To the Moon and Back

This week, on two successive evenings, I watched the TV video recounting of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, from “lift-off” to “splash-down.” It was the complete experience with footage from the NASA installation at Cape Canaveral, inside the space capsule and the historic first steps on the moon. I was taken by the closeup footage of the three astronauts. Without words, the enormity of what was happening was present in their eyes at each moment. When they did speak, their lightheartedness often belied the seriousness of their mission and spoke of their courage and willingness to “get the job done.” It was a gripping recounting of that historic event from fifty years ago.

Upon arising today at 6:10 AM, I went to the window to view the morning, already shining brightly through the glass. The sun was lighting up my panoramic view of a cloudless sky and 6 stories down the traffic moved soundlessly along the highway. As I looked to the left, there was the moon, still and beautiful in a 3/4ths – 7/8ths presence to me. I smiled and said “Good morning, Moon,” giving thanks for the brilliant minds that further our knowledge of far away places but grateful as well for the mysteries of the universe that serve to keep us on a steady course to the Divine.

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When Words Are Not Enough

I just picked up an issue of the Contemplative Outreach News (12/18) that I brought with me to this 2-week marathon gathering of Sisters of St. Joseph. Much of the issue was in homage to Fr. Thomas Keating who left this world last October but is still very present in the hearts of people the world over. Father Thomas was very skilled at articulating what was deepest not only in his own heart but in the hearts of all who listened to him as well. It was not just his words, however, that ignited the flame of love but his presence and his quiet enthusiasm for the love of God that burned in him and caught us up into a deeper place.

When I saw the above title in the newsletter this morning, I understood that whatever description was to follow in the article about Fr. Thomas, it could not capture the depth of the man or his love. I was not disappointed when I read the concluding paragraph.

In my ongoing work to fight homelessness, words are necessary. We connect with the suffering of our brothers and sisters through words. We change policy through words – spoken and written. We deepen our commitment to social justice through writing, reading and conversation. And yet, I will always be drawn back to Fr. Thomas’ teachings on the power of interior silence as the root of prayer and the foundation for our work in the world. (Jeff Olivet)

Yesterday the seven women who sat around our table in the midst of the 100+ Sisters wrestled mightily with the effort of expressing what is deepest in our lives: the meaning of our commitment to God, to one another and to our “dear neighbors” near and far. Several times during the session one of our two excellent facilitator called a “pause” to re-gather ourselves. Each time the silence in the room was profound and each time we began again, sometimes to struggle but also to know the presence of God in our midst as the meaning of all this holy work.

Summer Heat

I am sitting in an air-conditioned bubble, knowing about the dangerous heat index only because there is a large television on the wall in front of me constantly running today’s temperatures across the screen as the biggest news of the day. It is scheduled to reach 99 degrees F. by noon in St. Louis where I am and the headline right now is that the heat index across the country will reach 100F. for over a million people and will shatter heat records – over 150 of them – this week. It’s not just the 100 but the 111 in Virginia and elsewhere that makes me want to corral all the poor or aged people and bring them to our climate-controlled conference venue where we will need to remember to bring our shawls or sweaters to our session.

As I turn to the Scriptures for comforting news I hear God calling to Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground…I will be with you…” I can usually twist and turn and fit the messages I find to my daily circumstances. Today I wish only to note for myself that God was speaking all those centuries ago and I am here now to hear the message. I can do nothing about the heat or the storms except to trust the generosity of people and local governments to open places of safety for their citizens.

So with that hope and the knowledge that I am privileged to stand this day on holy ground to pray and plan with my Sisters from near and far (see recent posts), I go about the work that is mine to do asking only for an open heart.

All I Do Today

I was just looking ahead to what day three of our two-week meeting in St. Louis (see previous post) might hold in store for us when Jan Novotka’s sweet, simple song presented itself. I believe it to be particularly apt as an offering for conversations that are already deepening and will surely benefit from her words. See if you don’t agree. You can find it on YouTube.

May all I do today be for the healing of the whole. May all I do today mend our broken world. May all I do today bring blessing on the earth. May all I do today be for the good of all…all I do today.

A Day Late

Today is Monday and I am still swimming in the confidence of yesterday’s first reading from Deuteronomy (30: 10-14). I’m in St. Louis, Missouri, far from home but in the company of over 100 women who have pledged themselves to live and work “for the life of the world.” The energy was high yesterday as we greeted one another after long absences or for the first time, hoping that we will find ourselves of one heart as we move toward an agenda that will likely need every one of the fourteen days ahead. You see, we are plotting our future here. As we diminish in number while welcoming one or two new members each year instead of the 45 of us who came in 1966 to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (a tiny location in St. Louis where we first settled in 1836), we need to be attentive to the particularity of our call to God’s service.

Yesterday in an opening ritual we stood one by one as our names were called and responded “Present!” Today we begin to understand the gravity of what that might mean for us going forward. In all of it we have the words that Moses spoke to the people to keep our hearts open and our determination strong, knowing that there are many people who hold us up in prayer. Won’t you join in the effort?

For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, “Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?” Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?” No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

Remember

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This morning we are called by Psalm 105 to remember our heritage as “children of the Blessed One” as we stand in gratitude for those who have come before us, all the way back to Abraham and Sarah. Verse 5 from the Ancient Songs Sung Anew translation is especially evocative, saying:

Remember, remember everything you can recall, remember every work and wonder, remember every word God speaks to you in wisdom…

There is a large rainbow banner hung high above the door of the Church that houses the office of the Sophia Center proclaiming in large, bold letters that God is still speaking. Are you able to dig deep and be silent enough to hear the messages of wisdom and truth being spoken in your heart this very day?

Getting It Done

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Today promises to be one of those days when I wonder how I can possibly do all the things I have to do in order to be ready for what comes next. As usual, the answer popped right up, this time from Macrina Wiederkehr on a circled page number of her book, Seven Sacred Pauses, which is subtitled Living Mindfully through the Hours of the Day. Whether or not I get all my tasks completed today, I hope at bedtime to feel as if all is right with the world as long as I remember the advice Macrina gives at this first hour.

If we practice living mindfully, we slowly begin to see the holiness of so many things that remain hidden when we choose to rush through the hours, striking tasks from the list of things we must accomplish by day’s end. It will be a happy moment when we remember to add the wise act of pausing to our to-do lists.

This pause can be as simple as standing attentively before a flowering plant or listening to the frogs in the pond. Perhaps we can stop for a cleansing breath: Breathe in the spirit of the hour; breathe in gratitude and compassion for yourself; breathe out love and encouragement for your co-workers, friends, family members. Your pause may be an awakening stretch, or sitting quietly and remembering your name. If you can learn the art of pausing, your work will prosper and be blessed. (p. 20-21)

A Well-ordered Life

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St. Benedict (c. 480 – c. 547) is credited with bringing monasticism to the West. After more than 1500 years, his influence is still felt around the world in monasteries and over the past half-century it has been growing as well in “monasteries without walls.” This movement is a resurgence of the desire in “ordinary people” for a deeper spiritual life and is characterized by attention practices and balanced living, not only for monastics but for lay people as well.

At the heart of Benedictine life is mindfulness and a spirit of hospitality. It has been described with a simple daily formula of four quadrants: prayer alone and prayer together, work alone and work together. Someone once asked where leisure comes in that description and the answer was that if one divides the circle of the day and writes in all that has taken place, the entire circle should be a leisurely and peaceful walk through the hours.

Many authors have written on this topic – none better than Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, especially in her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. This feast reminds me to return, not only to Sr. Joan’s book but also to the practice of drawing that circle each day, where I can assess the balance of my life’s activities and get back to a mindful way of being. Simple? Yes, but not always easy. Worthwhile? Always…as a lifelong daily practice…Oh, yes!

Earth in Crisis

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We who live in this blessed region of our vast country watch with concern this week the news of earthquakes in California (Are they the harbinger of “the Big One?”) and flash flooding in the nation’s capital, while at the same time giving thanks for the minor inconveniences that we encounter close to home. “Disturbing” is certainly a word that we might use to describe our feelings about what is happening to the Earth, our home, but we should next be asking how we are complicit in the degradation and what we are doing to counteract it.

There has been a commercial on television lately about Rothy’s shoes, made out of recycled plastic. A person twists a plastic water bottle in her hands and it turns into a shoe and then there are all sorts of pictures of shoes. I couldn’t imagine that the message they were conveying was actually about plastic becoming wearable shoes so – of course – I went on the internet to do some research and, believe me, whoever had the idea certainly did their homework. Not only shoes but now clothing is being made from the huge amount of plastic that we discard each day. Statistics are mind-boggling as are the concepts of what can be done with what we throw away.

The lack of concern for the earth is monumental and shame should be our only reaction as we see pictures of the debris being scooped up from the oceans and littering our highways. I am somewhat calmed by the efforts of creative people like the Rothy’s company leaders but the earthquakes this week have (pardon the word) shaken me awake and hopefully have done the same for many people.

I know that much work has to be done and I can only hope I will enter the realm of the active reformers, doing my part in conscious and responsible citizenship. This morning, however, I have decided it might also be time to use John Philip Newell’s book, Praying with the Earth, as a consciousness-raising tool for my morning and/or night prayer. Today’s offering includes the following Prayer of Awareness. (I write it as a stream with few stops to accentuate the urgency of its message to the Holy One.)

It is in the depths of life that we find you at the heart of this moment at the centre of our soul deep in the earth and its eternal stirrings. You are the Ground of all being the Well-Spring of time Womb of the earth the Seed-force of stars. And so at the opening of this day we wait not for blessings from afar but for You the very Soul of our soul the early Freshness of morning the first Breath of day. (p. 18)