Brian Mogren: Being Who He is and Being That Well

Brian Mogren: Vis Companion, Director of St. Jane House

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

“Be who you are and be that well.” St. Francis de Sales

It’s been a decade since Brian Mogren quit a long-held job at Target Stores to heed the call of St. Francis de Sales to “Be Who You are and Be That Well.” In that time, what Mogren has been is the provider of shelter to the temporarily homeless, the purveyor of a quiet space for spiritual seekers and a persistent, insistent, consistent friend of the Visitation Sisters, his neighbors in North Minneapolis. His work won him the Virginia McKnight Binger Award in Human Service from the esteemed McKnight Foundation, given to those who “give their time to improve the lives of people in their communities.” He’s done that all right and along the way served as an unofficial counselor, coordinator, gardener, director and caretaker for those who use his home on Emerson Avenue North. “This opened up a world of possibility for me and my life,” Mogren writes on his website, “that I could not have imagined: bringing my unique gifts, creativity and connections to contribute to the transformation of North Minneapolis.”

A Call to the Northside

With Two Marys: Brian and FDTL Founder Mary Johnson Roy and Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie

Mogren’s transformation began, in part, when he met the Sisters. Since 2008, the Sisters have leased his home (The St. Jane House) for retreats to women seeking empowerment, students wanting enlightenment and mothers shedding resentment. A grass-roots group, From Death to Life, counts the St. Jane House as its home. Its founder is Mary Johnson, a mother who sought out, and forgave, the man who killed her only son. Mogren serves on the board.

“This is what it’s all about – connecting across difference and discovering our common humanity.” — Brian Mogren

His journey owes something to an epiphany moment years ago when he was leaving a parish council meeting at St. Philips Catholic Church on 26th and Bryant Ave. N.   He noticed a woman frantically trying to pick up papers strewn about the street; she’d left them on top of her car as she pulled away. Now she was scurrying to pick up the papers and sheet music and Mogren gave her a hand. They walked back to the church arm in arm. The moon was out. The evening was quiet. And Mogren felt at peace. Suddenly a car with dark-tinted windows pulled alongside, rap music pounding as the back window began to roll down. Mogren’s moment of bliss turned to terror, fearing they could get hustled, hassled or hurt. Just then, a teenage boy stuck his head out the window, smiled and said, “Hi, Miss Muggs.” This was a teenager talking to a 70-year-old Irish Catholic.

Role model and friends.

“They had love and affinity for one another,” Mogren recalls. “Later I wept. I thought, ‘Oh, my Gosh.’ This is what it’s all about – connecting across difference and discovering our common humanity. I felt called to move to the Northside.” He did, building what would become the St. Jane House in 2003. .He moved in and became an official North Minneapolis resident, still holding on to his creative job at Target. He decided to quit, after 24 1/2 years, following another epiphany experience – this time while listening to a tape of students’ spoken-word poetry.

“[Brian] has mentored a few young people who look on him as a role model and friend. He loves North Minneapolis and it shows.” Sr. Karen Mohan,VHM

I remember hearing the urgency in their voices,” he says, “and in that moment my heart was burning. I needed to do what I could to ease the pain and provide a path for those who needed it. I wanted to make a difference.” A big part of the difference began when the Sisters and Mogren got together with the St. Jane House. He had the space. They had the plans. They’d bring the people. He’d be the director.

St. Jane House Ministry

St. Jane House: A Place of Rest and Delight

In the years that followed, the St. Jane house has provided guest rooms for overnight visitors, hosted a weekly centering prayer group, offered retreats for healing and support groups and served as home base for students – high school and college – seeking an “immersion experience” in the flow of neighborhood life.

“I feel loved and celebrated by the Sisters….They embody the God of my understanding, and they define the notion of inclusion. I am able to give to others what I receive from them.”

It doesn’t surprise Sister Karen Mohan that Mogren can handle such varied groups with finesse, grace and hospitality. It was modeled by his parents, Jerry and Arlene, who were quick to welcome others to the Molgren family. He’s had a lot of practice. “When we became ‘family and friends’ with Brian,” she recalls, “we inherited all his brothers – 11 brothers and no sisters. When our community went to his mom’s home for one of the family get-together suppers, we were welcomed by a big sign outside on the lawn. “’WELCOME SISTERS. WE ALWAYS WANTED SISTERS. And now we have them. YOU.’ We love the Mogren boys and we loved Arlene, their mother. After her funeral a few years ago, the 10 living brothers all carried her casket singing, ‘She’s ain’t heavy. She’s our mother.’ There wasn’t a dry eye around.”

Loved and Celebrated by the Sisters

Family and Friends: The Mogren Brothers, Mother, and Visitation Sisters

“It’s wonderful to be in the presence of the [Sisters’] non-judgmental, joyful spirit. They have helped me to be gentle with myself and that helps me to be gentle with others.” 

Mogren remembers first meeting the Sisters at St. Philips where he started attending mass because of his respect for Father Greg Tolaas. He met them there, but he really got to know them after he moved to North Minneapolis. “I feel loved and celebrated by the Sisters,” Mogren says, “ever since I met them. It’s wonderful to be in the presence of their non-judgmental, joyful spirit. They have helped me to be gentle with myself and that helps me to be gentle with others. They embody the God of my understanding, and they define the notion of inclusion.

“I don’t see any other than the life I’m living,” he says. “I get to be who I am and to be that well.”

“I am able to give to others what I receive from them. They have entrusted me with their platform and space.” He’s been a fine defender and caretaker of that Salesian spirituality, in the opinion of Jeff Pearson, a long-time friend and benefactor of the Sisters. “Brian can weather the storms,” Pearson says. “If it doesn’t work one way, he’ll figure out a different way. He’s got the kind of compassion that keeps him coming back.”

Brian with Alafia Foundation Members

Sister Karen notes that Mogren, now 51 years old, is something of a Renaissance man, who’s an artist, a graphic designer, a photographer and a fun-loving guy with a sense of humor. Mogren, who lives in the basement of the St, Jane House, prefers to think of it as “the garden level.” “Brian was inspired to begin the Alafia Foundation to encourage leaders from the neighborhood,” Mohan says. “He has mentored a few young people who look on him as a role model and friend. He loves North Minneapolis and it shows.” Mogren would smile at that description. He’s a man who loves where he is: in his city, in his heart, in his life.   “I don’t see any other than the life I’m living,” he says. “I get to be who I am and to be that well.” That’s why the welcome mat is out at the St. Jane House.

* This is the thirteenth in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation 
Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- 
as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us
 in our ministry of mutuality. 
LIVE + JESUS! 

The Francis Effect – Reflection

Aimee Fritsch, Visitation Resident Lay Community

Aimee Fritsch, Visitation Resident Lay Community

by Guest Blogger Aimee Fritsch*

Oh my goodness, why does the Pope make me cry?

That crossed my mind more than once as my eyes watered up, sitting in the St. Jane House, watching the documentary “The Francis Effect”. The eyes of the world are on him, and I think what keeps us entranced, what fills my heart and my tear ducts, is the love with which he moves through the world.

Pope Francis has the heart of Christ, bringing love and tenderness to people around the world, especially those who are typically unloved. He is living the story of the Gospel, light breaking through into darkness, in a fresh, new 21st century way.

It is so beautiful, and so needed, so to see this loving light, well, it brings me to tears.

 

*Meet Aimee Fritsch

My name is Aimee Fritsch, I’m a graduate student at U of M in the Masters of Urban & Regional Planning Program, and a founding member of the Visitation Lay Residential Community. I first met the sisters when they showed up on my doorstep with peaches & brownie mix when I was a Jesuit Volunteer.

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Join the Visitation Sisters and Lay community for this Fall’s Salesian Monday series focusing on Catholic Social Teaching and the Two Francises: Pope Francis and St. Francis de Sales!

Nine Mendota Visitation High Seniors Encounter North Minneapolis Neighbors!

by S. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Vis Seniors with some of our northside friends from Emerge and From Death to Life

Vis Seniors with some of our northside friends from Emerge and From Death to Life

For the past 20+ years the Sisters have sponsored an INNER CITY IMMERSION EXPERIENCE in North Minneapolis as one of the options for Senior Project. It has been a wonderful opportunity for service in this community and to experience another part of town!

The past three years we tried something new! We organized a mission trip right here North Minneapolis! Instead of going to Guatemala or Africa a group of 8 seniors discovered missionary territory right here in the city!

“Our prayer is that this will be an experience they can carry throughout their lives.” – S. Mary Frances

This year we have 9 Visitation women who will stay at our spirituality/retreat/meeting center in the neighborhood called the St. Jane House; a young adult Vis Alum will be staying with them and also and act as chaperone.

From May 26-June 4, 2015:

  • They will have a more in depth experience of our neighborhood and the people who are our neighbors;
  • They will have many opportunities to serve the community, to interact with young children, other teens and senior citizens;
  • They will have opportunities to spread the Salesian spirit of gentle presence.
  • They will have an opportunity to build community with one another and with the Sisters.
  • It will be lots of FUN & a great contribution to North Minneapolis!

Vis Seniors 2013 Service ImmersionGenerally, each day will begin with breakfast, prayer, and off to Northside Child Development Center for the morning where they will assist the teachers of 0-5 year olds. Over the lunch hour there will be speakers from the community to help them gain insight into the root causes of poverty, and also learn about many positive initiatives in place in our community. Afternoons include gardening, monastery jobs, help with computer skills at the local technology center, and maybe even Bingo at the Adult Day Care Center!

The students will prepare and serve their meals, have time to reflect on the day, and even go out on a police ride along! Visitation’s school motto is “NOT FOR SCHOOL BUT FOR LIFE.” Our prayer is that this will be an experience they can carry throughout their lives.

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Click to hear more from past Vis Seniors on their Service Immersion Experiences.

Click to hear more from past Vis Seniors on their Service Immersion Experiences.

Visit our Video page to hear more from past Vis seniors on their Apostolic Service Immersion experiences.

Heart to Heart: Reflections on a Women’s Retreat by Sr. Suzanne

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Gathering Heart to Heart: Women’s Retreat at St. Jane House

!Hola! Me llama Hermana Susanna.

That is how I began the most recent Women’s Overnight Retreat at St. Jane House. Each year for Mothers’ Day we Sisters invite the women of our neighborhood to participate in an all day retreat in honor of their nurturing presence on the north side. As a follow up we host three overnight retreats during the year for groups of 5 – 7 women who had been part of the larger gathering.

The final follow-up overnight was Bi-Lingual. That’s right, I did say Bi-Lingual. Sr. Mary Virginia and I gathered the women together for reflection, sharing and prayer. This is the first time we hosted a bi-lingual retreat. Luckily Sr. Mary Virginia was born in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish. I studied Spanish for two years when I was in high school— that was in the early 60’s and it is only by the grace of God that I could remember how to greet the retreatants in Spanish!

“We were not only able to converse and share stories, but to laugh and cry together. We admired the beauty of each others’ lives.”

The Holy Spirit is alive and well and was very present to those of us gathered: a mother and daughter from Peru, a mom from Guatemala, a French-speaking neighbor from Nigeria, two long-time African-American neighbors and the two gringas!’ We were not only able to converse and share stories, but to laugh and cry together. We admired the beauty of each others’ lives. We worked creatively alongside one another. As part of our retreat time tougher, we created mandalas as a way of getting deeper into our own hearts — where God’s spring of love meets each of us.

“Loving Ourselves Where We Are On Life’s Journey” was our theme. We are all in mid-life someplace and regardless of our chronological age it is an appropriate time to look at where we have been, where we are now on our life’s journey,  and to appreciate how God has worked with us along the path from then until now. Joyce Rupp’s Book Dear Heart, Come Home includes poetry and journal entries, as well as reflection questions, and it is well worth the read — or at least a serious look-see by anyone needing affirmation of God’s love for them at this point on their journey.

Our closing ritual of the retreat was an affirmation circle. Each woman spoke to every other participant — affirming a quality or strength she had come to learn over the past 24 hours.

My personal ‘take-away’ from the retreat was hearing and understanding (with my limited knowledge of Spanish) that I was appreciated by my Peruvian friend because our hearts spoke to each other during the entire retreat and we didn’t need words to communicate God’s presence and love in our lives! The language of the heart promises to enrich all of our future retreats and I look forward to my next retreat and the experience of cor ad cor loquitur.

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Engagement Resources:
To learn more about making a retreat at the monastery, click here.
For more about our ministry through St. Jane House, click here.

Bridging Diversity & Abundance: Mutual Gifts Mendota Heights Visitation (1873) and North Minneapolis Visitation (1989)

Vis Seniors with some of our northside friends from Emerge and From Death to Life

Bridging Communities: Vis Seniors, Sisters, our VIP with some of our northside friends from “Emerge” and “From Death to Life”.

by S. Mary Frances Reis, VHM*

North Minneapolis is a culturally diverse and spiritually rich part of the metro area; it is home to the second Visitation Monastery in Minnesota founded in 1989.  The Salesian heritage of inclusivity and diversity which four Sisters brought here 25 years ago complements and affirms what is already present.  Perhaps that is why we were so warmly welcomed when we came to make this neighborhood our home.

Over the years, Mendota Visitation students and their families, faculty and staff, have made a bridge to our monastery, building relationships and performing various outreach services with our neighbors.  Not only do they bring hope to our families, especially at holiday times; they bring themselves and are eager to enter into relationship with our neighbors.  They help make our spirituality thrive here, carrying Salesian values of gentlenessnonviolencecommunity and presence.  In turn, our neighbors share inclusivity and diversity with them.

The highlight of this bridging happens in the spring each year when eight Visitation Seniors come to live here for two weeks of immersion and service.  Every agency where they serve wants them back the next year!

St. Francis de Sales often used images from creation to illustrate the concepts he was emphasizing.

Image from “Grimm’s Gardens.”

In his greatest work, the Treatise on the Love of God, he describes the diversity of the Church, that is, the People of God:

“The church is a garden with countless flowers It is necessary that they should be of various sizes, various colors, various scents and to sum up, various perfections.  All of them have their value, their charm, and their color, and in the assemblage of their differences all of them produce a beauty most pleasing and perfect.“

When we left our home monasteries in Mendota Heights and St. Louis to begin a new Visitation in north Minneapolis, we did not leave those who have for those who have not, but rather to build a Bridge between people who may not otherwise meet.    The results have been astounding!  We have all discovered that we have more in common than we have differences.  Together we form a beautiful garden enhanced by its diversity and inclusivity!  Surely that is the Spirit of the Visitation! 

 

 

 *Sister Mary Frances Reis is a founding member of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis.

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.

Zen Weaving Studio @ St. Jane House

Join us at St. Jane House for this Zen arts meditation experience!

Join us at St. Jane House for this Zen Arts Weaving Meditation experience!

by Brian Mogren, St. Jane House Director and Visitation Companion

February 14-18, 2014
St. Jane House, 1403 Emerson Ave. N., Minneapolis

For five days in February, the St. Jane House will become a Pop-Up SAORI Weaving StudioThe fun begins with a special Valentine’s Date Night event on February 14th, and includes a Zen meditation retreat as well as opportunities for parents and children to create unique works of art together. 

Certified SAORI weavers Chiaki and Dan O’Brien will lead sessions in this contemporary Japanese style of weaving that celebrates self-expression, sees beauty in “imperfection”, facilitates healing, and reveals the uniqueness and dignity of each person.

Nine looms and a variety of threads and textures will be made available. If you wish, you are invited to bring your own materials as well to incorporate into your creation: cut up strips of worn clothing/fabrics, unraveled yarn, heirloom jewelry, shells, twigs…anything you might like to work into your piece to make it your own.

All workshops and retreats are donation-based, “pay what you can” (with exception of the Valentine’s Day fundraising event). A portion of the proceeds from all sessions will support the acquisition of a SAORI loom for the St. Jane House.

Some of the events include:*
Feb. 14th: Valentine’s Date Night Dinner Event
Feb. 15th: Two Mothers and YO MAMA Art of Mothering retreats
Feb. 16th: Zen Meditation Weaving Retreat
Feb. 17th: Family Weaving Workshops
Feb. 18th: “Be Who You Are” Open Weaving Workshop

Space is limited. Click to learn about each of the 9 sessions being offered and to register.

Personal SAORI Weaving Retreats at the St. Jane House 
If you are unable to attend any of these events, but would like to contribute to the cause, a tax-deductible donation can be made to help acquire a loom for the St. Jane House. As an expression of our gratitude, those who contribute $50 or more will have an opportunity to enjoy a personal weaving retreat at the St. Jane House during 2014.

Check out photos and get updates on Facebook event page.

*SELECT EVENT INFO:

Share the Love” Valentine Date Night Event
Friday, February 14, 6pm – 9:30pm
St. Jane House
1403 Emerson Ave. N., Minneapolis’

The popular Zen Box Izakaya Pub and Kitchen is teaming up with the St. Jane House and SAORI Studio Fun to create the “Share the Love” Valentine’s Date Night Event on February 14, 2014, from 6pm – 9:30pm. Enjoy drinks and a candle-lit dinner for two, complements of this local Asian restaurant, followed by a 2-hour couples weaving session with certified SAORI weavers Chiaki & Dan O’Brien. Leave with a beautiful work of art you and your sweetheart create together. Wine, beer and other beverages included. $125 donation per couple. The proceeds from this fundraising event will help acquire a SAORI loom for the St. Jane House. Space is limited. RSVP today.

Zen Meditation Weaving Retreat
Sunday, February 16, 10am-3pm
St. Jane House
1403 Emerson Ave. N., Minneapolis

Certified SAORI instructor and meditation teacher Dan O’Brien will lead this retreat that incorporates weaving with awareness, as well as breaks for meditation and discussion. People of all spiritual traditions will find this a welcoming, ecumenical experience. Lunch provided. Participants will create a unique piece of woven art. In the Zen tradition, people donate based on their means. Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

“Be Who You Are” Open Weaving Workshops
Sunday, February 16, 5pm – 8pm
Tuesday, February 18, 9am – noon
St. Jane House, 1403 Emerson Ave. N. MinneapolisEnjoy three hours of “weaving with a happy heart” with SAORI instructor Chiaki O’Brien. In this free-style form of weaving, there are no mistakes and beauty is seen in imperfection. Participants will create a unique piece of woven art that is an expression of their deepest self.Light snacks and beverages provided. OptionalCentering Prayer session at 8am precedes Tuesday morning workshop. Space is limited.Reserve your spot today.
Family Weaving Workshops 
Monday, February 17, 10am – 1pm, 2pm – 5pm
St. Jane House 1403 Emerson Ave. N., Minneapolis

These two special sessions on President’s Day provide an opportunity for parents and their children to weave together a variety of colors, threads and textures to create a unique piece of art that will become a family keepsake. Consider bringing meaningful textiles, fabrics, jewelry, etc. from your family’s history to incorporate into your creation. Also open to mentors and the young people in their lives. Space is limited. Sign up today.

“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!

Practices of Discernment: Learning to Listen – Elijah’s Experience

Image from The Foundation Stone; blog by by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg.

The following prayer and questions are ones we will draw on in Session Two of our Discernment Series. Session Two is entitled, “Learning to Listen: Practices of Discernment.” We are grateful to our partners at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research for this curriculum and the resources they offer us.

Then the Lord said,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord— but the Lord was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
A voice said to him, “Elijah, why are you here?”

1 Kings 19:11-13

  • Elijah expected to find God in a powerful force of nature. Instead, God was revealed to him in a “tiny whispering sound.” Have you ever experienced God’s presence in an unexpected way? What did this experience feel like? What did it teach you about God?
  • How do you think God communicates with us? Through other people, nature, music, events, prayer or worship, Scripture or other reading, the needs of the world, or our own thoughts or ideas? Name one or two ways you have experienced God communicating with you in your life. What message did God communicate to you?

Relax in Prayer: “Don’t try too Hard”

SFDS quoteby Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I hyper-extended my knee during prayer this past week. The experience has left me wanting, wondering, and takes me to the center of my reflections on what it means to pray well.

I was off to a rocky start Tuesday morning. Was I running late? Was I anxious about the flow of the morning? Concerned about my responsibilities in attending to – or providing for- some festive, post-prayer-party atmosphere? Who knows. I just know I was a bit off in my rhythms.

We were celebrating five years of Centering Prayer at St. Jane House on Tuesday, along with Director Brian Mogren’s recent Human Services Award. It was a party — a joyous occasion.

I wore a short skirt, and taking my place in the circle of 17 or so other festive-centering-prayer warriors, I all of a sudden got self-conscious.

“What if I flashed someone across the circle?” Ugh. The thought of it took me outside myself, and then inspired a conscious physical correction. “I”ll just cross my legs and all shall be well.”

More easily thought and said than done.

When we pray at Centering Prayer, there’s a universal invitation to position yourself in an open stance. You take a seat. You relax. You soften your gaze. You open your palms and plant your feet firmly on the ground. You take a deep breathe. You let Love pour through you in each inhale and exhale. You take up your sacred word and let this guide you in clearing your mind completely, and letting God have all your thoughts. If you are in a really blissed-out place, or lucky, you have more than 3 seconds of an awareness that Love permeates all things and is the author of all that is good and true and is in charge in this world. You are forgiven and held and know compassion and calm.

But if you cross your legs, and hyper-extend your knee during centering prayer, this bliss is not easily yours.

Sometimes, I think this sort of hyper-extension is true for all of us. We are simply working too hard at prayer;  we are getting too self-conscious of what may be exposed; we are afraid to be truly vulnerable with God. And so we protect ourselves. We cross our legs, so to speak, and avoid all openness with our Creator.

Or not. Maybe some of us are more perfected in the art of prayer — more relaxed in age, experience, development, or practice. I think the sisters are pretty good at prayer, actually. They are my role models. But I know that they would resent this sort of praise or idolizing to a point. They would attest, “Ah, Melissa, we are all human. We all have times of darkness or difficulty in prayer.”

My point is: How do you pray? What is your prayer life like these days? Where do you find yourself in the art of relaxing, giving yourself over to the divine, offering up words of thanks or request or praise? Or simply showing up, presenting your heart to God? 

I’ll close with these sage words from our co-founder, St. Francis de Sales:

“When you come before the Lord, talk to Him if you can. If you can’t, just stay there, let yourself be seen. Don’t try too hard to do anything else.”