Monthly Archives: June 2012

Geographical Discernment

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Yesterday, I was in Collegeville, MN having a conversation about monastic vocations and young people. No sooner was I in the midst of what twenty-somethings are passionate about and who they are today, than I was thrown back into who I was then, as a twenty something myself.

I criss-crossed the country six times before I was 30, backpacked Europe, worked in Central America, held seven jobs, completed two masters degrees, and was married, and tried for a child the last four years of that decade. It was a decade filled with adventure, loaded with questions, laced with story.

I spent six of those years in Chicago living among college friends, near my brother and his family, and pursuing studies that inspired me. I pursued some work that told me what I was not supposed to do, sell real estate; and other work that gave me great joy, looking at people’s vocational calls. There in Chicago, I came to a cross roads when my vocational work beckoned me to California.

Newly married, I not only had to discern if this next step was “good for me,” but for us? We would be leaving family, and a community of friends from undergraduate work, graduate studies, volunteer work, and professional endeavors to a place we knew no one. My partner did not have work there, but did not love the work he was currently doing. We had student loans to pay off, and debt to wrestle. On paper we had more reason to stay rooted in Chicago than to leap to California, but our hearts were already gone, and our gut whispered sternly go and trust.

As St. Francis de Sales says, “Pray about it, seek wise council, make a decision and don’t look back.”

We did. We spent two years living in northern California. We paid down debt. We learned a new culture and how to make friends there. We learned to rely on one another. We learned to tell the seasons by what is in bloom not by the markings of snow or the absence of leaves. We were blessed with a child. Peter let go of work that was no longer life giving to pursue work that bought joy and addressed environmental needs. And two years later, when life called us back to the road, we learned to let go and return home.

Where we called home for two years...

Discerning a move? Leaving for college? Finishing school? Called to live intentionally? Wondering where your gifts are leading you–are calling you?

First quiet your mind by finding silence, stillness, and listen to your heart, what is it longing for? Where can you find this longing? This calling? Dream about it. Then start to explore possibilities, talk with people, ask questions, listen to their stories and see what arises. Are there any concrete options for you to further pursue? If so, go for it, apply, and see how you feel about the option once you have the details before you. (Deeper discernment can not occur fully until you have real possibilities to discern.) If it is a go, pack your bags, try it. If not return to your breath, return to your heart’s desire, and see if it’s shifted, looks different or is still revealing itself.

Sometimes geographical discernment leads you back home and other times keeps you planted where you currently stand–whichever your outcome honor it. Let your roots grow wild and fierce like a dandelion’s– a deep vertical plunge and the wingspan of an eagle.

Catholic Youth Camp-Place of Beauty, Love, Faith and Fun!

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

In the past few days I began reading Brother Mickey McGrath’s (of Windsock Visitation painting fame!) most recent book.  It is a spiritual Journey in images and text depicting the life of Dorothy Day entitled Saved by Beauty.

As I pondered and prayed with Brother Mickey’s book, I was mindful of our neighborhood kids that we  sent off to camp earlier this week to bask in the beauty of our Minnesota lakes and God’s creation.  Thanks to the amazing generosity of many benefactors and friends, we were able to send 75 children and seven teens (who will train to be counselors) to Catholic Youth Camp for a whole week. Located midway between here and Duluth, our children were in the midst of storms and rainy days.  The excellent camp director Natalie King was so proud of her counselors and cooks who managed to make it a great week for the children in spite of the weather!   She had only praise for the children who were such ‘good sports’ and did not lose their enthusiasm for one minute.

CYC Campers at Send Off

CYC Campers at Send Off

In her June 20 blog post updating parents and readers of the campers’ activities, Ms. King writes,
“We started the day with morning Holy Ground (and prayed that the power outage would be over quickly!) and then moved into some exciting indoor activities. Groups rotated from  paper airplane making to water trivia, to board games and then to relay races that had campers going from one pile of goofy clothes and hats to the next, trying to be the first in full costume to complete the race.”

Later, after the power outage and flood warnings, Camp Director King relays, “We are not just a community that PLAYS together, we are a community that PRAYS together!”

Having been a counselor and water safety instructor for many years, I am committed to providing this experience for inner city children and youth.  Without the generosity and care of so many, this would not have been possible.  So a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone!  And children, we are proud of you that you ‘hung in there’ through wind and rain and storm, and that you managed to have a great time!

Ah, yes, we are all SAVED BY BEAUTY if we have the eyes and hearts to see it!  Happy Summer!

(Be sure to check out the camp website:  www.cycamp.org)

How does this garden grow? Putting down roots in north Minneapolis

"bloom in the garden..."

"bloom in the garden where He has planted..us..."

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“Truly charity has no limit; for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by His Spirit dwelling in each one of us, calling us to a life of devotion and inviting us to bloom in the garden where He has planted and directing us to radiate the beauty and spread the fragrance of His Providence.” –St. Francis de Sales

I’ve been doing a fair amount of gardening lately. Last weekend, I rented a sod cutter and took up a 6′ x 20′ stretch of grass and clover with the intention of putting in a perennial garden. The goal of having plants return each spring, enlivens me; the labor necessary to make this happen is staggering and also invigorating. I have to really work the soil and tend to the roots I put down  if I really want things to grow — if I’m invested in the future of this garden. The garden’s sustainability, tender beauty now and in days to come,  requires not only my diligence, but the support of knowledgeable beings, ongoing attention, and faith.

“I feel like one of the Sisters’ tender shoots that has blossomed, in many ways, by virtue of their love and special care.” — Melissa, Vis Companion

This process takes me closer to my beloved Visitation Community. I think of how their presence in north Minneapolis is akin to that of a gardener’s. For the last twenty three years, the Visitation Sisters have been putting down roots, cultivating soil, tending to young seedlings, nurturing mature plants, and celebrating the harvests of their labor. They have done all this work quite literally in their back yard gardens, as well as figuratively, in their ministry of prayer and presence — living the Visitation charism. And the Sisters, not unlike their soil, many landscapes and neighbors, have been transformed by the process.

What does the future of the Visitation Community look like?

Visitation Senior Service Immersion Project, Class of 2012

They take my breath away, these gardening nuns. I ache with awe, wonder, love, joy —  such deep appreciation for how they have nurtured me, personally,  over the past decade or so. I feel like one of their tender shoots that has blossomed, in many ways, by virtue of their love and special care. I know I am one among many, hundreds, thousands, millions? of people that has felt touched by this community, inspired to return time and again, not unlike a perennial plant or being.

This gardening analogy takes me into the heart of my contemplative prayer today. As I think of soil, sun, seed, questions rise up in my soul:

  • What does the future of this monastery in north Minneapolis look like?
  • What seeds have been planted that are deeply rooted after twenty three years?
  • What perennial plants exist on a literal level, and how do they manifest in a figurative way?
  • Who are the community members, friends, lay associates, companions, discerning individuals that feel called to return and thrive in this spiritual setting?
  • What does God’s garden look like at 16th and Fremont and 17th and Girard?
  • How do other literal and spiritual gardeners join the ranks of these sisters to continue to plant and nurture life, and in turn, be nurtured, even transformed, by it?

Everywhere I turn in the Visitation Community, I feel like I can point to other “seedlings”, if you will….

  • The countless seniors from Visitation School in Mendota Heights who come each spring and spend two weeks in service…
  • The Vistory women who travel from all over the US to participate in Salesian Camp and are involved in the sisters’ urban ministry of prayer and presence…
  • The Salesian Leaders who have been cultivated by the sisters as they  nurture their visions for the northside…
  • The hundreds of children and teens who have been sent by the nuns to Catholic Youth Camp…
  • All of the windsock ministry children and their families…
  • The Visitation Intern Volunteers…
  • The former Visitation Neighbors…
  • The new Monastic Immersion women…
  • The list goes on and on…..

Will you join me in prayer this day as we hold images of a thriving garden, a peaceful, beautiful kingdom where Love may reign and the divine may be known — all in the space of north Minneapolis and beyond — extending the Visitation charism to “Live Jesus!”

Expectation & Intention

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

What is the difference between the two you might ask, (and I had some ask after my last post regarding attachment)?

With intentions you imagine and invite what you hope for into your life or situation, but there is room, sometimes ample room for different outcomes to present itself. In short, you are not attached to the outcome, because you trust that the outcome is what it is.

Expectations are not as fluid as intentions. Usually when we have expectations we are more married to the outcome matching what we expect and when it does not we become dissappointed, angry, or upset that it did not go our way. This often leads to our suffering. Suffering usually occurs when we can not accept our present moment because we were attached to what we wanted the present to be, and it is not the present that is before us.

The role of intention is important! If we want to become our best selves, then inviting ourselves into what we intend, what we hope, and how we envision to share our gifts with others is important. We need to set the intentions and be in dialogue with our intentions as they organically shift and come into being.

What are you intending for your life? How do you bring your intentions to prayer? How do you invite others into your intentions? Please share so we may all grow from one another’s wisdom and support your intentions into being.

Feast of the Sacred Heart: Taking Snapshots of our Spiritual Cores

Art Work by Michael O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“Behold this Heart which has loved everyone so much that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love.” — Christ appearing to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, VHM; June, 1675

For several years, I enjoyed a deep friendship with a doctor who specialized in taking pictures of people’s hearts. Echocardiography is the practice of using sound waves to capture images of our hearts that,  in turn, help diagnose abnormalities. To this day, I think of our friendship as a simultaneous invitation by God to meditate deeply on the pictures I’m afforded of people’s hearts; I think about how this friendship informs my vocation to tune into Love pouring forth through all — no matter who they are, where they are from, how well I know them, or how much I adore them. On this Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I return to this image of Christ’s wounded heart, this pierced organ at the center of his body, that simultaneously reflects all of our wounded natures, and the gifts of Love, Gratitude, Mercy and Forgiveness that we might offer to one another, through Jesus.

Sacred Heart Devotion and the Visitation Tradition

This feast day holds a special place in the history of the Visitation Community. In an article published by Vision Magazine,  Anne Williams, Director of Salesian Studies at The Convent of the Visitation, in Mendota Heights, MN, writes about the spread of this worldwide devotion to the Sacred Heart:

“Most Catholics are aware of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But not as many know that a Visitation Nun, born in France in 1647, was instrumental in promulgating the spread of this worldwide devotion.

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, entered the Visitation Community at the Monastery of Paray-le-Monial, France. It was there that she began to receive in her prayer, visions of Jesus, asking her to share the message of his heart burning with deep love for his people.

The vivid images she saw were challenging her to spread to others the message that the Heart of Jesus, was a treasure of love and mercy, which offered sanctification and salvation.”  (click to read more…)

As we prepare for this feast day on Friday, I invite you to consider taking a snapshot of your own heart.

  • What figurative images come into focus as you reflect on your spiritual core?
  • What blockages might exist? What pathways are open for love to pour forth?
  • How do you imagine Christ’s heart to appear?
  • Can you see the crucified and resurrected one alive in your being?
  • Can you see Love alive in your neighbor? In your partner? In your family members? In the stranger walking down the street?
  • Can you fathom Jesus’ love and mercy for the person who would be your enemy?
  • What does this feast day meditation stir up in your own being?

Attachment

The other day I had a moment where I was invited to look at my attachment to a situation, to look at the expected outcomes I had, and why I was so frustrated when my expectations were not met. When I slowed down to look at my own frustration, I realized my expectations were laughable. I was in a class watching a three year old child take his first yoga class. I expected him to follow the instructions, to stay on his mat, to attempt the poses. He did do this for a short stint, but for the rest of the class he was off his mat, exploring the space around him, folding the mat over him, trying other mats on when other kids were off of theirs. Other kids off of theirs did not bother me, but for him, I expected more.

After the class I spoke with the teacher, sharing my exasperation. She said, “He was fine, he did great!”

Great I scoffed, how could she call that great? He was not ready for yoga, I said.

“Sure he is, it was his first time Elizabeth. We need to give him more time, and he was not the only one exploring the situation. He is pure joy, and his exploration did not bother me in the least. Let me give him some more support and then we can make a decision, but give him some more classes before you call it a failure.”

Her response caught me off guard. Sure some kids his age and younger stayed on their mats. Yes I wanted that for him. But through my conversation with his teacher I realized my expectations may have been unrealistically high for this child. And wasn’t yoga about your own practice, showing up for it, and letting it be. That he had done. I just was attached to him doing it better, to him perfecting it, and as I write this I realize where my attachment and hence my suffering in that moment came from. When asked at the end of the day his favorite part of his day he replied, “Yoga, I can’t wait to go back.” And here was the teachable moment to talk further about yoga in an inviting way for him.

Where do your expectations of a situation not meet reality? How attached do you become to this difference? Does it cause you suffering? How can you shift your expectations and meet life’s circumstances where they are and hence where you are? How can you honor the distance from where you want to be to where you hope to be finding your precious breath that helps you connect to the present moment? So that gracefully you can show up in the present moment of what is, finding the pure joy of the moment.

Yoga poses

Yoga poses

“Be Still and Be:” Centering Prayer at St. Jane House

Centering Prayer at St. Jane House

Centering Prayer at St. Jane House

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Every Tuesday morning, I rise from my bed in St. Paul, MN, shower, dress and head out the door to cross the river to north Minneapolis and attend Centering Prayer at St. Jane House. Every Tuesday morning, no matter how much sleep I’ve gotten the night before, I wake with a full heart, enthusiastic for this ritualistic way of starting my day. Like the Visitation Sisters themselves, who start each day in community, in prayer, I join a faith circle — this one convened at the Sisters’ neighboring Spirituality Center named after their co-foundress, St. Jane de Chantal.  Here, I feel the spirits and stories and prayerful intentions of those gathered and those convening all over the world in prayer. In a word, it’s “awesome.”

We begin each centering prayer session with simple instructions. As the co-founder of this group, Visitation Companion and manager of St. Jane House, Brian Mogren gets us started each Tuesday with the following words:

In Centering Prayer, we express our intention to be in faith and love with God who dwells in the center of our being. We take up a sacred word and let it be gently present, supporting our being with God in faith-filled love. It’s a symbol of our intention to be with God in prayer. Whenever we become aware of anything else, we simply, gently return to God with the use of our prayer words. At the end of our 20 minutes of meditation, we close with “Our Father” said very slowly.

Brian then recites a poem or psalm or invites a fellow meditation participant to read us a passage from the bible, before he rings the singing bowl. One of my favorite texts included here is “Be Still and Know that I am God.” Brian will repeat this, shortening it each time, “Be still and know” to “be still” to just “be.”

“Be Still and Know that I am God.”

On this most recent Tuesday, the word, “be” became my sacred word that guided me in prayer. For twenty minutes, I found myself returning to an ecstatic space of love, joy; I was present with all of creation; I was simply trying to “be.” The laundry list of my life’s to-dos fell away, as I relaxed, with community around me simultaneously attempting this radical goal of silent presence, and I acknowledged the love welling up in me.

I have a recurring “vision,” if you will, during my prayer times where a radiant white light streams in a star pattern, connecting the hearts of every person gathered, with all of the stories of ancestors and loved ones that accompany them; this light  intersects in the center of our room and reminds me that I’m not alone in my silence, in my surfacing prayers and intentions.

After twenty minutes of intentional quiet, complete with all the natural sounds of an urban neighborhood, the singing bowl rings again, and participants are invited to now give voice to their prayers.

Brian has a special way of inviting these intentions, too. He says something about how we join our intentions with those on the lips and in the hearts and minds of people all over the world. It always gives me pause, and reminds me how sacred this activity is, and  how connected we all are, no matter where we stop to pause and “be present.”

What prayer and meditation practices are most life-giving for you?
Who do you share your heart with?
What person or group of people nurture your prayer or contemplations?
How does God speak to you and remind you of your beloved nature and calling?

I invite you to join me on any given Tuesday for Centering Prayer at St. Jane House. Doors open at 7:30am. Blessings!

Inspiration

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

I often find inspiration in poems and literature. The poem below has long been a favorite poem of mine and speaks to the rapture of being alive, and the mindfulness of finding more beauty in the world, which Sister Katherine wisely commented has the power to transform violence into love.

Sister Katherine said: “I am more and more aware of the importance of pointing out beauty to the children in our neighborhood-adults too. Like a bird song they night miss, a butterfly that flies by in our garden, one lovely flower. (I like it when people point out something to me). I invite them to listen, smell or see all kinds of things beautiful. Someone said, ‘Beauty is the biggest deterrent to violence.’ We can give peace in so many ways, can’t we?”

So in the spirit of summer coming in full force with the ritual of the last days of school upon us, and a hope that children every where stay safe especially those in north Minneapolis when summer can mean a spike in violence, may each of us point out the beauty each life makes in this one “wild and precious life.”

Summer Day

Summer Day

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays. © Beacon Press, 2008.