Monday, August 27, 2012

Saturday morning in the neighborhood-North Minneapolis

Visitation Monastery follows a regular schedule: we gather together four times every day to pray the Divine Office. Morning prayer on weekdays is at 7. On Saturdays it's at 8, and on Sundays 8:30. We either have a mass celebrated here at the Monastery or we go out to a neighboring parish. On Saturday mornings we generally have a Communion Service. Dinner is at 6:15. But in and around those regularly scheduled practices, all sorts of other things happen. THIS Saturday, August 25, was one such day!

So this Saturday morning, we gathered at 8, and several neighbors and friends joined us. We had a busy morning planned since the annual Back-to-School party was scheduled to begin at 1 PM.

Urban League Parade comes down Girard Street!

But there was more! The Urban League sponsored a community parade which came down Girard Street where I am living. It was a great little community parade - with lots of young people from drum groups, dance companies, politicians leafleting the neighborhood as their supporters marched in their support.
A couple of car clubs drove their cool cars, filled with family members and friends, past our house.
Neighbors followed the parade course down the sidewalk past our house.
Brian Mogren and friends followed Mary Johnson, riding in a truck, carrying signs for the Death to Life group, led by the Mad Dads. (The Mad Dads are very large African American men who wear bright green T-shirts say MAD DAD! They hear some trouble is brewing on the corner of 18th and whatever, they tend to just be there. Just looking at Mad Dads takes a lot out of a group of youngsters looking for trouble!) 

Congressman Keith Ellison and his contingent were at the very end of the parade, passing out campaign literature as they paraded along. Ellison is the only Muslim member of Congress, and he's a dear friend of the Visitation Sisters. He stopped for a visit with them. I was pleased to meet him. He told me that his mother had been raised a Catholic, and "she loved those Nuns!" So we had someone take a picture of us all together.

But that was just in the morning. There was more to come!

The Back-to-School Party

Many years ago a family from the suburbs visited North Minneapolis. A young girl in the family took it all in. Later she told her parents, "I already have everything I want. From now on, I want to give parties for kids who don't have everything they need instead of having more parties for myself." She meant it, and her parents cooperated. That was 17 years ago. She's grown up now and living her adult life. Her mother continues the tradition. She gives four parties a year for the children of North Minneapolis in our neighborhood, and they are done through Visitation Monastery. In the fall, it's the Back-to-School Party.

Saturday afternoon, about 75 invited children and their parents arrived at the Monastery for the annual party. Some of the parents were children themselves who came to this party when they were small. It's not just a give-away. It's a PARTY! There are GAMES! Lots of games! Jump-rope and miniature golf, bean bag and ring-toss! Something about little ducks floating in a bowl of water - and ping-pong balls being thrown into tiny gold-fish bowls. Dice, bowling, and more! In 17 years it has never rained for this party. This year it did. So at the last minute, the games - most of them - had to be moved into Girard House. That was interesting! A team of teenagers who ran the games had a training session in the morning. 

And then the invited guests started arriving at neighbor Bob's garage to register, and then pick out a back-pack from the dozens of brightly colored ones available. Then, on to Girard House where they packed into the downstairs and the basement below to play games to "win" the supplies to fill them up (in these games everybody wins!). Notebook paper, binders, pee-chees, ball-point pens, erasers, pencil sharpeners, crayons, marker, calculators, protractors - there were enough school supplies here to stock a Costco's! 
And the teen leaders encouraged them to keep trying to land those purple beanbags into the purple cereal bowls, or take one more try at landing all three ping-pong balls into their little gold-fish bowls. Little boys swung unfamiliar miniature golf clubs at little plastic golf-balls.

 After all the games were played and all the prizes won, the whole group was called over to Neighbor Bob's for treats and door prizes - and a prayer together.
And THEN it was time for the teen helpers to get their reward! Backpacks, school supplies - and gift cards for Target for school shopping!  

And then they were all gone, and there was a bit of cleaning up to do. Our wonderful donor and her adult helpers took off and the rest of us went to Evening Prayer at Fremont House!  And then dinner. And then downstairs to watch a movie in the TV room in the basement. Something about saving whales. I was tired. Had trouble keeping awake. Life here is always interesting, stimulating - exhausting!
 But I love the way the day is framed and punctuated by prayer. It's a wonderful way to live.

p.s. there were enough school supplies left over - and enough school back-packs - for us to pack up 35 more of them which we handed out today to those who had not registered in time for the party yesterday. I spent Monday handing them out and checking them off the list. It was a great way to spend the day!

For more information on the Back-to-School Party, click here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Week 6 at Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis

People always ask me what I "do" at Visitation Monastery in N. Minneapolis. All I can say is that it really is nothing like I would have thought. I expected a routine of sameness - instead, each day is unique. The monastic rhythm provides a framework for a variety of experiences. In the picture above, taken in my first week here, you see two young boys who joined us for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the first Friday of July. They had come here to work on a service project, banking hours toward their goal of attending summer camp. They came to the chapel for mid-day prayer with us.

There were only the seven sisters, and me - and three young boys (there's another out of shutter's range). They had never participated in this devotion before, but Sister Mary Frances explained to us that they would be joining us for a short visit during our longer one - and explained to them what Adoration is all about. I was impressed by their seriousness and how they entered into the spirit of adoration of Christ present to us in the monstrance.

Afterward they went to the kitchen and had some ice cream - then they stayed for mass when our other friends arrived. They told us how much they had enjoyed camp the year before, and how much they were looking forward to it again. The younger boy in the picture told us about his encounter with Jesus that previous summer at camp. He said, "I always talk to Jesus in my prayers, but he never talked back to me until that time at camp last summer."

Well, summer camp has come and gone - and the boys have come back to tell us it was a wonderful experience again for them. They were here again the other day for a short visit. And yesterday a different group of boys arrived at our back door. They had found a dying squirrel in the alley. They knew they should not touch it but using sticks they had helped it find shelter in a broken cardboard box - and they came to us for solutions. But we didn't have any. Except that we went out and looked (and, sure enough, it was still alive enough to blink at us.) Sr. Katherine called the city's animal control, and they promised to come by to take care of it. We never saw them, but the squirrel did crawl up into our garden to huddle under some shady bushes. (I know. I know. Don would have killed it and put it out of its misery. But neither I nor Sr. Katherine were up to that. And we really didn't want to in front of the boys, anyway!) By evening it was gone. We decided to believe that animal control had found it.

The Visitation Sisters came here to share in the neighborhood as neighbors, in their words, to be a peaceful, prayerful presence in the neighborhood. We are not a social service agency. We do not have the resources to solve the great problems of poverty and social disorder that affect this neighborhood. But we can give a bus token to someone who needs to get to an appointment, maybe a sandwich to carry on the way, or even a paper cup of ice water on a hot day. And our neighbors help us, too - to till the garden, cut the grass, break down a stack of cardboard boxes that came packed with prizes for the Neighborhood Night of Peace so they can be put into the recycle stack. And we can share concern for a dying squirrel with some middle-school aged boys.

A donor gave money to provide a bus and tickets so some of our families could go to Valley Fair. We packed 50 sack lunches, and Sister Mary Frances and Vis Companion Miss Linda went with the families (each group of children had to have one adult family member with them) for a day of fun at the theme park. I was one of those who stayed behind to clean up (and rather glad not to be one of the chaperones - I was never a fan of field trips when I was a school teacher, either!).

We pray the Divine Office 4 times a day - 7 AM, 12 Noon, 4:45, and 8:15. Neighbors and friends of the community often join us in the morning, at noon, and in the late afternoon. I love praying the office with the sisters. We pray the office antiphonally - i.e. we are two choirs, taking turns singing/chanting/reading the psalms and prayers.  There are pauses between the psalms when we do some faith-sharing - someone will speak of a person who brought a special need to the door, someone who has asked for prayer. Someone else will share a reflection on the scripture we have just prayed. And then we pray the next psalm, the response, or canticle.

The crucifix which is our center point is decorated for the feast or solemnity or season. The assigned person has selected songs for opening and closing which reflect the theme of the readings.

We don't visit before the end of morning prayer; instead we gather in the hallway outside the chapel afterward, Everyone says together: Praise be to God. Good morning, dear sisters! Then there is a sharing of whatever information is necessary to begin the day - assignments, who has the car checked out out for when, a letter or message which has come in during the evening before, etc. And then everyone goes quietly about their business - fixing one's own breakfast, reading the headlines of the paper, or whatever is necessary for the day. There's not absolute silence during the day, but the house is relatively quiet and very peaceful. When the doorbell rings, someone goes to meet Jesus on the threshold! And that is what happens!

I have never lived in a situation where everything in the day, all conversation, all effort, planning, and the simplest of tasks are all oriented to the same end - to authentically "Live Jesus" (that's the Visitation charism - the overarching idea for one's whole life). I am impressed with these women who have lived together for these past 23 years and who hold each other accountable to the vision and charism of their founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal.

They may not even notice it, but I do - that they quote from their writings in every conversation:
  • Be who you are, and be that well.
  • Do ordinary things with great love.
  • The same everlasting Father who cares of 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.
  • We are called to a liberty of spirit (something which includes obedience, but which excludes "constraint, scruples, and anxiety.")
  • There is nothing so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength.
Sounds simple. The sisters here demonstrate that it is possible, as do the Vis Companions who share their spirituality.

I am so loving it; I am so grateful to be able to share this way of living with them. 

More to come . . . We've already had the Neighborhood Night of Peace, the ice cream social for National Night Out, two weddings, two funerals, and "Jazz and Gospel on the Lawn" (a fundraiser for Mary Johnson and her "Death to Life" ministry of forgiveness and healing. Things happen too often for me to keep up!!

Oh, and there was a special experience for me - my commitment ceremony. I wrote about it on the Visitation blog, so will post a link to that here: 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I went to a funeral today -- on Shut Down Day at Visitation Monastery

Every Thursday is "Shut Down Day" at Visitation Monastery. I asked one of the sisters this morning how long they've had shut down days. She couldn't tell me exactly. Certainly, when these Visitation sisters lived in the cloister, there was no such thing: the horarium, the schedule of the hours of the day, was set by custom, and was, for the most part, invariable. There were no "days off."

Sometime after they came to bring their prayer and presence to the neighborhood, they became aware that so much involvement with others put their charism of contemplation at some risk - and they, themselves at risk of burnout. I'm told they began by assigning an occasional "shut down day" so they could have some rest from the relentless needs of those they lived among. Then they became a monthly routine. Now they are weekly.

On "shut down days" a sign goes in in the window of the front door of each of the houses: The sisters are not available today. Please and thank you. They don't answer the doorbell. They don't answer the phone - it goes to voice mail. Theoretically.

This has been an intensely demanding week. Last night's Neighborhood Night of Peace took months of preparation and work - and the last several days were extremely demanding. There was so much to be done. (More about that in my next blog - I'm moving out of chronological order here.) Suffice it to say that once the "Night of Peace" event was over last night, and the parking lot of Assumption Church and its kitchen were completely cleaned up, and all the tents and games disassembled, etc. a van full of nuns - and I - trundled across the city to Dairy Queen where Blizzards were the nightcap. Sister Mary Frances and I collapsed on sofas downstairs after that to watch the Olympics for a while. Others went to bed.

On Shut Down Day, you're supposed to do whatever you like - get up when you want - stay in your PJ's all day if you'd rather. But Thursday is the day that Sr. MV goes to water aerobics at the Y, and it was to be my first day in the class. It didn't start till 8, so I did get to sleep in a LOT later than usual (i.e. 7:30 instead of 5 AM). We got back to the monastery about 9:30 and quickly changed our clothes to go out.

Because there was a funeral. (I'm told that most funerals in N. Minneapolis - at least those of people associated with Vis Monastery - seem to occur on Thursdays! So not every Thursday is really "shut down." )

We arrived at Ascension church before 10. The funeral was for "Grandma Aurora," whose bedside I had visited last week with the other sisters, the night before she passed away. We had prayed and sung with her in her tiny bedroom, filled with images of saints and angels. This 91 year old Mexican-American woman was called "Grandma" by everyone who knew her. She had lived in her own home in this neighborhood for 47 years, with her daughter, also Aurora (but sometimes called "Aurora Junior" to distinguish her from her mother. She's a secretary at Ascension Parish, so everyone knows and loves her.

There were three priests and a deacon presiding at the altar: the present pastor, Father Michael O'Connell , another resident priest, and the pastor who preceded O'Connell here. A cantor with a gorgeous soprano voice led the music.

The old church was packed. One pew was filled with members of Grandma Aurora's "Red Hat Club," complete in their purple and red finery. At the end of the mass, the pastor invited their president to come to the lectern to speak. A member of a local Baptist church, she's well known in the neighborhood, too - one of the respected elders of the community. She delivered a beautiful tribute to Grandma Aurora, and a tender word of encouragement to her family and friends.

It was an exceptionally beautiful funeral mass - and I discovered once again how eternal the mass is. Every mass is really part of the one "real" mass of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection. We just generally don't completely notice it even when as we proclaim our belief in that doctrine. And every funeral mass - The Mass of Christian Burial - is part of every other funeral mass. I always notice that. At every funeral mass, I celebrate again the parting with each of my beloved dead - and my hope and faith in our coming reunion in God's eternal presence.

This week, my cousin Gary died. I will not be at services for him. They will be conducted at his cabin up in Alaska. But I will be with my family there in spirit. I wasn't at my friend Richard's funeral in Forks; it happened just after I left there to come here. But grief is still fresh; and certainly at every funeral since my husband Don died, I experience my parting with him over again.

So I sat with my sister-friends who were grieving for their friend Grandma Aurora and for her family - and I wept for a woman I never really met, but at whose bedside I had prayed. I wept for her daughter who is becoming my friend through her connection with the sisters, for her little great-grandson who accompanied her out of the church, his hand upon her casket, tears streaming down his face. And for Dirk, and Charlie, and Liz - and Ronald and Mary, and my parents, and all the others who have been part of my life and who have gone before.

And through the whole mass, I was so totally conscious of the communion of saints - those gone before, and those who still walk the earth. When we held hands at the Our Father, I was between Sister Mary Frances and Sr. Mary Virginia - but I was also holding hands with Donna and Cindy in Forks. And I'd swear I saw my family, my friends at home, scattered through the church - just visible out of the corner of my eye - and when I returned from communion, I sat next to Don and we held hands, as we often used to do.

Afterward, we went to the cafeteria of Assumption School and had a great feast of pulled pork, refried beans, rice, sandwiches, and fresh fruit - the cafeteria was a lot bigger than the parish hall at St. Anne's, but it looked a lot the same to me. It was Miss Linda and her crew who got the applause for providing such a great feast, and I thought of Anita, and Cindy, Donna, and Mary Anne - and all those who have done the same at home.

And then I came back here, put my laundry in, and stretched out to read, but fell asleep. I awoke an hour and a half later, finding myself still on holy ground, and thinking, I need to write about going to a funeral today . . .

I have no new pictures for this blog. Some things you can't snap pictures of. But I wish you could have heard Sr. Mary Margaret read the first reading - - I can't even give you the reference right now, but the words jumped right off the page and came alive as I've never heard scripture read! Amazing.

I'll tell you about the Neighborhood Night of Peace next time. Here's a "coming attraction picture" about that: