Monthly Archives: June 2013

Tears and Contemplation

What are you called to contemplate?

What demands the attention of your heart?

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I looked out the window and saw her lying in the street. Pink-skinned woman wearing a teal tank top, black running shorts, grey tennis shoes – her limbs lifeless on the tarmac.

An SUV and Mini-Cooper book-ended her body. A man in a red shirt with a beard stood above her while a female pedestrian wielding a cell phone hovered close by. I scrambled to make sense of this scene.

“Do you know what happened?” I stammered to no one in particular, and then pointedly at the stranger sitting across from me  in the coffee shop’s window.  We were two people poised before our computers, working ever anonymously with now an almost front row seat to this story, that begged our attention, engagement, our eyes.

“Did you see what happened?” I asked again.

With an equal intensity and sense of human concern, this stranger responded. “I didn’t see the accident, but I believe she was riding her bike and was thrown when that car door opened and struck her. I saw them park her bike there.” He pointed to a ten-speed 7-10 feet from our window posts.

I thought to myself, “Good God.”

***

I’ve been crying a lot lately. At least once a day something strikes me in a such a way that tears come to my eyes and for a moment I’m without words. I look, I feel, I wonder, I pray. I cry.

This woman lying in the street, moving nothing save her lips,  inspired such a physical, emotional response in me.

Reading an email about how my 6 year old cousin has been having conversations with her deceased grandfather, made me cry.
Learning on Facebook about cathedral bells ringing in Washington, D.C. after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, made me cry.
Hearing a teenager talk about visiting the location at the Mall of America where her friend took his own life, made me cry.
Tuning into a young couple share their plans to take a year and tour organizations in seven of our world’s most in-need communities, made me cry.

I listen. I read. I watch. I wonder. I imagine. I weep.

Who can ever know the full story of any human being? The events that shape their life, inspire their choices, impact their presence on this planet? How can any one person comprehend the fullness of another’s experience, what their journey has been, and how it gives rise to their deepest longings, desires, dreams — their faith and actions? I am not sure it’s possible; but I do try.  I treasure the tidbits of insight that are afforded me in any intimate encounter where a human narrative is revealed. As part of my contemplative practice, I pause to appreciate with my whole heart what is transpiring in a given set of circumstances. And often, this leads me to tears.

As I pause this day to reflect on the woman in the street, her bicycle, that SUV and Mini-cooper, their drivers and the onlookers to this scene,  I  offer up a prayer for the well-being of all.

I invite you to join me in this contemplative activity. What do your eyes currently take in? What demands the attention of your heart? What makes you weep with joy or sorrow? What are you called to bring before God?

Contemplative practice: Just do it!

Hermann Hesseby Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion

I just got done reading Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.” Until a few weeks ago I had never heard of the book. I did not know that it was the final full-length novel by this noted German writer. Heck, he won the Nobel Prize for the darn thing back in 1946.

How did this one slip by me? If the book isn’t on the shelves of the library at the Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis, it should be. (Hint, hint).

“..what sets the Visitation Community apart and continues to attract me to them is that their objective is not simply in fostering a life of the mind, but fostering it in way that reflects the greater glory of God.”

The setting is somewhere in Europe, perhaps sometime in the 25th century, at a time when the life of the mind has been elevated by society to almost religious significance. An entire church-like province has been established and is dedicated to study of arts and culture. “The Game,” which involves players delving into all recorded knowledge around a selected topic and showing connections between apparently disparate disciplines, is considered the peak and pinnacle of man’s creative spirit.

The story is presented as a biography of the man, Joseph Knecht, and relates his personal conflict as he comes to be aware that the life of the mind is empty unless the fruits of it are used to positively influence the course of human relationships.

If you have stayed with me this far and you are graced to have an appreciation for the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis, that last paragraph hopefully will resonate with you. To my way of thinking, this community of contemplative monastics in the inner-city represents the pinnacle of efforts to synthesize the life of the mind with positively influencing the world.

But what sets the Visitation Community apart and continues to attract me to them is that their objective is not simply in fostering a life of the mind, but fostering it in way that reflects the greater glory of God. God is the peak and pinnacle. They seek a unity of life, heart and mind with God, so that God can be reflected by them into the world.

I found myself thinking about the nuns and my spiritual life often while reading “The Glass Bead Game.” I was particularly struck by how Hesse’s representation of pursuing the life of the mind parallels my understanding of how to pursue life in the spirit; specifically, the necessity of contemplation and meditation in both.

This was highlighted for me in Hesse’s book by one particular scene. In it, Knecht has shared with a beloved master that he is antsy and seeking to gain his freedom from the rigors of the monastic-like life represented by the intellectual province. The esteemed teacher understands, going so far as to tell a story of his own bit of straying as a youth.

The beauty of his ultimate lesson is not one of chastisement, but one of encouragement. He reminds Joseph that the life of the mind is worthy, but cannot be the end all. It must be balanced with meditation; which in the context of the sisters I translate to mean contemplation focused on God.

It becomes easy to let the practice become an afterthought. So, what I hear my inner voice saying to me is, “Just do it!”

I was in West Africa for Ten Days

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Finding God in all things...

Finding God in all things...

I was in Burkina Faso, West Africa for ten days. As I return to the Visitation Community stateside, I struggle with how to acknowledge the prayerful experiences of my heart and mind abroad. The following is my attempt at paying homage to this trip.

Contemplating Koudougou
Mango trees
Sun
Brakina beer
Nescafe
Bottled water
Orange Fanta
Baguettes
Butter
Mosquitoes
Deet saturated skin
Red Earth
Rocks
Thatch roof
Tin and tire ceilings
Woven mats
Rice
Grilled chicken
Motorcycles
Bicycles
Stick shift cars
Brown skin
Barefeet
Perspiration
Pores
Balanced baskets
Fish soup
Smoke
Wooden wheels
Donkeys
Water barrels
T-shirt and peanut carts
Ceramic tile exteriors

On Contemplative Listening: A Doorway into a Deeper Encounter With God

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice centering prayer

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice contemplative listening

by Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion

God invites. Are we willing to listen?

Be still and know that I am God.

That’s what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46.

Like many of the psalms, the context of the lyrics refers to a powerful God in whom humanity is urged to find strength in the face of distress. But, there is another facet of messaging in those words that I find I prefer. Indeed, it’s one I find I can’t live without.

It is a message of comfort; of confidence; of connection. And, as a recent spiritual retreat hosted by the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis reminded us, it is one of openness and hospitality. Those who are willing to immerse themselves in the implication of the message are being offered a doorway into deeper encounter with God.

The sisters and those great spiritual guides who have long gone before call the practice of being still in order to know God, contemplative listening.  What one may hear is never a certainty. But what becomes apparent in undertaking the practice is that it’s very easy to lose God’s signal for all the noises that surround us in our daily lives.

Convened in a circle

Convened in a circle

That the sisters should be particularly skilled in contemplative listening is no surprise. It is, after all, something of a staple of the monastic community they form. That they are so solid in their commitment to its practice where they happen to live is something that impresses me deeply. And that they extend that grace and invite us into their company so we can also be still and perhaps come to know God better, is a privilege.

That sense of privilege is one I know that is shared by the rest of the Visitation Companions who participated on this special day. As one of our group observed afterward, the experience of the retreat left her feeling like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. This companion admits that she is more often like Martha, planning, preparing, serving.

“I can and do read lots of books and articles on Salesian spirituality,” she says. “But nothing can compare to sitting at the feet of these wise women who share their knowledge, their lived experience and their love with all.”

She goes on to say that, “On this day, I am glad that I decided to be a Mary and leave my inner Martha behind.

I would offer that so say we all who were able to partake.

Be still and know that I am God.