Sr. Mary Margaret’s 12 Step Program for White Privilege

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

Sister Mary Margaret, VHM

When I first heard about Sister Mary Margaret McKenzie’s idea to start a 12-Step Group to deal with the corrosive effects of white privilege on her life and on others, I was skeptical. I’ve been going to 12-Step meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for more than 15 years, and I couldn’t quite see how this would work.

I thought AA’s goal was simple: to help people abstain from drugs and alcohol. In contrast, such a group for white privilege could turn into a debating society – edgy, angry, and defensive. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood that those 12 steps are a blueprint to living a spiritual life of honesty, humility, integrity, and charity. And that’s what Sr. Mary Margaret’s life and the lives of her Visitation Sisters have been about for almost 30 years in north Minneapolis.

Besides, this was Sr. Mary Margaret asking, and she’s been an elder, a mentor, an adviser, and a spiritual mother to me since we first met in 1989. When I’m down on one knee sucking for air, I run to Sr. Mary Margaret for comfort and counsel.

I also think that Sr. Mary Margaret, still dealing with the effects of a stroke she suffered in 2016, has a desire to put her spiritual house in good order, dealing with circumstances that shaped her life: growing up white in Decatur, IL; going to nursing school in Springfield, IL; and earning a degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

I haven’t thought much about white privilege, but I grew up in Fond du Lac, 60 miles north of Milwaukee. As I reflect on it, I had all the advantages: a stable home, a steady income, a good school, a welcoming community, and a grandmother with some money to take us traveling to California. So maybe I did belong to what Sr. Mary Margaret sought.

She chose the first participants in this group of 10 that meets once a month on a Sunday afternoon. We are black and white, men and women, younger and older. We are bound by a desire to heal old wounds, make amends, and improve our awareness of the plights and problems of our brothers and sisters.

Like our AA predecessors, we listen as much as we talk. What is said in the meeting stays in the meeting. Our desire is not to “fix” our colleagues but to heal ourselves – by talking honestly, listening carefully, and thinking soulfully.

The steps we follow are lifted out of the AA Big Book, something we do with respect and reverence. We have tailored them carefully to suit our mission. The first step is to “admit we are powerless over the pervasive and persistent presence of white privilege and the resulting racism and bigotry, and [admit] that our lives have become less than they could be.” Then, the second step is to “come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to the loving, caring human beings we are intended to be.”

The last step, 12, comes directly from AA’s Big Book, with no change at all: “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Our first meeting was in January 2018, and we’ve shared stories that are personal, poignant, painful, and powerful. Sr. Mary Margaret set the tone in that initial meeting when she read from a poem by Maya Angelo, “Touched by an Angel”:

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

To one degree or another, our souls are laid bare in these meetings, sometimes with resentments from the discrimination of police officers, Christian clergy, or public officials, and sometimes with the residual guilt from our own good fortune.

I recall an incident when I was a high school senior, riding around on a Friday night with a couple of guys I didn’t know very well. We pulled into a gas station, bought a couple of bucks’ worth, and before we left one of the guys lifted a tin of car wax and slipped it into his back pocket. I didn’t know about it until we were a mile away, but then I did not insist that we go back and return it.

The next day a police officer appeared at my door. The station owner had matched one of the guys from a photo in a high school yearbook, and he fingered me as a ride-along. I quickly “fessed up,” and the cop gave me a five-minute lecture on the doorstep about honor and honesty. He also told my father. What he did NOT do was arrest me.

I’ve heard enough stories from the black men at our meeting to know they were not afforded the same privilege I got from a cop who knew my father. I have no doubt that a black kid in my situation would have been taken downtown, written up, and saddled with a record. I got away clean, and that’s the way I entered the U.S. Army and the University of Wisconsin. That seems to me to describe white privilege.

When we started our little group, I wondered how steps promulgated to deal with an addiction would deal with an attitude. Months later, I’m satisfied with an answer: they work. We belong in this milieu. Consider the last paragraph of the first half of AA’s Big Book:

Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to God and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the fellowship of the spirit and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

Thanks to Sr. Mary Margaret, we have begun the journey.

* Dave Nimmer, journalist for the Minnesota Good Age magazine, is a frequent contributor to the Visitation blog, especially in his series of profiles of Visitation Companions and North Side neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us in our ministry of mutuality.
LIVE + JESUS! 

 

Our Friend: Wazeer Brown

Meet Wazeer Brown

Meet Wazeer Brown

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Wazeer Brown, and his brother Emmanuel, are the first youngsters the Visitation Sisters “met” after they decided to locate their monastery in North Minneapolis in 1989.

The two boys, about three and four years old, were standing on the street corner at 16th and Fremont as the Sisters were driving by.  “Here are these two kids waving at us like crazy,” recalls Mary Frances Reis.  “They had a big smile on their faces.  We couldn’t help but noticing their pure joy and excitement.”

In fact, the brothers got so close to the Sisters they had to start a special time – Windsock –  for neighborhood children to come by the Fremont house.  And come they did – for time, treats and attention.

“The Windsock time was really good for me,” Brown recalls.  “It was different from the rest of my life.  It was cheerful and stress free.  I didn’t find that at home or on the streets.  The Sisters were just there for me and brought peace into my life.”

Wazeer and Emmanuel brought their presence into the sisters’ lives, sometimes sitting on the retaining wall in front of the Fremont house.  When they felt it was needed, they’d offer a little advice to  prospective visitors:  “You can’t go in now because the Sisters are prayin’.”

“I’d tell all who wanted to better themselves and change their lives,” he says, “they ought to get to know these women (the Sisters).  They shaped who I am as a person, the person I wanted to be.  I think they kind of put the spirit of the Lord in my heart.” –Wazeer

The Sisters have prayed for Wazeer since those Windsock days two decades ago. Over those years, they’ve read to him, found a mentor for him, promoted a scholarship for him and stood by him through the speed bumps, potholes and sharp curves along his way.

Today, at the age of 29, Wazeer is studying to get his GED diploma, helping raise his two daughters, Destiny, 9 and Serenity,5, holding a full-time job at Walmart and staying in touch with the friends who helped him get this far, including the Sisters.

“What I’m really impressed with,” says Mary Margaret McKenzie, “is how much energy and enthusiasm he’s putting into getting that GED.  A while back, he told me, ‘I’m getting fractions.’  He is actually into his mathematics and, yes, he’s understanding fractions for the first time.  I think that is remarkable.”

McKenzie says she remembers years ago when she helped him and Emmanuel work on a science project to make and inflate a hot-air balloon.  “I don’t recall exactly how that turned out but I do recall thinking that Wazeer was really smart.  You only have to show him or tell him once, and he gets it.”

He “got it” about the importance of going back to school, this time at the Adult Education Center in Minneapolis.  “I think I just realized it’s time,” Brown says.  “My mind is ready for it.”  Once he gets the GED, Brown says he might think about going to a two-year or community college, to help him land a job that makes him joyful and useful.

He already knows how to work hard, according to Jeff Pearson, who, along with his wife Maryann, has been long-time friend and supporter of the Sisters.  They enlisted Pearson to be kind of a mentor/father figure for Wazeer.

“I used to have him come over to my house on Saturday mornings and we’d work in the yard,” says Pearson.   “He hadn’t done a lot of yard work but, I tell you what, he worked hard.  You know, I feel I have a life-long friendship with him.”

The Sisters feel the same way and they haven’t hesitated to call on him to do a favor or two, like talking to a group of seniors at Visitation High School who are spending a week at the monastery, getting immersed in life on the North Side.

“He got up in front of these young women,” says Mary Margaret, “and talked confidently about the value of being grounded when they go away from home to college.  His talk, and his message, were really quite wonderful.”

Wazeer got up in front of another group at his grandmother’s funeral, to talk about who she was, what she did and how she lived.  He has developed this kind of presence in his life and the Sisters have been there to nurture it and, now, to feel it.

Wazaeer in Arabic means “minister.”  Brown is not given to preaching but he’s accumulated enough wisdom for a homily: Change is inevitable.  Get used to it.  Being positive is always a key.  Keep busy in life and work on being a better “you.”  And one more thing.

“I’d tell all who wanted to better themselves and change their lives,” he says, “they ought to get to know these women (the Sisters).  They shaped who I am as a person, the person I wanted to be.  I think they kind of put the spirit of the Lord in my heart.”

 

* This is the sixth in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation 
Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- 
as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us
 in our ministry of mutuality. 
LIVE + JESUS! 

Vis Companion Profile: Bob Briscoe*

Bob Briscoe, Vis Companion

Bob Briscoe, Vis Companion

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Bob Briscoe is a regular at the monthly, Monday-night Salesian Spirituality Meetings at the Visitation Monastery. He is one of a handful of men among a roomful of women and, along with his wife Khalilah, the former Chicago cop seems to fit right in with conversations about love, understanding and gentleness.

“We are companions on the journey, given to one another as helpers in doing God’s work.” — St. Jane de Chantal

“These monthly meetings lift my soul,” Briscoe said. “What is really good is to see the young people there, who are genuinely trying to help others in the community. That makes an old man feel good about the younger generation.”

The 73-year-old has nurtured his softer side but he is no pushover.  Briscoe defines what a good man is and what a good man does. He and his wife have been raising his 14-year-old grandson, Kameron, since his mother (Bob’s daughter Kontente) died. Briscoe and Khalilah have five grown daughters and two sons from previous marriages.

Bob and his wife Khalilah

Bob and his wife Khalilah

The wisdom he’s imparting to Kameron includes some of those “little virtues” that are the basis of Salesian thought and spirit: patience, humility, honesty.

“I’m also trying to teach him the lessons that the sisters give to me,” Briscoe said. “I tell Kameron that you have to give back. And you can’t get discouraged in the bad or tough times. You can always give your troubles to God.”

Briscoe has known some tough times and good times in his life. He joined the National Guard after graduating from Corpus Christi High School in Chicago. After his discharge, he was a motorman on the “L” in Chicago. And in 1971 he was sworn in to the Chicago Police Department, working the streets for ten years as a patrolman.

He left the force in 1981 and spent several years as a construction laborer. He came to Minneapolis in 2006 and it was no accident that Bob discovered the Visitation sisters. He went to Catholic schools in Chicago and married Khalilah in Ascension Church in north Minneapolis.   That’s where he met Sister Mary Frances.

“She came right up and introduced herself to me,” he said. “And that was the beginning. Being around the sisters remind me of the first women in my life. They live those virtues they preach, right out in the community every day. And they do it for everyone they meet.”

Bob and grandson Cameron

Bob and grandson Kameron

Briscoe’s also serving the community as a member of the Minneapolis Police Conduct Review Panel since 2012.  The panel investigates complaints of misconduct and brutality and makes recommendations to the chief. The former cop sees the issues from both sides of the badge and he passes that perspective along to Kameron. “Be polite. Do not resist. Do not run,” he said. “And call me as soon as possible.”

The Vis sisters appreciate Briscoe’s presence at their functions, and what he has done for them personally. “He fills his day with meaningful activities,” said Sister Karen Mohan. “He took me to chemotherapy (for breast cancer) a couple of times and sat with me.

“He is simply a willing spirit, ready to do anything. He’ll come to help us put labels on our newsletters.   And he’ll be a surrogate father to his grandson.”

For Briscoe, the gain for his soul is worth any pain to his body. “Kameron helps keep me young,” he said. “His curiosity, the questions he asks, always keep me looking for answers. I am always telling him to pray and that helps me to remember to pray.”

* This is the first in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation 
Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- 
as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us
 in our ministry of mutuality. 
LIVE + JESUS! 

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!”

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.

On Silence: More from VIP Anna D (Or: What do Gandalf, Dumbledore and St. Francis de Sales have in common?)

Anna Dourgarian, 2012 -2013 VIP

Anna Dourgarian, 2012 -2013 VIP

by Guest blogger Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer

The 2012-2013 Salesian Monday Night series focuses on the 7 Essentials of Monastic Life that the Vis Sisters have outlined for their community. The following post is part two* of VIP Anna Dourgarian’s co-presentation with Sr. Karen on Silence.

My two favorite role models have shown me the fruits of silence. These role models are—drum roll, please—Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and Dumbledore from Harry Potter. They are two serene and wise men who are so in tune with their surroundings that their every word and action is powerfully beneficial. How do they do it? How do they always know what’s going on, and how do they always know how to make it right? They don’t do it by chattering their heads off. They are intensely attentive. They choose their words carefully. They know when their world needs them to talk, but otherwise they settle back and let the world do its thing.

We have another role model who demonstrates the same art: St. Francis de Sales. We know how much he achieved, and he did it with silence. When he was serving as bishop of Annecy, after his long and hectic days, he would retreat to his room and—when you or I would probably fall straight to sleep—sat up for hours and meditated by candlelight. This fulfillment of his need for silence let him accomplish his loving acts with people during the day.

If you’ve ever tried to be quiet, though, it immediately becomes apparent that not talking isn’t the whole story. It’s a big part, but you could not talk and still not be attentive. It’s like there are two voices: one in your mouth, and one in your head. You have to stop talking to listen, but you have to stop thinking to hear.

I don’t know about you, but I have this voice in my head that loves to talk. It is always going on about something: what’s for dinner, what are you doing, what were you thinking, what did you forget, wasn’t that so frustrating? It’s a little voice that just talksandtalksandtalksandtalks. It’s really distracting. Mine is especially problematic during prayer. A whole Bible passage will be read, and I’ll be sitting there—not listening.

Even Jesus told us that learning to control our thoughts is extremely important. He told us on His Sermon on the Mount that yes, it’s important not to kill, but it’s also important not to get angry at our brother. Anger is a thought. If we can’t control our thoughts, then we are very vulnerable to sin.

Since I have started practicing silence, there are times when I’m aware that my brain has ceased to think. There are no thoughts, opinions, or emotions in my head. I am just living in the present moment, enjoying life.

When my mind is silent, it is free to focus on the world around me. It is open to details like how my friends are feeling, what’s going on in their lives, what they need from me. I can be truly attentive. To have a silent mind is to be cleansed, to leave a free ground for God to interpret any new information for me. When I’m not thinking, I’m not quick to judge.

*Click here to read Part One.

Theology of Vocation: Five Characteristics

Professor Kathleen Cahalan, Director of Collegeville Institute Seminars

by Kathleen A. Cahalan, Director, Collegeville Institute Seminars

“Vocation encompasses a multiplicity of callings:  who I am, what I do, and how I live. It is dynamic and changing, not static or linear, not fully determined or preset at the outset of life.”

Through our research and reflection on vocation, we have identified five common themes in popular and academic literature that serve as a foundation for the theology of vocation developing in the project.

First, vocation is a call from God that is relational and dialogical.  God is the source of vocation, but human persons must hear and respond to that call through dialogue with God. God’s call is experienced commonly in four ways through:

  • an inner voice, often defined as conscience;
  • the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
  • divine providence, the way God cares and guides creation and history;
  • other people such as family and friends as well as strangers, the poor and those in need—all who call us to service.

Second, vocation relates to a Christian’s whole life. It does not refer to a part of life (work) or one type of work (ministry) or one type of life (religious community and celibacy). Vocation encompasses a multiplicity of callings:  who I am, what I do, and how I live. It is dynamic and changing, not static or linear, not fully determined or preset at the outset of life.

Third, vocation is a call both general and specific.  The general call is shared by all Christians to follow in the way of Christ, described through categories of service, discipleship, love, the gospel, and the commandments.  But vocation also refers to the specific ways in which we live out God’s call in marriage or single life, service and work.  The particularity of our callings is also determined by contextual factors such as gender, class, history, opportunities, and social location.  These specific aspects of vocation are the least developed by authors today (e.g., marriage, grandparent, woodworker, economist, dean).

Fourth, vocation relates to my whole life, my whole life long.  It is not just an issue for young adults but for every age:  children, teens, young adults, adults, those facing retirement, and the elderly all face vocational questions particular to their life’s journey.  There needs to be further reflection on vocation across the life span, especially as it relates to human experiences of suffering, sin, and loss, as well as discovery, change, creativity, joy, and relationships.

Finally, vocation relates to service and self-giving in community.  It is social and communal, not an individual experience or issue. It is mediated and discerned within community, and it is given by God for the sake of community.  Vocation also requires sacrifice, obedience, and the demand to listen to the needs of others and the world.

In contemporary theologies of vocation we see a movement away from specific denominational definitions toward approaches that speak to the broader Christian community. We see a rejection of vocation understood as a MapQuest search, a divine microchip, a hidden secret, or a blueprint, though many people may still carry these notions of vocation. While theologies of vocation understand God’s call to be more nuanced, complex, and contextual, many people have not been given the opportunity to reflect on vocation through new theological lenses.

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Thank you to the Collegeville Institute Seminar’s “Called to Life” discernment series staff for permission to re-post this article — and for all the other online curricular support. For more info: http://collegevilleinstitute.org/calledtolife


“Books with Jane:” Sparknotes on “The Screwtape Letters”

Anna Dourgarian, 2012 -2013 VIP

Anna Dourgarian, 2012 -2013 VIP

by Guest Blogger, Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer

Next Thursday, January 31, at 7pm, we host another session of “Books with Jane” featuring C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters at St. Jane House. This event is open to the public. Doors open at 6:30pm!

For those of you who will not have time to read The Screwtape Letters before then, I’ve written up an abridged version with a chapter-by-chapter summary. I hope that reading it will encourage you to come and possibly to even read the book!

Briefly, The Screwtape Letters is a devil’s advice to his nephew on how to tempt to a human. It is C. S. Lewis’s satirical advice on how not to get to Heaven. You may recognize C. S. Lewis from his brilliant work on Chronicles of Narnia. Find a pdf file below to download for more information!

Thank you, and I hope to see you at 7 PM on Thursday, January 31, at St. Jane House!

Screwtape Letter Notes by Anna Dourgarian

St. Jane House
1403 Emerson Avenue north


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On Silence: Thoughts from VIP Anna D. on one of the seven Essentials of Monastic Life

Anna Dourgarian, VIP 2012-2013

Anna Dourgarian, VIP 2012-2013

by Guest blogger Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer

The 2012-2013 Salesian Monday Night series focuses on the 7 Essentials of Monastic Life that the Vis Sisters have outlined for their community. The following post is part one of VIP Anna Dourgarian’s co-presentation with Sr. Karen on Silence.

I am really new to the concept of silence, but in the short time that I have known about it, I have fallen in love with it. As a Vis Intern volunteering on North Side, one of my main goals has been to serve my community, and silence has helped me do it.

“Silence is not a goal in and of itself; it is a process, a stepping stone—but for what? For me, it’s about being more useful in this world. It forces me to be attentive. I want to serve my community according to its needs, so I need to be attentive to and aware of its needs.”

I was first introduced to silence last February, at a winter campout hosted by REI. There, I met a man named Donnie who was very knowledgeable about the outdoors: he knew about medicinal herbs, tracking, and respecting nature. I wanted to know about the outdoors, so I asked if he could take me for a hike. Hikes for me were about getting outside and ambling about and getting away from electronics—exercising and chatting. But within minutes of hitting the trail, Donnie said, “Anna, you’re walking too fast, and you need to stop talking.” In other words, “Slow down and shut up.” Hikes for Donnie were about being attentive to the wilderness. On that slow, silent hike, we saw two red-winged black birds get into a territorial fight, we heard a robin get surprised by a hawk, and we spied two chickadees building a secret nest.

Over the summer I learned that the most productive hike is one where I sat still, for a whole hour, watching my surroundings. It was PAINFUL. I got restless, I got weird looks from hikers who walked by me, and I could never focus—my brain was always thinking really hard about something else. But the effect was wondrous. I got to know the birds in my area: white-breasted nuthatches in this tree, and these are the songs of a cardinal and a catbird. I noticed that the ground was just crawling with bugs. One time a coyote walked right past me. A few minutes later, a few talkative hikers walked past too and had no idea what they had just missed.

At the end of the summer, I became a VIP and stopped doing my silent sitting hikes. The skills I learned from them were not applicable to my normal life. No one wanted me to slow down; I was supposed to speed up, show enthusiasm, and make a difference in the world! Until Sr. Suzanne asked me one day, “Anna, could you please be quiet?” And I said, “Oh, is someone sleeping?” And she said, “No, you’re LOUD!”

Apparently the skills for spotting a coyote in the woods are still relevant in a monastery.

Silence is not a goal in and of itself; it is a process, a stepping stone—but for what? For me, it’s about being more useful in this world. It forces me to be attentive. I want to serve my community according to its needs, so I need to be attentive to and aware of its needs. In the case of hiking with Donnie, I wanted to serve the environment, so first I had to observe the environment.

“I am thankful for YOU!” — Gratitude inspired by St. Francis de Sales

From Guest Blogger Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna, Student at St. Louis University

Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna; St. Louis University Student

Claire Kranz, Vis Alumna; St. Louis University Student

Marvel at God’s goodness. ~St. Francis de Sales

Thanksgiving week is finally here and from a school and work perspective, I could not be more ready.  But, as I sit here, admittedly listening to Christmas music, I realize I am not truly ready.  It almost seems trite.  Thanksgiving’s not about the food, it’s about God. Sometimes, that’s hard to completely soak up.  We are thankful for God and all He has done, like provide the food and football.  The truth is, there is so much more to God’s work than the food, but sometimes, it can be hard to recognize.

We can make lists of all the things we are thankful for, say prayers of thanksgiving for all we have received, but all that recognizes the past. What about the present moment?  How can we experience gratitude for moments as they happen, not hours later when it is time for bed?  How can we “marvel at God’s goodness” as St. Francis de Sales suggests?

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

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

Every Thanksgiving, we are surrounded by incredible people.  They are family, friends, children of God.  All who gather on Thanksgiving represent an everyday piece of God’s goodness on a special day that allows us time to actually take in their spirits.  Thursday, and all this week, take time to experience the love and joy of the people around them.  Realize moments of gratitude and savor them as they happen.  Marvel at the incredible life God has placed before you, and all the amazing people who have graced it.  Be Thankful. Be Grateful.  Be Marveled.

V+J
Peace,
Claire