Author Archives: Melissa

The Garden of Gethsemane: Hospice and Hope

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

The Agony of Christ in Gethesemane (from BostonMonks.com)

He’s on his knees. His hands are open –palms extended to the night sky. His bowed head and bent back round out his prayerful stance.

This is the way I picture Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane awaiting his impending death. It’s only a matter of time before he will be handed over to Roman soldiers, scourged, made to march to Calvary bearing a wooden cross on his back, and then nailed to the cross and left to die.

But in those moments before — he waits. He prays. He wonders. He beseeches His father; and he opens his heart, mind, and being to what will follow. His posture reflects his human reluctance and divine acceptance of what is to come.

My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” –Matthew 26:42

My walk alongside Christ this Holy Week takes me into the heart of such moments of agony and awe, historical, biblical reflection, and present-moment contemplations.

Last night, a good friend’s grandfather entered hospice. The news caught me off guard, as I had been praying for him and expected — alongside my friend– grandpa’s return home; more days of life and family to be lived.

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Photo by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

But the news of hospice care arrived, right alongside the dawn of this Holy Thursday, and so informs my prayer and contemplations this day. I hold Jesus’ journey to death and new life right alongside Grandpa Sheehan’s.

“How do we hold the mystery of resurrection inside the reality of an angst-ridden-end?”

I lit a candle next to the east-facing window in my house this morning and sat with scripture and these thoughts.

What is it to open ourselves wholly to death and welcome it, as we simultaneously mark the flow of oxygen in and out of our lungs? How do we hold the mystery of resurrection inside the reality of an angst-ridden-end? What does it mean to mark the dignity of our living selves as the circumstances of darkness press in? The Garden of Gethsemane, hospice, and Holy week bring these questions to the fore.

In my time contemplating Christ’s agony in the garden and Grandpa’s failing lungs, I found myself back in my own journey carrying a growing baby boy in my body, who I knew simultaneously would not survive many moments beyond his birth. It was an impending death – one that connects each of us in these agonizing circumstances.

“I know my call in this day, in these moments, is to not shirk away from the reality of death, but rather: be still and repeat with Christ: ‘Thy will be done. ‘”

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God’s Son: Xavi
(photo taken by Salina Caldes from NILMDTS)

Eighteen months after the experience of bearing a son and burying him a week later, I’m in a new place of understanding the gift of hospice care and Christ’s stance in that garden. I feel an intimate connection with Jesus, and all who hover at death’s door, waiting. I know my call in this day, in these moments, is to not shirk away from the reality of death, but rather: be still and repeat with Christ: Thy will be done. 

A year and a half after our son Xavi’s arrival, and brief time with us on this earth, I know a profound grace and joy in the experience of being his mother –of carrying him in my body and recognizing his direct connection to the God that made him possible.

On this day, in this time of marking our walk with Christ to the open tomb, I invite us all to inhabit fully each moment of agony and angst, trusting profoundly that a purpose for this time will reveal itself just as surely as the resurrected Christ will on Easter morning.

LIVE + JESUS!

Holy Week Begins: Text Message Prayers and Intentions

Contemplating technology and prayer: How do we use our smart phones to pray?

Contemplating technology and prayer: How do we use our smart phones to pray?

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I send and receive a lot of text messages. I am starting to think this is a pretty powerful manifestation of my own vocational calling and prayer ministry. 

“How can your electronic appendage be a gift of spiritual life and holy communication?”

I hold a person in my thoughts, take their circumstances with me in the car — to the grocery store, as I sort laundry, chop vegetables, drop off my daughter for pre-school or pick her up — and I imagine others – their own hearts and minds in activity.

As I sit to light a candle on my front porch, read scripture and enter into silence, these intentions follow. So when I pick up my smart iPhone these days, all that has been percolating in my moving-Melissa prayers, comes forward in these text messages.

My fingers type out thoughts that reflect my brain and heart at work. It is my prayer that these instant-different-from-email-phone-message-notes reflect a synchronicity of Faith, Hope and Love converging with the present moment – and the exchange with a fellow faith friend.

Yesterday, I was in such a space — actually going to nap — when a sister text me and asked, “How are you preparing for Holy Week?”

Almost instantly, I responded:

TEXT MESSAGE:

My plans and prep heading into Easter…?
I’m finding my feet next to Jesus’…

His walk these next days…
Feet astride a donkey and a palm- hailed entrance to Jerusalem…
His hands washing his disciples’ feet…
Stepping into the garden of Gethsemene…
Laboring up the hill to Galgatha, carrying a cross on his back side…
Spikes nailed thru the muscles and tendons of his exposed bare feet to that cross…
Wrapped in a burial cloth and resting in a tomb…

And then stepping as a risen body to speak to Mary…

I’m following his feet…

The invitation to meditate, responding via my cell phone‘s technology, naming my own conscious entrance into Holy Week, was a gift.

I am grateful for this kind of plugged in-ness. In an age when we are moving so fast, and perhaps desire more-often-than-not a way to be still and dis-connected from technology and social media, I find this kind of immersion, deeply life-giving. I find the pause of composing present-moment-ponderings, coupled with the intimacy of such text-message-media exchanges, to be a gift of my prayer and faith life.

As you enter into this most sacred and holy of liturgical weeks, I invite you to consider not only what you are meditating on, but how. What do you bring of yourself to Christ this week? How will you accompany Him to Calvary? How might your electronic appendage be a gift of spiritual life and holy communication?

Send me a note, and I promise to send a prayer your way.

Peace and blessings.

Lenten Reflections: The Prodigal Son Welcomed

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

The Prodigal Son Among Swine - by Max Beckmann

The Prodigal Son Among Swine – by Max Beckmann

He’s standing in the mud, knee-deep in animal excrement when his conversion takes place.

The story of the prodigal son is a familiar one of forgiveness, redemption, and mercy that Christ offers as a way to illustrate his invitation to the tax collectors, prostitutes and murderers, and say, all are welcome at my table.”*

My way into this often-shared Gospel narrative is through the pig-pen of the prodigal son’s redemption.

I can see the younger son of the wealthy man. He has left his father’s care and squandered his inheritance. His fine clothes are now tattered after his journey to the bar — perhaps the brothel, and his hunger has taken hold. He is envious even of the pig’s meal of corn husks and vegetable skins.

I imagine the smells of that live stock yard, the waft of animal feces mingled with recent rain or warmed by sunshine. And there the son stands, utterly forlorn and contemplating the lunch of the lowly pig. As this creature of God feasts on the dregs poured into the animal’s trough, the wayward son finds himself in this humbled stance, and desiring the least of the pig’s meal. A corn husk, please? 

He knows what he must do. He comes to know the grace of God and his own goodness in taking his hungry self back to his father.  And the tale of love and mercy and a father’s generosity and forgiveness unfolds.  

As I listen to this gospel reading sitting in the Fremont Avenue House of the Visitation Monastery, I find my way into the story through the door of the mud-covered man who is the forsaken and forgiven sinner;

I think of all those welcomed to the table of the Visitation Sisters.

Mary Embracing Oshea Photo by Brian Mogren

Mary Johnson Embracing Oshea Israel
Photo by Brian Mogren

Oshea Isreal comes to mind as the name of one such prodigal son who has dined at the Monastery in north Minneapolis with the Visitation community.  Oshea, who at 16 took a gun to a party and shot and killed the only son of Mary Johnson. Oshea, who at 18, 20, 22, 24, was invited to meet this mother of his murder victim, and be forgiven.

Forgiven.

He picked up a gun and took another man’s life. He served half of his life in prison. And in some way, has  come to understand himself as more than his worst act.  Mary has forgiven him. And perhaps even greater: he has forgiven himself.  He has received this forgiveness.

It’s the pig pen and livestock yard that makes this such a radical story of redemption for me this Lent. Because I imagine not only the amazing grace claimed by the prodigal son, the Oshea Isreals of this world, who are invited to dinner, but of my own messy, in-the-mire self.

How have we stood in the muck of disgrace? Of poor behavior? How have we been leveled by an action that brought on our lowest stance? How have we known the dregs of shame?

And in the same breath, then, how have we known forgiveness? God’s love for us?

When we claim this grace, this mercy  afforded by God, we allow ourselves to be welcomed to the table, to dine fully with Christ and Love’s companions. We are counted.

***

Read Luke’s Gospel Story Here:
This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Snapshots from the Sisters: Title this!

And Lent begins….

We welcome your creative captioning on any one of the following images taken at our Fremont House and our Ash Wednesday commencement services. Please enter your proposed title(s) in the Comments section below. Thanks!

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Ash Wednesday alter

Weaving together Humility and Gentleness: An Invitation to Consider the Warp and Woof of Love

SMF warp woof

Weaving as Metaphor: S. Mary Frances shares a tapestry made by Mary Johnson at the SAORI Weaving Studio.

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

Through the slanted wood shades of the Girard House living room windows, morning light fell on the red, black, and white cotton and silk fibers woven together by our friend Mary Johnson.

As Visitation Minneapolis’ community leader Sr. Mary Frances Reis presented the tapestry to me, she spoke the following words:

“We are called to the practice of love, rather than austerity. Two virtues in particular form the warp through which the woof of love is woven. These are humility and gentleness.”

Quoting from the Companion to the Rule of Life of the Visitation Order, Sister traced her fingers along the color lines and weaving pattern, illustrating her metaphorical point.

According to wikipedia, woof and weft derive from the Old English word “wefan”  which means “to weave.” Warp is the lengthwise or longitudinal thread in a roll, while woof is the transverse thread. The warp and the woof ultimately form a fabric.  Figuratively, then these Salesian virtues of humility and gentleness, woven together become the fabric of love for our lives.

Can you imagine how humility and gentleness are threaded through love? Can you see the sisters in their urban monastery, “living Jesus” as consciously as possible: stitching together experiences at the door with neighbors in need or want of prayer – a meal, a bus token, warmth – all drawing on Christ’s love? Can you count the ways you practice living in such a manner — checking your ego, releasing anger or hostility in any given moment, and letting these virtuous acts knit you more closely with Love and Creator?

It’s not often that I get to meet one-on-one with Sr. Mary Frances. Convened to discuss themes emerging in our vocations and engagement work, our conversation took us to these Salesian elements that envelop the sisters’ ministry in Minneapolis, and inspire me in my own intentional, contemplative life.

Listening to “SMF” I am moved. I am reminded of how our co-founders Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal believed we were all called to holiness. The Sisters. Our priests. Our bishops. You. Me. The neighbor. We can all live and practice these virtues that are part of the Rule of Religious life.

In my next breath, I imagine this metaphoric cloth of virtue being the cloth in front of me: all red, and black and white perfection and blemish in its unique beauty. I can jump then and fathom the ordinary gray pants and purple sweater I wear as equally made, as intentionally stitched, as that which I don with a full heart and desire to live with integrity. I imagine myself gentle, humble and eeking love as I encounter each member of creation.

And this conversation, this fabric, becomes my prayer for the day.

I invite you to hold this meditation and consider what the warp and woof of your heart is this day. May Love bless and guide us all.

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RESOURCES

For more on Salesian Virtues and Rule of Life:

Click here to learn about the Pop Up SAORI Weaving Studio at St. Jane House.

A New Year! A Blessed Epiphany to you and yours!

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

 ”Leave the past to God’s mercy, the future to God’s providence, and embrace the present lovingly and well.” – St. Francis de Sales

As we lean into this cold, and wintery new year, embracing the Christ Child among us, we give thanks for one another, and for you.

May we all continue to follow the star of God, and be a people of the Epiphany!

Happy Feast Day!

 

 

Advent: Waiting with Willie Nelson at the Courthouse

Singer, Songwriter: Willie Nelson

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

He sat down next to me waiving his numbered slip and asking,”So I wonder how long this is going to take?”

A white-blond- bearded fellow, in maybe his early 60′s, I’d heard him identify himself as a war veteran to the clerk dispensing numbers, and then say, “The last time I was here, there were only three of us; I was in and out in fifteen minutes.” I smiled as he spoke directly to me and we took in our surroundings.

I counted twenty seven people in the interior room of the Hennepin County Violations Bureau. Outside the glass walls, I noted three more benches of folks with numbers. All waiting. Brown. Pink skinned. Spanish speaking. Women donning hijabs. A few men in camouflage; others sporting professional sports team jackets. A couple toddlers were underfoot.

The Hearing officer waiting room at your local county courthouse is a  compelling place to practice an Advent heart, mind and spirit.  Showing up for a violation of any kind recorded by a police officer takes all of my best energy. I trudge in. I am often brimful of shame and remorse, feeling like a terrible member of God’s creation. I have to be quite intentional in my moments present in such a spot.

“I called a month ago and made an appointment” I told my new friend; “I’m not very good at the waiting.” I felt sheepish in this confession, but true.

“Smart.” He said and nodded, wondering aloud then about if he’d have enough time to to run an errand before his number was called and his parking meter was expired.

“I heard the clerk say she couldn’t predict the time period for any one person.” I said, then offered, “In my experience, this place, the waiting, can either make or break your day. You have to choose to see the good at work.”

He extended another nod and grin.

“Look how glorious God’s people are,” I said, waving my hand. As soon as I uttered these words, I thought, “What am I saying to this total stranger?”

But he joined me in this joyful stance, chuckling and without missing a beat said, ”Absolutely! I once heard a Willie Nelson song that went,

Here I sit with a drink and a mem’ry, 
But I’m not cold, I’m not wet and I’m not hungry
So classify these as good times- good times.”

As the bearded-vet sang these lyrics in a beautiful tenor voice to me, and whoever might hear, my heart sort of lept in my chest. I thought, “Could this be Jesus? Or could he be Joseph? A patient, large-perspective-holding fellow working to see the good in this moment while sitting next to me waiting?”

“Right!” I loved his song. I thought, “Yes! I’m not cold. I’m not wet. I have a warm coat on this winter day. I have a car and enough money to fill the gas tank and park it in a garage and get to and from in the world. I am so lucky.

Who knew my shame-inducing speeding shenanigans in October would result in such a glorious life-giving exchange in mid-December?  On this Advent day, I found a levity and sense of joy tuning into my counterparts at the courthouse.  In my often-angsty-anxious-waiting-experience that is Advent, I found a friend. I experienced the incarnation in a whole new way – as Willie Nelson and the Hennepin County courthouse revealed the presence of Christ in an older gent and many-cultured-room of waiting companions.

Blessings to all in this ongoing journey of Jesus being born once and again!

Advent: God the Father, Pacing the Waiting Room Floor

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“I am praying to God, the Father, this Advent. I know he’s not on this list of saints we are invoking, but he’s central to our prayers. Who is God, the Father? He’s a new dad, pacing the waiting room floor, waiting for Jesus to be born. And he’s pacing the the floor for all of us in our ongoing birth-processes and new life journeys.”

S. Mary Margaret’s words were deeply moving to me as she spoke them to our circle of Vis Companions and Sisters convened last Saturday for our annual Advent Retreat.

Gathered around an alter of candles at the Girard House in north Minneapolis, contemplating the blessed saints and wise figures of this Advent season and offering prayers, we lit candles one at a time invoking the holy women and men’s names and the gifts they offered to our Advent contemplations.  I heard Dorothy Day‘s name spoken, St. Francis Xavier, St. Nicolas, Etty Hilesum, John of the Cross. And then: God, the Father. The image S. Mary Margaret offered of Our Father as an anxious, expectant father, concerned with Mary and his first born‘s well-being fired my own imagination.  It has stayed with me ever since.

***

A month ago, I turned 45 years old. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I spent time inhabiting stories of my early life in Nebraska, going so far as to invite my parents to tell me again of the circumstances surrounding my arrival as their first born child.

My mom was enlivened by the assignment, recalling amusing, minute details of the day leading up to my birth. While baking a chocolate cake and gathering ingredients for brown sugar frosting, her water broke — though she wasn’t quite certain what was taking place in her body. She called her doctor, who reportedly said, “Well, call me when you are sure what’s going on.” At the age of 21, my first-time pregnant mother then dialed the neighbor, a nurse, and sought her counsel. In the end, she and my dad took off for Bryan Memorial hospital in Lincoln,  and 8 hours later, I emerged.

My father’s recall process came in spurts and fits, with his self-described exasperated efforts at aiding my mother in the breathing process during her labor, and his subsequent “failure” at keeping her calm. Apparently, my dad had my mother breathing so erratically that she hyperventilated, couldn’t relax, and so he was sent from the labor and delivery room by an attending hospital nurse.

The tale comes vividly today into my mind’s eye, as I imagine Mary and Joseph on the night of Christ’s birth. What did either of them know in the way of child birth? Was lamaze training part of the birthing preparation 2000 years ago? In my meditations, I see these holy humans amidst the air, earth, straw, elements; they are attentive, anxious, intent.

And then creeps back in God, the Father: pacing. He is no different that my human father: waiting, hopeful, trusting, walking to and fro in his father’s room.

Can you see this with me? Imagine Abba, Father, Daddy, for these moments, reduced to the uncertain expectation we all experience in the intense births of our life? How does this imagined scene fire your own identification with the incarnation tale? Can you fathom your own holy wonderings and human divinity as God paces alongside you, or breathes deeply and awaits news of your arrival?

Happy Advent Contemplations!

 

“My Soul in Stillness Waits” – Advent Prayer

At St. Jane House: Ministry of Prayer, Presence

At St. Jane House: Ministry of Prayer, Presence

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

It’s Tuesday morning in Advent and I am seated in a circle of prayerful people at St. Jane House. I am here as part of the weekly Centering Prayer experience lead by Visitation Companion Brian Mogren. On this particular day, our circle convenes in special celebration to honor and welcome longtime participant Harriet Oyera’s children from northern Uganda — a family separated by war in that region, and re-united just a week ago.

The coffee is brewed, the treats are laid out, a large sign of welcome has been constructed and posted for this family. Our special guests have not yet arrived, and so after a period of waiting, Brian calls us to be seated and silent. We enter into prayer with the following mantra:

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

I enter into the quiet with a mind full of chatter. Errands to run. Anxiety about holiday plans surfacing. Thoughts of my missing billfold–  including my driver’s license and credit cards– come to mind; “Where did I last put those blessed things?” From my heart arises the latest text about love and life. I think about Harriet, her kids, our friend Dorothy in Ghana.  Thoughts about my deepest desires well in my body; I take a deep breath and try to find calm, center, the quiet. I long for the peaceful emptiness that allows me to recognize God filling me up, renewing my faith, spirit.

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

Mary comes to mind. I see her as a young woman, a teenager, who is unwed and pregnant with Jesus. I breathe in and out and imagine her and the Angel Gabriel in conversation. Mary’s “Yes” to bearing new life resounds in my ears. I wonder, prayerfully, how God is inviting me to fuller life, love, or to be faithful; I wonder how I  am called to say, “Yes”?

I try to get quiet.

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

I breathe in. Out. I empty myself. I am renewed. The Advent song continues in my breathing:  “Truly my hope is in you.” I release. I receive. Over and over again.
And then I hear it. The door opens, and sounds of people quietly entering the space fill the room. Boots are taken off, coats unzipped, items are laid down, I hear the jingling of hangers in the closet.  Four sets of feet creep onto the rug; Harriet and her children take their place among the circle. I continue in my prayer, joyfully, ecstatically, knowing they have arrived.

I smile deeply within myself.

It’s funny what shows up when we have our eyes closed, and our hearts tuned toward God. In this Advent season of waiting, hoping, preparing for a babe to enter, in this circle of quiet meditation,  we literally receive a mother and her children. It feels like the Divine entering and reminding us of Love’s abundance, power, grace, miracle. This experience gives me pause and inspires my further prayer.

What do you hear, notice, when you get quiet and repeat the following:

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits”?

Advent blessings!

Loving our Failure: Salesian Insight on the virtue of Humility and Abjection

Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt, VHM

Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt, VHM

by Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt, VHM

“[H]ow do we deal with failure that is so much a part of our lives?” – S. Mary Virginia

We are, most of us in the US, infected with the virus of perfectionism – in all areas: business, science, religion… It is the heart of advertising, is it not? So how do we deal with failure that is so much a part of our lives?

St. Francis de Sales, in his lists of little virtues, has one that he calls “love of our own abjection.” It is not one of his more popular virtues, probably because we do not know what it means, especially in a society that values success so much. Basically it means to love our failure and humiliations — our wretchedness. If we pay attention to these, they always teach us something.

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

“That Humility makes us love our own Abjection”
- Title of Chapter VI of St. Francis de Sales’ “The Devout Life.” 

The Gospel teaches us how to pay attention and be still in order to learn. So to love a failure is a form of humility which acknowledges our littleness and imperfections: our share in the suffering of Christ. We learn our need for mercy.

Actually it is one of my favorite virtues, one that I make frequent use of. It is one that will not make me proud and one that teaches me that I am never removed from God’s mercy.

Amen.