I Will Lead You into the Desert

Follow me to the desert... Photo by Jody Johnson

Lead to the desert
Photo by Jody Johnson

by Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion*

“I will lead you into the desert, and there I will speak to your heart.” –Hosea 2:16

I’ve come to the desert seeking silence, or seeking to enter into it more fully. I practice contemplative prayer but, if as Thomas Keating says, twenty minutes of silence is “a brief vacation from oneself,” I need an extended stay! I’ve been restless, anxious, caught up in the busyness of activity for too long. Like many people, I juggle half-commitments, leaving early from one event to arrive late to the next, then wonder why life feels unsatisfying.

The desert offers timeless space to discover, engage, and wrestle with restlessness,” says Father Tom Picton, director of the Desert House of Prayer in Tucson where I am retreating; “The discovery of what is on the other side of the restlessness is the quest! It requires silence, stillness, waiting, and the suffering of ‘not knowing’.” This rings true for me; I long for this stillness, yet the prospect of having so much of it brings its own anxiety: “What will I do with all this time?” “What will God say to me?” “What if I discover things I don’t want to know?” Worries have become my constant companions. As with guests who have overstayed their welcome, it becomes more and more awkward to ask them to leave. Or perhaps they are like old clothes I’ve outgrown but not yet replaced. What will be my new gear, my new habit? I can’t very well walk around naked!

Some guidelines provided by the retreat center are reassuring: “Trust how you are being led. Your journey will likely open up to you as you listen for what is inviting your attention.” It is about being open, aware, and receptive. The daily schedule of silent prayer periods provides the structure and practice to support this awareness. I’ve also brought Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal to guide me on my journey. Though they never visited the desert that we know of, I feel their contemplative spirits at home here. Francis reminds me to get out of the way: “While I am seeking to find out what is God’s desire, I am not employed in keeping myself close to Him in peace and in calm repose, which is certainly His present desire, since He has set me nothing else to do.” Francis also gives very practical advice to gently redirect my intention (and attention) toward God throughout the day. He would have agreed with the last sentence of the guidelines in the retreat center’s brochure: “Be gentle with yourself, relax, and enjoy your time away.”

Jody Johnson

Jody Johnson

*Jody Johnson is a Visitation Companions leader and formation director on a two week study and prayer sabbatical. Tune into her reflections here

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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!”

“God is in Everything…”

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

This was the invitation at this past Sunday’s mass to find our beloved God in everything. The priest giving the homily was quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola, but St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales also firmly believed that God was in the ordinary doings of our lives and to seek God no further than there.

Isn’t this lovely and refreshing? Isn’t this what we hope to imprint on the hearts of our little ones, our friends, our family? That God is in everything! Isn’t this what we hope for when things seem apparently bleak that God will still show up, still be present, still give us hearts to see the graces of our lives at hand? Or in the mundane or the joyous that there too we find God. It is like an ongoing love note.

Puddles

Puddles

I remember being taught this, but it was not until I understood at the heart level that God is love and to find God we channel and find love that I really grasped God being in everything. I remember the day it really clicked for me, I was a sophomore at Boston College. It was a glorious sunny spring day and by that afternoon puddles revealed themselves everywhere on campus. I paused by one that earlier had been covered in ice, and remember thinking how miraculous it was that what was hardened had melted. Then my mind made the leap to God melts hearts that are hardened, and I just stared and stared at that puddle. My Jesuit Professors voice echoed in my ear, “God is in everything,” and the Sisters Salesian lessons from my years at Visitation came soaring back, and graces washed over me because I began to see how God was within me and within others and even in the landscape.

In this new year, with another fresh, fine layer of snow outside how is God that fine dusting on your life? How is God outlining your life, tracing your every mark with love? How is God in everything for you?