Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Twelve (Monastic) Days of Christmas

I figured I'd have a little fun here with the twelve days of Christmas, as a lighter-yet-still-semi-accountable-holding option for these next couple days after Christmas. Unfortunately, as of right now, there are still a couple days for which I'm not sure what I'll do yet ... hopefully I'll come up with something by the time the day arrives! The lines should actually fit in the song, but you might have to do some creative syllabication to make it really work.

My quotes from the Rule of Benedict are from the RB1980 version (edited by Timothy Fry, OSB), a new translation which was done to celebrate 1500 of Benedictine life; this version can be found online in its entirity here, courtesy of Newark Abbey. (But, really, considering you can buy your own personal copy for a mere $2.95, why not consider that option as well?). For a little background on the Rule, there's an article that one of our sisters wrote that can be found here on our website; for a more inclusive collection of articles and translations, visit the Rule section of the online home of the Order of Saint Benedict.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

With Great Power ....

Third Saturday of Advent
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24
Psalm 25:4-5AB, 8-9, 10 and 14
Luke 1:57-66

Someone had asked about Wednesday's posting: Why would a sign have been a bad thing? The line that came to my mind upon reading that I remember mostly from the ads for one of the recent Spiderman movies: "With great power comes great responsibility" (official attribution is up for debate). While initially, the thought of a sign, or additional power or whatever it might be, may sound nice .... once the reality sinks in, it sometimes loses its luster. For example, a few years ago I got to experience the election of our new prioress — I remember having the thought that, while it might be nice to have your name come up for consideration, it's probably just as nice to have it dropped out of consideration after a certain point. After all, being the ultimate head of a community of 185 women has an awful lot of responsibility that goes along with it — a lot of decisions to make, a lot of people to guide, and a lot of everything for which you are the end of the line; the buck stops there.

In some respects, it's a similar situation to my entering religious life. No longer do I get to be "just Steph"; now I am Sister Stephanie, a Sister of Saint Benedict of Ferdinand, Indiana. Anonymity is no longer a privilege that I get to exercise. I continually am reminded of the fact that any and everything that I may do or not do, say or not say, may be viewed not just as my doing or not doing, but as potentially representing my community, or perhaps all Benedictines, or maybe even women religious in general, or even all Catholics. In becoming a part of this community four years ago, I gained immeasurably in so many aspects of my life; at the same time, I also gained immeasurable levels of responsibility. And, while it might be nice sometimes to dream of the days when I used to be able to blend into the background and not be noticed, ultimately the challenges of the added responsibility are worth the blessings and gifts gained from the community.

But it's not necessarily something to enter into lightly. That's why church law dictates that the process to become a fully-committed member of a community takes a minimum of four years, with most communities requiring a couple more years beyond that. There's a lot involved, and they want us to be sure that we know what we're getting ourselves into. While you can enter into the life with some sense of what the idea of not getting married or having kids can mean, it's not until you've lived the life that you begin to fully understand how ideas like "obedience" can play out. "Oh sure, monastic poverty, I get that idea" .... until you start teaching and realize that you have to seriously calculate which of your student's plays you'll be able to attend. And then, of course, there's the practical issue of living in community .... with 184 other women. Many of the initial romantic ideas of "life in a convent" don't actually play out in real life. My kids always ask me if it's like The Sound of Music or Sister Act ..... ummmmm, not quite! It's a good life, definitely, but it's not always an easy life.

Of course it's hard! It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.
~ A League of Their Own

Think, too, of Mary. We've heard it so often, we see it as a nice, sweet little story. But think of the reality. This young girl, unmarried, becomes pregnant. I'm sure that goes over real well with family and friends, even with the story of the angel. And what about her fiance? I've got friends who have broken off engagements due to infidelity, and that's even without a resultant pregnancy. Plus, there's the added element that the culture of the time required that adulterous women (which would also apply to an unmarried pregnant girl) would be killed — specifically, by having big huge rocks thrown at them until they die. Not a happy situation, by any means. There was a whole heck of a lot of stuff involved in her "Yes." Sure, being Mother of God, that'd be pretty cool .... but there's a lot more to it, too.

Our readings today also show that paradox: something that seems great and wonderful at first glance, but then once reality sinks in somehow it doesn't necessarily seem quite so cool.

In Malachi, we are told that "suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek." Whoo-hoo! Yay! He's on his way. Except .... "Who will abide the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears?" Ruh-roh. Reality check. He's gonna come like "a refiner's fire ... to purify the sons of Levi" — that doesn't sound too cool. Purifying? That's like a massive scrubdown to make things really clean. When I think of the massive scrubdown I have to give pots and pans sometimes at dinner ..... I don't know, maybe this isn't such a cool idea. I'm not sure if I can abide that day .... that "great and terrible day."

And, in the gospel, with the birth of John the Baptist, there's a similarly change of heart among the villagers. Initially, they were pretty happy with what had happened: [Elizabeth's] neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. Pretty cool stuff — for so long this woman has been unable to have a kid, and now she's got one. That's awesome! But then Zechariah, who had been unable to speak even since the birth of the baby was foretold, was suddenly able to speak and began blessing God, the people began to get freaked out: Then fear came upon all their neighbors, [wondering] "What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him."

I guess the best part of these readings for me, then, is the reassurance that I'm not the only one who might be tempted to chicken out after looking beyond the first impression. The important thing, I think, is to realize that it's just human nature to freak out .... but at the same time to try, like Mary, to "do it anyway."

Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.
~ from the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict

Friday, December 22, 2006

Magnificat anima mea Dominum

Third Friday of Advent
1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8ABCD
Luke 1:46-56

Today's readings give us an interesting juxtaposition of new mothers. Just before the passage of the first reading, we have Hannah, who was praying in the temple so fervently for a new child that the priest Eli thought she must be drunk. In the first reading, then, we have Hannah returning to the temple, this time in gratitude for the child that God graced her with, whom she was now dedicating to the Lord and leaving behind to serve God in the temple; the responsorial is her hymn of praise that she sings, exalting the Lord for all the ways he remembers the downtrodden.

Luke's gospel, on the other hand, presents us with the young girl, Mary, who probably wasn't thinking much about kids at all before an angel showed up and told her that she was to bear a son; however, Mary's telling her family and friends that "an angel said it would happen" probably didn't get her too many more sanity points than when Eli watched Hannah's prayer. (Plus, Hannah willingly leaves her son at the temple; when Jesus gets left behind at the temple, it's inadvertent and the source of great consternation on the part of Mary.)

Shortly after Gabriel visits Mary, she goes to see her cousin Elizabeth and, while there, Mary also sings a hymn of praise, exalting the Lord for all the ways he remembers the downtrodden. This hymn, presented to us today in the gospel, greatly parallels the hymn sung by Hannah so many years earlier, but this just shows us the depth of Mary's immersion into her own scriptural heritage.

The version of Mary's, though, is the one most often used by the Church. In fact, it is called the "Magnificat" because of the Latin translation of the first line, and is recited every evening during the Liturgy of the Hours, the "official prayer" of the church. With its daily recitation, however, it becomes rather easy (at least for me) to lose sight of the truly controversial nature of this hymn. In fact, according to Benedictine oblate and author Kathleen Norris: The Magnificat's message is so subversive that for a period during the 1980's the government of Guatemala banned its public recitation.

And yet, how often do I even think about that side of things? Every night, somewhere around 5:22 (if I'm at the monastery) or maybe 6:47 (if I'm at the house in Louisville), I recite this string of words. Do I even notice what I'm saying? Sad to admit, many times I don't. Many times my mind is more on what we'll be having for dinner, or how I really liked that song we sang, or wondering where Sr. So-and-so is tonight, or any number of other things. Even if I'm not distracted with those not-so-prayerful thoughts and I'm actually thinking about what I'm saying, I generally still don't realize how "subversive" I'm being.

It's kinda like the Lord's Prayer that we recite shortly thereafter — do I really want God to forgive me in the same way in which I forgive others? Or perhaps to put it another way .... am I willing to forgive others in the same manner in which I want God to forgive me?

But then, every once in a while, something seeps through. God sneaks through the rote-autopilot to catch us off-guard and ask: "Did you really mean that?" Some bizarre little coincidence to make you realize that maybe you should pay a little more attention to what exactly it is that you're saying. But even when we don't realize, I think it still sinks in, somehow. It becomes such a part of our routine that we no longer think it's odd to think of "the hungry being filled while the rich are sent away empty" ... and so maybe then we're a little more willing to work for a time when the lowly will be lifted up, or even a time where swords will become plowshares.

Kathleen Norris, in that same article, says of the hymns of these two women: They are a poetic rendering of a theme that pervades the entire biblical narrative — when God comes into our midst, it is to upset the status quo. May we remember this as we daily recite the Magnificat, if for no other reason than to remind us to keep looking for ways that God, even today, upsets our status quo.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Do you see what I see?

Third Thursday of Advent
Song of Songs 2:8-14 OR Zephaniah 3:14-18A
Psalm 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21
Luke 1:39-45

My mom loves coincidences. She's always pointing out what a small world it is, because of someone from church whose cousin's nephew's next-door-neighbor's sister also teaches high school religion, or something like that. My dad likes to mess with her, pointing out that "Today, I saw a car with license plate number 482GKZ" --- she asks what's the big deal about that, and my logicial computer-minded science-guy father says that that's just as likely an occurance as some of the things she points out, like a license plate that has her birthday and initials.

Doing a simple google search on coincidence gives a variety of articles that discuss the supernatural status, or not, of such unlikely co-occurances. In fact, mathematician John Allen Paulos is quoted as observing that: "In reality, the most astonishingly incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of all coincidences." Psychologist David Meyers, author of that same article, concludes: That a particular specified event or coincidence will occur is very unlikely. That some astonishing unspecified events will occur is certain. That is why remarkable coincidences are noted in hindsight, not predicted with foresight. You can even discover your birthday hidden in the random string of numbers that is pi.

It's all a matter of perspective. For me to discover a license plate of 117SAY would be something to point out, but to anyone else, it'd be a simple "So what?" We assign meaning to things as they speak to us, and our background oftens determines how we assign that meaning. It's the same as when we talk about getting a sign. What might seem to me a random collection of events not even worth noticing might seem to someone else to be the lightning bolt from heaven that makes it all clear.

And so it's important to be aware of the context out of which we operate. How is it that we interpret these events that occur in our lives? What is the framework through which we hear things that people say? Lonni Collins Pratt, in Benedict's Way, says the following about lectio divina:
Lectio teaches us to listen. Benedictine spirituality is about listening to God and listening to life. Lectio eventually moves us beyond reading Scripture to reading our lives, to reading our world. The important, key idea here is listen. Listen.

A little while after beginning Lectio, you discover that movies speak God, music speaks God, your friends become prophetic oracles. God begins to speak so persistently in all of life that you awake every day amazed that you didn't hear all this God-noise before. Lectio opens the ears of your heart.
I know various people who, because of the filter of faith through which they view their lives, call these events "godincidences" rather that "coincidences" — these are "Incidences with God."

For me, this has been one of the biggest ways that God has "spoken" to me. All the little things that fit together too perfectly .... someone saying the right thing at the right time ..... throwing the CD player on shuffle and the song with "the answer" coming on .... all the stuff that could just as easily be chalked up to "fate" and ignored. But, because of the lens through which I view my life, I see it as God's "movement and action in my life." But in order to view things in that way, I also have to believe that God is active in my life. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of random unrelated stuff.

And, while coincidences are most noticed in hindsight, sometimes we find ourselves looking and hoping for them based on what we want, or have prayed for, or are expecting (and/or dreading).

After all, Elizabeth in today's gospel could have just seen it as chance timing that "the infant in [her] womb leaped for joy" just as Mary greeted her; instead, she took it as a sign that "the Mother of [her] Lord" was visiting. Likewise, I could dismiss any of the ways in which I believe I've received a "sign" .... or I could take it on faith that perhaps there's a deeper meaning to it all. It's all in the perspective taken towards life.

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I just wanna know

Third Wednesday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4AB, 5-6
Luke 1:26-38

So, in this reading from Isaiah, we've got God telling Ahaz to ask for a sign?!?!? I thought we weren't supposed to ask for signs. I thought we were supposed to take things on faith and trust and all that, praying that we'll "discover" the proper way to go ... not ask for signs and proof.

Or maybe Ahaz is trying a little "reverse psychology" here .... "I'll pretend like I don't want a sign, that it would go against everything I believe in, and then maybe God'll give me a sign anyway." Who knows .... could make sense ...

It reminds me of a time back in college, at a point when I was obsessing over the whole "nun-thing" .... there was one week at the end of September where I just had everything coming due and had no clue how it was all going to happen — major exam in Music History, game board due in Recreational Music, arrangement due in Music Theory, and I don't even remember what all else was up. I think it was either that Sunday or Monday night when I began the thought "If I can just make it through this week ...." but then I stopped. I knew it wasn't right to play that game with God, and so I stopped myself right there. The follow-up thought would have been something dealing with the whole nun-thing, but, like I said, I didn't go there. After all, "You should not put the Lord your God to the test" (Deut 6:16).

So, like I said, I didn't go there. It was just left hanging, a simple "If I just make it through this week ...." and was completely forgotten. At least, until the beginning of University Chorale on Friday, right after Music History, and I looked again at the test we just got back ..... and noticed that I got a 98% ..... which was beyond good ..... and I thought about the great score that I got on my arrangement .... and the game board that was not-quite-finished-but-done-enough-to-get-major-gush-points .... and the everything else that had been completed .....

Which, while I was grateful for having survived, at the same time I wasn't quite sure what this meant about the nun-thing. Would I still be held liable even if I hadn't finished the thought officially? And how did this work anyway? I specifically didn't throw that little fleece out there because I knew it wasn't the right thing to do. And yet ... I got it anyway.

All of which is the reason why I'm a firm believer in the line: Be careful what you ask for.

It's funny, though, because we so often think our life would be easier if we just had a sign. "Oh, if only I could have the big loud voice booming down from heaven telling me what to do" .... and yet, do we really want that? I mean, seriously. If all the sudden an angel showed up and told me "Thou shalt become a nun" .... somehow I think I'd put myself in a very different kind of institution. And would we even listen, even if we did get the "voice"? I often joke that God kept smashing me over the head with those cartoon anvils, but I still wouldn't get the point. Sure, I'd hear it for a little bit, but then I'd move on to whatever it was that I wanted to do. Just because we get the voice doesn't mean we listen to the message; just because we see the sign doesn't mean we still don't make wrong turns.

So maybe that's what it was with Ahaz. Maybe he didn't want the sign, not for pious and holy reasons, but for more purely practical reasons. If you don't get the sign, you don't have to act on it.

And that's what makes Mary's fiat so noteworthy. Not only did she hear the sign and accept it, she followed through with it, even after the angel left. It's one thing to get a sign; it's another thing to live it out.

So .... do you still want a sign?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Happy ..... umm, what're we supposed to call it again?

OK, so school has kinda interfered with my good intentions for reflections --- (but only 20 more hours or so till I'm free!) {well, at least free of having to go -- I'm thinkin' I might not have all my stuff done by then ....} I've got some snippets jotted down; I'll post and back-date them to the appropriate date as I get the chance. In the meantime, I thought I'd share something a teacher sent. I'm usually not big on email forwards, but I liked the reasonable spirit of this one.
Letter from Jesus, concerning his birthday celebration

Dear children,

It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born December 25th and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival - although I do appreciate being remembered anytime. How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth just, GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Now, having said that, let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town. Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can & may remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching explaining who I am in relation to you & what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15:1-8. If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it.

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing George complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference. Also, you might consider supporting the local Hot-Line: they talk with people like that every day.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families.

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary, especially one who takes My love & Good News to those who have never heard My name. You may already know someone like that.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals & whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them (and I suspect you don't) buy some food & a few gifts & give them to the Marines, the Salvation Army or some other charity & they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

P.S. Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me & do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above & get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember, I LOVE YOU!

Friday, December 08, 2006

But I Don't Wanna

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

What struck me from this first reading from Genesis (besides the throwback once more to the Peaceable Kingdom from Tuesday) is how truly deep-seated our human inclination for blame really is. Even back then, barely a week into the world's existence, when humanity was a mere three or four days old, there's already this urge to hide, blame, pass the buck, or otherwise create excuses to take the attention off of our own wrong-doing.

But that's not the only use of our traditional blame- and excuse-making. Often, these tactics are also used to get us out of things. That, too, is a legacy that dates back to the early scriptures. Moses did it. Jeremiah did it. Heck, Jonah even got himself swallowed by a whale to avoid God's call. (All of which, I suppose, puts me in good company, but somehow I still don't see myself on the same level as these folks!) Yeah, sure, all these folks eventually did God's will, but it wasn't their first (or second or even third) choice.

But Mary .... she's different. True, it's not an immediate yes from her, but she only asks one question: How can this be? And, even without a logical answer to the question (because you can't tell me that the angel's answer makes immediate perfect sense once taken out of the scriptural context) ... Mary agrees. It's almost like an "Ummm.... I'm still not sure if I get it, but ..... OK. If you say so."

That immediate acceptance, that almost unquestioning agreement ... consent without hesitation, without having to run off and consult with this person, or "take some time to think about it" ... but just a full giving of self: Whatever you say, let it be done.

Now that's obedience. Saint Benedict, in his Rule, stresses the importance of obedience. In fact, "unhesitating obedience" is seen to be the "first step of humility" (another big important thing for Benedict): Almost at the same moment, then, as the master gives the instruction the disciple quickly puts it into practice in the fear of God; and both actions together are swiftly completed as one (RB 5:9). Fortunately for us, Benedict includes himself as one of the "slothful and negligent" (RB 73:7), and thus reminds us that much of what he teaches is the ideal for which we should strive, and that it will be a life-long journey to get us there.

But, considering Mary's unhesitating obedience on such a huge instruction as an out-of-wedlock pregnancy (which, at that time, was generally rewarded by having big huge rocks thrown at you until you died!) .... I suppose it's only fitting that we see her as such a model for us all. And, especially those of us Benedictines from Ferdinand, who make our home at Monastery Immaculate Conception .... this is our patronal feast; the Mary that we celebrate today is our special patron and our guide. May we learn from her the obedience that will lead us to God's will.

But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. (RB Prologue 49-50)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Shifting Sand

Lifted from last year's monastery reflections, which I figure is OK since I never actually posted it here ...

First Thursday of Advent
Isaiah 26:1-6
Psalm 118:1, 8 and 9, 19-21, 25-27A
Matthew 7:21, 24-27

Perhaps it’s because I’ve got a student who transferred into one of my classes from New Orleans back in September, or perhaps it’s because I spent two years living and working in Cajun Country myself, but I found all three of these passages for today sending my mind repeatedly back to tsunamis and hurricanes and landslides and earthquakes.

Opening the gates, tumbling cities to the ground, winds and floods – levees, ninth wards, superdomes … is that really the imagery God wants us to take from this? “A nation that is just and keeps faith” – doesn’t that just support the people who say that the sinful New Orleans deserved its destruction? If the needy trample the lofty city underfoot, then why are they the ones most left out in the cold? How in the world does this fit?

So maybe we need to dig a little deeper. Perhaps the trust in God’s protection is the “strong” house, and trusting our own abilities builds the “weak” house. Maybe having the physical house is the “Lord, Lord”; to merely hide in the house will gain us nothing. The Three Little Pigs didn’t just hide from the Big Bad Wolf’s buffeting winds; they took action. In the same way, if we’re going to beg God to let us win the lottery, we have to at least purchase a ticket. If we insist that “My God will save me,” we must be willing to acknowledge God’s saving actions in the boats, helicopters, and friends that he sends our way.

But … sometimes the floods do come, and sometimes our faith gets shaken. Sometimes we open the gates, expecting to see how strongly we stand; sometimes we open them only to discover that our trust isn’t as solidly in the Lord as we’d like to think. But that’s when we discover what’s truly at our core.

Maybe … sometimes … it takes the buffeting winds to make us realize that we don’t always realize what our foundation is.
Waters rose as my doubts reigned
My sand-castle faith it slipped away
Found myself standing on your grace
It’d been there all the time
My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace
~ “Shifting Sand” by Caedmon’s Call

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

God Will Provide ...

The title that came to mind was actually "Feed Me, Seymour" ... but then I wasn't sure how appropriate that'd be, given how holy I'm trying to be with these ....

First Wednesday of Advent
Isaiah 25:6-10A
Psalm 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6
Matthew 15:29-37

In some respects, I find it almost unfortunate that these readings fit so well together .... I almost feel like there's nothing to say, it's so obvious. But then I wonder if anyone would actually complain if I wrote a post that was less than twelve gazillion pages long ....

Basically, what I saw in these readings, all three of them, was the whole concept continually reinforced that God will provide. In fact, the first reading even opens up with that idea: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples.

This brings me to another piece that struck me over and over again in that passage from Isaiah — the repeated use of the word ALL. The Lord will provide for all peoples ... he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations ... wipe away the tears from all faces. We get that again in the gospel; after Jesus feeds the crowd, they all ate and were satisfied.

There are no qualifications placed, no restrictions. This will happen to all. And with the ever-famous psalm 23, we see ourselves in the first person enjoying all that the Lord provides us.

Too bad we can't be as all-inclusive as Isaiah presents the Lord to be. Too bad, too, that we can't allow the Lord to be as all-inclusive as Isaiah presents the Lord to be. Nah, we're too busy deciding who gets in and who gets smitethed.

And yet, Isaiah also speaks of a time when our false self gets stripped away, when we are seen for who we are at our inmost core -- the veil, the web that covers us will be gone; we will be left undisguised. And yet, after that true self is revealed .... the tears will be wiped away, the shame will be removed, and we will rejoice and be glad.

While we like the thought of being known, loved, and appreciated for who we are at our deepest core .... how often do we allow that luxury to others? How often do we withhold judgment, and try to see that person as God sees them? Or, as is more often the case (at least with me) ... how often do I instead begrudge them the good things that God bestows on them, deeming myself to be more worthy of those blessings?

But really .... who are we to dictate who God likes and doesn't like? Let us try to allow that veil that separates us from others to be torn away, and let us help others find themselves freed of the web as well. Then we too may be able to dwell in the house of the Lord, on that holy mountain.

Let us rejoice and be glad that the Lord has saved us!


This is a test of the Palm-centered blogging system (other suggestions would be appreciated as well). If this were not a test, but were an actual post, there would be some legitimate content enclosed.

Aww, heck, who am I kidding. Like my other posts have content!

I like this keyboard, though (courtesy of eBay), though it will take some getting used to .... especially since the spot in which I'm used to hitting the space bar falls right where the hinge is. Very unhelpful. But, if that's the worst problem I've got ...... (well, that, and having to get used to where my punctuation is, and that my landscaped screen ends up upside down).

This should help, though, with the TeenPage posting stress. And maybe with school, too!

Oh yeah, school ..... aren't I supposed to be planning out an exam? Or at least a lesson for tomorrow?

And why do we say "Aren't I" instead of "Amn't I"? Wouldn't that be more gramatically correct?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Peaceable Kingdom

Lifted from last year, which was lifted from three years ago. Hey, at least it's something!

First Tuesday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Luke 10:21-24

"You have revealed them to the childlike." Of course … it's obvious. Probably one of the oldest children's games is "Hide and Seek." Kids love it, and are great at it. Why? Because they see things differently. Where an adult would see an old rotting decayed tree stump, a child's eye is caught by the swirling pattern, the creeping bugs, the tiny little flower growing up from the wood. Where an adult would see someone from the "wrong" family, a child sees only a playmate. Kids don't discriminate, don't judge from appearances; they don't get bogged down in complexities. They see things as they are, and their simple perspectives often give profound insights to the grownups in their midst.

Not to overly humanize the animals of today's first reading, but … a lamb hanging out with a wolf? The poor little innocent creature, doesn't it know it's going to get eaten that way? Doesn't it know any better? Perhaps, though … being too young to be overly set in its ways of judging, the small creature's innocence allows it to be more open to the wolf. And maybe, just maybe, the naïve trust of the lamb, its confidence in the wolf … maybe it makes the wolf stop and think. After all, everyone else runs away from him. They cower in terror at his big terrible fangs. But this little quivering fluffball, without even any claws with which to defend itself, the creature with the most need of such fear, is not afraid? Not only is it not afraid, but the lamb has actually invited the wolf as guest? No one has ever shown such a kindness, such hospitality, to the wolf before. And so maybe, just maybe, the wolf begins to rethink itself, to rethink how it views the world. Maybe then, that leads to a shift in the behavior of the wolf. The empty space allowing the freedom to change has been offered; the innocence of the child opens the door for the conversion of the adult.

The child, then, presents a unique perspective, seeing that which we grownups overlook. We see the fangs, they see the fur. We see the stump, they see the sprout. We often speak of new life coming from the wood of the cross, but how many of us notice the new life coming from the wood of a stump?

"With a little child to guide them." If we follow their lead, follow their example … maybe then we, too, can set aside judgments, giving others permission to grow and change. Maybe then we, too, can notice the details of God's movement in our life, rather than dismissing it as an old cut-down tree. Maybe then we, too, can see the new life springing from death.

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Pay no attention to that date at the top. Sigh.

First Monday of Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4B, 4CD-5, 6-7, 8-9
Matthew 8:5-11

Today's first reading gives us the very familiar peace-making refrain: They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. Of course, most of us today have no concept of either plowshares or pruning hooks, and, unfortunately, destroying the swords and spears would have no effect on the tanks and bombers. But the idea is there ... this dream of a day without war, without violence; this leads us very nicely into the Peaceable Kingdom passage of tomorrow.

I was then struck when I read the psalm for the day, with its opening of "I rejoiced when they said to me, 'We will go up to the house of the Lord.'" Considering the first reading, which speaks of the nations "climbing the Lord's mountain" on this day when the swords are beaten into plowshares and when the spears do become pruning hooks ... then perhaps maybe we do have peace; we rejoice on that day when we finally go to the house because that peace has finally been achieved.

Unfortunately for us, we have not yet gone up to "the house"; our swords and spears are plentiful, and the plowshares used to create good out of the earth are lacking. There's the saying that often makes the rounds: "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." I'm not denying the need for well-equipped forces, particularly in this day and age when they are laying their lives on the line for us, but at the same time we do need to consider where our priorities as a nation lie. (As an aside ... as I was looking up the quote, I came across people holding bake sales for body armor. While apparently that was a big election ploy that got cited in the National Review as having absolutely no evidence whatsoever, the link that first made me wonder was an unacknowledge [by the Review] sale in Oklahoma. I haven't done the research to see the legitimacy of either argument but ... valid or not, it's still not the way to treat our troops.) We give all this hype to "No Child Left Behind" but we have teachers, even in the best of schools, paying out of pocket for classroom supplies; if nothing else, look at the salary arrangements. Although on that same front ... the emphasis on the military doesn't always come through financially, either -- I remember before I entered the community reading a series in the Washington Post about the number of active-duty service personnel who are living below the poverty line (I can't find that article, but here's a related story). There also has been some efforts made recently to create a US Department of Peace. We have a Department of Defense (formerly called the War Department); shouldn't we also give a title to our efforts for peace? Giving things a name really goes a long way in demonstrating the level of importance assigned to something.

If we want peace, we must work for justice. Isaiah speaks of terms "being imposed upon the people" — it's not easy; it's not an automatic. The swords don't just magically transform one day into plowshares; spears don't mysteriously get rebent and reformed into pruning hooks. The metal must get heated to an extremely high temperature and are beaten (literally!), pounded, and forced into its new shape. It takes a lot of work, strength, and hard effort. But, if you want something badly enough ....

We say we want peace, but do we really? Remember, peace isn't just about big tanks and machine guns. How am I contributing to our culture of violence and competition? How am I helping to create a new idea of peace in my own little corner of the world? Is there hatred and vengeance (and even annoyance) in my heart, or is it love, patience, and compassion (even for those annoyances)?

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

What A Pleasant Perspective!

E.J. Dionne, writing about Barack Obama's visit to Rick Warren's megachurch to speak about AIDS:
When it came his turn to speak, Obama took on the moral message of evangelical AIDS activists -- and then challenged them.

"Let me say this and let me say this loud and clear: I don't think that we can deny that there is a moral and spiritual component to prevention," he declared. "In too many places . . . the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down and needs to be repaired."

Then Obama got to what "may be the difficult part for some," as he put it, that "abstinence and fidelity, although the ideal, may not always be the reality."

"We're dealing with flesh-and-blood men and women, and not abstractions," Obama said, and "if condoms and potentially things like microbicides can prevent millions of deaths, then they should be made more widely available. . . . I don't accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence."
What an total breath of fresh air. To not be so absolutely hung up on the ideal that we lose sight of the reality. I heard an abstinence speaker once negate safe sex teachings with the following argument: "We don't say 'Don't drink and drive -- but if you do, then stay on the right side of the road and don't speed." I disagreed. True, we don't say that. But what we do say: "You shouldn't drink. But, if you do, then make sure you have a designated driver. Do not get behind the wheel. Call someone to come pick you up."

Yeah, by all means, fight for the ideal. But don't ignore those suffering the reality in the process.

The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the *@&#*&^*#@#^*&^!

In French-Speaking Canada, the Sacred Is Also Profane

"Oh, tabernacle!" The man swore in French as a car splashed through a puddle, sending water onto his pants. He could never be quoted in the papers here. It is too profane.
So are other angry oaths that sound innocuous in English: chalice, host, baptism. In French-speaking Quebec, swearing sounds like an inventory being taken at a church.

Hmmm .... I'm always on the look-out for fun new creative ways to say things .... although I think this would just make me laugh! I mean, really. "Chausible you! " "Why, you ... you ... mantilla!"

Of course, coming from the girl whose favorite curses involve calling someone a poodle-brain or an elephant turd ... somehow I don't think I've got much room to comment ...

Monday, December 04, 2006


So ... I thought this TeenPage thing wouldn't be too big of a deal, with just cross-posting reflections on the readings .... Heck, once I learned enough HTML on the fly to fake the little calendar on the side there, it was just a simple matter of copy/paste to add it to the other site, with some minor adjustments for color.

BUT .... if I'm doing this TeenPage for my community, as a part of the Vocations Office and the Communications Department ... then that means that I'm using that site as a tool to not only help young people of all varieties delve deeper into the mystery, but I'm also potentially planting the seed for someone who might later decide to join us.

And so, if that's the case, I need to be extra-welcoming, and really live out that Benedictine value of hospitality.

In other words, I need to reply to comments.

Which can be a bit overwhelming, especially if I've just begun and had three or four different questions from the same commenter. Questions that remind me that I can't assume certain elements of "common knowledge" with this target audience. Questions that are sometimes hard to clarify in a little comment box. Questions that then preclude my getting the next reflection created.

And it's not really even out there yet!

Perhaps down the road, when there are more visitors, they'll answer for each other. Or maybe I can recruit a fellow nun to answer some comment questions.

In the meantime though ....


Lifted Straight Outta Last Year

Nice fresh Advent Reflections ... get 'em while they're hot!

To see the ultimate in monastic lectionary reflections, click here!
To see other monastic spiritual stuff, click here! (As web-headed by my very own Jeana-commenter herself)
To just check out our page, click here.
To go nowhere and stay on my blog, click here. :-)

P.S. ~ New this year ... you can revisit A Light Blazes in the Darkness: Advent Devotionals from an Intentional Online Community in its entirity — of course, you'll have to start at the bottom. Or, save yourself the trouble and just buy the book!

And, at least so far, we've got Advent reflections right here at your very own Nuntime, and cross-posted to Fishing for Faith for those special young people in your life.

Plus various random remnant thoughts posted last year.

So ... what are you doing still here reading this??? Go get thyself holyified!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Reversals of Luke

First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 35-36

When I was just a postulant, the newest of the new kids, I took a course on Luke/Acts over at St. Meinrad. A great class, though it didn't seem it when I first walked in — me, with virtually no theology background, in what ended up being a seminar consisting primarily of fifth-year seminarians, those on the cusp of being ordained. While I felt quite in over my head, once I got my feet under me I loved the class, and ended up probably learning tons more than if I were in a class on my level.

One of the big things I remember being so greatly emphasized as we worked our way through the scripture texts, and particularly the gospel, was just how much Luke loves reversals. Things are never what they seem; there's always a trick ending. I'm sure a good part of that is simply a consequence to such a strong emphasis on the acceptance of outcasts — in showing that Jesus came for the sinners and outcasts, lepers and prostitutes, women and poverty-stricken, there's no way to avoid a seeming "reversal of fortune."

So ... Luke's Jesus tells a story about some guy getting beaten up and left on the side of the road, and, instead of the nice leader-type people, it's only the most vile and despicable Samaritan who helps him – and thus is held up by Jesus as the model to follow. Luke's Jesus tells another story about the kid who basically says to his dad: "I don't feel like waiting for you to die, so can I just pretend you're dead and get my stuff now?" But, instead of getting mad at the kid when he comes crawling home, the dad practically makes him Head of the Household! Needless to say, the kid's brother gets more-than-slightly annoyed.

Even the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary sung nightly by all who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the church ... the hungry are filled, the rich go away empty; rulers will be thrown from their thrones, while the lowly are lifted high. Luke really likes that whole "Last shall be first" kind of idea!

And then we have these readings for today, this first Sunday of Advent, Cycle C. As I read these readings over yesterday, I had the thought that I never realized that this first day of Advent was so "Last Day" focused (which I later discovered isn't always the case – just every three years). But, when you think about it ... Year C in the Catholic calendar uses texts primarily drawn from Luke's gospel. So, I suppose it only makes sense that we begin our year by looking towards the end — and not just the end of the year, but the end times.
However, when this day's passages are read in the context of being the first day of Advent, this time of awaiting the earthly arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ, the reversals take on an additional level of meaning. The first reading from Jeremiah is pretty straight-forward; in fact, he's got the "sprouting of a shoot" that always makes me think of Isaiah's lion laying down with the lamb. Nothing odd here — just a foretelling of the arrival of the just offspring of Judah that will fulfill God's promise.
But in the gospel ... if you ignore the fact that Jesus is the speaker, and instead consider this as we await the coming of Jesus, the reversals become ever-more amplified:
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
And yet how does Luke have the Son of Man coming? Certainly not in a cloud of glory and might. Not in this big earth-shattering event. No, as a little baby, born in a feed trough. I can't think of too many people who worry about "dying of fright" at the prospect of a new life being brought into the world (with the exception perhaps of Matthew's Herod, who decides to kill all the other little kids). Of course not. We throw parties, and buy minitature versions of our favorite hiking boots, and tell the new parents that "their lives will never be the same." Think of Linus' famous monologue, and tell me where there's the violent sky-rending apocalypse that we see pictured here. It's all cute little sheep and quiet snowfall (with a few creative liberties taken here for effect!).
Basically, what we see here sets the stage for what is to come. We expect a thunder-inducing giant, and we receive instead a baby in a manger. We expect a glorious savior, and we get some guy who hangs out in fishing boats. We expect a victor who will overcome our enemies, and instead we get some schmuck who gets himself killed. We expect to be told that our "doing the right thing" will get us to heaven, and instead we hear how these sinners and prostitutes get in too. Nothing's happening the way we think it should happen. Which, I suppose, makes this a good time to remind us of the Rule of Benedict, 4:21-22: Your way of acting should be different from the world's way; the love of Christ must come before all else.
What better way to live into this idea of "being different from the world's way" then to examine these reversals of Luke. We've heard them so often, they don't even seem odd to us. But when we truly listen ... then they really do shake the heavens.
So, as we begin this new year, let us open ourselves to hear these texts anew. May we allow Luke to shake things up and keep us on our toes with the unexpectedness of his teachings. Perhaps then we can become vigilant, lest "that day catch [us] by surprise like a trap." Perhaps then our way of acting may begin to diverge from the world's way.
And perhaps then we may begin to truly "prefer nothing whatever to Christ."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Trajectory of a Year

The first Sunday of Advent marks the start of the liturgical year. What struck me earlier this week as I was thinking about the arrival of Advent, though, is that the liturgical year doesn’t work the way logic would dictate. After all, wouldn’t it make sense that if the church year begins with getting ready for the birth of Christ, that the church year should end with the death and resurrection of Christ? But it doesn’t work that way.

We’ve got four weeks (or less, like this year!) of Advent, and then the baby Jesus is born. Only three or four months later, we’re commemorating the end of his earthly existence. That still leaves us with a full thirty weeks or so that are completely unaccounted for in terms of the life of Jesus.

And yet, if you think about it … in the grand scheme of the history of Christianity, the life of Jesus is a mere blip. In fact, if we put things in proportion – our liturgical year actually gives Jesus a lot more “earth” time. And isn’t that what the Christian life is all about? After all, the Christian mission didn’t die with Jesus; Christ lives on in his church even today, two thousand years after his death.

In light of that, then, the church year actually makes sense. We get Jesus walking the earth for three months, and then all those months of Ordinary Time are when we get to learn how things work after Jesus is dead, raised, and ascended … which is where we’re still at today, which helps make it “ordinary.”

This has made me think a lot about the trajectory of a year, though. Thinking about the trajectory of my year. One year ago, things were less than ideal for me. Not that I necessarily realized it to its fullest extent, but I was three months old as a religion teacher. Three months old as a nun living “out in the world.” Having to get used to the whole role of “being a religious.” Having to get used to life in a small community so far away from the big community I had just begun to be able to trust. Having suffered the deaths of several sisters – sisters who were not old and thus shouldn’t have had to die, sisters to whom I was pretty close – and having to have life just continue on in my “real world” life without the real time to mourn the loss. The Pit was sneaking up on me, but I didn’t really notice and/or acknowledge it at that point. A whole bunch of other non-bloggables. One year ago tonight, a conversation with a friend where I was seriously considering simply walking away and starting a new life for myself somewhere else. One year later and seeming worlds away … recalling recent frustrations that made me want to be able to wish I could just say “screw this” and walk away – and yet, I couldn’t even really hold even a hint of that wish in my head; this place, these people are my all.

What a difference a year can make.

This evening, before First Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent, we gathered in our Cloister Hall for the blessing of the Advent wreath. In the quiet between the ringing of the bells and the chanting “O God, come to my assistance,” I was aware of us all waiting there in silence for the lighting of the candle; I was reminded of another communal gathering in Cloister Hall, which also is structured around a candle, though that time it's lit from the Easter fire. I began to think about the fire, the flame, and the candles that provide a framework for what we’re really about.

We light the Advent candle tonight, marking the beginning of Advent and the liturgical year. In a few months, we will gather again in this space, lighting our Paschal candle to mark Jesus' conquering of death, his resurrection from the tomb. As we begin Advent tonight, we begin a period of anticipation, of waiting the arrival of the Christ-child at Christmas. When we conclude our Triduum, the mission will be complete. We are waiting patiently for the arrival of the One Who Will Come To Save Us; with his resurrection that Sunday morning, that salvation will be achieved.

That cycle of salvation only takes a few months. But we need those intervening months of "Ordinary Time" because, after all, we're not Jesus. There's a lot in life that's not the eager anticipation, not the glory of the resurrection, not the obvious success of the salvation journey; we need to grapple with our mundane lives as well. Besides, it's the Ordinary that makes these big events so special. We've been looking at the priest wear green for six months; the purple vestments of Advent are an obvious sign that something is different. The startled realization that it's not "same old same old" shakes us up, reminds us that this is special. We appreciate it that much more once we realize how long it's been since we've seen it. It gives us a starting point, another opportunity for us to try once again, to pick up those fizzled-out good intentions. "Always we begin again" — the coming of a new season gives us a nice excuse to "begin again." There's a freshness, an eagerness; a willingness to kick it back up a notch once more.

And so we begin this new year once more. We enter once more into this mystery of our faith, and renew our commitment to dive in ever deeper. Beginning the cycle anew, we wait in vigil once more and cry out with the anticipatory prayer of our faith:
Come, O Lord, and set us free. Maranatha.

The Dawn of Advent

I’ve been thinking during the last week or so about the arrival of Advent, because I often think about some various “New Year’s Resolutions” that I’ll do to make my Advent extra-special holy and pray-ey, with the additional thought that perhaps it’ll stick into the official new year. Course, the way things tend to work with me, if I even realize that it’s Advent it’s a huge event; coming up with ideas, bigger still; and if I actually even do the practice(s) for three days – it’s time to stop the presses!

But, as always, I’m thinking this year will be different. For one thing, I’m slightly more chill about school this year (yeah, right!), my pit of despair has been somewhat cleaned such that I at least have a corner clear enough to actually attempt to utilize (as opposed to the traditional needing-to-create-a-peaceful-space), etc. Oh yeah, and then there’s this TeenPage thing that I’m supposed to have going, and wouldn’t Advent be a good time to kick it off without having to come up with a whole ton of material on my own (except for committing myself to doing a whole season's worth of Advent reflections!)?

So … I’m thinking of maybe trying to do little somethings for the scriptures, or something else Adventy each day. That way maybe the external accountability will help me actually do it … either that, or you’ll realize that I’m not kidding when I talk about my complete and total lack of follow-through!

Either way, for what it’s worth … blessings for a peaceful and blessingful Advent to all of you.

Oh yeah … and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Heads-up to any parents and/or youth workers out there ....

Web Sites That Promote Eating Disorders
A growing number of web sites are part of a disturbing trend. They promote self-destructive behaviors, including anorexia – and have a large teenage audience.
Read more ...

via the Connect with Kids newsletter that our assistant principal forwards us
Who Links Here