Monthly Archives: April 2015

On Contemplative Presence: Notes from Phase II Resident Lay Community Conversation

What is contemplative presence?

How do you practice contemplative presence in your life?

We’ve been meeting every other Sunday since January. In our convening for Phase II* of the Resident Lay Community conversations, lead by Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie (and the Holy Spirit), there is a richness — a provocative nature to the questions posed, the stories shared. On any given Sunday, as our room of 8-12 lay women and men meanders into the Sisters’ formal invitation to unpack their Essentials of Community Living, there is an a informal integration at work of these Salesian principles of monastic living into our own lives.

The following are notes from a recent meeting for Phase II of the Resident Lay Community Conversations. Perhaps they will speak to you?


-compiled by Brenda Lisenby, Monastic Immersion Experience resident

The meeting began with an introduction of the essential “contemplative presence” and Salesian stability by Sr. Mary Margaret:

“Be where you are, and be there well.”

– an adaptation of St. Francis de Sales “Be Who you are and be that well.”

Contemplative presence is the stability of the present moment…to be at home, to be at rest, to give yourself wholeheartedly, to enter into relationship believing God is there, here, today, at this moment, to enter into our alive Center.

Question: How do you practice or realize stability/contemplative presence in your life?


  • Trying to be very aware of God’s presence throughout the day—when I do this, I have a sense of stability, a continual little nod to that Presence
  • Practicing contemplative presence with bread baking, a contemplative activity
  • Have  a sense of stability by having a change in bread making method—changed from machine to hand’s on, and I feel more alive, feel more ownership, feel more stable
  • Contemplative presence is the awareness of the present moment, whatever the activity (chopping carrots, ironing, etc.)
  • For me it is an image: the process of centering the clay; nothing happens until it is centered; in the same way, nothing happens until I am centered, then can be in the moment with others
  • Being, not doing—to be with people, to be part of community
  • Contemplative presence is the slow work of God; an image that comes to mind is gardening—slow work; presence is also loving the place where you are, a place to give and receive love
  • Contemplative presence is a spaciousness; it is the economy of grace (vs the economy of meritocracy)
  • Contemplative presence is to receive all that comes in the moment as coming from the hand of God…from the beginning of time, God has held this moment for us and so we receive it as a grace gift and TREASURE it
  • To live in the world as a contemplative is to be present, to have a receiving stance of all things, all things received through the senses (smelling, seeing, touching, hearing)…the 20 minutes of centering prayer each morning allows me to develop the muscles to be in this open heart space, to be present…this is contemplative presence, and it allows us to live into transformation of self and world
  • “touching the now”, being open to what is happening immediately
  • “being at home”, making where I am home for me and others
  • There is a sense of “rightness” when I am present in a contemplative way
  • Singing…being fully present to the moment—the words, my voice, the music, is a time when I am fully present, and open to inner transformation by the Spirit
  • Bro Lawrence, “Practicing the presence”, a way of being present in the world through all the ordinary daily activities (washing dishes, cooking, etc.)—being present to the moment, which puts one in the presence of God, and is a stance of continual prayer
  • Contemplative presence is being open to receiving the moment, the gift of presence given by others
  • Contemplative presence is also related to identity as well, because we bring our “other places” with us to where we are—other “places” of gender, age, race, culture, etc.
  • A reminder that “all is done through love, nothing through force.”
  • A comment: Phase II has been an experience of contemplative presence, an organic unfolding.


*A brief articulation of the phases:

  • Phase I: a time of listening to constituents response to the Sister’s proposal
  • Phase II: a time of exploring and/or addressing practicalities through the essentials
  • Phase III: a time when individuals who feel called and are free to respond to the call move forward in discernment and commitment.

Read more about the Resident Visitation Lay Community.



Visitation Resident Lay Community: “Phase Two” Under Way

by S. Mary Margaret McKenzie, VHM

What is contemplative presence?

Heidi shares during Phase II conversations

During “Phase One” we gathered listening groups from our various constituents. As we listened, the Sisters’ own call to foster an intentional, residential Visitation community of the laity was more clearly defined by the dedication of the laity to strengthening the church today. The multiple, practical questions we heard in considering the possible lived-experience has guided us into “Phase Two.”

“Come as you are to live communally in north Minneapolis.”

Those who had participated in our listening sessions and who seemed open and interested without yet moving to commitment, were invited back to help formulate “Phase Two.” Beginning in December 2014, there have been fourteen who gather every other Sunday afternoon from 2:00- 4:00. These individuals are mature, experienced, gifted and diverse in age and background. They seem to share easily and in depth with one another, and have increasingly begun to show leadership. They have already expressed interest in what and where living together would look like. Their non-negotiables are family, pets, no-pets when there is allergy, and important dietary needs. After talk- ing about the essentials of commu- nity they decided to be guided by the Seven Essentials that the Sisters have gleaned from the experience of living their Constitutions in the modern world: prayer, community, recreation, silence, presence, conversion and hospitality.

What a privilege and blessing it is to come together to flesh out the legacy of Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, sharing with optimism and joy the good news of the Gospel that God’s love is at home with our humanness in the life of Jesus and with us as we “Live Jesus!”



This is reprinted from our Winter 2015 newsletter. To read the initial invitation and proposal, click here.

Holy Thursday Foot Washing (or The Absurdity of Love)

Cody Maynus, VIP Volunteer

Cody Maynus, VIP Volunteer

The following post by VIP Volunteer Cody Maynus is reprinted with permission.

Much of what we know about the liturgy of Holy Week comes down to us through history from a 4th century nun named Egeria, who documented in detail her three-year pilgrimage through the Holy Land. It seems fitting then to be celebrating Holy Week–and especially the Triduum, the Three Days–with 21st century nuns.

The Visitation Sisters celebrate the Triduum in a wholly unique way. We began these three sacred days with washing one another’s feet. While many Christians are accustomed to washing one another’s feet, the heart of Jesus’s Mandatum or mandate to love one another, very few, celebrate Jesus’s new command in such an intimate way. Although we’ll join the parish community in their foot-washing tonight, the monastic community gathered in chapel this afternoon to sing, to pray, to read Jesus’s challenge, and to wash, bless, and kiss one another’s feet.

As we washed each other’s feet–the Sisters washing their prayer partner’s feet, Sister Mary Virginia washing Brenda’s, Heidi and I washing each other’s–we were invited to spiritually wash the feet of a disinherited group, provided for us on a slip of paper. The Sisters have been working and praying to curb global indifference this Lent, culminating in these prayers around the basin today. I prayed for those living in war zones. Another prayed for women being trafficked in our neighborhood. Another prayed for at-risk children and youth.

After each foot washing, we sang a modified version of a familiar hymn:

Photo credit: Cody Maynus

Photo credit: Cody Maynus

Jesu, Jesu,
fill us with your love,
teach us how to serve
the sisters we have from you

Our very intimate liturgy ended in a circle, hands clasped together, eyes closed, and praying to the Father in the words that Jesus gave us.

Washing feet is a profoundly uncomfortable experience–in Jesus’s time, as in ours. When Jesus bent down to wash his disciples’ feet, everybody felt uncomfortable. The disciples were unaccustomed to their teacher serving them. I’m sure that Jesus, who knew his place in society and his role in salvation, was really weirded out doing this thing that he had never done before, that he was never expected to ever do. The whole affair  was absolutely bizarre. The same is true today. Heidi and I live together in community, but pouring water over her feet, washing them, drying them, and kissing them in blessing was profoundly uncomfortable, only slightly less uncomfortable than her repeating the process with my feet.

And that’s how it should be.

The Triduum should make us feel profoundly uncomfortable–and in many different ways. It’s a very emotional and spiritually draining few days (not to mention exhausting physically if you’re at all involved in parish liturgy.) We wash feet, process with the Sacrament, crucify, genuflect, reverence, sit in vigil, wait, light fires, baptize, sing, rejoice, scream, jump for joy, shout every last Alle—- we can muster…

…and all in the span of three short days.

The exhaustion and the emotions are all a part of the experience. We do not come to the Triduum as disembodied spirits. We come as real, living, flesh-and-blood persons with plenty of personal, communal, and institutional baggage.

Just like the disciples did.

And just like Jesus does.




*Read more of Cody’s reflections at his blog: Come, O Thou Traveller Unknown


Maundy Thursday: Washing Feet, Loving, Praying, Forgiving

Pastor Karen Wight Hoogheem

The following post by friend, and Following the Spirit vocation discernment series collaborator, Pastor Karen Wight Hoogheem is reprinted with permission.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-7, 31b-35

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do tonight? That’s the question Jesus got to answer. Jesus knew the time had come for him to depart from this world. He knew he was going to die. And with the last remaining hours of his life, he chose to love and care for his disciples.

The Bible tells us that Jesus knew he had come from God and that he was going to God. So he stood up from the supper table, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples feet. I imagine he knelt down, held each foot tenderly, poured water on it, and wiped it clean. I imagine him doing this slowly, quietly and gently. And I imagine Jesus looking into the eyes of his followers. I bet he said some words to each one. They had the chance to really and truly be with one another. What a way to say goodbye.

Jesus told them, “You also ought to wash one another’s feet…I give you a new commandment. that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

The world will know they are Jesus’ disciples when they love one another. Isn’t that interesting? The world will know they are Jesus’ disciples when they love one another. Jesus doesn’t say the world will know we are his disciples by the size of our congregations, the strength of our youth programs, the sound of our choirs or even the end to social injustice. Jesus says the world will know we are his disciples when we love one another.

That, my friends, is all about forgiveness. And forgiveness is so hard. Because hurt feelings hurt. Betrayal stings. Disappointment really disappoints. And unmet expectations are so hard to deal with. But Jesus gives us a new commandment. We are to love one another. And this is how the world will know that we are Jesus’ followers.

Tonight we have the chance to serve one another by washing each other’s feet. But only some of us will get to do that. There’s another way to work toward forgiveness. And that is in prayer.

Last week, I lost patience with my daughter because she wasn’t practicing piano the way I wanted her to. I shared my frustration with my spiritual director. He suggested I take it to prayer. He said that Holy Spirit will work in that prayer to change me. So that can become more loving toward her. {I wondered if that was really the solution we needed ;-)}

Someone shared a meditation with me that is helping me become more forgiving and patient. I think we can learn something from this, because it is congruent with Jesus and his ministry among us. Let’s practice a prayer of forgiveness.

Practicing a Prayer of Forgiveness

Breathe deeply, and feel your body relax into the chair or pew. Breathe and sit with yourself. Imagine that you are no longer your ordinary self, but that you can see things from a larger perspective, from the center of your being. From this perspective you feel warmth and tenderness for yourself. Feel your heart as a center of kindness and imagine it contains a purifying fire.

If you are agitated, lonely, scared, misunderstood, angry, anxious, accept this suffering part of yourself. Breathe the dark cloud of your suffering into your heart. Imagine your suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy. Rest in this space.

Next, bring to mind someone close to you, whom you know is suffering, Hold them in your heart. Connect with them and their difficulties. Breathe in the sorrows of the person you have visualized. Imagine their suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy. Breathe out healing and love towards them.

Now think of someone you love, but with whom your relationship is more challenging or complicated. You may feel jealous of them, or find communicating difficult at times. Hold them in your heart. Connect with them and their difficulties. Breathe in the sorrows of the person you have visualized. Imagine their suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy.

Now think of someone you find difficult to love. Someone you find irritating, someone you feel resentful toward, someone who has hurt you. Hold them in your heart. Connect with them and their difficulties. Breathe in the sorrows of the person you have visualized. Imagine their suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy.

Now, imagine all of these people together – the person you love easily, your friend with whom your relationship is more complicated, the person you find very difficult to love, and you. Hold them in your heart. connect with them and their difficulties. Breathe in the sorrows of the person you have visualized. Imagine their suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy. Sit quietly and allow your heart and your breath to rest.

This kind of prayer may feel uncomfortable. But I believe it is the work of forgiveness. We need to work on forgiveness. Jesus says the world will know we are his followers when we love one another. And the only way we can love one another is in and through forgiveness. It’s true in our families, in our friendships, at work and in this community of faith.


The night before he died, Jesus could have done anything. He was the Son of God. And he chose to wash his imperfect, difficult, slow-minded disciples’ feet. He transformed the Passover Meal into the Lord’s Supper when he gave them the bread and wine, saying this is my body and blood given for you. Do this for the the forgiveness of sin.

Jesus knew he had come from God and that he was going to God. In the security of this relationship and in God’s love, Jesus was free to love, forgive and care for his disciples. And so are we. There are a lot of things we think we should do as a church, but Jesus tells us we are his followers when we love one another. Amen.