Saturday, December 26, 2015

Where did the time go?

I kept this blog up till about three years ago - and then I abandoned it. I had other priorities as I found my place in Michigan with the IHM Sisters. I was in formation, at the time, to become an Associate member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Two years ago, on December 27, 2013, I made my commitment there. And in 2014 and 2015 I began to live it out. My "temporary commitment" was for three years, so next December I will ask to be allowed to make another temporary commitment - probably for another three years.

But I came here with full intention to live here for the rest of my life. And that has never changed.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Finding my way . . . 2013

I have not made an entry in this blog since I left Visitation Monastery last January 7 - and now it is October. So there is a gap of some 10 months. How do I bridge from where I was then - at Visitation Monastery - and where I am now, with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Michigan?

I will try to make a bridge that will fill in the gap. But journeys are not always simple, as you will see.

When I left Visitation in Minneapolis, I went first to California where I celebrated my 75th birthday with my family. Then home to Forks, WA in February to settle back into my home of nearly 40 years, where I stayed, for the most part for the next several months, giving myself time to assess and own all that has been happening to me these past two years.

I knew that my Visitation experience was necessarily time-limited. I was there for the 6 (to 12) month Monastic Immersion Experience - which I encourage others to check out! It was an amazing, life-giving, and life-changing experience. I will never be the same, and I'm grateful for the gifts which I took with me when I moved on - gifts of prayer, community, and a vision of Gospel living which I will continue to try to implement wherever I am.

I knew when I went there, that I would go from there to pursue a relationship with the IHM Sisters.

Mass at Visitation Monastery 2012 
Preparing for Jubilee Mass at IHM Motherhouse 2012

The IHM sisters are an apostolic congregation - famous for their high level of education, for their work as educators and for their leadership in implementing Vatican II in religious life. Their lives were very different from the monastic Sisters of Visitation. They taught school, worked in college ministry, were professors in universities - too many ministries to even try to summarize.

Forks High School
as it was when I taught there.
When Don and I moved to Forks in 1974, it was with a clear sense that God was calling us there. This is where I finished raising my kids and where I taught for 27 years at Forks High School.  My students and colleagues at QVSD are my lifetime friends, as are my fellow parishioners at at St. Anne's Parish where I have lived nearly all of my Catholic life. I needed time to enjoy being in Forks and to make preparations for what was to come. I have never before ever considered a life not based in Forks.

In June I traveled with my daughter-in-law Mary to Monroe, Michigan to begin a new life with the IHM Sisters. I had discovered that I really would like to be a religious Sister, a nun, but I am too old to be accepted for profession. However, I am becoming an Associate member of the IHM congregation. I have been here nearly four months now, and I love my life. I live across the parking lot from the IHM Mother House in a facility called Norman Towers.

It used to be called the Hall of the Divine Child (more familiarly, "the Hall"  back in the day when it was a military school for elementary school boys). Most of the older Sisters lived here in summers when they were "home" from their missions. Now it is a retirement residence. I have a two room apartment here, which I have made my home. My room is on the third floor in the southwest corner - hidden behind the evergreen tree to the left.

I go every morning to mass at the Motherhouse. I take most of my meals with the Sisters in their dining commons. I do some volunteer work in the house - mostly reading to Sisters who have failing vision. I participate in retreats, attend concerts in the chapel, and generally share life with the retired Sisters who live there. And I have friendships with some of the Sisters who are still active. Several of them live in Norman Towers where I live. I am taking a turn at Norman Towers leading Sunday communion services for those unable to get out to church.

When people ask me why I am here, I am almost at a loss to know how to answer. I always knew what my calling was - I was called to marriage, to motherhood, to a career as a teacher, to live in Forks, Washington. But after Don died in March of 2009, I began to have a longing to a different sort of life - a life that was focused, prayerful, sacramental. I wanted to live among religious Sisters and share their lives, even if I couldn't be a Sister myself.

When I visited the Monroe IHM campus for the first time it was to attend a conference of folks involved in the "A Nuns' Life Ministry," an online ministry helping people to discern the call of God in their lives in a very broad sense. I had begun volunteering with this ministry after I closed down my educational consulting business. I have had a great interest in how to build and maintain online communities since getting involved in the Virtual High School toward the end of my 30 years of teaching, so working with an online community of folks interested in prayer, spirituality, and religious life was a real joy for me.

But in coming here, I began to recognize a real hunger for the life I saw here . . . and I began to discern with others here - and with my spiritual director - what might be still possible for me at this point in my life. I was grateful to be invited to the Monastic Immersion Experience at Visitation along my way, because I was seeking a life of deeper prayer and meaningful community.

So now I am in Monroe, MI. I'm just completing the formation process for becoming an Associate member of the IHM congregation - my family will be coming in December to celebrate that event with me - which means more to me than they can possibly know.

So, having provided at least this fragment of a bridge, perhaps I can begin to share the bits and pieces of my life here that I find so very rich . . .

Come with me.  I'd like to share this journey with you . . .

Thursday, January 10, 2013

To love that well which thou must leave 'ere long . . .

When I was in high school, I kept a notebook where I copied my favorite poems. This is the first one in the book - Shakespeare's Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals all up in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long. 
I love the whole poem - and came to understand it over time as a set of three images having to do with old age and dying . . . but that last couplet spoke to me then and has always spoken to me most powerfully of what it means to invest ourselves in what must necessarily be temporary.
This thou perceiv'st, (that life is short - and even the objects of one's love change and decline toward death) which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
I knew nothing of detachment  in those days - when you are young, life is all about attachment, not detachment. When you are older you learn - or should be learning - to hold loosely what you love, knowing that everything in this life is temporary - except love.

I knew when I came here to Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis that I would love life here, and that I would come to love the people here - but that my stay here would be temporary. That's built into the "monastic immersion experience." It's a temporary commitment to live the monastic rhythms for six months to a year - and my situation dictated six months.

It was only the beginning of Advent when I wrote my last blog - and Christmas came and went so swiftly that I never did update it. And the end of my six months came only days later. I left on January 5th and am now visiting my family in California and celebrating, this weekend, my 75th birthday. I'll be back in Forks, Washington by the end of the month - and what happens next remains to be seen.

But I do want to revisit Advent and Christmas at the monastery - and reflect on the process of my leaving there - before memory fades. It's looking carefully at what we love and fully appreciating it that makes our love grow to be "more strong," I think.

Advent - Preparing for Christmas

I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to express what I was feeling about Advent in dressing our little altar of reposition at the Girard House. The tabernacle is a beautiful wooden box. The candle screen, when used, is generally placed behind it. But I was still thinking of the phrase, bright darkness, and I wanted the altar to express that. 

Someone at the monastery protested, but Jesus is hidden behind the candlelight! My response was, Yes! It is Advent: a time of pregnancy, when the incarnation is still hidden from us , but the radiance of what is held in Mary's womb, in that living tabernacle, can be recognized, as it was by the child in Elizabeth's womb. The ivy and evergreens flanking the tabernacle behind the screen speak of the life within.

So during Advent, we awaited the bursting open of history that happened in the birth of the Christchild. I used the lines from Hopkin's poem, "There lives the dearest freshness deep down things . . . " in a card on the nearby shelf to remind myself and others of what is held in this bright darkness. 

I visited the chapel frequently during Advent - I knew that the time of waiting was for me also a time of finishing up - of gathering together what I had been given in this time at the monastery. I knew that something new had been born in me that would need nurture and care in time to come. 

Advent Events at Visitation Monastery

There are a multitude of annual events at Visitation as the Sisters and the neighborhood prepare for Christmas. One of the most popular of these is the Christmas Store! Patrons of the monastery donate wonderful gifts - mostly new and unused gift items - appropriate for moms, dads, and grandparents. The children of the neighborhood get invitations to come and go Christmas shopping with Visitation helpers - a store where there are wonderful gifts and no cash-register at the check-out: everything is free. Parents are not allowed to accompany the children, because Christmas shopping requires privacy! Young adults from the neighborhood or Visitation Academy helped each child to find just the right gifts from those on display. 

This little girl has just completed her shopping
and she's delighted with her choices.
After selecting gifts, helpers assist the children with
wrapping them. 
Happy shoppers head home with their wrapped gifts.
Another event at the monastery had to do with providing Christmas gifts for families in the neighborhood. Donations of toys, clothing, household goods, etc. were dropped off by friends of the monastery. Families had signed up not long after Thanksgiving, giving names and ages of their children. Helpers from the neighborhood and the suburbs came to help fill bags for each family. And what was left over was sent to other ministries in the neighborhood for further distribution

A Santa party was held at the monastery for children of the neighborhood. The house was filled with children and moms and dads - and teenage helpers. Santa led some Christmas carols, and Sister Karen (helped by two tall elves in blue) read the story of the Nativity. Afterwards, each family was invited into the chapel for a little prayer service - and then the children met with Santa in the dining room where each received a Christmas stocking.

It was a blessed evening. Such beautiful children and beautiful young adults.

So much joy! So much loveliness.

And there was so much more in those four weeks to Christmas - two evenings where Visitation helpers took neighborhood children downtown on the bus to see Minneapolis's traditional "Holidazzle Parade  and came back to the monastery afterward for hot chocolate and cookies! 

There were quieter times like the evening when the Sisters all attended a penance service at the Basilica - and a trip to the Free Trade Market one Sunday after mass for a little Christmas shopping for me. 

Somehow with all the activity, each time, when the event concluded, a quick clean-up followed, and peace, order, and quiet were quickly restored. 

Living Salesian Spirituality

I was amazed at the quality of life and relationships within the house - between the Sisters themselves, the friends of the monastery, the neighbors, and all the folk who came asking for various kinds of help. This truly is a place of "rest and delight" - the words written on the wall of the first Visitation Monastery by founder St. Jane de Chantal some 400 years ago. And it has to do with living the simple, gentle teachings of St. Jane and St. Frances de Sales. 

I spent the whole six months there studying and soaking up that way of living. It's basic Christianity, but presented in such an appealing and accessible manner. In my next blog, I will spend time trying to outline it for myself and for those who follow me here. For now, I will just say that it is that which has so captured my imagination and my heart. I have already left Minneapolis, but I will never leave that vision of how to live the Gospel. 

I wondered how I would be able to bear leaving this place . . . but I find that the gentleness I have lived in has equipped me to "love that well" which I knew would be temporary. And I have been so well-loved here that I can take what has been given with me. 

After Morning Prayer - every day - the Sisters meet in a little circle in the hall between the chapel and the living room. They bow to one another and say in unison, God be praised! Good morning, dear Sisters! And then the day begins.

So I say today from California: 
God be praised! 
Thank you, dear Sisters, for sharing with me your charism of "living Jesus." 
Thank you for sharing your life with me these past six months. Thank you for teaching me your way of living Jesus. 
I will never forget you.
I will always try to share your Salesian spirituality with everyone I meet and to live it myself every day.
St. Frances de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal by artist Brother Mickey McGrath. Click on the image to go to Bee Still Studio  where his art is displayed.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bright Darkness

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;       
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
 Gerard Manley Hopkins

It's winter now in North Minneapolis, in the New Highlands neighborhood where I am living with the Visitation Sisters. It started snowing night before last and we had 16 inches before morning. The snow was fine and powdery - very dry compared to the soggy wet snow we sometimes have out in the Olympic Rain Forest where I have lived for nearly 40 years. The snow is here to stay for a while. It's deep and beautiful and, on the roadways, lies over several inches of ice. Traffic is at a near standstill, I'm told, out on the main roads. It takes 2 hours to go what usually takes a half hour.

I took this picture of Sunny last
summer when the grass was green
and growing fast. He tries to time
work so as to not interfere with our
prayer times in the Monastery. But
this week, he had the walks and drive-
ways cleared before we left Girard for
Fremont at 6:30 in the morning. I
was told that he arrived to do that
about 5 AM.
We have a neighbor here - Sonny, they call him. He shows up with his shovel and snow-blower early in the morning every time it snows. The rest of the year, he mows the lawn and helps with the gardening. He's been doing it for several years. A long time ago, he was having some real difficulties in his life. He did some hard work to get his life in order, and when he had done that, he came to the Sisters and told them that, because they had "been there" for his family in the years when he couldn't be, he'd be the one to take care of lawn mowing, yard work, and snow removal from that time on - or, in his words, until he was no longer able to crawl to get there. So he does this labor of love year in and year out.

Sister Mary Frances took a look out the front door, saw our walkway from the house to the sidewalk, the sidewalk, and the driveway all cleared, yesterday morning, and exclaimed, "Words made flesh!"

It is Advent. We are all preparing for the coming of the Lord--on so many levels.

The Visitation Sisters of the Federation - a group of Visitation Monasteries in the U.S. which have a "familial relationship" with one another - in a mission statement issued recently spoke of moving ahead into the future in "bright darkness." 

Advent is the beginning of the Church's liturgical year and liturgy is mportant at Visitation Monastery! The Advent materials come out of storage. It's been traditional here to use blue - the color of Mary - for Advent. In the new mass Source Book, published this year, we read, "Blue is forbidden for Advent in the United States. The only approved color is violet."
I noticed at the Sunday mass at the 
Basilica last weekend, 
the Rector of the Basilica was robed 
in gorgeous blue, with matching 
banners and ante-pendium on the altar. 
Ascension used a combination of purples 
and blues. We used the materials that were 
on hand. Forbidding blue seems a strange 
priority to me, living in this place.
Somethinglike straining at gnats 
and swallowing camels.

Our "main chapel" is at Fremont House, but we use the one at Girard House where I am living frequently for Night Prayers (Compline). Today because of the very heavy snow, we had Morning Prayer and a communion service separately in the two houses because it would have been so difficult to dig out cars and driveways in time for the 7 AM service. So four of us in each house, in the two chapels, greeted the day with the familiar chant, "Open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise."

I have come to love the rhythm of monastic prayer. The cadences of the familiar words of the psalms - the whole "package" repeated every four weeks - takes on new meaning every time I hear and sing them. Psalms were meant for singing, but I've never experienced them in that way before. Every time we chant them, I hear something new I'd missed before.

That expression, "bright darkness" has stayed with me the past couple of weeks as we prepared for and begun our observance of Advent, and it has been mentioned many times in our shared reflections during the Divine Office.

The quilted antependium reminds me of
the ocean, with breakers rolling in.
 The candle screen functions as a veil for
the tabernacle and the evergreen and ivy
flank it are symbols of eternal life.
I was attempting to create that sense of
"bright darkness." The statue of Mary at the
is one of the "treasures" of this monastery.
It is very old, they say, and was left to
the Sisters as a legacy by one of their
long-time friends here.

I had it in mind when I decorated the chapel here in Girard House where I am living (one of my "charges" is caring for this chapel).

Marian devotion is an important part of the spirituality of the Sisters, since their very name draws from the story of the Annunciation. After the Angel Gabriel had made his announcement - and Mary had given her YES, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was then 6 months pregnant with her son, John, known to us as "the Baptizer." The love and mutuality between Elizabeth and Mary has always been a central to Visitation spirituality. The hospitality underlying it is the life source of the Sisters presence here at Visitation Monastery.

The people who come to our door for help - the people who come to share with us in helping them - the life of the Sisters poured out generously in this place - all speak to me of bright darkness. 

The bus stop is across the street 
from our house, visible from the 
side window of our chapel. If it 
looks cold in daylight here, 
imagine it at 10 PM. 

Last night, on the way home from praying office here at Girard, we saw a family - a woman pushing a baby stroller - holding the hand of a toddler - and a man following at some distance behind them. It was nearly 10 PM and it was very cold. The woman was having trouble getting the stroller on and off the sidewalk while crossing the street. The Sisters asked if she was OK, if she needed help. She said they were on their way to a homeless shelter and were almost to the bus stop. As the Sisters pulled in the driveway, the bus pulled up and the family got on.

I look out the window in our Fremont chapel through the translucent stained-glass window and see snow piled high on shrubs and tree branches and rooftops - see the buses and vehicles passing by - sometimes the flashing lights of a police car - and it's all bright darkness.

On the first Sunday of Advent, in Father Michael shared a story from the publication Give Us This Day, which our community and many others use as a reference for the daily mass and office readings (I recommend it, by the way, as better than other similar resources I've used in the past - see for information on obtaining it.)

So the story was not original to Father Michael - nor to me here in this blog.
"For Jack's 10th birthday, the family went out to eat at his favorite restaurant. It was a Chinese place where Jack always ordered extra - so that he could enjoy the leftovers for days. After dinner, Mom, Dad, Jack, and a friend that Jack had brought along were walking out to the car. A homeless man stopped them and asked for a couple of bucks. Unprompted, Jack offered the man the Styrofoam container he was carrying, full of his precious leftovers.   
Jack's mom was, of course, touched by this act of generosity. As she followed the boys into the parking lot, she overheard the friend say to Jack, "Wow, man. That was cool. I bet that sure made God proud." Jack said to his friend, "Maybe that was God."
Don't know whether Jack and his family had been directly touched by the teachings of St. Frances de Sales, but Jack's question exemplifies Salesian spirituality. And it exemplifies what the Visitation charism means: to LIVE JESUS - to be Jesus to others, to see Jesus in the other.

I have come to that awareness in doing "door ministry" here. When the doorbell rings, I love going to answer the door. And I do see Jesus every day. I have a new respect for people who live in continuous poverty - who, when they are lucky enough to find work, they then have to figure out how to get there and back every day - and how to stretch the little they make to cover the basic necessities. They come with simple requests -

Sister, I get paid on Friday, but I need a couple of bus tokens to get to work and back tomorrow.  If we have the tokens, we are able to give them (no more than two in a month). How do people working for minimum wage afford to get to their jobs at $3.50 a day? Owning a car is not an option for most people who come to us for help. For those who do, the request might be for help filling up the tank - or, yesterday, a request for a ride to the DMV to get new tags. 

And yet, when I ask, How are you today?  I almost always hear, "I'm blessed, Sister!" or, "I'm sucking air, Sister, and I'm grateful to be alive," in one case recently. And when they leave, sometimes carrying a sandwich with them, their thank-you's almost always also include, "Have a blessed day, Sister!"

There is great dignity in homeless people. They sleep in a shelter at night, but must leave during the day. They go about the business of survival, finding the resources they need to make it to the next day: a meal at a soup kitchen, a place to get indoors and stay warm (this is one of the hardest things to find), a thrift store where they can buy a pair of boots or shoes, mittens, a sweatshirt to layer under a thin jacket, a token to get on the bus . . . 

Often after the practical, material need is met with a token or a grocery store $10 gift card, I'll sense a further need. Is there anything else I can do for you? 

Could you say a prayer with me, Sister? 

So I find myself, standing on the freezing front porch - or in the entry hall - joining hands with a stranger whose needs I cannot begin to comprehend.

This is the sort of prayer I'm likely to pray:
God, it's cold out there today and it's hard to be needing so many things that are out of reach. Help us to get through this day, knowing that even when it's hard, You walk with us. Give this brother/sister what they need to get through today. But also give them the gift of Hope, the gift of Courage to keep going and to believe that even when You don't solve all our problems, you continue to love and support us. Save us all from discouragement and despair. Help us remember, Jesus, that you, too, were homeless - you said that the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. Help these dear people to have a good life in spite of all their troubles. Help us to help each other through these hard times.
At the end of his homily last Sunday, Father Michael spoke eloquently of our being God's beloved children, of how we need to learn to cast away the shame of our imperfection, and celebrate the goodness for which we were made. He spoke softly, persuasively, gently - and he began singing to us, singing like a father sings a lullaby to a baby - no accompaniment - just his voice floating out to the people there . . .
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
    Come home, come home,
    You who are weary, come home;
    Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home!
Tonight the Sisters and I went to the Basilica to a Taize Service of Reconciliation - beautiful music - a repetitive sort of chant - as background. Lighted candles which we placed in sand buckets at the foot of a large icon of the crucified Christ. And one at a time we were able to get up and go to one of 8 priests located at the periphery of the room to make confession, to make ourselves ready for the birth of the Savior.

Basilica Taize Prayer Service - Click on image to
hear a recording of the song.

Laudate omnes gentes, laudate Dominum.
Sing praises, all you people, sing praises to the Lord.

We live in a terrible mystery of goodness and awfulness  - 
and it's the most beautiful sort of life I've ever known. 
Truly, there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

Bright Darkness!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Place of Delight and Rest

All are Welcome in 
this Place

Click on the image above to hear the song.

Let us build a house where love can dwell
And all can safely live.
A place where saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here's the love of Christ shall end divisions:
     Ref: All are welcome, all are welcome, 
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God's children dare to seek
To dream God's reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
And as symbol of God's grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
     Ref: All are welcome, all are welcome, 
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Were peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us.
       Ref: All are welcome, all are welcome, 
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where hands will reach 
Beyond the wood and stone
To heal and strengthen, serve and teach.
And live the word they've known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
Ber the image of God's face;
Let us bring an end to fear and danger:
     Ref: All are welcome, all are welcome, 
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named,
"I baptize you in the name of . . . "
Their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed
As words within the the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
Prayers of faith and songs of grace.
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:

     Ref: All are welcome, all are welcome, 
all are welcome in this place.
Text: Marty Haugen, ©1950

In my now 5 months of living with the Sisters of Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis, the one thing that has impressed me more than anything else is the fact that in this place truly all are welcome. All kinds of people come here: priests, professionals, and homeless people. Families who have comfortable lives. Families who live in great deprivation. All are treated, not only with respect, but as incarnations of Jesus. It is humbling to live in such a way. I remember hearing that "God is no respecter of persons," when I was a child, and being told that that meant God loves everybody the same. And I would have thought myself an inclusive and accepting person until I came here. I know better now. I have made distinctions between persons without even realizing it. And I have been afraid of people who were very different from me. Being here is changing me. I have a long way to go to get to the place where I would like to be. But I realize again that I want to be like the Visitation Sisters of N. Minneapolis. I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't come here for their "monastic immersion experience."

- - 

Last Saturday there was a baptism at the monastery - a relative of one of the Sisters.

Fr. Michael anointing the baby.

A neighbor coming in to see and greet the baby and parents.
And while the reception was going on, one of the neighbors dropped by and was introduced. The Sisters speak of these occasions as "bridging." I loved seeing the parallels in these two images - of the priest bending over the baby to anoint her - and the neighbor bending in almost identical posture to gesture to the baby as parents were opening gifts.

Thanksgiving week has been quite a busy time! Every day has had so much going on! Turkey Tuesday, for instance, when friends from out at Mendota Heights at the Visitation Academy there arrived with huge cardboard boxes the size of laundry baskets, filled with food - enough for 150 families! And each box of food came with a turkey and a pan to bake it in. A team of neighbors had made up maps showing where the 150 families lived: a group of Vis girls and a couple of the neighbors would pile into a car with all the fixings for 3 or 4 Thanksgiving dinners and head out to deliver them. A prayer card was placed in each basket - so when the girls and their helpers arrived, they were ready for a visit with the family and they all shared a prayer together. In between assignments, they'd come into the house for hot apple cider and a couple of cookies, pick up the next set of addresses and head out again! It was something to see!

This is what it looked like
when they were more than
half done!
Our VIP Anna was one of the
workers on Turkey Tuesday.

The chapel set up for Morning Prayer the
day of Renewal of Vows. That's the
Constitution containing their "rule" at the
base of the cruciform Christ.

Getting set up for Thanksgiving
morning mass.
Thanksgiving morning there was Morning Prayer, followed by another mass - this time relatives of some of the Sisters and Anna's family joined us - and another brunch to follow. And then an open house at Girard for another Sister's family. And then Evening Prayer followed by Thanksgiving Dinner at 5 PM - we had 14 places set.

Lingering over dessert.

Whew! These Sisters have stamina - and hospitality is at the heart of their life.

St. Jane de Chantal wrote on the wall of the first Visitation Monastery, 
this is a place of delight and rest . .

and it's true! 
It's a place of delight and rest for the heart, 
no matter how hard you work at it.

All are welcome . . . in this place!

Be sure to read the Visitation Monastery blog!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Angels and Imps - Hope and Courage in North Minneapolis

Fall has come to North Minneapolis - no question about it now. The trees are almost stripped, it's cold (29 degrees F. Saturday morning. Sister Mary Virginia and I couldn't thaw the windshield, so had to walk to Fremont for morning prayer! And just as cold today. There are patches of blue sky, but more that's sort of a leaden grey.

Grass is yellow-brown, the skies are mostly grey or white. The thermometer's dropping. Most of the leaves are off the trees - a lacy pattern left, but every breeze sends down another cascade of yellow and brown leaves.

On the "cloister walk" from Fremont (1/2 block), across the street,
turn the corner,
 and another half block down to Gerard House.
Kids are wearing sweaters, puffy jackets, and woolen hats. The young men now have jackets or hoodies over their white T-shirts, and tend not to just hang out in the alley for hours at a time. Everybody is busy going somewhere to get warm and dry.

The garden at Fremont has been put to bed for the winter.
A whole group of friends from Edina came with yards of potting
soil, rotillers, and expertise to help with it.

Angels in North Minneapolis 

I heard a story yesterday from the "Chronicles of Visitation Monastery." (The Sisters have so many wonderful stories! I love hearing them!)

One time, early on in their life here in N. Minneapolis a workman was coming regularly to the house to accomplish some bit of restoration on their house.He was living at a half-way house in the neighborhood. The Sisters were asked by those running the agency  (which is called Turning Point) to pray for their clients, and, in exchange, they were told, they'd come and do whatever they could do to help. So this workman was a Turning Point guy.

As he worked, he listened to the sounds of chant coming from the chapel where the Sisters were praying the Divine Office. He went home to Turning Point and told his friends there,
"There are ANGELS living in that house! I HEARD them." They pooh-poohed his claims.

The next day as he was leaving the property, he saw a curled white feather on the sidewalk! He picked it up and ran all the way back home! He burst through the door, saying,
"I told you there are angels living there! And now I have PROOF!"

I think he was right - they don't look like the angels on Christmas cards, but there are lots of people in the neighborhood who think they are angels.

So much happens here: I watch and listen and pay attention. In the living room, I hear one sister with a woman who is weeping over the death of her mother. In the kitchen someone is telling a sister there about her husband who fell at work and broke his wrist. He has no insurance, and he was working under the table, because he's undocumented. They didn't come to ask for money. They came to ask for prayer. And they came to ask one of the sisters to go with their daughter to apply for the new "deportation deferment" that has been offered to young people who were brought here illegally when they were young.

I sat out on the front porch with two men who had come hoping for a grocery store card. They are staying at night at a shelter, but they had no food for the day. We were out of cards, but they were hungry. So I raided the refrigerator and pantry. I found four slices of rather stale bread left from the day before, and made a couple ham sandwiches with mayo and mustard and a piece of lettuce. I poured a couple cups of coffee left from breakfast and warmed them up in the microwave. I copied down the address and times when meals are served for the homeless at Loaves and Fishes, a ministry run out of a local protestant church. Then I grabbed a couple prayer cards that we keep on the shelf by the door. The card has a saying of St. Francis de Sales, one of the two founders of The Visitation of Holy Mary. 

It says,

  • "Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it"

Then I took the sandwiches and prayer cards out onto the sunporch where the men were waiting. We sat and talked. I gave them the prayer cards, and we prayed the prayer. 

I told them,

  • Your needs are huge. We can't do very much to help you. But we do what we can. These Sisters have nothing of their own. Other people support them with their donations - and we share what we are given. We get so many grocery cards a month, and when they are gone, they're gone. 
  • But think about it. You were hungry. Now you are eating your sandwich, and you know where you can get a hot meal later today. I can't promise you that you won't be hungry tomorrow. I hope you won't, but maybe you'll just have to rely on that gift of unfailing strength. When you are down and discouraged, read that card and pray that prayer - and know that you'll either find help or you will find strength to go on.
We held hands and prayed together that they would not lose hope, that they would find the answers to their needs.

They were very quiet for a few moments - then they both said,
Thank you, Sister! (I gave up trying to explain that I'm not really a Sister. It's not important.) 

One man put the card carefully into his jacket pocket and said,
I'm going to take this and read it to someone I know who needs to hear this.

Then they went on their way.

Shortly afterward a friend of the Sisters came by to ask me to help her review her paper she was turning in the next day in her college class. She's recently returned to college to try to qualify for a better job.

Most days things are pretty ordinary -  people to come to pray or to ask for help, offer help, or to show off a new baby or introduce a new husband or wife or girlfriend.

An old friend of the Sisters came to mass yesterday. The sisters have known her for 20 years. She's a woman who has suffered much, but she is an overcomer. She has been in jail and she has been homeless. 

In mass we were discussing the gospel of the day: the theme had been Hope. She told us how she had learned to appreciate what she had. When she hits a wall and is told No, she says, she says THANK YOU! because she knows when that door shuts, another will open. That's HOPE!

She told us what it meant to her some years ago to get moved into a motel room after being homeless - the luxury of having a stove and a refrigerator!

She has managed to raise her children in that kind of life-style to be successful adults. The three oldest are in college and are doing well.

She says she tells them, "
You gotta PRAY!" 

They say, "
Momma, we DO pray!"

She says, "
No, you got to get down on your knees! You got to fold your hands and speak right into your hands because that's GOD'S EAR!" 

When she is asked how she's doing, she always answers, "
I am BLESSED and HIGHLY FAVORED!" Today she said, "I'm blessed to have a birthday!  I'm blessed to be ABOVE the GROUND!"  

There is a custom here for one of the sisters to bake her a cake on her birthday.  This year, when she called to say her birthday was coming up, she asked for just a "cracker and a candle." But Sr. Karen baked her some cupcakes and they had a little party together over at Girard, just the two of them, before time for our mass at Fremont. Then she joined us for the liturgy.

From Angels to Halloween Imps!

That's the "regular stuff" that goes on every day. Some days are even more special. Once about 20 years ago a couple brought their little girl to visit the monastery in N. Minneapolis. Afterwards, she told her parents she didn't want any more parties. She had everything she wanted. She wanted her parties to be for kids who didn't have parties. So her mother, Vicki, has been giving 4 parties a year in her honor (that little girl is long grown up!).

Vicky arrived last Saturday morning with a van loaded with party supplies, games, prizes, treats and enough Halloween costumes for about 75 children.  About 60 kids came for games, treats, and a great selection of Halloween costumes. Some of the moms were bringing their children to an event that had been an important part of their own childhoods.


Folks are arriving for the Halloween party at Fremont.
A neighbor lends his paved car park area for our use. Those are 
the costumes donated for the neighborhood children.
That's Girard house in the background across the street.
Everyone needs to register and make sure
names are on the invitation list.
Games are played on the sidewalks, yards, and alleys.
Intent competitors are under supervision of teen volunteers.
Sr.Karen greets one of the moms from the neighborhood.
Here we are in the backyard of Fremont House.
And competition continues on the sidewalk below.
There's a line-up for this one - but I can't see what they are playing!
Here's a basketball game in Bob and Sherrie's backyard.

Sr. Suzanne facilitates the registration with the help of Miss Linda.
This child is telling Sr. Karen, "Oh, I hope I get that costume!" They had time to look them over during the games, but must wait for
 their names to be called to actually claim the costume.
And then you get to show your friends!

One Mom looked at her son's choice - striped suit for a jailbird, and said,
"Now that's what I always wanted to see you in!" But it was the one he had picked out, so off they went.
Sr. Karen and a dear friend of many years from the neighborhood.
Moms and Dads are appointed caretakers for those precious
costumes while their owners are picking out sodas and treats at the end of the party.
Lots and lots of kids! And the little girl on the far left
did get the coveted costume
Marcus, one of the teen volunteers, and one of my favorite
new friends, helps Sister Suzanne check off the list.
There's good fellowship going on as the party concludes.

There were 20-25 costumes left over. The children in the neighborhood who didn't get signed up in time to be part of the party were invited to come over and find a costume for themselves. Within the next two or three days they were all gone. 

Sometimes it was a parent who came. One woman walked more than a mile to ask if there were any left in her children's sizes. She didn't bring the children with her. She said she didn't want to raise their hopes and see them disappointed. I would never have guessed that providing a little girl with a princess costume or a small boy with a pirate outfit could be part of ministry, but when you are struggling to avoid eviction because you can't pay the rent and your food-stamps don't carry you through the month, a little treat like that for your children helps make life less grim.

Sunday morning finds us back at church - Ascension for most of us this weekend. Sometimes some of the sisters like to go earlier to the Basilica.

Sister Mary Virginia and Sister Mary Mao shared the pew with me. The music is lively, the preaching is wonderful, and I know lots of people now. The gospel this Sunday had to do with the healing of blind Bartimaeus.  (Mark 10:46-52) 

There are lots of kinds of blindness. I think my eyes are being opened to a whole new way of seeing the world, a whole new way of living the gospel.

I've been here for four months now. 

It's a beautiful way to live! 
Monastic Immersion Experience suits me!!

Have you ever thought of "trying on" religious life to see if it might be right for you?