24 January 2009

Feast of the Conversion of St Paul

Today (I am writing this on the eve of the 25th) is my feast day, and each year I am surprised at just how appropriate the choice has been (it was initially made in the late 1960's and I have retained it). As a convert to Catholicism, and one who first chose Paule as a confirmation name (since I was female I was not allowed to choose Paul, and added the e to get past this bit of legalism), and later, Paul Maureen as a religious name, the importance of Paul in my life has simply grown over time. When I first began studying theology I was introduced to Paul's theology of the cross, and it has never ceased to draw me in or be compelling to me. As I once said to my Bishop, if I could simply spend time on Paul's theology of the cross, growing to understand it and live it more and more, I would be completely happy. At my profession of perpetual eremitical vows I chose the Pauline saying, "My power is made perfect in weakness" (the second half of the verse beginning, "My grace is sufficient for you,") for the motto engraved on my ring, and no one who has read the vows themselves has missed the strong Pauline flavor they reflect.

Conversion is not a once and for all event, of course. Sometimes we have experiences which throw us off our proverbial horses, or leave us completely helpless and needing to be led or assisted by others. They are experiences of weakness and helplessness, and they are the first part of an experience of genuine conversion. They initiate us into a process, a lifelong process of change and growth where God is able to speak to and through us in whatever way he wishes. It is a process whereby whatever defined us as human before is reliquished for a new kind and way of being human. Paul defined his own humanity and faithfulness to God in terms of Law and covenant marked by the keeping of Law. It allowed him to persecute those he thought betrayed or differed from that vision of humanity and covenant. After his experience on the road to Damascus all this changed. Law was replaced by Gospel and a covenant marked by the external keeping of Law became instead a new way of being in Christ. Persecution gave way to proselytization, to preaching the Gospel of Christ to those once excluded from the Covenant, and covenant was no longer a matter of law but of love --- a passionate and fiery love at that.

Paul is a challenging figure. His conversion was certainly empowered by the Holy Spirit, but it was also unremittingly courageous. It extended throughout his life and was marked above all by his loyalty to the Word of God, to living it, to preaching it, to being challenged by it at every turn. For Paul, Christianity was not simply a social or cultural reality he bought into superficially. It was a reality he lived for and from, and of course, a reality he suffered and died for as well. His discipleship was genuine and profound, not some superficial and comfortable way of fitting into his world or being respectable. For Christians today, especially for first world Christians who describe their countries as "Christian" this remains an important lesson. Citizenship in the US, for instance, is not discipleship. A respectable life, whatever the country, is not necessarily discipleship. One may be completely respectable and never come close to being holy; one may follow the law assiduously and still "crucify Christ" or "stone Stephen", so to speak. My prayer on this day is that Paul may encourage us each to embrace genuine discipleship, and to submit to a process of authentic and ongoing conversion. Afterall, we say that one can live from the Word of God. We say that Christ is Lord. If we believe these things, let us live these things. We know that we are not called simply to be good citizens, but to be holy people who live from and for God IN CHRIST. May Saint Paul assist us in that.

23 January 2009

Phyllis McGinley on Simeon Stylites

I borrowed some books from my pastor in preparation for Lent, and he threw in a collection of poetry by Phyllis McGinley, Times Three as a surprise bonus. This collection includes a section on saints with some very funny poems rooted in a unique take on the truth of their lives. One of them is a poem about Simeon Stylites. Now as a hermit who knows hermits are not generally very well understood despite a resurgence of interest in the life, this resonated with me. More, as a hermit for whom Simeon Stylites' life remains personally incomprehensible despite my own reflection on the value of stability (including what is known as "stability of the pillar") it REALLY resonated with me. I wanted to share it here.

On top of a pillar, Simeon sat.
He wore no mantle,
He had no hat,
But bare as a bird
Sat night and day.
And hardly a word
Did Simeon say.

Under the sun of a desert sky
He sat on a pillar
Nine feet high.
When Fool and his brother
Came round to admire,
He raised it another
Nine feet higher.

The seasons circled about his head.
He lived on water
And crusts of bread
(or so one hears)
from pilgrims' store,
For thirty years
And a little more.

And why did Simeon sit like that,
Without a garment,
Without a hat,
In a holy rage
for the world to see?
It puzzles the age,
It puzzles me.
It puzzled many
A Desert Father,
And I think it puzzled the good Lord, rather.

17 January 2009

Congratulations to Sister Janet Strong, Erem Dio (or Er Dio)!

Congratulations to Sister Janet Strong, Erem Dio (or Er Dio)!!! On this feast of St Anthony of Egypt (one of the first hermits in the church) Sister Janet, who has been a diocesan hermit for 25 years, was given permission by her Bishop to adopt the post-nomial initials now officially associated with Canon 603 (diocesan) hermits. At Mass this morning Bishop Carlos Sevilla, sj, of the Diocese of Yakima gave a brief homily on the importance of names and noted that Sister Janet would now be known as Sister Janet Strong, Erem Dio (Eremita Dioecesanus).

Permisssion for use of the initials was first given by Bishop Allen Vigneron, Diocese of Oakland, on Sept 2, 2008, and, with their Bishop's permission, have been adopted or are in the process of being adopted by some diocesan hermits in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Canada, and the US, etc. In particular, the initials point to the unique charism possessed and represented by the diocesan hermit and can also serve to indicate the consecrated state of this solitary hermit in situations where titles are not used (a practice common in some countries, and when a person publishes in certain journals, etc.). Unlike congregational initials which indicate members of an order or institute (OSF, OSB, CSJ, SHF, etc), Erem Dio (or Er Dio), points to the consecrated status of an individual (solitary) Canon 603 hermit who has a unique relationship with her Bishop (her immediate and legitimate superior in whose hands she makes vows) as well as with her own diocese and parish; she lives under her own Rule of Life which she herself has written, and is responsible for her own upkeep, etc. While diocesan (C 603) hermits may come together for mutual support in a Lavra or Laura, they remain solitary hermits with their own Rules, etc.

Postscript: I should also note that on this feast of St Anthony, we celebrate the feast day of the Camaldolese Monastery of St Anthony of Egypt in Rome. A house of Camaldolese nuns, this is also the place where Sister Nazarena lived in strict reclusion until her death in 1990.

14 January 2009

Congratulations to Archbishop Allen H Vigneron!!

The news has been out for almost a week and a half and I should have posted sooner, but congratulations are in order to Bishop Allen H Vigneron who has been appointed Archbishop of Detroit by the Holy Father. Bishop Vigneron is a native son of Detroit and his heart is there (though I understand he also leaves a part of it here in Oakland). He will be installed as Archbishop there at the end of this month (Jan 28th).

I personally, am grateful to have gotten to know Bp Vigneron to the extent possible for a diocesan hermit over these past several years. He approved and presided at my own perpetual eremitical profession in 2007, and the warmth, affection, and prayerfulness he added to that occasion was remarked on by many who had not had the chance to see him "in action" up until then. My own initial meeting with him (about an hour long) will always stand out as an instance of marked pastoral presence and providence. It was at that meeting that the prospect of making perpetual vows in his hands first took on a promise of personal meaning I never expected it to have. I have been fortunate indeed to have him as my legitimate superior and will continue to hold him in prayer as he moves on from here. While this move is an affectively mixed one for me personally, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the (very soon to be) new Archbishop of Detroit!!

12 January 2009

Humanity as Covenant reality: "If you See me, you see the Father who sent me"

In today's first reading from the "letter" (it is more a homily) to the Hebrews, as a piece of extolling the fullness of the revelation of God in Christ, the author contrasts this with the "partial" revelations associated with the prophets, with Israel more generally (and even, some commentators suggest, with other religious traditions).

Now revelation is a tricky word. It has a number of meanings including some of progressive depth, extension, and intensity. For instance, it can mean to show or make manifest, to divulge, or lay bare, and is often limited to the idea of telling us about something or someone. A magician may reveal the secret of a signature trick. The last few pages of a mystery novel may (and we hope does!) reveal the killer of the Lord of the Manor. A Catholic catechism may reveal truths about God that some religions simply don't reflect and so, in this sense, be a "fuller revelation" of God than those other traditions. As important as this sense of revelation is (and it is genuinely important!), it is relatively superficial, partial and fragmentary. Discipleship therefore includes this kind of knowing and revelation but is not limited to it.

Another (and related) meaning of the word revelation is to make known. Thus, a child who is loved deeply and effectively by her parents will make that love known in many ways throughout her life. In such a situation we can know about the parents’ love without ever really knowing the parents except as the author of Hebrews describes as partially and in fragmentary ways. A person of faith will make known the effects of God's mercy and grace in her life, and so forth. Revelation in this sense is a matter of witnessing to something WE KNOW, something that is real for us in more than an intellectual or notional sense. It goes beyond divulging information or laying bare secrets, and it goes beyond simply sharing things (like the identity of the murderer in the novel, or even the idea that God is Triune, for instance), but it remains a partial or even fragmentary revelation, and once again, Christian discipleship includes but is not limited to this sense of revelation.

But in the New Testament revelation has another meaning as well, a meaning which includes, but also deepens, and intensifies both of these other senses of the word while going beyond or transcending them. It is this sense especially that refers to the Christ Event and revelation in its fullness. For revelation in the NT also means to make something (in this case, GOD) real in space and time. By analogy, at some point, for instance, a bud will spring forth as the realization or making real of something which was only potential before. A human being who is deeply loved or known by another will become someone she only had the potential to become apart from this being loved, and will, to some extent, actually become an image of the one who has loved her so. This is similar to revelation in the example of a child loved by parents above, but it goes beyond it as well. What the author of the letter to the Hebrews is concerned with is a spectrum of meanings, but especially this last sense. This form of revelation, this making real, is not merely about knowing God, therefore, but about being known by him in that uniquely intimate Biblical sense of the term "to know", and then living out that reality, that BEING KNOWN so exhaustively that God himself is met in the one so known.

According to the author of the "letter" to the Hebrews, the prophets were revelatory and spoke God's Word into their own situations with power, but this revelation was partial or fragmentary. Sometimes it was merely about God, often it witnessed TO God, and in ways it was God's own word as well, but never was it more than partial. God was not incarnate here, he was not allowed to actually live amongst us fully, nor were the prophets known fully BY God. The Scriptures themselves tell us this about the prophets by making the Word they spoke foreign to them and often spoken in spite of themselves. Similarly the covenant they and their people celebrated was still somewhat external to the Israelites; it was not exhaustively embodied by them, their humanity itself was not a matter of BEING covenant (though it clearly pointed to this and called for it as its own completion and perfection). Again, it was a more partial or fragmentary revelation of God’s presence and power.

Jesus, on the other hand, concerned himself with making God real among us in a way God willed to be, but could not be apart from another's cooperation. Jesus gave his entire life and his entire self to this. He was attentive and responsive to (that is, through the power of the Holy Spirit he ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BE ADDRESSED AND KNOWN BY) the Word of God in a way which put God first and gave him unhampered access to us and to our world. Jesus was human in a way which defined a new and authentic humanity in terms of complete transparency to God and this meant in terms of covenant or communion with God; likewise it defined God similarly --- as Communal or relational, dialogical, and covenantal. He was human, that is, he was one who was KNOWN BY GOD in a way which allowed God to be Emmanuel, someone he had not been before. In the process this BEING KNOWN by God made of Christ a new Creation, the new and everlasting covenant, a new and exhaustively human being which makes God real amongst us in a fresh, authentic, and definitive way.

Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension is the "event" where God is allowed to assume a human face, speak with a TRULY human voice, love and heal and support those he loves with human hands, provide a hearing for those needing it with human ears and a human heart. More, he is implicated into the realm of human sin and death, places he could never go himself (by definition these are literally godless places apart from Christ); he is made real as God-With-Us even there and transforms and defeats them with his presence. It is the place where human and divine destinies are inextricably wed and made one. And all because Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, was exhaustively responsive to the Word of God and embodied or becomes the COMMUNION which is true humanity and (the sacrament of) true divinity all at one time.

In today’s Gospel this fullness of revelation with its call to discipleship, this call to become "fishers of men," is a call to this kind of humanity: a humanity constituted as covenant life where the very nature of both humanity and divinity, different as they are from one another, are revealed as Communion with one another, not as some form of solitary splendor or autonomy; humanity here is defined in terms therefore of knowing and BEING KNOWN BY GOD, not as an activity we engage in (as, for instance, might be true of a prayer period during our day), but as someone we ARE. To be human and to become fishers of men in this sense is not merely to let others know about God, or to bring others to a new religion with doctrines they have never heard; more, it is to bring them to a new humanity, a humanity which is defined as communion with God, and means embodying the Word of God as exhaustively as we are capable of in the power of the Spirit.

It is an immense challenge and vocation, one we share with Christ and only achieve in Him and his unique incarnation of the God who would be God-with-us. This is a humanity where God in Christ will be allowed to walk where he could not walk otherwise, where he is made real where otherwise he would and could not be (the Greek notion of omnipresence notwithstanding!). It is a humanity which itself is a sacramental reality and where --- if, and to the extent, we live out this vocation fully by becoming disciples in THIS sense --- God in Christ turns a human face to the world and that face is our very own.

02 January 2009

Balancing the Cenobitical (Communal) and Solitary dimensions of Diocesan (and Camaldolese) Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister Laurel, how is it you balance the two aspects of Camaldolese life? I am asking in light of the goals or resolutions you wrote about yesterday. Doesn't your Rule simply tell you what you may and may not do? Thanks.]]

Speaking as a diocesan (solitary canonical) hermit who is also Camaldolese (an oblate), let me begin by saying that discerning what is necessary and what is unnecessary, or what is the apropriate balance between cenobitical and strictly solitary dimensions is first of all, not always easy to achieve. (I read recently that one young monk at a Camaldolese house pronounced it an impossible task!), Also, it is not a solution which is set in stone for all time. That is to say, it is a "balance" which is fluid and dynamic and what works for some time may not work at other periods. Bearing this in mind, I suppose there are two basic approaches one might adopt: the first is to begin with the communal demands and dimensions of one's life and then be sure to build in lots of solitude to counterbalance it. This would be the approach taken by those who treat "solitary life" as a part-time vocation, something married folks could undertake, for instance. More legitimately to my mind, it would also be the basic approach taken by apostolic or active religious in insuring that ministry does not swallow up an inner life. In my own experience however, helpful as this may be in some situations, it does not result in essentially solitary or eremitical life and is not the way to go (for the hermit, that is) except as one needs to intensify the more strictly solitary dimension of one's life because solitude itself calls one to this. (How cenobites should or do approach these matters is another question.)

The second basic approach is to begin with what is called by many hermits, "custody of the cell" and faithfulness to that, modifying it with the communal demands and dimensions necessary for a healthy psycho-spiritual life, as well as to those which one's Rule binds one in obedience (ideally these are largely synonymous). Personally I think this is the better approach since it demands faithfulness to an essentially solitary life, but respects the ways in which that must be modified because of 1) external demands (parish, community, limited ministry, directives of superiors, etc), and 2) internal demands the hermit herself requires either for well-being or as a natural outgrowth of solitude. This latter point (internal demands) is an important one, however, because I think it is the internal demands which must ultimately govern the external ones. What I mean by this is that one cannot really just do a quick (or even complex) calculation of solitary vs communal demands and give 60% (or 75% or 50%) to one and 40% (or 25% or 50%) to the other, for instance. Instead one must look at the reality that defines one primarily (in the life of a hermit it will always be faithfulness to, or perserverence in cell with all that implies re personal encounter with God and personal growth, growth work, etc), and then work out the ways one is called BECAUSE OF THAT FIDELITY, to communal expression and sharing of the fruit of one's solitude.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. In my own life I can draw up a balance sheet between the things which occur outside of the hermitage and the things which occur within it. (In fact, this can come in handy when someone objects that you spend a lot of time outside the hermitage, but when statistically it really adds up to a day or two out of each month. I recently resorted to this as the result of one person's objections to the degree of contact I SEEMED to her to have with others. it put things into new perspective nicely.) But this is only helpful to this very limited degree, and is not a method I ordinarily use. Thus, a few months ago when I decided to take one week per month of strict reclusion, and then eventually changed that (experimentally and temporarily) to ten days per month, it was not a matter of adding up the hours spent in and out of the hermitage and tinkering with those that assisted me. Instead, solitude itself was demanding more time alone with God; my prayer life was demanding it; my time with others and capacity for loving them was demanding it and these demands had to be accommodated.

Similarly, as my life in the parish changes and intensifies, I am faced with various choices (not given in any order of preference but merely to indicate some of the major choices I would need to consider): 1) Do I drop or further limit direction clients in order to meet the challenges coming from the parish ? 2) do I drop other major activities (orchestra, quartets), or 3) Do I cut back on my involvement in the parish or refuse further (more extensive and intensive) involvement? Alternately, do I continue as I am or, do I increase this where asked and/or appropriate? 4) Do I enlist parishioners' aid in meeting needs which take me outside the hermitage regularly, and if so, how often and to what extent? How would I determine such things since most of these activities in varying degrees and ways, are life-giving to me and tend to involve personal commitments which are significant? (I admit having friends/parishioners run errands for me because this is a somewhat difficult part of my life is attractive, but for that very reason, I am not apt to request it unless it is clear this is done BECAUSE the combination of solitude AND life in the parish requires it.)

It seems to me that the way to discern what steps should be taken therefore involve first, being sure that I am completely faithful to "the discipline of the cell" (custody of the cell) apart from these things, and then, determining which of these, and in what way and degree contribute to that, flow from it, or mitigate and disrupt it, etc.
Discernment would ALSO include a look at the various ways each of these things challenges and enriches me since it would be possible to choose to drop one thing simply because it was more challenging personally, or more uncomfortable, or simply more difficult to harmonize with some merely exterior idea of eremitical life. While that last criterion might be a telling and genuinely significant one, it also might cause me to let go of something which would be the occasion of greater growth rather than less, so discernment is necessary. (And of course, these are not the only questions I ask in discernment, but they are two of the basic thrusts of my questions.) One of the things which is assumed but not explained here in any depth is the notion of custody of the cell. I can say more about that at another point if you wish. For now let me merely point out that as an instance of Benedictine stability it is not simply about place and commitment to place, but about love of God (and those he cherishes) and obedience to him within the context of this place. In its own way it is as much an interpersonal term as is Benedictine stability.)

As for your second question, I wrote here in the recent past that a Rule was not a list of things to do and not do, and that while such a document is legislative (that is, while it has the force of law), it is more essentially inspirational. Thus the short answer is that generally, no, my Rule does NOT SIMPLY tell me what I must or must not do (especially the latter!) in detailed ways. The above considerations relate directly to this observation. Part of maintaining "balance", as your first question put it, involves reflecting on my Rule and what it calls for, but in discerning what my Rule allows and what I am called to do in regard to it beyond the general requirements of liturgical prayer, lectio, and the like, it is in rereading the sections of it (and by reading I mean lectio or prayerful reading!!) which describe the essence of solitary life for me, and especially the Scriptures or other texts which moved me to embrace this life in the first place that are most helpful.

For instance, it is in reflecting anew on the story of Jesus' post-baptismal sojourn in the desert, what occured there, what led there, and where that led him subsequently that assists me in determining where God is calling me at this point in terms of the two poles of Camaldolese life. Remembering that the Spirit lead him to the desert where he worked to consolidate his baptismal experience and new appreciation of Sonship, and only thereafter moved back into community to minister from this new vantage point is really helpful to me. Likewise, remembering that in all things he was obedient to the Spirit, including in his ministry to others and his returns to solitude, is really helpful. It is not that it tells me precisely what to do in a given situation, but rather it inspires me that the pattern and priorities of my life represent authentic eremitical life and encourages me always to put Daughtership in Christ and growth in that personal identity/being first. Thus, this story is a fundamental and primary part of my Rule of Life, and it functions far better for me than a list of "can's" and "can't's" ever could.

Other parts of my Rule (theology of the eremitical life, place of silence, theology of the vows, etc) function similarly despite there being very few statements of what is or is not allowed me. (This is not to say that a few can's and can't's are not helpful, but only that my own Rule is not generally composed in that way, and functions more to inspire rather than to legislate. There are sections which include concrete guidelines and goals, but again, not lists of things which cannot be done. I think this is a fairly good rule of thumb for all Rules of Life. Constitutions and Statutes, which are necessary for congregations but not for solitary hermits, are a different matter.)

In the same way St Romuald's brief Rule becomes more and more important to me as well, not as a legislative text (though I recognize and respect this dimension of it), but because it is clear Romuald has captured the very essence of eremitical life in this short passage, and that to the degree I am doing what he advises here, discerning what else is legitimate and spirit-driven for me will be much easier. What I am saying here is that St Romuald, despite the fact that he mainly did not LOOK like most people's idea of a hermit for much of his life, lived this Rule profoundly and thus was able to discern what the Spirit wanted from him which flowed FROM this Rule, even if it SEEMED to conflict with it. I trust this Rule and it inspires me (empowers me with a vision of who I am called to be) more than it sets up a legislative calculus of some sort. (See below for a copy of Romuald's Brief Rule.)

One thing I must say about discernment in this matter of balance is that one of the the most basic things I can say about the eremitical life is that it is one of love, love first of all for God, and secondly and integrally, for all that he cherishes. For some it is possible to love God mainly (though not only) through loving others. For the hermit, the truth is the other way around: one loves God first and foremost and to the degree one does this (and allows him to really love us), this love will, in one way and another, spill over to others, demand others and service to them, be called by others, etc. If these demands lead away from the hermitage (and here, assuming a definitive commitment and vocation to eremitical life, I mean more than occasionally and in a way which doesn't lead right BACK to the hermitage as well), or from "custody of the cell" with its personal and interpersonal demands for growth, then something has gone seriously awry and one has made a mistake somewhere along the line. Perhaps then, "balance" is not the best way of describing this matter (though I have used the term myself a number of times). It is perhaps not so much a matter of balance as a creative and dynamic tension between two dimensions which mutually reinforce and call for one another. If one dimension dies, so, perforce, will the other.

You may want a more concrete answer to parts of your questions. Please let me know if this is the case, or if what I have written is less than helpful to you. Meanwhile, here is Romuald's Brief Rule:

Sit in your cell as in paradise.
Put the whole world behind you and forget it.
Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish.
The path you must follow is the psalms --- never leave it.
If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in the presence of God, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.
Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his Mother brings him.

01 January 2009

News From Transfiguration Monastery!

Sister Donald Corcoran, OSB Cam sent out the Christmas newsletter for Transfiguration monastery recently and the news is generally wonderful and, I think, exciting! First, our postulant (Swannee Edwards) will become a novice in February, while another new Sister has joined the community and is exploring a transfer from a monastery in France. She is Sister Sheila Long, an American Benedictine nun who has spent the last 20 years at the Abbey of Maumont. Both are making a considerable contribution to life at Transfiguration.

Secondly, there have been physical changes around the monastery. In the Fall a new hermitage was constructed. This 14' X 30', simple and beautiful monastic cottage is a piece of a masterplan meant to make the two poles (cenobitical and eremitical) of Camaldolese life and spirituality clear at Transfiguration Monastery. It is the first of several new hermitages planned to match the growth of the community as well as a couple of others for guests and long-term retreatants. A second hermitage may be built in 2009, and other plans include the expansion of the meeting area (present day refectory), additional bathroom facilities and a proper ground level entrance.

Upcoming events at Transfiguration include some short term courses and talks open to the public given by Sister Donald, as well as a visit in the Spring from Sister Pascalina, the superior of the Camaldolese Benedictine house in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. The hope is this will be the first of a series of periodic visits of African Sisters of our congregation. (Swannee Edwards was able to spend some time at the house in Dar Es Salaam during a trip to Africa this year herself.)

And finally, the sad news (I may have posted on this already): in July a co-founder of Transfiguration Monastery, Sister Mary Placid Deliard, OSB Cam, died here in California after a long struggle with illness. Despite the keen loss, Sister Donald writes that Transfiguration already feels the support of her prayers and intercession.

The entire community, asks that you remember Transfiguration in your prayers. It looks to be an exciting time ahead. Sister Donald asks that you check out the website, especially the photo gallery section which (I believe) has been updated. Pictures of the new hermitage, etc, will be forthcoming here as well as soon as those are available. Hopefully I can get a picture in February of the new novice as well! Those of you who are able to get to Transfiguration in Windsor, NY easily, please do check out the schedules of courses and talks Sister Donald will be giving. She is really fine in these with a depth and breadth of knowledge which are impressive. If you can take one or two of these offerings, I hope you will. Also, as I have encouraged before, do consider making a retreat there once the Winter respite is over.

Happy New Year!!

Of course our new year began with Advent, but this is a good time to reflect on what the year has and has not been for us, and in what ways we have met the goals we set or the resolutions we made last January 1st. What God does in each of our hearts bit by bit is astounding. For the hermit it is always the small faithfulnesses which become the really amazing accomplishments. I suspect it is this way with each of us. Everyday "yesses", apparently minor acquiescences to the Spirit of God when we might as easily say yes to something else which may seem every bit as important. The daily ordering of priorities in a way which shapes our hearts, minds, and bodies over time. These are what make us into true Daughters and Sons of the living God, the One who would be incarnate in us.

My own goals this year are similar to those I wrote about last year. They are a continuation of those. My focus is on eremitical stability, what is sometimes called "custody of the cell" and also stability in my parish. Benedictine stability, as I have written before, is an interpersonal term. While it does mean perservering silently in one's cell (or one's monastery), it also implies a commitment to one's community. More about people than simply place, stability is a commitment to love in the circumstances one finds oneself, whether that involves the more solitary communion of the cell, or the love of sisters and brothers one is called to outside as well as within it. These two poles are not always easily balanced (nor are they completely separable!) and I am finding that faithfulness to the first aids in the accomplishment of the second. A second goal or resolution is to do more writing, not only about eremitism, but a bit more systematic theology and Scripture reflection. This will involve this blog, but also other publications.

May our new year be one of genuine peace and fruitfulness. Like Mary in today's Gospel we spend time pondering things in our hearts. What God does there and through us is, as already noted, truly awesome. Out of the barrenness of lives lived from our own strength and wisdom he brings new life, a new creation even, full of infinite possibilities. Sara, Mary, Elizabeth, all of them are models for us in this. We need merely believe and make those small everyday affirmations the Spirit prompts and empowers us to. At the end of another year we will be surprised at the goodness and bounty that has sprung from and within us.

Please forgive me if I reprise the prayer I made last year at this time. I find it especially "timely" (pun intended) given the events in my parish community during the last weeks:

May the God who brings life out of death, meaning out of the senseless, healing out of brokenness, light out of darkness, hope out of despair, and belonging out of lostness, touch our lives this coming year in the ways we each need. May he love us into fullness of existence and transform us into authentic and truly passionate lovers in (and of) Christ. May he bless the time we each have (by) turning chronos to kairos and bringing everything to fullness and perfection in himself. May we be attentive to him in all the times and ways we need to be, allowing the ordinary moments of everyday life to be recognized for what they are in him ---opportunities for the triumph of grace in our world. And may God bless each of us who journey together and touch one another in such diverse ways, whether within our familes, monasteries and congregations, parishes and dioceses, or via internet connections like blogs and message boards!

Peace and all good wishes for the new year from Stillsong Hermitage!!!
Laurel M O'Neal, erem dio.