This is the hand of a woman who has lived a long life.

by Johan van Parys

Her hand shows the marks of time: arthritis, wrinkles, veins, cuts and bruises. Her hand is open, extended and inviting. A gesture which is reflective of the mission she serves. This is the hand of a woman who has lived a long life, a dedicated life. This is the hand of a woman who has served the church for many, many years. This is the hand of a woman, convinced that she can continue to contribute to the church despite old age and even beyond death.

We don’t know her name and we need not know her name for she embodies the millions of women who have carried the church through their prayer and their actions. They are the women who have prayed for our needs, hidden behind the walls of their monasteries or in plain view in our streets.

Nestled in her hand is a simple rosary, seemingly made of olive wood. It is the string of beads she has fingered thousands upon thousands of times as prayers passed her lips. This rosary was probably passed on to her from another sister as most everything else she uses. Her prayers build upon her sister’s prayers stringing years and years of prayer together. It is this rosary she faithfully returns to at the end of the day. It is this rosary she purposefully reaches for during difficult times. It is this rosary she happily cradles during times of joy. Her dedication to prayer keeps her centered. It keeps her rooted. It allows her to stay the sacred course she embarked on when she took her religious vows.

In this image the rosary is not used for prayer, rather the rosary gently placed in her hand is a form of evangelization. A worn rosary in the hand of an elderly woman speaks to the power of prayer. Without saying a word she shows the rosary as if inviting us to take it from her so we too may enter into the saving chain of prayer. This is her legacy: prayer saves! It is what she hopes to pass on to each one of us.

Though somewhat out of focus we can see the pectoral cross she is wearing around her neck. She received it at her profession and has worn it ever since. The cross has given her direction for all these years and continues to do so today. The cross in this image quietly testifies to the fact that it is by the cross we have been saved and it is by the cross we are called to live. If the rosary invites us to prayer, the cross calls us to action. These are the two great tenets of our life as Christians. Together they have been given to us as a mandate by Jesus himself: Celebrate the Eucharist and Wash Feet.

We don’t know her name and we need not know her name for she embodies the millions of women who have carried the church through their prayer and their actions. They are the women who have prayed for our needs, hidden behind the walls of their monasteries or in plain view in our streets. They are the women who have staffed our schools and universities where they have taught our children. They are the women who have worked in our hospitals where they have cared for our sick and our elderly.

They may wear veils instead of miters and they may carry books rather than crosiers but they are the ones who have shaped and molded so many of us into the people we are today. Their impact on our church is beyond measure. We simply would not be who we are as a people and as a church without them.

This image is a quiet testimony to the great work God is accomplishing through our religious and through all women in our church.

 

Johan Van Parys

Johan van Parys, a native of Belgium, has been The Basilica’s Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts since 1995. He holds graduate degrees in art history and comparative religious studies from the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

*See this artwork in the Pray to Love Exhibit at The Basilica of St. Mary.

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.

Weaving together Humility and Gentleness: An Invitation to Consider the Warp and Woof of Love

SMF warp woof

Weaving as Metaphor: S. Mary Frances shares a tapestry made by Mary Johnson at the SAORI Weaving Studio.

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

Through the slanted wood shades of the Girard House living room windows, morning light fell on the red, black, and white cotton and silk fibers woven together by our friend Mary Johnson.

As Visitation Minneapolis’ community leader Sr. Mary Frances Reis presented the tapestry to me, she spoke the following words:

“We are called to the practice of love, rather than austerity. Two virtues in particular form the warp through which the woof of love is woven. These are humility and gentleness.”

Quoting from the Companion to the Rule of Life of the Visitation Order, Sister traced her fingers along the color lines and weaving pattern, illustrating her metaphorical point.

According to wikipedia, woof and weft derive from the Old English word “wefan”  which means “to weave.” Warp is the lengthwise or longitudinal thread in a roll, while woof is the transverse thread. The warp and the woof ultimately form a fabric.  Figuratively, then these Salesian virtues of humility and gentleness, woven together become the fabric of love for our lives.

Can you imagine how humility and gentleness are threaded through love? Can you see the sisters in their urban monastery, “living Jesus” as consciously as possible: stitching together experiences at the door with neighbors in need or want of prayer – a meal, a bus token, warmth – all drawing on Christ’s love? Can you count the ways you practice living in such a manner — checking your ego, releasing anger or hostility in any given moment, and letting these virtuous acts knit you more closely with Love and Creator?

It’s not often that I get to meet one-on-one with Sr. Mary Frances. Convened to discuss themes emerging in our vocations and engagement work, our conversation took us to these Salesian elements that envelop the sisters’ ministry in Minneapolis, and inspire me in my own intentional, contemplative life.

Listening to “SMF” I am moved. I am reminded of how our co-founders Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal believed we were all called to holiness. The Sisters. Our priests. Our bishops. You. Me. The neighbor. We can all live and practice these virtues that are part of the Rule of Religious life.

In my next breath, I imagine this metaphoric cloth of virtue being the cloth in front of me: all red, and black and white perfection and blemish in its unique beauty. I can jump then and fathom the ordinary gray pants and purple sweater I wear as equally made, as intentionally stitched, as that which I don with a full heart and desire to live with integrity. I imagine myself gentle, humble and eeking love as I encounter each member of creation.

And this conversation, this fabric, becomes my prayer for the day.

I invite you to hold this meditation and consider what the warp and woof of your heart is this day. May Love bless and guide us all.

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RESOURCES

For more on Salesian Virtues and Rule of Life:

Click here to learn about the Pop Up SAORI Weaving Studio at St. Jane House.

Clearing to Hear

Sr. Katherine Mullin, VHM

Sr. Katherine Mullin, VHM

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I deleted 1, 400+ emails. I am down to having one message in my inbox at this moment. ”

Who does this? Who among us is able to claim this feat of clearing out our email inboxes? I tell you, I almost toppled when I read my dear Sr. Katherine Mullin’s facebook post declaring her Saturday morning accomplishment. But what really struck me, was the intention behind her action.

In the status update space on the Visitation Community’s facebook page, SK2 disclosed her motivation for the e-cleaning activity:

“I could hardly hear God’s voice I had so much static.”

The note inspires my own reflection this day: Where is the static in my life? What is getting in the way of me hearing God’s voice? What do I need to clear or clean out in order to feel more directly tuned in?

“We cannot always offer God great things, but at all times we can offer God little things with great love.” – St. Jane de Chantal

As we begin this month of July, I invite you to convene your own “Saturday morning session” ala Sr. Katherine, and give yourself the space to clean a closet, unload a dishwasher, clear off a desk, assemble a stack of papers, or delete extra tweets or texts from your smart phone.

Perhaps the static in your world takes on a less tangible form.  Who among us has an inbox in our brain where all the negative spam messages are stored that remind us we aren’t good enough? We need to do more, buy more, be more, in order to be loved. Time to purge that space. Who hears that voice in their head that broadcasts messages of fear or self- doubt? Let’s turn the channel, eh?

Get clear, with a goal to hear.

God is calling you in significant and sweet ways. Can you detect Love’s still, small voice?

“How does prayer work for you?” Some New Year’s Musings…

Photo by Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

Photo by Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“How does prayer work for you?”

It’s New Year’s eve. I’m sitting in front of a hot fire in a log cabin tucked inside the Snake River Forest outside Isle, MN. It’s cold out — 14 below cold.  Three of my friend’s four dogs are afoot. We have just finished a lovely grilled salmon and veggie meal, (truth-be-told: despite the fact that a crucial part of our dish was consumed in flames prior to consumption.)  My friend rests, we reflect on our 2012’s, and the conversation turns toward the theological.

“How does prayer work for you?”

We have just completed a ritual of sorts, she and I: writing out on tiny slips of paper responses to the following prompts:
“Things to release.”
“Things to embrace.”
“Things to invite in.”

We have been quiet, contemplative, and giggly as we engaged in this made up marking of our year, tossing our 2013 intentions into the fire and blowing kisses. I bowed before the flames, and said, “Amen!” as I surrendered these scraps of thought and extended this gesture as, indeed, a prayerful one.

“How does prayer work for you?” she asked again.

I am taken aback. A professed Athiest, with profound and inspiring regard for all of Creation, my girlfriend’s query gives me pause. When was the last time someone asked me this question? When was the last time I really thought about an answer? How often do I engage in spiritual or theological inquiry and debate with someone outside my faith?

My heart was on fire. I loved the moment and my dear friend’s fervor for the topic.

“How does prayer work for me?” I repeated, mulling over the largeness of the question, and the opportunity to respond.

As I paused, my girlfriend jumped back in.
“Do you really believe that God hears each one of your thoughts and prayers and answers? I mean, don’t you think he’s a little busy with the Universe, with everyone asking for help, to say nothing of who and what ever else might exist beyond?”

“Of course! I think God has the most exhausting job,” I respond, laughing — and then added: “but I think God can handle it.” Just like God can handle my beseeching, my anger, my sorrow, my joy, my praise.

At that moment, I wanted to quote my friend Zac Willette, whose theological writing always moves me. “The deal is, I don’t think we pray to change God’s mind about anything: I think we pray to change ourselves. To align our hearts with whatever God’s will or desire is, and to invite compassion, and ultimately, some action on our own parts around what, or whomever, we are praying for.”

I liked my answer. Driving home and reflecting now, I still do.

***

One of the greatest gifts of the Visitation Sisters — and any monastic, contemplative community– is this gift of prayer. When you request prayers, these women religious take it seriously; it’s the life blood of their community, so-to-speak. It fuels the sisters in their daily interactions — in their ways of being in the world. And, by extension — as a Visitation Companion, prayer is an ongoing activity of my own that informs my journey to live and love faithfully all who are around me, all who I encounter in this world.

On this New Year’s Day, as we journey again around the sun, how do you respond to this question: “How does prayer work for you?” And, might I add, “How might it better your life and animate your limbs in the coming year?”

Happy 2013!

Structure and the Holy Spirit: Praying the Divine Office

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

holy_spirit_closeupThe thing is, I really like structure. I crave it. I am certain I’ve confessed this thought here before. As someone who left the structure and confines present in a 9-5 job years ago, I have long been grieving the gifts of a set schedule; I miss those routines laid out by someone else that I can simply step into. Teaching in the public high school two blocks from the monastery, I had the hourly bells to keep me grounded — to mark my day. As a creative, contemplative sort, whose ministerial work takes me into days without any set agenda, I can get anxious.

Where do I go? What do I do next? How do I prioritize my tasks? What is the next best loving thing I can do to serve my community? How do I honor my gifts and those of my peers? What responsibilities do I have and how do I keep focus?

Do any of these questions resonate with you?

Enter: the Divine Office.

Praying the Divine Office with the sisters — or the Liturgy of the Hours as it’s also called — on any given day, brings me back to center. The gifts afforded to me in this routine manner of convening with a community and chanting the psalms are beyond measure.

Morning Prayer to the Holy SpiritWe gather in the chapel. We sit. We face the cross. We face one another. We sing. We pause. We reflect on how the Word is speaking to us. We listen to our hearts. We listen to one another. We bring forward prayerful intentions. We give voice to the way that we have found Christ alive and in our midst, in our neighborhood and world. We hold critical and compassionate questions and thoughts for all who pray. We do this four times a day.

Stepping into the structure of this day, if even for an hour, reminds me of what’s possible when we pause and make room, tuning into the Holy Spirit and the Divine at work in our lives. As a Companion to the Visitation Sisters, this kind of prayer life is deeply life-giving to me;  I can hear more clearly my own heart beating when I come to the monastery and align myself with the larger world of faith, hope, and love. In turn, I can hear more clearly the world itself and all that desires healing, attention, action.

But this kind of prayer life, this monastic practice, takes discipline. And who among us has the capacity to live daily like this? Who among us is called to hold these prayerful routine practices for others to join? Is it you?

I invite you to pray.

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To join the sisters for prayer:
Daily Prayer Schedule:
7 am: Morning Prayer at Fremont
Noon: Prayer (call 612-521-6113)
4:45 pm: Prayer (call 612-521-6113)
8:15 pm: Night Prayer at Girard

Thursdays are the Sisters’ shut-down day. No open prayer time.