Tears and Contemplation

What are you called to contemplate?

What demands the attention of your heart?

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I looked out the window and saw her lying in the street. Pink-skinned woman wearing a teal tank top, black running shorts, grey tennis shoes – her limbs lifeless on the tarmac.

An SUV and Mini-Cooper book-ended her body. A man in a red shirt with a beard stood above her while a female pedestrian wielding a cell phone hovered close by. I scrambled to make sense of this scene.

“Do you know what happened?” I stammered to no one in particular, and then pointedly at the stranger sitting across from me  in the coffee shop’s window.  We were two people poised before our computers, working ever anonymously with now an almost front row seat to this story, that begged our attention, engagement, our eyes.

“Did you see what happened?” I asked again.

With an equal intensity and sense of human concern, this stranger responded. “I didn’t see the accident, but I believe she was riding her bike and was thrown when that car door opened and struck her. I saw them park her bike there.” He pointed to a ten-speed 7-10 feet from our window posts.

I thought to myself, “Good God.”

***

I’ve been crying a lot lately. At least once a day something strikes me in a such a way that tears come to my eyes and for a moment I’m without words. I look, I feel, I wonder, I pray. I cry.

This woman lying in the street, moving nothing save her lips,  inspired such a physical, emotional response in me.

Reading an email about how my 6 year old cousin has been having conversations with her deceased grandfather, made me cry.
Learning on Facebook about cathedral bells ringing in Washington, D.C. after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, made me cry.
Hearing a teenager talk about visiting the location at the Mall of America where her friend took his own life, made me cry.
Tuning into a young couple share their plans to take a year and tour organizations in seven of our world’s most in-need communities, made me cry.

I listen. I read. I watch. I wonder. I imagine. I weep.

Who can ever know the full story of any human being? The events that shape their life, inspire their choices, impact their presence on this planet? How can any one person comprehend the fullness of another’s experience, what their journey has been, and how it gives rise to their deepest longings, desires, dreams — their faith and actions? I am not sure it’s possible; but I do try.  I treasure the tidbits of insight that are afforded me in any intimate encounter where a human narrative is revealed. As part of my contemplative practice, I pause to appreciate with my whole heart what is transpiring in a given set of circumstances. And often, this leads me to tears.

As I pause this day to reflect on the woman in the street, her bicycle, that SUV and Mini-cooper, their drivers and the onlookers to this scene,  I  offer up a prayer for the well-being of all.

I invite you to join me in this contemplative activity. What do your eyes currently take in? What demands the attention of your heart? What makes you weep with joy or sorrow? What are you called to bring before God?

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.

Returning to the Blog…

Sr. Mary Margaret - Xavi's Sky

Sr. Mary Margaret, vhm; September 13, 2012*

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“You have to love….It is the reason you are here on Earth.” Louise Erdich, The Painted Drum LP

I have been absent from this blog for a while. I am ready to return. I crave deeply the time that is afforded to me to sit, reflect, be still with experience and emotion and the way that I hear God at work in the hum of all creation.

I stand at a distance from this contemplative process and ache for the joy that arises in my prayerful writing time; I return to my laptop in a celebratory fashion — embracing all that has kept me at bay, and all that compels me to sit down and align my fingers to this keyboard to compose something — hopefully — prayerfully, something honest, true, inspiring.  Yes.

“I do my best to shine a light on the way that God seems to be at work in directing me, all of us, in our vocations. Whether we are religious sisters or lay persons, urban neighbors, or suburban friends, local volunteers, or once -upon-a-time visitors: it is my goal to help inspire community and the way we lean into God’s universal and unique calling for our lives.” — Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

My work on these pages centers around contemplative thought and action, highlighting the spiritual lives of the Visitation Sisters of north Minneapolis as I share from own lived experience as a Companion to their monastic order. I pray with the sisters and their lay community; I take note of what feels most compelling to my heart, mind and spirit;  and then I do my best to give voice here to the life-giving nature of their urban community — their mission to “LIVE JESUS!” in the inner city.

"We are all called!"

"We are all called! We are all held by a loving God who 'knows every hair on our head.'"**

Along the way, I do my best to shine a light on the way that God seems to be at work in directing me, all of us, in our vocations. Whether we are religious sisters or lay persons, urban neighbors, or suburban friends, local volunteers, or once -upon-a-time visitors: it is my goal to help inspire community and the way we lean into God’s universal and unique calling for our lives.

Two and half  months ago God’s calling for my own life, however,  sort of tipped me sideways and leveled me almost completely to the ground. On July 24, 2012, I learned that the 21 week old child I was carrying in utero had fetal anomalies that would prevent him from having a very long life beyond my womb. This news has informed my walk, my faith and my calling as a Visitation Companion each and every day since then.

Sr. Mary Margaret baptizes Xavi Jean "Priest, Prophet, King!"

Sr. Mary Margaret baptizes Xavi Jean "Priest, Prophet, King!"*

On September 13, 2012, at 29 weeks gestational age, I gave birth to my son, Xavier Jean Kiemde. His heart beat for one hour beyond my body. Before a sacred post-op room of family and friends, Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie and Vis Companions Brian Mogren and godparents Fabio and Sonja Anifrani baptized Xavi — honoring his precious time among us, and helping deliver him into the communion of saints as an anointed, “priest, prophet, and king.”  The experience is still fresh with me, and simultaneously stored as emotional images in my heart and mind — that keep me reflecting, and inspire me to celebrate.

We are all called! We are all held radically by a loving God who “knows every hair on our head,” right? And all of us are invited into the waters of baptism where we are anointed and claimed as Servant, Leader, Love-Force, exemplifying Christ’s compassion and community.

In this tender and trying recent experience of life and loss, I know God is at work, helping fashion my heart and inspire further my presence on this earth. I know I am called as a mother, writer, woman, lover of God to give voice to all that has transpired in these past days. I begin here, offering myself and my life to you.

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*photos by Brian Mogren, Visitation Companion
**photo by Salina Caldes, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”