26 August 2008

Followup notes and questions: Considering allowing comments; Feedback desired

Hi there from Stillsong Hermitage. As you well know, most blogs allow comments, and when I began this blog I chose not to do so for various reasons. It may be time to reconsider that. To that end, I am asking readers (there are actually a number of you, some regular visitors to this blog) to email me with their feedback on this idea. Should I allow comments? Would you like that option? Why or why not? Thanks!

Laurel M O'Neal, Er Dio
Stillsong Hermitage

Followup: Hello again from Stillsong Hermitage. Thanks to those of you who responded to my question about allowing comments. In general people thought the idea was a good one so long as the comments were moderated and I maintained control. Several people disagreed with the idea, largely because they felt this would or could be distracting whether to me or to others reading the blog.

In thinking about all this I came to see that although I would like to offer the chance for comments, etc, doing so would actually detract from my own solitude, and from the sense that I am writing out of solitude and sharing its fruits. This was a bit hard to describe or define, but it simply felt to me that the boundaries between blog and readers would become more porous, and my blogging become less a solitary pursuit. I might be completely wrong about this, but I think I have to listen to this sense of mine.

At the same time, hospitality is a prime Benedictine charism and value and I DO want to accomodate questions, allow for discussions, etc. I very much enjoy getting questions from readers, and there is no doubt they help me in my writing! And of course, I do not write for myself alone. So, while I have decided not to open up the comment option for now, I am looking into other options. The one that might work is to set up some sort of message board and link it to this blog. That could allow for discussion, comments, questions, and at the same time not distract either me or others from this blog per se. I think it could allow for the growth of community here too. It is an option I will look into. Once again feedback on this is most welcome!!

Laurel M O'Neal, Er Dio
Stillsong Hermitage

23 August 2008

Magnificat of Betrothal

Ann Johnson, author of several of the various magnificats I have posted recently, is a married woman with several children. The following magnificat reflects that and is particularly appropriate for those who are married. However, it can be used by those of us who are espoused or preparing for espousal to Christ as well. I am posting this particularly for a friend preparing for the Consecration of Virgins, and for several novice Sisters as well. Again, it is takenfrom Miryam of Nazareth. Enjoy.

Our souls are filled with wonder at the gift of our loving,
and our spirits take on new meaning in the giving of love,
God of the Flowing Well,
you have looked upon us with favor as we join our lives
in response to you.

Yes, from this time on all people who look upon us
will recognize us as being life companions
and will call us blessed,
for you, the One who dwells in human hearts,
have done great things for us.

Holy is your name,
and your confirming joy reaches from age to age
to those who dare to journey
on the unknown pathways of committed love.

You have shown us the life-changing power of our love
in the eyes of those who know us and
in the richness of our work.

You have humbled us by the intensity of our otherness.

The false pride that we treasured in our ability to stand alone
has been cast aside
and we understand ourselves and you more tenderly
as we begin to experience the treasure
of a lifetime of standing together.

We are no longer lonely:
We touch with compassion those who come to us filled with

You have opened the doors of eternity to us
as we searched for you,
mindful of your own longings for a people to love
. . .according to the dreams and murmerings you have shared
with those who love since the beginning of time. . .
mindful of your own longings for a people to love,
we recognize that the bondedness of human hearts and lives
reflects one true reality of you, the Living God.

Personal Questions on the Vocation to Chronic Illness

 I have received several questions, some of them followup, during an email correspondence. Since they may reflect questions others are asking I have decided to post them here.

[[Sister O'Neal, you have written about chronic illness as vocation and explained the sources of your interest in your profile. Is your interest more personally motivated though? You write a lot about the God whose power is made perfect in weakness, and you adopted that as your motto for perpetual profession. That make me think your interest is more personal than I have read up until now. I hope this is not too personal to ask about, but I understand if you choose not to answer.]]

Well, there is no doubt it is a personal question, and one I have not dealt with on this blog on purpose; neither is it one I will deal with again probably unless it raises significant questions for readers and I think saying more can actually help them; but yes, my interest in chronic illness as a vocation (or better, my conviction that there is such a thing) has a personal basis as well as the other reasons I have mentioned.

Since I was a young adult I have suffered from a medically and surgically intractable seizure disorder (epilepsy). For some years it went undiagnosed (or inadequately so), and for many more years (25 or more) it was life-threatening on a regular basis. It also resulted in injuries, some of which led to chronic pain because of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy --- a condition characterized by neuropathic pain which results when soft tissue injuries do not heal quite properly. Today, the seizure disorder is relatively well, though not completely controlled (seizures are triggered by some types of external stimuli which are more prevalent today than in the past), but the chronic pain continues as a daily reality. Evenso, I take Rx pain relievers (which I believe is the only responsible thing to do here), and the med I now take for seizure control has a happy side effect of helping diminish neuropathic pain as well! The bottom line is that I function well in spite of these things, and am (Deo Gratias!!) graced by God in ways which cause other things than these to dominate!!

My real interest in the idea of God's power being perfected in weakness is first of all a function of my interest in Pauline theology which I began to develop in 1971 under John C Dwyer's tutelage. There is no doubt that Paul's Christology is kenotic, that is, it is centered on the self-emptying of God in creation which culminates in the Christ Event. Kenosis translates into asthenia or weakness. Our God is one who limits himself in order to create and enter definitively and exhaustively into our world. Further, redemption is effected only through Jesus' complete self-emptying in obedience to the will of God; obedience is an openness and responsiveness to God, a complete dependence upon him which implicates God in those places from which, by definition, he is otherwise excluded: the realms of sin and death in particular. It is above all the story of a God whose power is made perfect in weakness: his own, Jesus', and mine or yours as well; undoubtedly I was predisposed to hear this message with a particular keenness.

But it was not only Paul's theology that captured my imagination here. Throughout the Gospels we are confronted by a message where the values of God are not those of this world, where the poor are truly rich, the alienated and marginalized assume places at God's right hand, etc. These kinds of paradoxes intrigued and excited me; they still do, because they spell out the possibility of a life which is prophetic precisely because it does not measure up to, but rather criticizes ordinary worldly standards of productivity, status, value, etc. Still, in Pauline terms what they mean for me practically is that weakness in my own life has been capable of becoming the place where God's power is perfected, not because he delights in this kind of weakness or its attendant suffering (I sincerely believe he does not), but because he enters into our situation exhaustively and heals, transfigures, and redeems it. It can indeed become the place where his own power (love) is perfected in our world. Thus, 2 Cor 12:9 became not just the summary of Paul's gospel, but the summary of my own personal story as well.

Most importantly, it was the isolation occasioned by illness that demanded I confront unhealthy withdrawal, and eventually, to move through it to the legitimate anachoresis (withdrawal) of the eremitical life. That left me sensitive to legitimate and illegitimate forms of anachoresis, as well as to appropriate and inappropriate motivations for embracing the eremitical life, but it helped me to let go of the inappropriate and embrace the appropriate. (Yes the desert vocation involves contending with demons, and they are mainly our very own!!) It also forced me to confront my own essential poverty apart from God and learn how infinitely valuable and precious I am as one made in his own image. In light of his regard for me, and especially as one who (in Christ) is his counterpart --- called to assist in the coming of the Kingdom despite my weakness and personal inadequacies --- I am chosen as God's own bride and dignified beyond all counting by his love. What I discovered was that the call to eremitic life was in every way a call to wholeness, love, and joy. Additionally, it is a call to koinonia in solitude, not to an isolation masked in piety. There is withdrawal (anachoresis), yes, but there is a more profound connectedness or relatedness than is often apparent to those not living the life. In particular, for the diocesan hermit there is community on so many levels beginning with God that it is hard to describe the richness of relationship(s) within the solitude.

So, yes, my reasons for being interested in chronic illness as vocation stem from my own personal medical history as well as my experience as a hospital chaplain and work in neurosciences or clinical lab. Sometimes we witness to the power of the gospel in our weakness. As I have written before, I don't for a moment believe that God willed my illness nor desired the anguish and other suffering that accompany it, but I am convinced beyond all doubt that he willed to teach me how sufficient his love (grace) for me was in ANY situation. My own circumstances became a means to an end despite the fact that God did not will or send them. I came to hunger intensely for God's love, and for the capacity to return it very early on in my life; I also came to be aware of others' needs for it although I could not have explained that coherently at that point. And of course, God filled that hunger, even as he also sharpened it, and he commissioned me, as he commissions each of us, to bring that love to others in genuine compassion and service!

The story about how this all came to be is a complex one and unimportant in this context. What is important to say is that in my emptiness, weakness, brokenness, hunger, anguish, and pain, I met the God who brings meaning, strength, wholeness, satiety, joy, and delight out of all these things. The vocation I discovered is the vocation to witness to THESE latter things, to AUTHENTIC HUMAN EXISTENCE and the God who makes them possible in spite of and through the weakness and brokenness that besets us. God does not will the illness, pain, etc, but he does will their redemption, tranfiguration, and especially their transformation into a life of essential wholeness and compassion. THAT, afterall, is what a vocation to chronic illness is all about.

The reason you do not hear about the personal reasons that brought me to an understanding of this vocation is that while illness or injury remain problematical on a daily basis (this is mainly true of chronic pain), they do not define who I am. Especially I am no victim. Instead, my life is defined in light of God's grace and who that has made me; I want very much for that to be clearer to readers of my posts than these other things. God wills that I live as fully and lovingly as I can in spite of them. He has (with my cooperation) brought wonderful people into my life who have assisted in this including doctors, directors, teachers, pastors, friends who accommodate me in various ways, et al. In all these cases they have helped and challenged me to grow beyond an identification with illness and pain, and into an identification with God's grace, fullness of life, and growing personal holiness. Unless that is clear in what I write, live out, or otherwise proclaim, the suffering itself is meaningless and certainly not edifying; on the other hand, if the effects of the grace of God which transfigures both suffering and life IS clear in my writing and living, then there is rarely any need to focus on the suffering, and doing so would be a disedifying distraction!

[[Do you think it is important for people to know how to suffer? Do you think you have a responsibility to teach people how to suffer or to speak about your suffering?]]

While I think it is important for people to learn to suffer, and while I think suffering well is one of the things we are least capable of today, I am of the opinion that the way to teach (model, or witness to) that is NOT by focusing on suffering itself. In particular, speaking about my own situation is rarely necessary (or helpful) except when it is important to remind someone what is possible with the grace of God. For instance, occasionally a client will wonder if healing is really possible, or if it is possible to transcend a given set of circumstances. In such a situation I will refer to my own illness or pain. Here my own suffering is important, but only so long as it does NOT dominate my life or define me, and only in order to underscore the possibility of healing, essential wholeness and humanity along with the capacity to be other-centered and compassionate in spite of negative circumstances. God's grace ALWAYS heals and brings life out of that which is antithetical to these things, so what one wants to witness to is the transformation of one's life as one moves from faith to faith and from life to more abundant life. His love ALWAYS transfigures our reality, not least because he is WITH US in ways which remind us of how precious we are to him, how much he wants for us, how much he longs to share with us, etc.

Even in situations where it is helpful to speak of one's suffering one needs to recall that it's a lot like a single microdrop of skunk spray: a very little goes a very long way and "scents" everything in its path --- for a very long time!! Also, if you think about the stories of suffering that really inspire and move you, they are ordinarily the stories where courage, patience, joy, wholeness, dignity and selflessness predominate and the pain or suffering is recognized but allowed to disappear into the background. They are the stories where humanity triumphs (and this means a person living from the grace of God); they are not exercises in navel gazing or detailed and repetitive accounts of one's pain. Suffering well is, after all, about courage, about affirming life and meaning in spite of destruction and absurdity, and especially, it is about LIVING AS FULLY as one is able. There is no way to do this if one focuses on the suffering per se. This kind of focus is ALWAYS self-centered and can be temptingly and distractingly so both for oneself and for others; it is ALWAYS a bid for attention to self (even when appropriately used this is the case). It is also focused on the thing which God's grace helps overcome rather than on the effects of that grace (or the one who gives it). Neither of these (self-centeredness, or a focus on evil) is generally edifying, and can be quite disedifying except in certain limited circumstances. The question is always what does one want to witness to; viz, what do you want others looking at, God's grace and the possibilities for hope and wholeness or one's own self, brokenness, and suffering? For these reasons if one MUST refer to or focus on these latter things one must ALWAYS do so rarely and briefly.

What I am saying is that in "teaching" (I would prefer to say assisting or encouraging) people to suffer well, as far as I know, the only way to do that is to teach them how to live, how to pray, how to give themselves over to God's grace, and especially how to cope so that life and not pain per se is the focus. In my experience, a sure way to FAIL to suffer well (or to fail to inspire someone to bear their own pain well) is to focus on the suffering per se. By the way, "teaching" someone to suffer well presupposes one DOES that oneself, and I wonder how many of us can say that is honestly true of us? It is another reason to focus on life, on hope (both of which are the result of God's grace), and on placing oneself in God's hands so that he may redeem and transfigure the situation as far as possible. We need this encouragement and focus on a continuing basis as much as anyone we might witness to.

21 August 2008

Question on Private vows: Consecrare versus Dedicare

[[Sister O'Neal, you have written about the difference between private vows and public vows as the difference between a person consecrating themselves to God, and God consecrating the person. Are there actual church documents that indicate such a difference? Isn't consecration consecration whether private or public? (I have private vows so the question is important to me.)]]

Your questions are excellent and they point up an area where my own writing and speaking here has been imprecise. In part, in earlier posts I drew a distinction between active and passive consecration because of the work of another writer on consecrated life, but that may not be adequate. This is because I had not looked at the original language used in several church documents in some time, so your question gave me the chance to do that. The results are significant and will actually cause me to change the way I speak about this matter in the future. In particular, I will no longer speak of a person consecrating herself to God, and try to reserve the term consecration for an action of God only --- for in the strict sense making holy or setting apart as a member of the consecrated state is something only God does; consecration is a divine and not a human action. (Accepted common usage allows one to speak of consecrating something or oneself to God though, but this is really misleading and confusing. What remains true, whatever usage one eventually adopts is the two kinds of ACTION must be distinguished from one another.)

It is in the documents of Vatican II where one finds a clear distinction between what is a divine action and what is a human action. In Lumen Gentium and Perfectae Caritatis, for instance the verb consecrare and noun consecratio are never used for the human element in profession. When the human element is meant, these documents use terms like, se devovere, mancipare, and dedicare. (I have not looked at JP II's Vita Consecrata closely or in the original Latin in this particlar regard, so I can't yet speak to that.) As noted above, what is clear though is that the pertinent documents of Vatican II draw a distinction between consecration, which is something God does, and dedication (etc), which is the corresponding human action involved in profession. Now, if this latter usage is true of the human element in public profession, it is equally true in private profession. At the same time, what is missing in private vows besides the calling forth in the name of the Church is the entire prayer/rite of consecration which is part of perpetual or solemn public profession. This is true whether or not one uses "consecration" in the broad and common sense of dedication or not.

When one is consecrated to and by God through the mediation of the Church in a formal and juridical act, one is set apart in a new state of life ("status"), viz., the consecrated state. Through ecclesial mediation one is changed; it is sometimes spoken of as analogous to the change being effected in the consecration of bread and wine. (I have seen this analogy used by dioceses and archdioceses in explaining the nature of the consecration of a woman in regard to the Consecration of Virgins and, though I would define this change in the person cautiously and specifically in terms of being made fit to receive the graces, rights and obligations of a new state of life, I adopt it here.) Private vows do not involve such mediation by the church or such an act of transformation even though one is (presumably) led by God to make such vows. What this essentially means is that private vows ordinarily mark a continuing lay vocation (that is, it involves no change in state of life); public vows mark a vocation to the consecrated and/or religious state (status). Both involve the significant dedication of self to God and are meaningful and important vocations; both are presumably embraced as responses to the Holy Spirit, but they differ at the same time.

Your own private vows are a specification and intensification of your baptismal vows; your dedication to God is significant, and I personally hope you will reflect on and find ways to share what they mean for the lay vocation. It is actually too bad that while we have the reality of private vows and many lay people with such vows, most of the writing and reflecting about such things are done by priests and religious! This is especially true, I think, in a world so thoroughly secularized and needing the witness of those who resist this secularization while remaining firmly within the world of ordinary temporal affairs. However, it is also true because while the church esteems the lay vocation, she has a long history either of not doing so adequately or of mainly leaving the reflection on it to those who are not part of the lay state. The result is a failure to hear how truly important the lay vocation is from the inside of that vocation --- and that is always sadly inadequate. If, for instance, I write about the importance of the lay eremitical vocation it always raises the question of why it is I did not choose to live as one then. The same inadequacy results often when some people make private vows because on some level they are actually not affirming their own lay vocation; instead they are affirming they do not believe it is "enough"; religious life is better, lay life (they believe) is an entry level vocation only. Unfortunately, until Vatican II, the Church made this way of thinking all-too-easy. So, again, I hope you will find ways to reflect on and write about your own vocation. I believe both it and your own doing this are critically important to many more people than you might know.

Whether one adopts the distinction between passive and active consecrations mentioned in Centered in Christ (Roberts, OCSO), continues to use "consecrate" in the broad and common sense of dedicating to God, or adopts the less ambiguous and (I think) theologically more adequate conciliar linguistic distinction between consecrare and dedicare (etc) to underscore the differences involved, what remains true is that in private vows one is not initiated into the consecrated state. This particular setting apart requires an act of God, and that is one which the church clearly teaches is always mediated by the Church in a public and juridical (canonical) act; it is another (and even the primary) reason vocations to the consecrated state are called ecclesial vocations.

I hope this helps. As always, if this raises more questions or is unclear in some way, please get back to me.

19 August 2008

"Magnificat of Acceptance," and "Magnificat of Friendship," by Ann Johnson

As this month of Mary continues, and also because today is the 40th anniversary of my baptism, I thought I would put up a couple more Magnificats written by contemporary women. Two or three pieces of Ann Johnson's poetry in particular are especially lovely. They are taken from Miryam of Nazareth, Woman of Strength and Wisdom, Ave Maria Press, 1984. The first is called the "Magnificat of Acceptance." (My apologies that the original formatting does not come through when the poem is published here.)

My soul trembles in the presence of the loving Creator
and my spirit prepares itself to walk hand in hand
with the God who saves Israel
because I have been accepted by God
as a simple helpmate.

Yes, forever in the life of humankind
people will sing of this loving encounter;
through remembering this moment, the faithful
will know that all things are possible in God.

Holy is the place within me where God lives.

God's tender fingers reach out from age to age
to touch and soften the inner spaces of those
who open their souls in hope.

I have experienced the creative power of God's embracing arms
and I know the cleansing fire of unconditional love.
I am freed from all earthly authority
and know my bonding to the Author of all earthly things.
I am filled with the news of good things:
my favor with God,
faithful trust in the gentle shadow of the Most High,
the mystery of my son, Jesus,
the gift of companionship with my beloved kinswoman,
Elizabeth, who believes as I believe.

The place in my heart I had filled
with thoughts of fear and inadequacy
has been emptied and I am quiet within.

God comes to save Israel, our holy family,
remembering that we are the ones who remember
. . . according to the kinship we have known. . .
remembering that we are the ones who remember
and that where God and people trust each other
there is home.

The second Magnificat is called, the "Magnificat of Friendship" and calls to mind not only my own journey, but those who have made it with me, and especially those women who have assisted and accompanied me, whether in religious or consecrated (eremitical) life, medicine, ministry, etc. I am excited about continuing this journey into ever fuller and more abundant life, and I can't say how grateful I am to God for these women.

My soul flowers in the light of your love, my God
and my spirit sings Alleluia in the reality of your joyful presence,
because you have chosen my kinswoman and me with the
summons of your eyes.

Yes, we are known now and for all time. We are known as women,
Holy is your name.
The tenderness of your hand rests on us as we journey in your way.
Your power in my life has led me into the embrace of loving arms.
You have exposed my lonely pride that I might turn my head to your
nurturing breast.

You have revealed the hollowness of achievements and have opened in
my heart a space filled with simple, loving moments.
My hunger you have satisfied,
my excess you have ignored.

You are my help as I remember your tender love for me,
. . .for we have touched each other you and I
and we have made promises. . .

I remember your tenderness for all that you have begun in me
and in those with whom I walk
and I respond with all that I am becoming
in this hour and in all times to come.

18 August 2008


The following Magnificat came my way through the Camaldolese Oblate connection. It was used by Fr Michael Fish, OSB Cam during an Advent homily and was apparently written by a German monk or nun. (If I get more information, I will provide it.) I think it is lovely, and so appropriate this month where we have the Feast of the Assumption and memorials of people like Edith Stein and Maximillian Kolbe.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
my spirit delights in God my saviour,
for You have blessed me lavishly
and make me ready to respond.
You shatter my little world
and let me be poor before You.
You take from me all my plans
and give me more than I can hope for or ask.

You give me opportunities,
and the ability to become free,
and to burst through my boundaries.
You give me the strength to become daring,
to build on You alone -
for you show Yourself as the ever greater one in my life.
You have made known to me this:
It is in my being servant that it becomes possible
for Your kingdom to burst through here and now.

14 August 2008

Memorial, Maximillian Kolbe, Martyr

Today is the feast day of Maximillian Kolbe who died on this day in Auschwitz after two months there, and two weeks in the bunker of death-by-starvation. Kolbe had offered to take the place of a prisoner selected for starvation in reprisal when another prisoner was found missing and thought to have escaped. The Kommandant, taken aback by Kolbe's dignity, and perhaps by the unprecedented humanity being shown, stepped back and then granted the request. Father Maximillian sustained his fellow prisoners and assisted them in their dying. He was one of four remaining prisoners who were murdered by an injection of Carbolic Acid when the Nazi's deemed their death by starvation was taking too long. When the bunker was visited by a secretary-interpreter immediately after the injections, he found the three other prisoners lying on the ground, begrimed and showing the ravages of the suffering they had undergone. Maximillian Kolbe sat against the wall, his face serene and radiant. Unlike the others he was clean and bright.

The stories told about Maximillian Kolbe's presence and influence in Aushwitz all stress a couple of things: first, there was his great love of God, Mary the Imaculata, and his fellow man; secondly, it focused on the tremendous humanity he lived out and modelled in the midst of a hell designed in every detail to dehumanize and degrade. These two things are intimately interrelated of course, and they give us a picture of authentic holiness which, extraordinary as it might have seemed in Auschwitz, is nothing less and nothing more than the vocation we are each called to in Christ. Together, these two dimensions of true holiness/authentic humanity result in "a life lived for others," as a gift to them in many ways -- self-sacrifice, generosity, kindness, courage, etc. In particular, in Auschwitz it was Maximillian's profound and abiding humanity which allowed others to remember, reclaim, and live out their own humanity in the face of the Nazi's dehumanizing machine. No greater gift could have been imagined in such a hell.

I think it is easy to forget this fundamental vocation, or at least to underestimate its value and challenge. We sometimes think our humanity is a given, an accomplished fact rather than a task and call to be accomplished. We also may think that it is possible to be truly human in solitary splendor. But our humanity is our essential vocation and it is something we only achieve in relation to God, his call, his mercy and love, his companionship --- and his people! (And this is as true for hermits and recluses as it is true for anyone else.) Likewise, we may think of vocation as a call to religious life, priesthood, marriage, singleness, eremitism, etc, but always, these are "merely" the paths towards achieving our foundational vocation to authentic humanity. Of course, it is not that we do not need excellent priests, religious, husbands and wives, parents, and so forth, but what is more true is that we need excellent human beings --- people who take the call and challenge to be genuinely human with absolute seriousness and faithfulness.

Today's gospel confronts us with a person who failed at that vocation. Extended mercy and the complete forgiveness of an unpayable debt, this servant went out into his world and failed to extend even a fraction of the same mercy to one of his fellows. He was selfish, ungrateful, and unmindful of who he was in terms of his Master or the generosity which had been shown him. He failed to remain in touch with that mercy and likewise he refused to extend it to others as called upon to do. He failed in his essential humanity and in the process he degraded and punished a fellow servant as inferior to himself when he should have done the opposite. Contrasted with this, and forming the liturgical and theological context for hearing this reading today, is the life of Maximillian Kolbe. Loved with an everlasting love, touched by God's infinite mercy and grace, Father Maximillian knew and affirmed who he truly was. More, in a situation of abject poverty and ultimate weakness, he remained in contact with the Source of his own humanity as the infinite well from which he would draw strength, dignity, courage, forgiveness, and compassion when confronted with a reality wholly dedicated to shattering, degrading, and destroying the humanity of those who became its victims. In every way he was the embodiment of St Paul's citation, "My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness!"

In Auschwitz it is true that some spoke of Kolbe as a saint, and many knew he was a priest, but in this world where all were stripped of names and social standing of any kind, what stood out to everyone was Maximillian Kolbe's love for God and his fellow man; what stood out was his humanity. Holiness for the Christian is defined in these terms. Authentic humanity and holiness are synonyms in Christianity, and both are marked by the capacity to love and be loved, first (by) God and then (by) all those he has dignified as his image and holds as precious. In a world too-often marked by mediocrity and even outright inhumanity, a world where too frequently those structures, institutions, and dynamics which seem bigger than we are and incapable of being resisted or changed dominate, we need to remember Maximillian Kolbe's example. Oftentimes we focus on serving others, feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless and the like, and these things are important. But in Kolbe's world when very little of this kind of service was possible (though Kolbe did what was possible and prudent here) what stood out was not only the crust of bread pressed into a younger priest's hands, the cup of soup given gladly to another, but the very great and deep dignity and impress of his humanity. And of course it stood out because beyond and beneath the need for food and shelter, what everyone was in terrible danger of losing was a sense of --- and capacity to act in terms of -- their own great dignity and humanity.

Marked above all as one loved by God, Father Maximillian lived out of that love and mercy. He extended it again and again to everyone he met, and in the end, he made the final sacrifice: he gave his own life so that another might live. An extraordinary vocation marked by extraordinary holiness? Yes. But also our OWN vocation, a vocation to "ordinary" and true holiness, genuine humanity. As I said above, "In particular, in Auschwitz it was Maximillian's profound and abiding humanity which allowed others to remember, reclaim, and live out their own humanity in the face of the Nazi's dehumanizing machine. No greater gift could have been imagined in such a hell." In many ways this is precisely the gift we are called upon in Christ to be for our own times. May Saint Kolbe's example inspire us to fulfill our vocations in exemplary ways.

09 August 2008

Feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Today marks the day on which Sister Teresa Benedicta, OCD, was martyred in 1942.

"We bow down before the testimony of the life and death of Edith Stein, an outstanding daughter of Israel and at the same time a daughter of the Carmelite Order, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was the synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting ... and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God." These were the words of Pope John Paul II when he beatified Edith Stein in Cologne on 1 May 1987.

For a terrific biography of Sr Teresa Benedicta, try Edith Stein, The Life of a Philosopher and Carmelite, by Teresa Renata Posselt, OCD, ICS Publications. Posselt was the Novice Mistress and then the Mother Prioress when Edith Stein lived at the Cologne Carmel. The text has been reprinted and enlarged with scholarly perspectives published in separate "gleanings" sections, so they are available, but do not intrude on Posselt's text.

Another excellent biography you might check out is, Edith Stein, A Biography by Waltraud Herbstrith, OCD, Harper and Row. Sister Herbstrith knew Edith Stein well and has apparently spent a large part of her life making sure the story of Sister Benedicta's life and martyrdom was completely told.

07 August 2008

New Novice! Congratulations Sister M Veronica, OSF!!

A week ago I posted a note that postulant Jaimie (Franciscan Sisters of Peoria) was beginning her pre-reception retreat. Well, she was received yesterday on the Feast of the Transfiguration, was clothed as a novice, and is now Sister M Veronica, OSF!!

Sisters from L to R- Sister Judith Ann (Major Superior), Sister M Veronica (new novice), and Sister Mary John (Director of Formation). Congratulations, Sister Veronica, and best wishes as you begin the next and critical stage of your initial formation!!

By the way, when I first posted Sr Veronica's new name, I inadvertantly left off the OSF. Readers should know that that was pretty careless of me because it is just now, with reception, that Sister Veronica can truly call herself a Franciscan Sister (Peoria), albeit as a novice. (In my defense, let me note that in some congregations, the use of congregational initials is actually reserved until after first profession.) Postulancy is a period of preparation and discernment (as is novitiate for that matter), but the postulant (from the Latin, postulare, to ask) is still not officially part of the Order or Congregation. This affiliation (and the life, in Christ, of complete self-giving to God and all he cherishes) is what she seeks and requests, hence the name postulant. Religious use the initials of their congregations to indicate precisely this belonging. Nor is this is a trivial matter because it points to a specific charism (that is, a unique gift quality) and mission to the church and world in which Sister Veronica now newly shares, and of which she will seek more and more to become an embodiment. (Along with the rights and responsibilities which come with profession, the need to grow in this embodiment is another reason some congregations reserve the usage until after first profession when they believe the Sister is more truly formed in these things.)

Beyond this, the initials adopted (along with the title, Sister) signals the ecclesial nature of a religious' vocation. That is, there is a mutual process of discernment going on: the one asking to be received into the community to try her vocation (the postulant) acts on what her heart tells her, but the church (in this case, through the mediation of the Franciscan Sisters of Peoria) also must determine the reality and the nature of the vocation and must officially extend God's own call to young religious. This is true of any vocation requiring and allowing public profession in the Church; someone must officially also discern and mediate the call of God to the person; hearing a call in one's own heart, while important, is inadequate. That the Franciscan Sisters of Peoria have welcomed Sister Veronica officially as one of their Sisters is a significant step. Now she and they move into her novitiate, a two year period where that discernment, and Veronica's formation as a Franciscan Sister of Peoria continues, and where in particular, Sr Veronica begins to prepare in earnest for her first profession and the assumption of some of the legal rights and responsibilities which come with the initials OSF.

06 August 2008

Feast of the Transfiguration

Happy Feast day to Transfiguration Monastery, Windsor, NY (Camaldolese), and all others bearing the name Transfiguration!! May we each embrace the transfiguration of our own lives which God's love brings and challenges us to allow.

Icon in more detail:

Christ, Right hand raised in blessing

Moses (left), and Elijah (above) representing the Law and the Prophets which come to fulfillment in Christ.

Below Christ are the three Apostles, who, by their posture in the icon, show their response to the transfiguration of Christ. According to the commentator, James (right) has fallen over backwards with his hands over his eyes (Sorry, I admit I do not see this!). John in the center (cf below) has fallen prostrate.

The garments of the Apostles are in a state of disarray as to indicate the dramatic impact the vision has had on them.

Peter is kneeling and raises his right hand toward Christ in a gesture expressing his desire to build the three booths.

Pictures and some text are from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Website.

04 August 2008

A Followup Question on "Bearing Our Crosses"

[[Can you say more about this idea that God does not send us crosses, but rather sends us into a world which is full of them and commissions us to carry them? How can you say that God did not send Jesus the cross he agreed to carry?]]

First, let me say that all the crosses that come our way come with the "permissive will" of God. However, too often we interpret the fact that God "permits" something to happen as though it is equivalent to the notion that he wants it to happen. The use of the word "will" in the term "permissive will" can be somewhat misleading therefore, and it can be associated with the idea that God is in total control (which, by the way, is not the same thing as affirming he is sovereign); sometimes when the term "permissive will" is used, we imagine something like options or possibilities being run past God so that he may intervene or not, say no or not: will she be sick or not; will disaster strike this person or not; should she suffer this pain or that loss, or not; will she die or not; etc? God is ALWAYS on the side of life, not death.

But God is NOT in total control, nor does he stand in the midst of the world's possibilities like someone making a deathcamp-selection of who shall suffer and who shall not. There are, as Paul clearly states, powers and principalities at work in our world, including death and sin, which God is in the process of bringing under complete subjection to himself. In Christ he has won the decisive victory over these realities or realms, but he is not yet "all in all" and some aspects of the world remain yet untouched or unchanged (or perhaps better said, inadequately or incompletely touched or changed) by his presence. Our world is marked not only by order, but by disorder, not only by meaning, but by senselessness, not only by truth but by falsehood and falseness. And God permits all this because it is the price of a free creation who can eventually turn responsively to him in genuine love.

My comments regarding God NOT sending us the crosses we are called upon to carry was largely based on the distorted but very common view of how permissive will operates or "what it looks like". It was meant to stress that, in fact, things happen which God does not directly will or send. That he permits them is not to say he wills them, nor even less that he wants them to happen. He works at all times to redeem the world, every aspect of it, and to reclaim it from the powers of sin and death. The decisive victory, once again, has been won, but there is yet work to do and the result for us is the crosses that ordinary life sends our way daily. Will these crosses eventually disappear? Yes, for one day God will truly be all in all and there will be complete victory over sin and death.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once summarized the entire situation in a quote I like very much, and have used here before, I think. He said, "Not everything that happens is the will of God, but inevitably, nothing that does happen happens OUTSIDE the will of God." God is sovereign in this world. Ultimately he will be the total victor, of that there is no doubt. But in the meantime he is not in COMPLETE control. For this to become reality means that you and I must take on the crosses life sends our way, wherever they come from! If we do this worthily IN CHRIST, then these symbols and bits of sinful, death-dealing reality will eventually be transformed into sacraments of God's presence and love, just as the cross WE PLACED ON JESUS' SHOULDERS, and the death he died, was transformed into a sacrament of God's presence.

There is one other problem with thinking that God sends the crosses that come into our lives. Most of the time these crosses are fashioned, as I noted yesterday or so, with bloody human hands and from the twisted, frightened, defensive human heart. Our tendency to think that God sent the cross that Jesus died on has sometimes prevented us from seeing that he REALLY AND TRULY died at our hands under the control of our torturers as crowds of us stood and jeered and mocked, and as our religious people orchestrated the matter even while they tore their clothes in anguish in feigned --- or delusional --- innocence. The cross was completely and wholly fashioned and laid on him by sinful human hands and hearts. When I consider what it was that God willed, it was that Jesus enter exhaustively into our flawed and distorted reality; God willed that he drink as deeply as possible from the cup of our lot, that he experience the very worst of what humans can do AND THAT HE REMAIN OPEN AND RESPONSIVE (OBEDIENT) TO HIS FATHER AND THE SPIRIT in spite of it all. Did he will Jesus' crucifixion per se? No, but there is no doubt it came to Jesus as a piece of the life he lived; still, it was very much something that WE WILLED and did to him. I can hardly agree that our will and God's were identical here except in the most paradoxical and ironic way!

On the other hand, there is another side to the equation I set out: namely, that God sends us, as he did Jesus, into our world and commissions us to carry the crosses the world lays upon us! God's will of course, is to be "all in all" as the Pauline phrase goes. The way that happens is by human beings bringing (allowing) God into those places he cannot force his way into. Jesus did this as exhaustively as he could by dying the deepest most "godforsaken death" one could die while yet remaining open to and dependent upon his Father to make sense out of it, to bring life out of it, and to turn the most horrific human injustice into the source and absolute measure of divine justice/mercy. We must extend this achievement to all the dark and unhealthy places that remain, and that means taking on life's crosses and allowing God to transform them with his presence. God has given us a mission in this world: we are to participate in its perfecting and being brought to fulfillment. This means we are to share in God's own destiny and make it our own; we do this by embracing both God and the crosses (as well as the great joys!) life sends our way.

But God goes further still than simply commissioning us to carry them. He accompanies us in this. More, like Simon the Cyrene, he helps us carry them; he takes a lot of their weight upon himself. He not only did this in Jesus so that our crosses are never as heavy as they might have been without the Christ Event, but he does it now, moment by moment. The image I like very much here is the picture of Jesus holding a young man up. The cross --- whatever it actually is is unclear, though the picture refers to the divine healer --- is the young man's, but the young man is Christ's and so Jesus carries or upholds both the young man and his burden. In all of this God wills to extend his sovereignty (that is, life lived solely in light of his love and mercy) to the whole of reality.

A Distinction between Willing and Commissioning

Perhaps another image will help us distinguish between what God wills for us, and what he commission us to do. When someone joins the armed services in order to protect or extend certain values to the whole world, the officers do not will for men and women to be hurt or die. The commission they are given is one of fighting and bringing peace and other values to a region, for instance. In the process, some will be captured, some will be tortured, others will suffer in all manner of other ways, and many will die. The officers do not will these things and they work in all kinds of ways to prevent them from happening, but the commission remains and it means taking on these kinds of things in the process of carrying it out. A less militant, but more effective image might be the peace corps: the commission is to educate, build community, enhance societies, etc. The means to carrying this commision will entail suffering, hardship, crosses. Does the peace corps as sponsoring organization WILL or WANT these things? No, but taking them on is very often part of the volunteer's commission and the Peace Corp will assist the person in doing so.

My response regarding Jesus is based upon this distinction. God willed for Jesus what was entailed in a life completely obedient to Him, or better, perhaps, he willed a completely obedient (open, attentive, responsive) life which would implicate Jesus' Father and their mutual Spirit into every moment and mood of human existence. Jesus was commissioned in this way. The general mission was God-willed; the specific cross on which he died, and thus, the manner of his passion and death was fashioned by the world and laid on Jesus' shoulders by human hands and hearts. Now let me say that I think it is possible and necessary to say that God willed this particular cross, and embraced it himself, but one needs to make our own role in it completely clear in doing so. That becomes even more important when we are dealing with the crosses that life hands us, but that God has never willed for us.

I hope this clarifies a bit more what I was saying in my last post. Again, please get back to me if it raises more questions or causes greater confusion!!

02 August 2008

On Bearing the Crosses that Come our Way

[[1) Are there such things as "unworthy" crosses, or "unholy" crosses? 2) Is God only able to use "holy crosses", or "worthy crosses" in our lives?? 3) Does he simply remove these ["unworthy"] crosses for us??]]

Well, it's an interesting couple of questions, but the answer to the first one is no (or potentially so), and the answer to the second question is a definite no!! The third one is a bit more nuanced, so see below. Let me start with the second question, which is more straightforward, and more clearly theological. It will provide the basis for answering the first and third questions as well.

To begin we must start with the central paradigm and symbol of our faith, the Cross of Christ. When we think of the Cross of Christ and Christ's passion it is critically important to remember that what was most significant about it was not the agonizing physical torture associated with it, horrific as this was, but rather the shame, offensiveness, and scandal of the cross. There was nothing holy, or worthy, or respectable about the cross Jesus assumed as his own. Quite the contrary. It was in every way the cross formed and shaped from and by human sinfulness, depravity, cruelty, inhumanity, and shamefulness --- not from human nobility, compassion, integrity, or anything similar. This cross represented the antithesis of the holy, the good, or the noble. It was understood to represent Godlessness (anti-life, anti-holiness, etc.) in as absolute a way as anything could. And of course, it is THIS shameful, unholy cross that God uses to redeem and reconcile his entire creation! (I am not going into this theology of how that happens in detail here; I have done that other places so please check the tags in the right hand column to find those articles re how the cross works, or the "Theology of the Cross".)

With this in mind, I think I can now approach the answer to your first question. There is no doubt that many of the crosses that afflict our lives are the result of unworthy choices, whether our own or another's. Not all the crosses we are called to bear are the result of an unchosen illness, for instance. People hurt one another, sometimes deeply and in ways which leave wounds which are difficult to work with or treat. Children are abused by parents and their capacities to love, trust, or live can be badly impaired. Adults sin seriously and impair their own and others' physical and emotional health in the process. In so many ways we carry the scars of these events, sometimes for years and years, sometimes our whole lives long. When you refer to unworthy or unholy crosses I think you are probably referring to these kinds of things, crosses that are the result of sin, inhumanity, cruelty, and the like. They are not unworthy in and of themselves, but they are the result of choices which are unworthy of both God and mankind, so let me go with that understanding for the moment.

What do we do with the Crosses the World Sends our Way?

So, what are we to do with such crosses? And further, can God use these for his own purposes even if he does not "send them"? Well, as with any cross we are to bear them patiently. HOWEVER, to bear them in this way does not mean simply to carry on without treatment, therapy, necessary personal work, healing and the like. To bear these kinds of crosses REQUIRES we work to allow the healing we need to live and love fully as human beings. This correlative work is actually a piece of bearing our cross patiently, ironic or contradictory as that may initially sound.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. A child who is abused will grow up scarred; it is a cross she will have to bear for her whole life, though not necessarily always in the same way. However, it is a cross which will need to be borne precisely by taking on therapy and the hard work of healing. Were she to refuse this work and thus allowed her life to be dominated or defined completely by the past, she would not be embracing her cross or bearing it patiently, but denying and rejecting it. One does not embrace one's cross by refusing to live fully. To bear a cross patiently means to take on LIFE in its shadow, and marked by its weight and imprint, but also to do so with the grace of God which brings life out of death, wholeness out of brokenness, joy out of sorrow, and meaning out of senselessness. It does NOT mean to forego the challenges of living fully in the name of some piously-rationalized cowardice and "victimologization". For instance, the abused person would not be bearing her cross patiently if she said, "Well, God sent this cross, so I will simply accept all the consequences, dysfunction, crippled human capacities, and distortions that come with it. Don't talk to me about therapy, or moving out of this abusive relationship, or working hard to change the situation, etc!"

Prescinding from the idea that God sent this cross for the moment (a notion which I personally reject and explain below), what this attitude describes instead is capitulation to what Paul calls the powers of sin and death which are so active in our world. It is the refusal to allow God to redeem the situation, the refusal to be free in the Christian sense, and represents the embracing of bondage or slavery instead. It is an act of collusion with the destructive effects and process of the cross. Whether one is motivated by cowardice, hopelessness, masochism, or some other similar thing, in this case the pious sounding, "God sent this cross so I will accept it, all its consequences, dysfunction,. . ." is a refusal to live fully, to seek genuine holiness and humanity. It is a refusal of God's grace as it usually comes to us as well, for God's grace here ordinarily comes to us through things like the processes of therapy, spiritual direction, personal work, and all the relationships and changes which bring Christ's own hard-won healing and wholeness.

Can God Use unworthy Crosses?

Can God use these "unworthy" crosses for his purposes? Of course. Why would he not be able to? To suggest otherwise is to say that God is incapable of redeeming certain aspects of his creation, or of making all things work for good in those who love him and let him love them. It is to suggest the Christ Event was a failure, and today's passage from Romans 8 ("nothing will separate us from the love of God") is hyperbole at best, and a lie at worst. God may not have sent this cross, but there is no doubt that he can use it as a unique mediating source of grace in one's life. We grow in all kinds of ways when we embrace the unavoidable difficulties life throws our way, but especially when we do so in faith and in concert with God's grace. This points up another way of refusing to carry one's cross, an unusual way I think, but one nonetheless. It is a refusal to carry one's cross to say, "God did not send it, so let's just be rid of it (or ignore it, etc). I cannot grow in this virtue or that one in light of this cross because it is unworthy, unholy, and God did not send it." In fact, God ordinarily does NOT send the crosses that come our way. They are forged instead in the workshops of human sin, stupidity, cruelty and violence --- just as Jesus' cross was. And yet, he expects us to take them on with his grace so that he might redeem us and our world. I don't for an instant believe that God sent chronic illness, injury and pain for me to live with, however, he can use these with my cooperation to transform both me and my world. I don't for an instant believe that God sends the crosses that are the result of abuse, neglect, carelessness, cruelty and the like, but there is no doubt that he can use these to transfigure their sufferers and our world.

Does God Simply Remove unworthy Crosses?

Your last question was a bit more of a surprise than the other two and you may need to say more about it for me to answer adequately. Let me take a stab at it though. Does God simply remove these crosses for us? My first answer is no, though I am sure he COULD do. My second or related response is a question, namely, "why should he?" I suppose in some way this question stems from your other two: if a cross is unholy and unworthy and God did not send it, then why shouldn't he simply remove it? But the simple fact is that crosses become holy and worthy in the bearing of them! They are "worthy" or "holy" crosses only when the one afflicted by them bears them worthily and in holiness. These crosses become something other than the result of human sinfulness and cruelty only when they are borne with grace --- and here grace does not simply mean superficial equanimity (or something less noble like grudging resignation!); it means "with the life-giving life and power of God's accompanying love." God has chosen to redeem this world by participating in its crosses, but as with Jesus, that means that one has to take the cross on in a conscious way and walk with it. Of course we will fall under its weight from time to time. Jesus did as well. But in the end, it is only in this way that God can take on sin and death, enter into them exhaustively, and transform them with his presence. We take these things on as a piece of Jesus' own redemptive work; we cannot eschew such a burden and be true to our callings.

Theologically, it makes no sense to me to try and distinguish between those crosses which are sent by God and are worthy of being borne, and those which are not. Partly that is because I don't believe God sends crosses so much as he sends the means by which they may be redeemed and become redemptive. Partly it is because it is precisely the unholy and unworthy that God takes on WITH US (and in us!), in such cases, transforming them into something of real worth and holiness. Did God send Jesus the cross he took on! NO, it was entirely a human construct made with our own bloody hands and twisted, frightened hearts, but absolutely he did send Jesus into our world to TAKE IT ON! Do you hear the difference? Does he send us the crosses that come our way? No, but he sends us into the world so that we might be part of its redemption and fulfillment and that means he sends us into the world to take on the various crosses that COME OUR WAY "naturally" (and by "naturally" I mean that come our way through the human sinfulness, cruelty, and violence we meet everyday).

No cross is worthy or holy until it is borne with grace and courage. God does not send crosses per se, but he sends us into a world full of them expecting to help us in their redemption, and he certainly commissions us to carry the crosses that come our way. The only other point that needs to be reiterated is that we bear crosses patiently only when we choose to live fully in spite of them, and in taking them on with the grace of God accompanying and empowering us. That means we take on the therapy, medical care (including appropriate medications for pain, etc), personal work of healing, and so forth that are part of these crosses. If someone has hurt us, even if they have hurt us very badly, it also means taking on the work and the PROCESS of healing we call forgiveness. This can take years and years of course; it is not simply an act of will --- even though it involves such acts (sometimes many of them in renewed intentions to let the past go). It requires assistance, not only of God, but physicians, psychologists, confessors, spiritual directors, and friends. The bottom line is there are many ways to refuse to carry a cross including labelling them unworthy or unholy and waiting for God to simply remove them, but to carry them means more than to simply accept the events that forged them initially; it means to accept everything necessary to transform and redeem them and ourselves as their bearers as well.

I hope this answers your questions; if I misunderstood them in some way, please get back to me and clarify.

Horarium Question

[[Hi Sister Laurel! Recently you put up the horarium (schedule) of your days on retreat, but I was wondering what your horarium for your days is usually like. It is not included in the copy of the Rule of Life you put up last year. Would you mind sharing that? Also, if someone wants to create a schedule for themselves, what should they pay attention to? Thank you!]]

I think if someone is trying to work out a schedule for themselves they have to strive to embody balance and order. As you will see, my own schedule (horarium) is oriented around liturgical prayer, lectio divina, study/writing, and quiet prayer (which actually accompanies all the other activities either before or after them). Those are the main elements, the things without which I don't function well and/or to which I am publicly committed to be faithful; this includes related practices or activities which fit around and support them.They are meant to alternate work, prayer, study, lectio, and I try to do this even when I cannot keep to a clock schedule. I also was given some great advice by the hermit monk who first read my Rule for suggestions. He said, "I hope you are careful to build in enough time for rest and recreation." Because of that, I take those things more seriously than I have at other times in my life, and everything is better because of it. I would certainly suggest people seeking to establish their own horaria do something similar.

In any case, here is the general weekday horarium for Stillsong Hermitage.

4:00 rising
4:15 Vigils.
4:30-5:30 quiet (contemplative) prayer
5:30 Lauds
6:00- 8:00 writing
7:00 breakfast (may skip on Fridays. may have after Mass)
8:30 Mass

9:15 Small chores around hermitage (during school year I first have coffee once a week on Fridays with parishioners at a small cafe run by school parents to benefit the parish "garden of learning"; during the Summer we go to coffee elsewhere.)

9:30 or 10:00 Lectio Divina: (Scripture)

12:30 Lunch (Dinner)
1:00 Rest, walk or nap
3:30 or 4:00 Writing, etc (work, theological study, occasional client). Afternoons are variable and may be taken up with whatever needs doing. This includes the period from 1:00 to 5:00pm.

5:00pm quiet prayer/meditation
6:00 Vespers (sung)
6:30 Supper and small chores
7:00 work (house chores, study, occasional clients --- depends on day. Wednesdays, orchestral rehearsal)

7:30- 8:30 Journaling (most days except Wednesdays and evenings with clients)
8:30 compline (sung)
9:00 pm bed --- earlier if no nap in afternoon (later on Wednesdays: @11:00pm)

Saturdays: as on weekdays until breakfast. Then, large chores, shopping, errands away from hermitage, etc.
5:00pm vigil Mass
6:30 supper
7:30 journaling, quiet prayer
9:00 compline
9:15 bed

Sundays: as on weekdays until breakfast. (May begin an hour later)
9:30am Mass at parish (time with friends afterward)
12:00 or 12:30 pm Lunch
2:00pm, quartets or quintets
4:15 quiet prayer (45 min-1 hr)
5:15 Vespers
6:00 supper and chores
8:00 journaling or lectio divina
9:30 Compline and bed

I tend to pick up email, check blog, etc several times a day, whenever there are a few extra minutes. On days when there are major errands to run I get less studying done, and a shorter time of lectio, but otherwise things go pretty much according to this schedule. During the Fall, Winter and early Spring, Wednesday evenings are set aside for orchestra rehearsals. Saturdays are the day for large errands, evening (vigil) Mass, etc. Sundays I often have quartets in the afternoon, and the whole day is a bit more relaxed; this is also the day I take Communion to neighbors unless they are seriously ill, in which case I will do that at any time, day or night. I may have lunch or dinner with friends (e.g., quartet members and their families), or just catch up on reading, etc, I have not had time for during the week.

Because I am active in my parish, and certainly more active than I was even a year ago (though this remains a limited thing), I do have to accommodate that in some way. Until recently I was simply trying to maintain regularity and balance in my daily horarium, but after this year's retreat it became clear that that is insufficient for me personally. Thus, besides the general daily horarium, each month I take a full week of strict anachoresis besides the more usual silence and solitude. My participation in any active ministry is the spillover of a contemplative life, not just one that includes contemplative prayer, so I am careful to be sure this remains true. What is generally the case is that every hermit determines how best to balance the solitary and the evangelical aspects of her vocation. Most do develop a rhythm like this, just as lay people and active religious may take a desert day every week or month. Sometimes a hermit may be accessible for several months and then retreat more completely for several. In any case, I do suggest that people trying to develop their own horaria experiment with desert days added either weekly or monthly. Hermits should experiment with extended periods of solitude to balance any periods where they are called on to minister in more active ways.

Hope this helps.

(The second picture is one of the clocks I have here in the hermitage. The other is a "zen clock" which allows me to set a timer for prayer or have the "alarm" (a single E flat bell) sound once an hour. (Yes, I respond to and order my life in some ways around bells, just as monastics have done for centuries!) I liked the contrast between the picture of the sundial and this particularly contemporary clock. Eremitical life has persisted in Christianity for almost two millennia. We live the tradition in a contemporary world.)

Calla Lilies

Calla Lilies by Sister Kristine Haugen, ocdh. Please see links for Hermitage Arts in the lower right hand panel for a way to contact Sister Kristine regarding her work and her life. (If this seems like Deja Vu, Yes, I have posted this before. May do so again! I like it that much!)

01 August 2008

Postulant Jaimie, begins pre-reception retreat

Prayers are appreciated for Jaimie, postulant and soon-to-be-novice with the Franciscan Sisters of Peoria. Jaimie began her pre-reception retreat today. She will receive the habit and novice's white veil at the end of that period (Aug 6) along with being received formally into the community. She will then continue her discernment and formation as a novice Franciscan Sister. (At the end of retreat, it will be cool to hear what her new name will be! As is sometimes still done, Jaimie's community picks names from among several choices selected by the postulant.) You can check out Jaimie's blog from the list below on the right. She has shared some of the ins and outs of her postulancy during that time. We met recently through the blogging connection. Jaimie has read this blog for awhile now. Her own was her community's first experiment in such an enterprise, and, like several other blogs by religious women you might have seen, followed the suggestion coming out of Rome that young religious use blogs to communicate with other young people who might consider religious life as a vocation.