Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Non "stop" fun at the Inter Community Novitiate (ICN) Halloween Party

"Carving" out a good time at ICN!

Happy Halloween from your CDN novices!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Corners of Encounter

I was perched on a hay bale behind a tractor when I saw it: the tree with the lights in it.  It had only a few leaves and it was rather small, especially compared to its more impressive counterparts scattered throughout the 650-acre cattle farm.  It sat atop a ridge, illuminated from one side by the setting sun, and something about the angle made its few leaves glimmer like a string of Christmas lights.  It glowed.  My eyes glanced past it, not registering its brilliance right away, and by the time I looked back, the effect was gone.  A fleeting moment of beauty, a flash of God, something ordinary suddenly revealed as sacred.

The farm at St. Catharine, KY, where I saw my tree.  
It's run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace.

I borrowed the phrase “the tree with the lights in it” from Annie Dillard, who uses it to describe a mystical encounter she had: 
“One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focussed and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Aren’t our lives like that?  We move through our days, and every once in a while something comes along and knocks us off our feet.  A loved one reveals a flash of the Divine through a small gesture of love.  A strain of birdsong swells our hearts almost to bursting.  Let's not overlook these moments!  They are moments of clarity, mystical moments, encounters in which we glimpse the love with which God gazes upon us.

The grave of Thomas (Fr. Louis) Merton
The other novices and I have been taking a lecture series on mysticism, which Evelyn Underhill describes as “the art of union with reality.”  (Think about that for a while… WOW!)  Two weeks ago we learned about Thomas Merton, beloved Trappist monk, mystic, and prolific writer.  He saw his own “tree with the lights in it” one day in Louisville, KY, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut.  At that busy corner, after seventeen years of living under the illusion that his monastic life was somehow separate from the rest of the world, he became:
“overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs… even though we were total strangers.  It was like waking from a dream of separateness.” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) 

This weekend we visited the abbey where he spent most of his adult life and is now buried, and we also went to the corner of Fourth and Walnut.  It is an unremarkable place, a plain street corner with a urine-stained bicycle rack and a bronze plaque marking the spot.  It doesn't seem like a place where someone would have a mystical experience, but I guess God often looks a lot like ordinary life.  Maybe that's the key to mysticism.

Annie Dillard has some wisdom to share on this subject, too:
“They went… in search of the Divine, and they found it the only way it can be found, here and there- around the edges, tucked into the corners of the days.” (Teaching a Stone to Talk)

And so, it is in the unexpected and ordinary corners of our lives that we encounter God.  Thomas Merton found his at the corner of Fourth and Walnut.  Annie Dillard found hers at Tinker Creek.  In addition to the tree at the farm, the past few months have brought me a few “corners” of my own: 
  • Holding hands with a sister who can no longer talk due to a massive stroke, whose sparkling eyes and unassuming smile say more than words could.  
  • Stopping in my tracks under a brilliant yellow tree during a jog in the park.  
  • Lingering around the table after dinner with my community, laughing and talking about nothing in particular.  
  • Getting lost in the rhythms and harmonies of the gospel choir at the church I attend each Sunday.  
  • Learning about mystics Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen, women who lived centuries ago and continue to reveal Divine truths to us.
  • Sitting in the intimate quiet of contemplation with my sisters each morning.
I’m grateful for these corners of encounter, these trees with the lights in them.  I pray that their power continues to transform me long after the lights fade.

Eucharistic chapel at the Benedictine monastery in Ferdinand, IN.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

New Beginnings

Broken and Beautful
I really liked Halloween as a kid...o.k., I still do. It was a fun time dressing up as a treasure troll with bright green hair, as tweety bird with big yellow feet and then there was the year I was Barbie with a big blonde wig and that sweaty plastic mask secured to my face with a piece of elastic. I could hardly breathe while wearing it and trying to wear it with glasses was an additional challenge, but, I toughed it out because I needed the mask to play the part.
During a recent Inter Community Novitiate session on Transition it occurred to me that the wearing of masks happens throughout our life. We wear masks to "fit-in" with groups, to maintain our strength in times of uncertainty, to cover-up our true feelings just to be the person we think others would like to see. Our masks are what get us through a transition sometimes, BUT, life is full of transition, so our masks cannot last forever, because we will only continue to fool ourselves.
Perhaps Shakespeare was on to something with his line in Hamlet, "To thy own self be true". Thankfully in Dominican life we have the gift of community to help us recognize and slowly remove our masks to "be who God created us to be" as St. Catherine of Sienna put it. It is our true self that we are ALL called to be.
I invited my fellow novices, on our most recent day of reflection to artistically express their own masks (and I mine) on a glass plate. Because of the TRUTH we are called to, our masks don't really do us much good, so, we broke our masks to pieces together. Knowing that it is the light of Christ that shines through us when we are fully the people God has called us to be, I placed a candle inside our goblet of broken masks.
De-masked, broken open and embraced in the gentle grace of God through community we are forever changed, so we celebrate our New Beginnings!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Gift and the Burden of Love

I walked on the beautiful streets of St. Louis on a nice day in the start of an autumn weekend. There are gentle chilly winds and warm sunshine. 

Fall leaves on our trip to Jubilee Farm in Springfield

It makes me think about the beautiful Spring of Genesis, and the Gospel today (Matt: 21:33-43).  If Eve did not take “a shoot of the tree of knowledge” in the “Eden Spring,” we would not have a “sweet fruit of redemption” in Jesus for humankind. If Eve did not make a mistake, we would not have a chance to know the burden of love of God for us. This kind of love also flows into our heart.  However, we know that after the winter season, a new Spring will bring flowers, shoots and new leaves. Birds will come to sing, wind will arrive, to dance with the leaves on the branches.

Is love a burden?  Yes, it is when it is hard love and deepest love.  This is the love of God we hear today in our Gospel.  The landowner is an image of God, who prepares everything his vineyard needs to grow and produce abundant fruits.  In Jewish poetry and literature, and in the Old Testament, a vineyard is an image of the people God loves.  Jesus brought this image into his parable to teach us many things.  However, what is behind all these things?  It is the depth of God's love - the landowner with his struggles as he sends his servants and finally even his only son.  Remember, the landowner bid his tenants to look after his vineyard, not to harvest it.  However, the tenants did not know their roles so they made a mess of it.  When we try to leave everything to follow God's plan this world will have peace.  We will have joy in our hearts and lives.

I have a custom, which is visiting. Every time I visit my family, I always save time to visit other religious convents in my town, and visit my neighbors, to sit down a little while with them, to hear their story. People in the countryside are very simple, honest and open. They were surprised and happy to see me. They bring to me whatever they want to share. I enjoy listening to them. I see it is a blessing for both them and me.  Some months ago, I did this.  One early evening, I came to see some of my neighbors. They are a middle aged couple.  The smell of delicious food came from their kitchen.  I saw the table was full with many main dishes of food. The wife of that couple was cooking. I asked her: There are only two of you, did you do all of this?  She said yes. I continued to ask, do you have a party tonight? Yes. Are you excited? Yes, we are. You must have many guests coming? They looked at me and said, no. I was surprised and asked: how and for who? They looked at me with a deep sigh from their hearts to share their word: only for our son. These are the foods he loves. He has been in prison for the last two years. He will be out and come home tonight.

I was deeply touched. I was not in my country for some years, so I did not know their son was in prison. However, that moment, I see from their eyes a deep love, a burden of love in their faces and in their hearts for their son. Do you sense their love and the burden love in their life?  For me, I saw the beautiful, the deep love and the burden of the love of God in this couple. I thanked God for their love. I thanked God for letting me see this.

I invite you to share with me my prayer:  God, please purify my heart to love and to care for your people as you do, even if sometimes I have to carry a burden of love.  I know when I do this, I will have deep peace.  Then your love will be presented to your loving people.  As for me, I can say to God, I am only a worker, I do what I have to do. Amen.