Author Archives: Melissa

God, the Potter

Image from www.peaceumcorlando.org

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you our potter: we are all the work of your hand.”
-Isaiah 64: 8

I had this moment yesterday when our out-door-playing, sunshiny-warm, grubby 4 year old girl came to me in a fitful state of ouch and woe with tears streaming down her face. She had so much fine dust covering her body that when her tears emerged, they trickled down in brown streaks across her skin.

This image came to me in my morning prayer meditating on today’s scripture. Wet brown, muddy, emotional being; loving touch; a moment of re-creation born from an intense experience.

I was sitting on the front porch — silent, eyes closed, palms up, twenty minute timer on — going into the heart of Isaiah’s text in my own imaginative way. (It’s the Feast of Ignatius of Loyola, after all, and imaginative prayer is part of my celebration of this saint and founder of the Jesuits.)

I saw the Good Lord’s hands holding me like I was clay, shaping my nose, tending to each strand of curly hair on my head, marking the curve of my cheek. And in that instant, my own gesture of love to a small child returned. Just as I had wiped away my daughter’s earth-stained tears, I imagined God doing the same to me, moving His hand over my skin, and reminding me of whence I came and the love and care inherent in His creation of me.

We are each from the earth. We are each born of love. We are each renewed and tended to by God in and through the Holy Spirit in our daily lives Can you fathom this? 

In my quiet, I was entertained and overwhelmed by emotion with these thoughts of God’s gentleness and care. I imagined Love, the Divine Potter, molding the individuals closest to my heart. I followed the Spirit’s nudges to see God creating the stranger that walked in front of my St. Paul home the day before. Eyes closed, I could still see the figure of the funny fellow who strolled down Selby Avenue wearing nothing save shorts, sporting a ukulele, and perching himself on a dinosaur sculpture across the way and then strumming. I delighted in this imaginative prayer that afforded me a glimpse into God’s love for all of us. And when the Holy Spirit took me to God sculpting the heart of the soldier-turned-terrorist who fired the missile, striking down flight MH17 out of Amsterdam killing 298 people, I was in shaken.

If God is our father, we are clay, and He the sculptor of our very lives –creating all of humanity —  then what does that mean for our world? What are the implications for our lives? Our relationships? Our next steps?

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On this Feast day of St. Ignatius, with this particular scripture reading at your fingertips, I invite you to engage your creativity and enter into the heart of this text using your imagination. Get out some clay. Say a prayer. Sculpt and see what the Holy Spirit reveals to you.

Trust in the Slow Work of God

Where does this path lead?

Where does this path lead?
photo by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

In these long, sometimes cool, other times hot, shifting-climate days of summer, I have found myself reaching for this poem. I offer it to you, for however it might speak to your soul, provide comfort or levity in your journey and this present time.

Trust in the Slow Work of God

by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ*

 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability-

and that it may take a very long time.  And so I think it is with you.

your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

*(1881-1955) Jesuit, Paleontologist, Biologist, Philosopher, and Visionary

Northside Gardening: Reflections and an Invitation from Sr. Katherine

S. Katherine at work in the garden.

S. Katherine at work in the garden.

by S. Katherine Mullin, VHM

“Being outside these days placing fragile plants in moist dark soil somehow lifts my spirit and gives hope that each of us, and really all humanity,  will grow to full strength.”

– S. Katherine Mullin, VHM

Maybe it is because as young girl I saw my dad outside, season after season, so intent on watching the plantings in our backyard, or because, once grown, I spent so much time indoors, even in summer, tending to my teacher lesson-plans for the coming fall, that now I love gardening so much. And this year, after our long harsh winter, it is especially good for my spirit.

As I write this, by chance, it is the Feast of St. Isidore. He was a Spanish farmer who lived in early 12th century and known for his piety toward the poor and animals. His life as a day laborer and man of prayer inspires me. The liturgical prayer for his commemoration reads:

Our friend Willa Mae giving advice and gardening support to Sr. Mary Frances

From the Archives: our friend Willa Mae giving advice and gardening support to Sr. Mary Frances

“God, all creation is yours, and you call us to serve you by caring for the gifts that surround us. May St. Isidore urge us to share our food with the hungry and to work for the salvation of humankind.”

Being outside these days placing fragile plants in moist dark soil somehow lifts my spirit and gives hope that each of us, and really all humanity,  will grow to full strength.

For 25 years now the sisters have put in a garden. There is a strong neighborhood dimension to our gardening and it carries history. The sisters, when they first came to the north side, were given tips by neighbor, Willa Mae, to show them just how best to plant the garden, to include the neighbors. Her advice reflected what she knew the neighbors would love to eat and how her ancestors gardened: starting with collard greens and green tomatoes. Over many years Willa Mae came each summer with more advice and to show us her delight in how it was growing. Now Linda Goynes, our friend and neighbor, carries on Willa Mae’s advice-giving…and she gets first pick of the collard greens in late summer, when they are ready.

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One of our many volunteer gardeners. Will you join us in this summer season?

The garden is a jumping off place for our neighbors and ourselves to reconnect. We have mothers, wheeling their small children by, stop to show those little ones the bright colorful tulips that came up strong this year by May 15, St. Isidore’s Feast day.

Recently the face of one young adult walking by, lighted up and she enthusiastically said, “When I was little I used to come to playtime with you sisters….’member me?” And we did.

Invitation to Garden:

We have started a volunteer night for gardening-every Tuesday night, 7:00-8:00pm followed by Night Prayer with the Sisters.

Do come; offer advice, offer weeding time, offer your presence.

 

 

 

Hunger for Community

Fremont House Chapel: Liturgy of the Hours

Fremont House Chapel: Liturgy of the Hours

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

Let’s say it was a Thursday, noon, during my lunch hour in the fall of 2002 that I first came to the monastery to pray the liturgy of the hours. Or perhaps it was a Monday after school that I poked my head into the Fremont House chapel and joined the Visitation Sisters for evening prayer at 4:45pm.

I know I was weary. I brought all of my day’s experiences into the chapel, closed my eyes and extended my palms up and out.

“I give you my life. I give you my suffering. I give you the stories and circumstances of my students’ lives that I cannot fix.” 

Six years into my teaching profession; four classroom moves; 720 students later; countless hours of curriculum writing and paper-correcting under my belt; and one-too-many mandated reports completed for social services, I was a wobbly 32 year old woman in need of sanctuary and stability. I was hungry for a safe, spiritual home and community  — and the Visitation Sisters were God’s answer to my prayers.

As a young woman, I had a profound calling to teach — to be present to young people wrestling with life’s biggest questions and seeking ways to respond intellectually, artistically, and from their greatest knowing. But on this particular day, I was tired. I needed to be held upright — or simply find rest within a community that “got” my deepest longings to love and serve God.

The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis was that community for me.

Maybe it was Shaina that drove me there. I read too many of her journal entries connecting Maya Angelou’s autobiographical account of abuse with my student’s lived experience.  Maybe Anthony put me over the edge that day — the senior in my 12th grade English class who hadn’t passed a writing or reading test since middle school, but was on my roster and wanting to graduate. Or maybe it was the young Laotian boy – sent by the seasoned guidance counselor — who showed up in my basic standards test prep class not speaking any English. “Can you just take him, Melissa? We have no other place for him to go.”

It was one of those days; I didn’t feel up to any of the challenges. I had no answers, no solutions, but a deep desire to help, and a professional charge to enter in and provide some strategic and data-driven response.

For those who have known professional burnout, the circumstances I describe are nothing new. For others, this tale may register as unfortunate. For all of us, however,  there is a universal human experience that connects my story with yours and inspires the following kinds of spiritual questions:

“Where do we go when we are hungry?  Where do we find sanctuary? Where is our beloved community?”

As I chanted the psalms that day flanked by two choirs of catholic, inner-city sisters convening in a chapel at the intersection of 16th and Fremont Avenue North, I joined a community of contemplative, religious people who have been singing together for centuries. I joined David, the beseeching and praising Jewish author of this liturgical prayer – who lived a thousand years before Christ,  singing now a stone’s throw from my Minneapolis Public School classroom in the year 2002.  I entered into a monastic rhythm that offered a kind of peace, quiet, and balm for my entire being. While my hunger for community persists, I have a profound comfort in knowing where I belong and how to re-fill and fuel my soul.

How do you hunger for community? Where does your soul find rest?

 

Christ: Crucified, Dead, Risen — and Eating Fish

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“The Appearance to the Apostles” by Duccio di Buoninsegna ca. 1255 – 1319

I got caught up today by a dead-and-resurrected-Jesus eating fish.

Sitting on my front porch, candle lit, scripture out, my prayer time came to a sort of abrupt halt reading these words from Luke’s Gospel that describe Jesus showing up after his crucifixion and Easter miracle, and dining on real food.

“Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”

And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

–Luke 24: 38-43

Christ is both dead and alive. Both. And. His flesh and bones — heart, mind, and spirit – carry the story of his betrayal, convey the reality of his death — and simultaneously reveal a pulsating, vibrant life. He is a back-from-the-dead hungry and loving human.*

I don’t stop often to contemplate Jesus, the “Risen One,” as Jesus “the guy with holes in his feet, hands and side.” I don’t. I’m easily comforted by the mystery of the resurrection simply being: Jesus as ethereal spirit floating and appearing and loving us all through this vast universe. It’s not a literal, physical rising from the dead that I dwell on or imagine very often.

“While he still bears the marks of crucifixion, he also breathes. And it is that breathe, that new life that triumphs and offers us a transformed perspective of our own living.”

Enter: Luke, chapter 24, versus 38-43.

The invitation to see Christ as the apostles did – whole and manifest in the room, is an urgent one for me in today’s scripture.

Christ wounded, and Christ rocking it. Jesus, dead; Jesus, thriving. It’s the both-and nature of this mystery of his resurrection, and the literal triumph of life over death, that offers us the compelling invitation to revisit all of our definitions of suffering and not only surviving, but existing as a transformed and reborn being.

If the son of God can walk around as not only a deeply hurt human, but both dead and living person — and still offer radical love, hospitality, peace and forgiveness, then what are the implications for me? For all of us?

Our comprehension and definition of Christ doesn’t end in the suffering. Ever. While he still bears the marks of crucifixion, he also breathes. And it is that breathe, that new life that triumphs and offers us a transformed perspective of our own living. We are not the sum of our depressed states, anxieties, addictions, or failures. That bankruptcy, alcohol or drug addiction, infidelity, is not the whole of who we are if we subscribe to this gospel narrative. While those experiences and actualities may mark our beings like the wounds in Jesus’ feet, so too then is the beating heart and oxygen that fills our lungs and defines the larger aspect of our life alongside the resurrected Christ.

We are both/ and, too. Wounded. Restored. And it is our living, our hunger, our presence and love that truly define us.

Fish, anyone?

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For more on this, read James Allison’s “Knowing Jesus.”

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.