Contemplating the creche: What do we cradle into being?

What are you cradling?

What are you cradling?

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

We passed a wooden cradle lined with a soft, quilted comforter from person to person, speaking of our pasts, our passions and what brought us to the room. On this first Sunday of Advent, there were 16 of us gathered alongside the Visitation Sisters at the monastery on Fremont Avenue north in Minneapolis.

The cradle, built for a small doll, moved from one set of hands to another. This child’s play toy, evoking imagination and care, was empty, save the blue and white checkered lining. It rest open, waiting, ready to receive a small babe, a doll, perhaps. Set beneath a thatched roof, wooden structure, it could serve as a creche for the Christ child. In each hand, it was open to receive our words,  our dreams manifesting, even being born in our speaking….

“What small thing are you longing to cradle and bring before the world, in a small, hidden, holy way? Where are you saying, ‘yes’ to Love being born?”

The Sisters extended an invitation to create a Resident Lay Community alongside them in north Minneapolis and, on this particular December night in Advent, convened a room of discerning adults who were hearing a “yes” in their own hearts and minds to this holy opportunity.

Hail Mary, 1950, Frank Kacmarcik

Hail Mary, 1950, Frank Kacmarcik

With each passing of the cradle, a profound stillness and sacred “yes” seemed apparent:

YES, I’m interested.

Yes, I’m open.

Yes, I’m seeking.

Yes, your will be done.

It was as if Mary, Christ’s mother, was in our midst….

***

We ask for continued prayers as this community, vision, dream, gestates and makes way to birth. Not unlike the Christ child being born, there is a faithful certainty and hope, expectation and dreams, all connected with this labor, with this journey,  with this longing and promise by God to become.

In this Advent Season, we invite you to consider your own prayerful pondering and meditation on the Christ Child’s crib: Still empty, what do you desire to see in that space of comfort and simultaneous discontent? What small thing are you longing to cradle and bring before the world, in a small, hidden, holy way? Where are you saying, “Yes” to Love being born?

We can all pray for one another, perhaps?

LIVE+JESUS!

 

Snapshots from the Sisters: Advent Edition

Advent and Incarnation Blessings! We are so blessed at this time of the year with the prayerful presence of so many friends, families, and volunteers, as we go about our Merry-Christmas-Peace-making-Prayer, that remind us of the journey to Christ’s birth and God among us.

Advent at the Monastery. Anna and Laura Presents

Photo #2: Anna and Laura Dourgarian dropping off Christmas presents from the staff at TempWorks Software. (Two friends from countless organizations and community networks that generously donate to our community at this time of year.)

Here are a couple photos highlighting our Advent to date. We invite you to write a creative caption for any of these photos below in our comment section.

 

Advent Christmas Cookies with SS

Photo #1: Sr. Suzanne Making Christmas Cookies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Prayer and Santa Party

Photo#3: Sr. Karen leading prayer in the chapel at the Christmas prayer and Santa Party.

 

Christmas Story Vis Seniors

Photo #4: Vis School Seniors read from the Christmas story as Sr. Katherine and children look on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Visit our Facebook page and Flickr albums for more pics from this season.

BRIGHT DARKNESS OF THE FUTURE

Sisters with Candles Catholic Spirit

Photo by Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

As we planned our recent Visitation Companion Advent morning of prayer and reflection Jody, Linda and I spent some time sharing about our community Advent focus of Promise. A phrase from the 2008 – 2014 Vision Statement of our order somehow spoke to all of us about this time of the liturgical year: “As we move forward in the bright darkness of our present.”

This image, ‘Bright Darkness’ seems like an impossible thing to grasp — a paradox at best. In darkness we don’t see ANYTHING, we don’t see the future. However, internally we hope for the future. This kind of seeing of the future is dependent upon what we bring to the present, including our faith, our attitudes, our belief and our experiences.

“…the Bright Darkness of the future leads us to Christmas…the Incarnation of the One who has always been faithful to the Chosen People.”

Look at this time of year in terms of our ancestors: they saw the days were getting shorter and colder; the natural world was passing into a deep darkness; shorter days and less sunlight; dwindling crops; winter brought death after the ripeness of fall. If they were astute, our early ancestors may have noticed things in the natural world like squirrels hiding away extra nuts/ birds disappearing in flocks/ animals getting fatter and slower/ and with a thicker coat of fur and maybe some wise ones had inklings of the concept of hibernation. Perhaps some looked at this time of no fresh food and figured out how to preserve some foodstuffs —- just in case the end was not immanent and the shorter days might not end in death. People learned how to prepare for this time of year.   Externally they used more hides for warmth; they tended to hunker down indoors — around the fire with others. It became a communal time of waiting with the hope or expectation of longer days….more warmth…spring growth and new life.

As Christians we experience externals but have more hope — scientific knowledge and our faith tell us that the sun, s-u-n, will return but that the Son, s-o-n, will return and bring new life into our old world.

We can understand that phrase Bright Darkness of the Future. We need to look at where we have been, what has happened to humankind and assess the present moment.

The Old Testament stories of the Chosen People are full of lack of appreciation for creation, jealousy between siblings, lack of respect for others, crimes of passion, wars between people everywhere. God leading people to a PROMISED land and people grumbling on the way. People separating themselves from God or each other — going alone. Once in a while there would be a knowledgeable voice calling for PREPARATION for what is to come. The greatest of these voices according to scripture was a bright and shining light on a stand….calling out in the dark wilderness….a flicker of hope.

There IS more to come….another…whose sandals John was not even worthy to untie. The One who was the Son. The One who promised the new heavens and a new earth. One who promised to be faithful. One who promised eternal life. One who brought light into the darkness. It is this One who gives US hope, Wisdom and the ability to believe in the bright darkness of the future. This is the One who is the fulfillment of Promise. The One who is to be Wonder, Counselor, Prince of Peace. Almighty God. We can see where this is going…the Bright Darkness of the future leads us to Christmas…the Incarnation of the One who has always been faithful to the Chosen People.

God has Chosen all of us to step into the Light.

 

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Click here to see photos from the Advent Retreat. 

Seeing Love: Incarnation Contemplations

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

The following post appears at “Adding to the Beauty” — as part of the “Tireless Hope” Series for Advent: inviting voices of Midwest writers to join the conversation around beauty as it is documented and posted in the Middle East by travelers Becca and Andrew Ulasich.

Adding to Beauty. Winter Tree“Advent [that is to say, the Incarnation] makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.” – Joan Chittister

Fr. Dale Korogi opened a recent homily at the Visitation Sisters’ monastery with a paraphrase of Sr. Joan Chittister’s words:

“It’s safe to say that the Visitation Sisters are an Advent community, inviting us to find God in places we have often ignored; places like Fremont and Girard Avenue in North Minneapolis.”

I’d say the same is true regarding Becca and Andrew Ulasich — Northside community members traveling and volunteering around the world. They are an Advent couple on a mission: inviting us to find God in places we have, until now, perhaps ignored; places like Sari Bari in Kolkata; a Himalayan Mountain boarding-school in Northern India, and Poor Servants of Jesus the Master in Nepal. This Advent, they journey through the Holy Land, tuning into stories of Israelis and Palestinians; holding open their hearts, seeking beauty at every turn.

As I sit to write this post, I consider it a gift to be invited to Add to the Beauty in this Advent Series: Middle East meets Midwest.

Inherent in this invitation to compose a blog, is a similar invitation inherent in the season of Advent — and echoed by Joan Chittister’s words. I ask: How is the incarnation manifesting in places I’ve ignored? What are the dark spaces I sidestep or scurry by in my world? In my own psyche or spirit? What headlines do I prefer to scan over — or news posts do I elect to tune out in my Twitter or Facebook feeds in a conscious or unconscious manner? How can Advent help transform my perspective — my heart, my mind, and way of living and loving?”

The incarnation, God taking on human form, means that I am inextricably woven into the story of Love.

I began writing this blog on Thanksgiving morning. Tucked into a cozy room of my parent’s lakeside home nestled in the wooded landscape along the Lewis and Clark Reservoir along the Missouri Riverbanks that form the border between Nebraska and South Dakota. I recognized my geographical location in an area called Hideaway Acres” as keenly appropriate; and I wondered, “What is hidden in my own heart that God is asking me to shine a light on?”

The past four weeks leading up to the start of Advent have been chock full of large events that give way for my pause and incarnation contemplations:

–My baby sister got married;

–My husband donated a kidney to his older sister;

–We had an opportunity to embrace new family members from Burkina Faso, West Africa;

–We were embraced by family members who reside in a care facility devoted to their mental health in Northeast Nebraska;

–Two of our best friends were married in a ceremony uniting their Puerto Rican and Polish-American families, after my husband and I introduced them.

The incarnation, God taking on human form, means that I am inextricably woven into the story of Love. At every turn, I have an opportunity to marvel at the mystery of my connection to every other creature on this planet, and to see beauty, goodness, hope. I am given the opportunity to bow down in awe at the workings of our marvelous Creator. The Creator of my and my husband’s siblings and all of our blessed organs. I can stand in awe at the recent immigration narratives of my nieces from Burkina Faso as I marvel the healing journeys of two uncles who battle addiction and mark life as formerly homeless. I am prostrate to Love as it is born out in the marriage of two who never entertained this kind of happy union for themselves.

As we journey together this Advent, what unites us in our contemplations of the incarnation? What ignored spaces of life does God invite each of us to see?

Blessings!

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!

Seeking Solace in the Incarnation

The Christ Child, from Sandro Botticellis Madonna of the Pomegranate.

The Christ Child, from Sandro Botticelli's "Madonna of the Pomegranate."

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Her job is to stock shelves. Fill in the cans of Starkist and Campbell’s and Ivory dish soap when they get low. Or maybe his gig is to check people out, scan bar-coded grocery items, weigh cabbage and tomatoes, and bag purchased supplies so they travel home gently in their sacks to a wanting family. But on Monday morning in St. Paul, this clerk (was it a woman or a man? or a whole team of cashiers?) was held up at gun point in the grocery store a few blocks from my home. An attempted robbery during this Advent season.

I keep thinking of this person, unsure of their gender, but keenly connected to their humanity. I wonder: was she afraid? Did he tremble? What ran through her mind when the barrel of the gun came up to her face? Where is he now? How is this person fairing?

***

On Friday people all across this nation were tuned into the horror of one gun-related atrocity. As a plugged-in-people, we couldn’t escape the events of December 14, 2012, when a 20 year-old man opened fire and killed 26 children and adults at Sandy Hill Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We became a more consciously aware vulnerable nation.

This robbery at the local grocery store, just blocks from my home, had nothing in common with the event in Newtown, CT, save that a gun was involved and that the bearers of those guns are now both dead.

Both incidents leave me feeling very vulnerable — wide open, raw, and a bit afraid. I don’t like being afraid.

***

It’s Advent. It’s a season when God is born among us; he takes human form and enters this world as the Christ Child. He becomes one of us: vulnerable, human, small — perhaps, sometimes, too – afraid. A week from today we celebrate Jesus’ birth, recounting his humble entrance as his earthly parents lay him to rest in a manger.

Can you see this baby? His writhing olive-skinned limbs? His swaddled form being snuggled by first-time mother Mary? Can you smell his new sweet scent and imagine all that perfumes the air on this night? How fragrant is the hay, are the sheep and cattle? What stirs in the heart of Joseph as he first sees Jesus? What instincts kick in as this babe is born in the open air, outside the confines of home or assigned health care?

It’s this vulnerability of our God that makes me weep. It’s this incarnation that gives me comfort. I must admit, as a grown woman, as a seeker of love and tranquility, a significant part of me wants to crawl in alongside Christ and snuggle in. I want to lie right next to the babe, Jesus.

As we count down our days to Christmas and hold open our hearts to the miracles and mysteries of this season, it is my prayer that in our vulnerability we recognize the Christ child. It is my hope that in the midst of headlines that might be wreaking havoc on our sense of security as a people, that we seek solace in the God that is right next to us; that we know we are not alone.

Peace be with us.

Christ: The Social Innovator – A Meditation for this Advent Season

Nativity Scene by G Cuffia

Nativity Scene by G Cuffia

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“..and she gave birth to her firstborn son. 3 She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:7

And Advent is upon us! As I make my way into this first week of the holy season, these images return to me: a teenage Mary who is pregnant; a radiant angel with big news; a baffled bachelor named Joseph;  doors closing at the hands of (perhaps unapologetic) innkeepers; a bright star overhead; and a blanketed olive-skinned babe laying atop a bed of straw. And I marvel on the historic narrative informing this Advent season. This is a tale of woe and wonder. It’s a tale of adversity and mystery. It’s a tale of ache and awesomeness. It’s a tale that at its core, lays bare a God who chooses to come to us in this frail human form: as a child born into poverty, squalor and strife. I think, “This Incarnation is something to behold.”

***

On Tuesday, December 4, 2012, Sr. Katherine and I attended a leadership event at Macalester College sponsored by InCommons – Supporting the Courage to Lead. The “Social Innovation Lab” as this event was referred to, was on “Vulnerability as a Resource for Innovation.” Visitation Companion, director of St. Jane house and northside community leader Brian Mogren invited us to attend this event organized by a former Visitation Neighbor, Michael Bischoff.  It was a perfect sort of Advent experience.

As the room of 120 or so participants convened, we were invited to reflect on a time when we had led from a place of vulnerability.

Q: What do we mean by vulnerability?
A: Uncertainty, risk, transparency, and openness to diverse perspectives.

A goal for our gathering was to help shift the dominant view of “judging vulnerability as weakness to valuing vulnerability as a positive resource that takes strength and courage.”

Okay.

My thoughts went immediately to Christ. To Mary. To Joseph. To the cast of characters that make up the gospel story of Jesus’ birth. I thought, “How many of Jesus’ encounters depicted in scripture are about a person who leads from vulnerability?” I took a breathe and then considered, “What is God inviting us to do today and everyday?”

Discerning a step into uncertainty, taking a risk, being transparent in our motivations and situation, and opening ourselves to diverse perspectives is a radical step — one demonstrated to us continually by God’s human son.

There are some very important disclaimers to make about vulnerability. First of all, it’s something we must choose if we are seeking to lead from this place. Discerning a step into uncertainty, taking a risk, being transparent in our motivations and situation, and opening ourselves to diverse perspectives is a radical step — one demonstrated to us continually by God’s human son.  It’s a space of incredible privilege, however, to elect to see vulnerability as a gift and to act on it.  This is my second disclaimer: To have power wielded over us that renders us vulnerable, or to be in deep crisis,  instability or mentally unwell and be invited to lead, is not what the conference leaders meant by their invitation; and I would assert is not what Christ meant through his humble example as servant leader and as the son of God.

***

What is your story of vulnerability? How do you seek to align yourself with the swaddled babe or the teenage mom or the baffled boyfriend-turned-father who are all homeless? How are you choosing uncertainty, risk, transparency and openness this Advent Season?

Blessings as you meditate and respond.