Advent: God the Father, Pacing the Waiting Room Floor

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“I am praying to God, the Father, this Advent. I know he’s not on this list of saints we are invoking, but he’s central to our prayers. Who is God, the Father? He’s a new dad, pacing the waiting room floor, waiting for Jesus to be born. And he’s pacing the the floor for all of us in our ongoing birth-processes and new life journeys.”

S. Mary Margaret’s words were deeply moving to me as she spoke them to our circle of Vis Companions and Sisters convened last Saturday for our annual Advent Retreat.

Gathered around an alter of candles at the Girard House in north Minneapolis, contemplating the blessed saints and wise figures of this Advent season and offering prayers, we lit candles one at a time invoking the holy women and men’s names and the gifts they offered to our Advent contemplations.  I heard Dorothy Day‘s name spoken, St. Francis Xavier, St. Nicolas, Etty Hilesum, John of the Cross. And then: God, the Father. The image S. Mary Margaret offered of Our Father as an anxious, expectant father, concerned with Mary and his first born‘s well-being fired my own imagination.  It has stayed with me ever since.

***

A month ago, I turned 45 years old. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I spent time inhabiting stories of my early life in Nebraska, going so far as to invite my parents to tell me again of the circumstances surrounding my arrival as their first born child.

My mom was enlivened by the assignment, recalling amusing, minute details of the day leading up to my birth. While baking a chocolate cake and gathering ingredients for brown sugar frosting, her water broke — though she wasn’t quite certain what was taking place in her body. She called her doctor, who reportedly said, “Well, call me when you are sure what’s going on.” At the age of 21, my first-time pregnant mother then dialed the neighbor, a nurse, and sought her counsel. In the end, she and my dad took off for Bryan Memorial hospital in Lincoln,  and 8 hours later, I emerged.

My father’s recall process came in spurts and fits, with his self-described exasperated efforts at aiding my mother in the breathing process during her labor, and his subsequent “failure” at keeping her calm. Apparently, my dad had my mother breathing so erratically that she hyperventilated, couldn’t relax, and so he was sent from the labor and delivery room by an attending hospital nurse.

The tale comes vividly today into my mind’s eye, as I imagine Mary and Joseph on the night of Christ’s birth. What did either of them know in the way of child birth? Was lamaze training part of the birthing preparation 2000 years ago? In my meditations, I see these holy humans amidst the air, earth, straw, elements; they are attentive, anxious, intent.

And then creeps back in God, the Father: pacing. He is no different that my human father: waiting, hopeful, trusting, walking to and fro in his father’s room.

Can you see this with me? Imagine Abba, Father, Daddy, for these moments, reduced to the uncertain expectation we all experience in the intense births of our life? How does this imagined scene fire your own identification with the incarnation tale? Can you fathom your own holy wonderings and human divinity as God paces alongside you, or breathes deeply and awaits news of your arrival?

Happy Advent Contemplations!

 

“My Soul in Stillness Waits” – Advent Prayer

At St. Jane House: Ministry of Prayer, Presence

At St. Jane House: Ministry of Prayer, Presence

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

It’s Tuesday morning in Advent and I am seated in a circle of prayerful people at St. Jane House. I am here as part of the weekly Centering Prayer experience lead by Visitation Companion Brian Mogren. On this particular day, our circle convenes in special celebration to honor and welcome longtime participant Harriet Oyera’s children from northern Uganda — a family separated by war in that region, and re-united just a week ago.

The coffee is brewed, the treats are laid out, a large sign of welcome has been constructed and posted for this family. Our special guests have not yet arrived, and so after a period of waiting, Brian calls us to be seated and silent. We enter into prayer with the following mantra:

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

I enter into the quiet with a mind full of chatter. Errands to run. Anxiety about holiday plans surfacing. Thoughts of my missing billfold–  including my driver’s license and credit cards– come to mind; “Where did I last put those blessed things?” From my heart arises the latest text about love and life. I think about Harriet, her kids, our friend Dorothy in Ghana.  Thoughts about my deepest desires well in my body; I take a deep breath and try to find calm, center, the quiet. I long for the peaceful emptiness that allows me to recognize God filling me up, renewing my faith, spirit.

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

Mary comes to mind. I see her as a young woman, a teenager, who is unwed and pregnant with Jesus. I breathe in and out and imagine her and the Angel Gabriel in conversation. Mary’s “Yes” to bearing new life resounds in my ears. I wonder, prayerfully, how God is inviting me to fuller life, love, or to be faithful; I wonder how I  am called to say, “Yes”?

I try to get quiet.

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

I breathe in. Out. I empty myself. I am renewed. The Advent song continues in my breathing:  “Truly my hope is in you.” I release. I receive. Over and over again.
And then I hear it. The door opens, and sounds of people quietly entering the space fill the room. Boots are taken off, coats unzipped, items are laid down, I hear the jingling of hangers in the closet.  Four sets of feet creep onto the rug; Harriet and her children take their place among the circle. I continue in my prayer, joyfully, ecstatically, knowing they have arrived.

I smile deeply within myself.

It’s funny what shows up when we have our eyes closed, and our hearts tuned toward God. In this Advent season of waiting, hoping, preparing for a babe to enter, in this circle of quiet meditation,  we literally receive a mother and her children. It feels like the Divine entering and reminding us of Love’s abundance, power, grace, miracle. This experience gives me pause and inspires my further prayer.

What do you hear, notice, when you get quiet and repeat the following:

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits”?

Advent blessings!

Tonglen: A Meditation Tool to Transform Suffering

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice centering prayer

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

Heidi’s dad died this week. Margaret lost her daughter to a long battle with cancer. Karen endures chemo, fighting a malignancy in her breast. Serena showed up at our door, seeking cold-weather clothing. Our local priests and church leaders continue to discern a course of leadership and healing in the face of more sexual abuse accusations.  Khalilah recalls the passing of her mother; and Francois and I hold the memory of our son who lived for one hour. These struggles or sadnesses all inform our prayers this week.

As humans, we suffer. We wonder; we ache; we seek understanding in the face of our illnesses and all that we endure. And we lean into a loving God to show us the way.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering,
 and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed,
and after three days rise again.  -Mark 8:31
What is the role of prayer or meditation in easing our suffering? How does leaning into the holy, the divine, the mysteries of this universe and our alignment with all of creation, help us transform our ills, and make a way through our seasons of struggle?
He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, 
“Get behind me, Satan!
For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” –Mark 8:32-33
In session four of our “Following the Spirit” discernment series, we focus on the role of suffering in our vocations. As we prepare for this course, we consider different “tools” for helping our discerners navigate difficulty and find a way to hear God’s voice in their present circumstances and their larger life callings.
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, 
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” 
-Mark 8:34-35 
Tonglen meditation is one tool we draw on to teach the transformation of struggle and suffering.
In this Buddhist-meditation practice, we find the intersecting Christian teachings of compassion and forgiveness and the Salesian virtue of gentleness. In the process of this practice, we may experience deep consolation and healing.We invite you to try it.

TONGLEN MEDITATION

Here are the abbreviated steps of this meditation practice. For a lengthier explanation and teaching, see American Zen Buddhist Joan Halifax’s “Meditation: Tonglen or Giving and Receiving: A Practice of Great Mercy”  

Find a comfortable posture, palms up, eyes closed, feet on the ground. This work takes great courage. Trust your ability to do it, as you align with your heart’s deepest wells of love and the mercy and kindness you possess.

1) Identify a source of suffering or struggle within your own life. How have you experienced hurt? Fear? Resistance? Doubt? Shame? Breathe in the experience, imagining it as hot, heavy air or smoke, including the feelings that accompany your hurt. Let them touch every part of your being. Exhale loving kindness and mercy. Imagine this as light, loving air.

2) Consider the suffering or hurt of a beloved friend or family member. Breathe in their pain, recognizing you are not alone in your struggle. See how they hurt in their circumstances and invite the mercy and kindness of your heart to transform this woe. Exhale loving kindness.

3) Recognize the hurt or pain in an acquaintance – someone you see on the street, driving in a car, in your place of work, or at the gym or grocery store. Breathe in their pain, and exhale loving kindness.

4) See your would-be enemy, and envision how they hurt. Let their struggle enter your imagination, and trust your heart’s ability to be softened and hold their pain. Inhale deeply and exhale loving kindness and mercy.

5) Consider your pain, that of your beloved, what ails the acquaintance or stranger, and that of your would-be enemy as one: inhale the collective hurt of all and exhale loving-kindness. Recognize how connected all suffering is, and your power to send love and light, joy and kindness to all.

Paying Attention: Contemplations from a September morning walk

September blossoms

September blossoms

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” – Julia Cameron, “The Artist’s Way.”

I paused this morning on my walk to pick dying leaves from a tall, yellow Golden Glow flower in our front garden.  Next to this plant, was a bright pink budded and blooming variety with dark green foliage — so alive and so precious with little flowers emerging in the fall landscape.

As I worked to remove dead leaves from one plant, and make way for the growing beauty of the other, my eye took in a whole host of dried flowers needing attention;  I decided I would “dead head” the bee balm growing close by.

Pausing in this moment,  I took note of the smells emerging from the decomposing bee balm blossoms, squishing between my fingers,  and I was overwhelmed with joy. A fragrance like rosemary and thyme was released from the dying buds; it was pure delight in my palm.

“Aha! Perhaps this is why my friends Mary and Stephanie suggested I save these blossoms to make tea?” I tried to imagine the flavor of a steeped bud. In all of this imagining, I experienced such happiness; a kind of deep joy overcoming me.

At the exact moment of deadheading and tea-wondering, appeared the first-ever humming bird that I have observed at 1196 Selby Avenue. He or she came to linger over the bush next to me.

I thought I might start to cry. Such furiously fast fluttering of wings, such hovering over the barely alive blossoms, such beauty in the attempt to savor and suck any nectar from the bee balm.

A line from a Birago Diop poem came to my lips:

“The dead are not dead… they’re in the rustling tree.”

I improvised a new line:

“They are in the hovering humingbird…”

In this month, as we honor the memory of our son birthed a buried one year ago, I’m tuned into how small things — savoring tiny details — is helpful in a healing sort of way.

Julia Cameron, in her book, “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” writes:

“The reward for attention is always healing. It may begin as a healing of a particular pain – the lost lover, the sickly child, the shattered dream. But what is healed, finally, is the pain that underlies all pain: the pain that we are, as Rilke phrases it, “unutterably alone.” More than anything else, attention is an act of connection.

And so I pay attention.

In the process, I think, we are all connected. Me. These decomposing flowers. Me, these blooming buds. Me, this humming bird, seeking nectar or pollen or a meal to satiate his hunger, his hope, his deepest longings. Me and you.

We are all connected.

I invite you into this prayerful, attention-paying, healing activity. What do you notice on your walks? What life blooms close by, in the same space of something letting go of its vitality? What hovers close by? What fires your imagination and inspires your sense of connectedness with all of God’s creation?

Peace, Prayers! LIVE + JESUS!

 

Door Ministry and the Mystery of the Visitation

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

Tattoo removal, housing crises, food shortages, gunshots wounds, popsicles, physical therapy and God were all topics of conversation for me between 11am and 1pm at the Girard House last Tuesday morning. I was at the monastery doing door ministry.

Following Centering Prayer each week, I make my way from St. Jane House to one of the Visitation Sisters’ locations. Sr. Katherine and I routinely connect for spiritual conversation and “Vocation Partner talk.” I look forward each Tuesday morning to the  spoonfuls of peanut butter and slices of banana that accompany these precious conversations with my dear friend and mentor,  “SK2.” We sit on the front porch, or head into the living room, or sometimes descend to her office in the basement, and we have our chats. In the process, I always feel the mystery of the Visitation at work.

"Windsock Visitation" by Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

"Windsock Visitation" by Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

Older woman. Younger woman. Each full of life. Something growing. Something trying to be born. There’s a prophetic and redemptive quality to all of our encounters, as we claim, consciously or not, our roles as Mary and Elizabeth and celebrate the divine life within — and the mutuality of our relationship.

On this particular Tuesday, however, when Sr. Katherine wasn’t available,  I found myself at 1619 Girard Avenue North, answering the door and experiencing the mystery of the Visitation in a whole new way.

“D” was from Tennessee. He was dressed in jeans and a white tee, rolled up over his shoulders, and excited to come onto the porch for a cool couple of moments. With a heat index of over 100 degrees, offering a glass of ice water was not only courteous, but a necessary consideration in this climate. He was full of smiles and an energetic spirit, shaking my hand, and repeating his 12 syllable name. “Tell the sisters ‘D’ says, ‘hi’!”

From the hallway, Sr. Mary Margaret appeared,  poking her head out, “Is that my “D”? she asked. She came out and the two embraced. Sr. Mary Marg looked intently at me and relayed their last encounter. “‘D’ was here the day I got home from the hospital. He helped move me back in!”

Sister and “D” reflected on their respective health situations, the challenges of physical therapy and the way our bodily injuries catch up with us over time.

When Mary Marg left to resume her tasks inside,  “D” and I were left to talk.

With two lightening bolt like tattoos marking his cheeks, his disclosed survival of being shot up down south, and the role of adult mentors – for good and ill – in our lives, we turned our conversation to surviving here. Now.

And we prayed.

“D” offered to read to me from the placard that is often handed out to anyone coming to the door of the monastery. The peace prayer of St. Francis de Sales:

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and everyday. He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

I handed “D” his requested bus token, and he gave me a hug. And my heart was full.

The encounter rejuvenated and reminded me of how precious little moments in our day can be. While I wasn’t able to connect with Sr. Katherine that day, I did connect with another human being, and in the process felt God’s loving hand in my life.

I hope it was the same for “D.”

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 Suffering: Finding Comfort in Community

Visionary, abstract, digital, and fractal art by Jack Haas.

Visionary, abstract, digital, and fractal art by Jack Haas.

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I hurt my eye. After thirty years of wearing contacts, it got dry. It turned red. It really started to ache — so I went in to the eye doctor and she informed me that the surface looked like the equivalent of a “dry, cracked and bleeding hand.” She immediately instructed me to quit wearing my contact lenses, gave me some drops and an antibiotic gel to put in  twice a day. A week later, things were worse. When I returned to the doctor, she told me how glad she was that I had come back. Turns out, it was much more serious than she initially thought: I had a herniated cornea.

For eighteen days, I was in a lot of pain. I mean a lot. My entire eye socket throbbed. I couldn’t bear to have the lights on, window shades open, or be in the sun. I wore dark glasses – I had five different pairs of varying shades to protect my eye and the non-stop headache that accompanied my blurry vision. I cried a lot and craved daily naps and early bedtime hours. I was prescribed a much more potent antibiotic to apply hourly. And I was told to just wait.

How do we conduct ourselves in any kind of prayerful manner when we are physically suffering? (Are we called to be polite patients of injury? Or our authentic “ouchy” selves?) What does our state of mind/ heart/ spirit reveal about us in our most vulnerable states? Where do we put our trust? How do we wield our anger or rage? What do we make of our most wanting selves?

These are some of the questions that have come to me in my reflections on this past month’s experience. My eye is on the mend, but now I’m inviting my heart to catch up with what I’m learning about such physically uncomfortable journeys.

In the Visitation community this past month we have had four of our six sisters endure physical challenges: starting on Easter Sunday, when Sr. Karen slipped on a slice of remaining sidewalk ice and shattered her ankle. Following the spill, and subsequent surgery requiring new pins put into her body, were two planned surgeries that likewise addressed the repair of body parts. Sr. Mary Virginia got a new knee and Sr. Mary Margaret had heart surgery. In the space of these medical procedure navigations there was another slip on some unseasonal sidewalk snow that left Sr. Suzanne with a sprained ankle. (And this doesn’t even count the two brain surgeries that Sr. Mary Frances had last Fall!)

In the midst of all this physical discomfort, I have found radiant spirits. I have witnessed faithful, joyful women with confidence in their recoveries, who have sought solace in a resurrected Christ who carries all of our wounds and helps us trust in transcendence.

While I have been weeping and wining in my process of healing, the sisters have been praying for me. When I believed myself to be possibly forever disabled, or unable to endure another hour of watery eyes, excruciating headache and bright light, the sisters invited me into a space of comfort and alliance with their knowing and faithful community anchored in the Living Jesus. I wasn’t alone.

This kind of comfort, community, is priceless. I invite you today to reflect with me on where you find such alliance in love.

“Woman, why are you crying?” Easter Season Contemplations

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

Woman, why are you crying? - John 20:15

"Woman, why are you crying?" - John 20:15

I was sitting on the steps of my almost-three-year-old’s daycare provider’s house. I thought I had planned enough time for this transition in our day. I had risen early for my once-a-month- massage appointment. I had left the house early and snuck back in, all peace and relaxation and joy oozing through my muscles, in order to collect my drowsy preschooler from her dad’s arms and drop her at the daycare before my late-morning meeting. Forty five minutes surely had to be enough time to travel less than a mile and then back — right?

The two-year-ten-month-old child, however, was not having it. This Monday she wanted nothing but mommy or daddy. The supposed ten-minute-max drop off went terribly wrong. There were tears and screams and pleas for home — for her blanket, for her father, for me! — coupled with clinging. After all negotiations and requests and attempts at soothing were offered, I headed back out the door with said child still attached to me. Plan B to return her to her resting father was in line.

I was anxious. I was now late. My clock read fifteen minutes passed my meeting time. How had all those extra minutes ticked away? Tears and tantrums (of both children and their parents) are truly the pressure cooker of a time-suck.

Can you imagine the thoughts racing through my mind? Can you hear your own in such a chaotic, late-running-Monday-morning?

I hadn’t planned well. I was clearly a bad mother. I was clearly a poor professional. I couldn’t even make a meeting on time. If I had only thought or prepared a little bit better, then I wouldn’t be in this jam.

I wanted to reach out to the person waiting for me, communicate my dilemma or tardiness, but I didn’t have her phone number. And there was the sniffling kid on my arm – and her bag over my other shoulder – that kept me feeling unable to properly, calmly reach out  and communicate my whereabouts.  At that minute, my cell phone rang. It was the woman waiting for me. Taking a deep breathe, I tried to relay that I was delayed, but would be there, if she could wait. (We had been trying to schedule this meeting for six plus weeks.) I exhaled, and she responded:

“Do not worry. I get it. Take your time. I’ll be here.” It was her compassion, her generosity, her own knowing as a mother, that inspired my tears. I sat down on the steps, next to my hand-holding daughter, and started weeping.

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

***

I told this story recently on Salesian Monday Night as part of Sr. Mary Margaret and my co-presenation on Contemplative Presence. “How do we live in the present moment? How do we encounter the resurrected Christ in our midst every day? How do we find him in ourselves?” As one of the seven essentials of Monastic life for the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis, contemplative presence requires a gentle and loving practice of tuning into the fullness of each moment. In sharing my own story, I offered the question, “How do we live a contemplative presence when we are anxious, haven’t seemingly planned well, or aren’t in a perfect state of peace?” — Or, as Sr. Mary Margaret re-framed it in our post-presentation reflection,  “a little pissed off?”

“Your daughter’s question,” reflected Sr. Mary Margaret, is not unlike Christ’s question to Mary Magdalene outside his tomb: “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:15)

***

I offer you these thoughts for your own Easter season contemplations. Where are you stuck? Why are you sobbing – in any literal or figurative way? What do your eyes or mind need to turn to in order to see the resurrected Christ in our midst? What joy is hidden behind that veil of tears?

He is Risen! He is you!
EASTER BLESSINGS!

Entering Holy Week through Imaginative Prayer

Wayne Forte, Anointing His Feet #2 (acrylic on canvas, 2008)

Wayne Forte, Anointing His Feet #2 (acrylic on canvas, 2008)

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I keep seeing his feet. The calloused edges of Jesus’ heels, the dark brown of his skin exposed through his sandals. I imagine the way the perfumed oil must soften the leathered texture of his soles, and my own heart cracks open in the process.  It is Mary, sister to Martha and the raised Lazarus, who provides me with this glimpse of Christ as a weary-walking human being in my imaginative prayer pouring over Chapter 12 of John’s gospel, versus 1-12. I begin my Holy Week entering scripture through this Ignatian-inspired prayer practice, and it ignites my imagination and fuels my passion for the upcoming days of our Triduum.

How many ways are there to enter into this most holy and sacred time of our liturgical year? What rituals and rites do we carry out annually that open our minds and hearts and align us with this soon-to-be crucified-and-risen Christ? How do we embrace the moments of Jesus among us – his disciples – as new, as emotion-filled, as invigorating and central to our own faith journeys on this earth? How do we experience these days and find ourselves renewed, rather than simply moving through rote ceremonies and rituals?

I ask all these questions of myself, my faith community, my family and friends — as I simultaneously tune into lamb and ham recipes, consider egg-dying alternatives, and what special bright-colored ensemble I might dawn for Easter Sunday. No lie. I am a woman who loves Jesus, and also deeply appreciates a good pedicure to show off on the day we celebrate that “HE IS RISEN!” (Note: my focus on toes shifts considerably during these contemplative days.)

***

Each month, as part of our “Following the Spirit” discernment series, we spend time learning about a kind of prayer to inform or guide our discernment processes.  We have an experience in that prayer form then, with the goal of drawing us closer to God and knowing his will for our lives and abiding love for each of us. Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, the Examen, Praying with Nature, and the Divine Office are all prayer forms about which we have provided instruction.  At this last Monday night’s discernment session, I had the opportunity to lead an experience of Ignatian Prayer and Imagination.

In an excerpt from “What is Ignatian Spirituality?” Fr. David L. Fleming, SJ writes: “Following Jesus is the business of our lives. To follow him we must know him, and we get to know him through our imagination. Imaginative Ignatian prayer teaches us things about Jesus that we would not learn through scripture study or theological reflection. It allows the person of Christ to penetrate into places that the intellect does not touch. It brings Jesus into our hearts. It engages our feelings. It enflames us with ideals of generous service.”

Following some basic steps for this prayer*, our room of 23 discerners imagined themselves inside the scriptural setting of John’s gospel. We were Mary, we were Lazurus, we were Martha, we were Judas. We watched, listened, engaged, felt — we tuned into Jesus as he entered the room, and we found ourselves interacting with him as our hearts and spirits would have it. We came to know him. We came to believe, not in a theologically sound and historically accurate way, but through our God-given imaginations.

It is this Ignatius Loyola-inspired prayer experience that takes me to Christ’s feet — that thrusts me smack dab into the center of the human drama and blessed journey that is this Holy Week, and provides me a more intimate glimpse of Christ’s suffering and resurrection. I want to be Mary and tend to his limbs, anointing his feet with sacred oil,  before he turns to wash his disciple’s soles. I want to walk alongside him and know first hand those moments in the garden, what it’s like to be on my knees. I want to slow down and hear his breathing as he labors and relinquishes his life in those last moments on the cross. And certainly, I want to be outside his tomb — there when he first appears beyond human form.

***

What does your own imagination desire in prayer this Holy Week? Will you join me in this heart-and-spirit-led activity?

Triduum Blessings!
_____________________________________________________________________________________

*For more on Imaginative Prayer, see “Ignatian Prayer and the Imagination” from Ignatian Spirituality.com
And: “How do we Pray with our Imagination?” from Creighton Online Ministries

On Contemplative Presence: A Wendell Berry Poem

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation CompanionMass at Monastery

Contemplative Presence is a vivacious stability founded in the “movement without motion,” named in the Book of Wisdom and described by St. Francis de Sales as devotion. This presence carries our charism, and therefore, conversion which we know as humility, seeking truth, before God and great gentleness, non-violence, in relation to all of creation. Communing rather than significant separation is our wellspring overflowing as “the bond of love,” the signature of our charism.”
— From the Seven Essentials of the Visitation Monastic Presence in North Minneapolis

What does it mean to be a contemplative? What informs or characterizes your efforts to “be present” — or to “live in the moment?” In my reflections on – and best attempts to follow– a life grounded in contemplative presence, I have jokingly said, “It takes a lot of planning to live in the present moment!”

As Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie and I prepare to present on this topic at tonight’s Salesian Monday session, I offer you the following Wendell Barry poem to inspire your own reflections, prayers and life rooted in Contemplative Presence.

Wendell Berry booksRemembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own white frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir