie or maybe have never even been to Erie, what some of the places that we frequent are like. It didn't get very far, I only had three: April 16, May 14 and June 11. But, here's the fourth and very appropriate as the summer days are winding down. The Lawrence Park (walk-up only) Dairy Queen. Do you still have one of these in your town? I think this is our last one, complete with the unique Dairy Queen vanilla ice cream cone on top.

It is a goldmine. The lines, one at each window, are long and steady all summer and it is very common, around 7:30 pm most nights, to see a Benedictine in one of them--getting treats for those in the nearby car. May your September be as mild and summer-like as the first week of ours has been.

We have to have set some sort of record lately: in the ten days beginning August 25 and ending September 3, we were on the front page of the A or B section of our local paper three times--either as the only feature or as part of the feature story! They are all linked on our homepage and the online version of the stories have many media features that the newspaper didn't carry. We are fortunate to have such a supportive newspaper: staff and owners. They really care about the non-profits and spirituality groups of our area. There are numerous stories and coverage of these organizations and their good works throughout the year.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Back home again

Over the last 10 days the community has received some great local coverage in our Erie newspaper. One article was on local communities of religious and their attendance at the LCWR assembly in August and the after effects.

The second one was the front page story in our Sunday paper yesterday on the growing refugee population in Erie and organizations, including our St. Benedict Education Center, that are helping them.

Although all news stories such as these are linked on our community site, this gives you a "second chance" to catch them in case you missed them there. They are both worth reading. Photos and videos online included with both.

Here are some shots from Mepkin Abbey, a Cistercian (Trappist) abbey that we visited while in South Carolina. In the USA there are only 18 or so monasteries of Cistercian men and only about 6 of women, so we couldn't pass up the chance to visit one. As with many Cistercian places it's in the "middle of nowhere," but google maps found it, and so did we!

Their chapel is one of Frank Kacmarcik's, the noted Benedictine church and liturgical designer.

Their 1,000 acres is on a bluff over the Cooper River that runs through Charleston. It was given to the order from Clare Boothe Luce and her husband Henry of TIME magazine fame, for a new community in 1949 from Gethsemani Abbey. They are both buried on the property.

Today there are 14 members, with much support from volunteers and staff. The monks primary work/income is from growing mushrooms, offering private retreat accommodations, and visitors to their extensive gardens (originally the Luce's.)