Monday, June 30, 2014

Two simple joys

From Mary Oliver's book, Blue Iris, comes this reflection, perfect for our weekend chapel flower arrangers:

Freshen the Flowers, She Said

So I put them in the sink, for the cool porcelain
was tender,
and took out the tattered and cut each stem
on a slant,
trimmed the black and raggy leaves, and set them all--
roses, delphiniums, daisies, iris, lilies,
and more whose names I don't know, in bright new water--

gave them
a bounce upward at the end to let them take
their own choice of position, the wheels, the spurs,
the little sheds of the buds. It took, to do this,
perhaps fifteen minutes.
Fifteen minutes of music
with nothing playing.

Another blessing of every weekend, maximized in summer, is the arrival of guests. Here, exploring our grounds on her very first visit to Mount St. Benedict, is the granddaughter of one of our oblates, herself a frequent visitor. Welcome to the Mount, Abbey.

Photo: Cheryl Bough

Thursday, June 26, 2014


The news this week is full of "natural disasters" in the form of drought in California, Oklahoma and Texas, swollen rivers in the Midwest from north to south, and tornadoes seemingly everywhere. In our corner of PA. we are having a lovely, lovely late spring and early summer, free of those aforementioned weather difficulties. And, yes, we are well aware of these blessings and pray for those who are battling the elements. Very hard to see stories of people losing their homes, livelihood, etc.

One of our greatest natural blessings is Presque Isle State Park and a car ride around it this week brought this sight of a Great Blue Heron in a wetlands area right alongside the road. Some of our sisters have already seen them on our property as they fly along the lake shore and cut in at the various creeks--ours is Seven-Mile Creek and it attracts them each summer.

In the drier venue, here is part of an un-mowed field that has gone to wildflowers and weeds. My Canon camera doesn't do the justice to it that our human eyes did. It was stunningly beautiful.

Monday, June 23, 2014


This weekend I had a mini-adventure. It is in the bucket list category, but not exactly

Growing up I remember my Dad talking about driving to Cleveland or Pittsburgh before interstates I-90 and I-79 were built. He'd mention one of our state routes that they traveled and how much longer it took. I remember those stories and often said to myself, "I'd really like to do that some day," but expediency always wins out---until this weekend.

I traveled to the east side of Cleveland on Saturday via I-90; mileage 90 miles, time 100 minutes. Then when I knew I didn't have to be home right away I realized that it was now or never. I got on Rte 20 and came all the way back to Erie. Mileage: 90 miles, time 150 minutes! But I loved it, I felt like I was traveling with Charles Kurault on one of his CBS "On the Road" shows through America. My goodness, small town after small town. Walmart and Dairy Queens, and small malls on the edge of every one of them; three blocks of 100-year old red brick buildings defining each downtown and homes along Main Street with large wrap-around porches; 4H clubbers and cheerleaders with black magic marker signs announcing car washes and small businesses like Mike's Mowers and the Dew Drop In Diner in each. When I reached the outskirts of Erie I thought I was coming into New York City!

After awhile I started hanging out the window at red lights (and there were plenty of them)and caught some of the Americana. Thanks, Dad, it was just wonderful

In the midst of our weekend, summer arrived (officially) and leave it to one of our talented "environmental artists" to bring summer indoors for our weekend liturgies! Thanks Sister Helen

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Glorious Event

The Memory Service, Mass of Christian Burial, Interment and luncheon that followed---all in honor of our Sister Veronica Byer---were just glorious events. About a dozen family members were able to attend, including her brother Victor. Sister Helen outdid herself with her set up of the dining room/community room. Here is only one of her arrangements: a circle of Veronica's handmade cloth dolls, having a gathering themselves.

Wonderful celebration of a sister's life.

Our roses are a little late this year, but finally all the little pink ones along the chapel's south wall erupted this week.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Blessed Mother, a bear and a peace sign

One of our truly wonderful, wonderful, "characters" passed away this weekend--age 95: Sister Veronica Byer. Her obituary is on our website. Growing up in central Pennsylvania, one of 12 children, she had minimal formal education, but native intelligence and instincts. We were her third Benedictine community, as she started out on the west coast, spent time with the Benedictines in the Midwest and finally ended up with us for many years--close to her remaining brothers and sisters and their children.

Perhaps one of the most endearing remembrances of Veronica will be of her art, aka Grandma Moses, folk art. Her drawings of children and nature scenes appeared on greeting cards to other sisters, signs and memos. She went full-size with large cutout wood pieces that she placed at the entrance to the paths to the hermitages. Many a first-time visitor was "greeted" with a black bear leaning up against a tree! The bear was on the right, next to it was a Stop the War/peace sign; her large grotto-type Blessed Mother was on the left. Somehow they all fit together to Veronica.

When we had a Christmas store her handmade cloth dolls sold out on the first day and orders for others came in droves. She could have run a cottage industry for doll requests alone.

She was a character, but a loving and delightful one. She was holy, prayerful and kind. Her last years with Alzheimer's disease found her humorous and gracious throughout. She will be greatly, greatly missed.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

From Fear to Love

Today we had a retreat session on the Porter of the Monastery (translated easily to answering the door, phone, even emails). Unlike the monastic rules that came before his, Benedict changes the greeting that the porter/portress engages in when a visitor arrives at the monastery door. Previous to his Rule the giving of blessings was always from a "higher" placed individual to a "lower" one. (i.e. monastic to layperson). With Benedict he instructs the porter to ask for a blessing from whomever appears as a guest. In contemporary parlance our attitude should be something akin to, "We're so glad you're here; we've been waiting for you. A blessing, please." As the RB does point out elsewhere: Receive every guest as if he/she were Christ.

There are no divisions between peoples, no false hierarchy, no illegal aliens, no one higher and no one lower.

Radical philosophy!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Retreat Update

The overall subject of our community retreat this year is nonviolence and its place in monasticism. Tuesday morning we viewed one of the four parts to the nonviolence program A Force More Powerful. The one we saw was from 1960, the civil rights movement in Nashville. It was just great and lays the foundation of the nonviolence philosophy. I couldn't find the actual series online, but this trailer gives a good idea. The other sections include nonviolence in India's fight against the British Empire and South Africa's struggle against apartheid.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Thirty years ago

A short story: some thirty years ago, when I was in the midst of my high school teaching days, I had a special student I'll call Jane Doe. Jane was smart and clever and funny and utterly charming---to both her classmates and teachers alike. Just one of those gifted 17 year olds who already showed glimpses of her unique talents.

The years pass.

This weekend a few sisters and I had the opportunity (courtesy of gift certificates from last Christmas!) to attend our local Erie Playhouse production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This is a shout-out to everyone living within 25 miles or so of Erie, it is wonderful...go see it. The singing is strong, on pitch and highly professional...always a big factor in local productions. But what makes it quite the show is that it is set in contemporary times! The songs are the classic ones, but the costumes and the over all "feel" is modern. Very, very well done and totally enjoyable

The director? Jane Doe!

Another parallel: you may have caught the Masterpiece Theater's production of a new version of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, "Sherlock." I believe they just aired Season 3 this past January. This version is set in modern day London and the BBC admitted that it didn't know if the British would take to it, as it was so different in locale and culture from the originals. But, the first one was a huge hit both in Britain and the US. They are now considering season four.

Moral of these two cases:  if you have a really good story and good directors and writers--adaptations work.

Horseshoe pond, home of our houseboats and the little boats you need to get out to them.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Siberian Iris

We are awash in irises this week. The first ones appeared a week ago and then slowly, slowly the rest joined: purple and yellow, white and two-toned and even real blue ones. They are everywhere, but these are my favorite. They are right at our front door, a fitting welcome to our guests and sisters when they return home.

And how could I not share this, surely one of Mary Oliver's most frequently quoted and most beautiful poems.

Praying by Mary Oliver

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

These are in front of a shed at Benetwood Apartments.

Monday, June 2, 2014

This is working!?

I had an extremely rare opportunity this week--to spend a weekday morning at Presque Isle, under the guise of "working." What a treat! We have a guest who is here as part of a sabbatical. She is an avid birder and great outdoors lover. Where better than our peninsula, bird sanctuary, trails and back roads.

We hardly touched the surface in 3+ hours, but I saw a whole different world that I usually only hear about, as I am seldom there in the quiet and less populated times of 8-11:00 a.m.

Did I mention that she is an accomplished photographer? Every place she took a photo with her long lens camera I took one with my pretty good flat digital. Here are three that were quite the sights:

When we first arrived there was a thick fog/mist since the temperature had dropped quite a bit from the previous warm day. Here are two fishermen in the misty bay. 

This was a field of cobwebs--seriously, a whole large area filled with glistening (in the sun) beautifully woven webs. 

I would guess that this is a good time for driftwood, because it's now exposed after months of being formed by the elements of nature. We saw loads of it and this formation was one of the best. There are cobwebs on it, too, if you look closely.

Click photos to enlarge.