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!
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.
For more on Salesian Virtues and Rule of Life:
- The Salesian Virtues
- The Spirit of the Visitation Order’s Rule & Constitutions
- Second Federation of the Visitation, Suggested Readings:
Click here to learn about the Pop Up SAORI Weaving Studio at St. Jane House.
”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!
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!
“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!
“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”?
Heidi’s dad died this week. Margaret lost her daughter to a long battle with cancer. Karen endures chemo, fighting a malignancy in her breast. Serena showed up at our door, seeking cold-weather clothing. Our local priests and church leaders continue to discern a course of leadership and healing in the face of more sexual abuse accusations. Khalilah recalls the passing of her mother; and Francois and I hold the memory of our son who lived for one hour. These struggles or sadnesses all inform our prayers this week.
As humans, we suffer. We wonder; we ache; we seek understanding in the face of our illnesses and all that we endure. And we lean into a loving God to show us the way.
Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering,and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed,and after three days rise again. -Mark 8:31
He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said,“Get behind me, Satan!For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” -Mark 8:32-33
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them,“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselvesand take up their cross and follow me.For those who want to save their life will lose it,and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”-Mark 8:34-35
Here are the abbreviated steps of this meditation practice. For a lengthier explanation and teaching, see American Zen Buddhist Joan Halifax’s “Meditation: Tonglen or Giving and Receiving: A Practice of Great Mercy”
Find a comfortable posture, palms up, eyes closed, feet on the ground. This work takes great courage. Trust your ability to do it, as you align with your heart’s deepest wells of love and the mercy and kindness you possess.
1) Identify a source of suffering or struggle within your own life. How have you experienced hurt? Fear? Resistance? Doubt? Shame? Breathe in the experience, imagining it as hot, heavy air or smoke, including the feelings that accompany your hurt. Let them touch every part of your being. Exhale loving kindness and mercy. Imagine this as light, loving air.
2) Consider the suffering or hurt of a beloved friend or family member. Breathe in their pain, recognizing you are not alone in your struggle. See how they hurt in their circumstances and invite the mercy and kindness of your heart to transform this woe. Exhale loving kindness.
3) Recognize the hurt or pain in an acquaintance – someone you see on the street, driving in a car, in your place of work, or at the gym or grocery store. Breathe in their pain, and exhale loving kindness.
4) See your would-be enemy, and envision how they hurt. Let their struggle enter your imagination, and trust your heart’s ability to be softened and hold their pain. Inhale deeply and exhale loving kindness and mercy.
5) Consider your pain, that of your beloved, what ails the acquaintance or stranger, and that of your would-be enemy as one: inhale the collective hurt of all and exhale loving-kindness. Recognize how connected all suffering is, and your power to send love and light, joy and kindness to all.
From the time we are children and teenagers, people ask us questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What are you going to do with your life?” Sometimes such questions seem exciting and full of possibility. Other times they feel oppressive and overwhelming. Yet at every stage of life’s journey-at mid-career or at retirement, for example-we are full of questions about what to do, where to go, who to be.
How can we learn to see where God is leading us through our journey? How can we become aware of how God speaks to us, often in “tiny whispering sounds”? How do we understand what God wants for and from our lives? These are questions of vocation that call for careful discernment.
Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities?
The process of discernment is a centuries-old Christian practice of personal prayer and reflection with others that examines our lives in light of what we know about God’s hopes, dreams, and love for us. Discernment involves paying attention to our experiences in order to recognize God’s presence. Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities? What other voices around us are competing with God’s voice or leading us towards selfish, even evil, inclinations instead of the good God wants for us? What patterns do we notice about how we make decisions: are we careful planners or do we simply fall into situations without much thought? How do we choose? Through discernment we consider our inner thoughts as well as our outward actions; we listen to ourselves, to others, to our community and our context.
Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life.
The Christian tradition offers many formal practices of discernment. Ignatian spirituality uses a review of where God’s presence is felt throughout the day (called the examen). Quakers gather “clearness committees” where a group helps an individual to discern God’s voice within them and find clarity about a question or dilemma. The practice of lectio divina that you are learning from the Rule of Saint Benedict is another discernment process with a long history of helping Christians sort out God’s voice from the many other voices that call to us.
But many people already have informal habits of discernment. Perhaps you have a trusted friend that you talk to about big decisions. Maybe you journal or pray or take long walks when you are wrestling with important questions. Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life:
“Vocation…comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about-quite apart from what I would like it to be about-or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.
…Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live-but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.
–From Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
We often think of God’s call as a voice that is heard. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which means “to call,” and “calling” has traditionally been another term for “vocation.” And people often talk about discernment as “listening for God’s call” or “hearing God’s voice,” as in the stories in Scripture when God speaks from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17) or wakes someone with a voice in the night (1 Samuel 3:1-18). Yet it seems that most of us do not experience God’s call through a booming voice from heaven that tells us where to go or what to do. Instead, we are called by God through the people and places, the events and the encounters, the challenges and the changes of our everyday lives. God communicates with us through conversations and questions, through friends and family, through our own hopes and thoughts. Maybe we feel “pulled” or “drawn” towards one decision instead of another. Perhaps we see signs or feel led down a certain path. These can all be ways that God reveals our vocation to us.
And vocation is not just God’s call to us; it is also our response to God. We call on God in turn as we struggle to figure out where and how to live out our vocations. Discernment practices are valuable for questions of vocation because they help us develop habits for exploring our relationship with God. While it takes effort and patience to learn how to look and listen for God, such habits of discernment can help us during times of doubt, fear or anxiety about our vocations. Making time and space for discernment can open our ears and our hearts to find God in the “tiny whispering sounds” of our lives.