Wisdom’s Elbows…

Sr. Katherine reads from the Wisdom of St. Jane

Sr. Katherine reads from the Wisdom of St. Jane

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“Send Wisdom from heaven to be my companion, to teach me your will.”

These words, chanted during morning prayer, inspired our communities’ intentions this morning. As Sr. Mary Frances underscored their personal resonance, she named a universal condition that invites our care and attention, asking: How do we let the spirit of Wisdom in? In Frances’ reflections, I heard:

Certainly Wisdom companions us daily, but how do we acknowledge her? What prayerful patterns do we practice that invoke Wisdom’s presence and guidance in our lives?

Sitting next to Sr. Mary Frances on the bench in the chapel, eyes closed, I tuned into her spoken reflections and had this flash of Wisdom come into my mind’s eye. She was a fully formed woman with elbows. She appeared as a buxom female — draped in gleaning white fabric, like a choir robe — maneuvering into my heart space. “Let me speak!” she said, “Listen!”

***

At the breakfast table, following morning prayer, I heard Wisdom coming through the words of St. Jane de Chantal.

On this day following Jane’s feast, Sr. Katherine and I were reflecting on our co-foundress’ spiritual life, her grief and dryness in prayer, as well as her qualities as a leader: her compassion, empathy, and encouragement of others.  Over a plate of sliced mango and a cup of coffee, Sr. Katherine read to me from our founders’  Letters of Spiritual Direction.

St. Jane de Chantal

St. Jane de Chantal

In a letter dated July 22, 1619, Jane wrote from Paris to Mother Péronne-Marie de Châtel, the Superior at Grenoble:

“Don’t worry about your way. I see it and I know better than you do that it is a very good one. Trust me in this, I beg you, for God has given me enough light on the matter. Wasn’t His infinite goodness our only aim and rest? What further assurance do we need? Dearest, let us stay right there in complete self-effacement. We ought to be content to go on blindly, without knowing anything; it is enough for us that God is our God, our hope, our desire.” 

As Sr. Katherine gave life to Jane’s words, I saw Wisdom’s elbows make her way to us at the table. “Take note!” The spirit of Love poured forth through this letter from across the centuries.  Over fresh fruit and  a caffeinated beverage, I heard Wisdom’s guidance echoing through these compassionate and affirming words of our Co-foundress. “Be gentle with yourself. Trust. Listen. Don’t worry.”

***

For whatever perplexes you this day, challenges your heart or mind, I invite you to pause, and take note of the spirit of Wisdom companioning you. How do you notice her gentle encouragment showing up?  Anchored by the rhythms of prayer from our monastery to the cloister of your own heart, we invite you to be still and know that that you are companioned by God. That Wisdom, like our co-founder Jane, has elbows making their way into our contemplative hearts. We can trust that the spirit of Love, Hope, and Wisdom surrounds our deepest desires in doing God’s will.

Live+Jesus!

Breaking Bread Visitation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

How many ways are there to make community?

How many ways are there to be community?

Cheesy grits topped with cajun shrimp. An herbed biscuit paired with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Fruit, yogurt and granola parfait next to a side of over-easy eggs. All served on an outdoor patio along West Broadway in North Minneapolis. It’s not the usual scene for our communion table, nor typical Eucharistic feast — but it is where I experienced a sacred meal this past Monday morning that took me into the heart of a Eucharistic celebration. Together, with members of the Visitation Community, in the heart of the northside community: we broke bread; we enacted a sacred ritual.

As riots were breaking out in Baltimore last week and protest marches were held across our nation, a northside organization called Appetite for Change held a grand opening for its latest operation called “Breaking Bread Cafe.” With its mission to “use food as a tool to build health, wealth and create social change,” the cafe opened just three blocks north of the monastery — almost like a prayerful response to the unrest in our world. This is where Sr. Katherine Mullin, our monastic immersion resident Brenda Lisenby, Visitation intern Cody Maynus and I dined on Monday morning.

We sat outside on the patio facing west Broadway,  our dining area sharing a border with the headquarters for Minneapolis Public Schools — situated across the street from Shiloh Temple — where Barway Collins’ funeral service was held two days prior. Together, in this space, we broke bread.

Breaking Bread Cafe: serving "Global Comfort Foods for breakfast and lunch."

Breaking Bread Cafe: serving “Global Comfort Foods for breakfast and lunch.”

In the literal sense, we split an herbed biscuit and savored bites of the comfort food. In the figurative sense, we became Eucharist for one another– sharing stories, our joy, our heart’s questions and longing. We talked about poverty and violence. We mused on missionary work and ministry. We reflected on sustainable programming and our roles in service work. We wondered about past, present and future vocations.  We laughed at ourselves and said “Amen” — all in the space of an hour spent leisurely lingering over our communion food.

It makes me wonder: How many ways are there for us to enact the Eucharist?  To be the body of Christ — communion, community,  food –for one another? As we go about our respective days, in what ways do we consciously “LIVE+ JESUS” – as our co-founders St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal urged?

And: when Appetite for Change’s founders had the vision for “Breaking Bread” as a youth training and employment program, who came up with the name? How many religious and secular traditions have bread at the center of transformation and healing? These questions, this meal, still continue to feed me and inform my prayer. I encourage your own contemplations of holy dining experiences, at this new northside cafe, and at your own local tables.

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!

What we see: Prayer in a time of violence

Peace of Christ

Peace: Wednesday Noon Prayer Intention

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I imagine him standing at his kitchen sink. Maybe he’s stirring up a glass of orange juice to go with a late morning lunch –something to satiate his thirst before he has to go to work. From the kitchen window of his garden level apartment he sees a police officer shoot a young man running the other direction. It’s noon on Saturday, August 9, 2014,  and the community of Ferguson, Missouri, is about to change. This citizen, who goes by the name “Bruh” @TheePharoah on Twitter, has a literal grass-roots-level view of his neighborhood –just beyond the barred windows of his home. In a moment of social connectivity, he documents this experience from his perspective.

I try to imagine the night Toua Xiong was killed delivering pizzas in north Minneapolis. What it would have been like had I been standing at my kitchen window looking out and seen the teenage boy shot.  Or the moment Chris Dozier’s life came to an end in an alley off 14th and Plymouth. Or the late afternoon Marcus White was got caught in crossfire near West Broadway and Dupont. Or the evening Quincy DeShawn Smith’s life came to an abrupt halt in spite of police intervention. As former students in my 10th grade English class at North High, these young men’s deaths come to the fore and evoke my prayerful attention whenever headline news and social media report on gun violence in our world.

What does a witness to gun violence experience on a visceral level? On an intellectual, emotional, or spiritual level? What does he or she internalize in the aftermath of such a violent encounter? How does our prayer take shape in the wake of violence? How do we pray for survivors of such traumatic events — and the victims and perpetrators themselves?

Ferguson: A grass-roots level perspective

Each Wednesday, the Sisters devote their noon prayer to peace in the world. They pause at the lunch hour to remember God’s grace and goodness and love pouring out for all of us. As they chant the psalms, they hold the root causes of violence in their hearts, and give voice to personal intentions of people suffering and struggling to find peace. They seek to transform the world through prayer.

This past week, our noon liturgy in the Fremont House chapel was blessed by a few new guests that rounded out our prayerful pause. The Sisters sat in their usual chairs, as Roselaine* — a friend of S. Mary Frances’ who works for the Minneapolis police – sidled in beside me on the bench, followed by Jermaine* and Denzell* – two twelve year old boys we know from our neighborhood gardening evenings.

My heart was near to bursting at the outset. The configuration of pink and brown-skinned people convened in the chapel choir stalls enacting a centuries-old ritual of chant and silence moved me — especially in light of recent headlines reporting racial injustice and dehumanizing circumstances in our world.

I prayed for Gawolo, a former northside Teen Group participant I knew who had posted on Facebook that he was down in Ferguson, Missouri. I prayed for all those marching for human dignity and justice. I prayed for Roselaine, and her counterparts in our local police force as they go about their work of keeping safe the community. I prayed for “Bruh” in Missouri and his Twitter followers; I prayed for the officer who shot an unarmed Mike Brown. I prayed for my former students whose lives had all come to an end because of a fired bullet in the hand of an an angry person. I prayed for all who witness, wonder and grieve.

Honoring life: memorial site of a young person who died from gun violence in north Minneapolis.

Honoring life: memorial site for a young person who died from gun violence in north Minneapolis.

***

It was after prayer, sitting on the front porch enjoying jelly toast, chicken salad and lunchtime conversation, that Jermaine spoke up –and my intentions for peace continued.

“I’ve seen someone get killed,” he said.  The 12 year old boy, just days shy of starting sixth grade, sat squarely in the white whicker chair and shared his first hand experience witnessing gun violence.

He told us: It was broad day light. Near a corner store. Bullets passed him as he walked along the sidewalk. He described a man grabbing him and pulling him down – out of the way of the gunfire.

My eyes went to Jermaine’s. His direct, unabashed, unwavering, piercing brown-eyed gaze. I took note of his friend Denzell’s floor-directed stare. I wondered about what all these young boys’ eyes would see in their lifetime.

These stories of death, of witnessing violence, of being privy to gunshots and brutality – as part of everyday life, I want them to stop.

My prayer continues.

*names have been changes to protect the privacy of the persons. 

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?

***

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.

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?

**************************************************************************************************************

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.

IMG_6951

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!

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.”

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!