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!

 

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

A Discernment Story: Part II

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

When I walked into work that Monday morning, the assistant principal at the school approached me about interviewing for the newly posted teaching position. There were two of us in the Professional Practice School who had been asked to apply — one position. In my heart, I knew I didn’t want the job.

The course load was too much; the job, as posted, was inappropriate for any one educator.   Pre-IB English 9, Comprehensive English 10, and Stage Management were the subjects the teacher was being asked to teach. In my two years at the school, I’d covered all of these courses. Individually, I loved them; combined, they were deadly, in my estimation — or again: a recipe for burnout.

The Stage management course alone meant supervising productions and student work on evenings and weekends at the school. Stage Management was a full time job in a school with an active student body and thriving performance arts classes.  The course spilled over from its allotted time into after school hours involving moving vehicles, rental equipment, construction personnel, and collaboration with other faculty, parents and empowered student leaders.  (In my one year of teaching stage management and taking on this role in after school hours,  I recalled being at the school every day straight for the month of March. I still have vivid memories of looking at my watch at 1am  in the auditorium, while wearing an insulation mask and student graffiti artists painted the back wall of the stage for a rock concert production. It was fun. I was tired. It was late. I didn’t need to sign on for more hours than there were in the day to be a good teacher.) I’d happily teach the  English classes. But these two courses to prep for – combined with the stage management responsibilities, were a no go. I knew my limits.

My cousin Jill’s sage counsel still rang in my ears: “Just interview for the job, Melis. Get the position, before you ask to change it.”  The advice from my elder English and theater teaching cousin, coupled with the priest’s prophetic words at mass at Old Saint Pat’s the day before, (“Ask why you are there. If it’s a not a fit, God will show you an open door.“) gave me a kind of peace in my decision: Yes, I would interview. Yes, I would draw on my experience teaching all the courses. Yes, I would trust that God would show me a way out.

We were building a 17 foot volcano out of chicken wire and paper mache’ that day in the stage management class. I came to school dressed for paint and paper and glue mess, not for interviewing with the faculty and administrative team. I still remember wiping green paint off my jeans when I sat down before my colleagues. I smiled. I was already doing the job they were interviewing me for; the irony and humor were not lost on any of us.

***

My colleague accepted the position about two hours later. I felt relief and a kind of holy gratitude and awe. “What next, God?” I wondered. Surely, I wouldn’t have been given such a strong sign and direct words as that from my dream and the priest, that God would leave me flailing.

Within a week, my full time position at North High for summer school was solidified. I left the seeming  beauty and pristine of a more resourced area of the Twin Cities for north Minneapolis. And my life changed. (The Northside was where I would meet the Vis Sisters after all!)

Epilogue:
I was offered a full time job for the regular school year on my last day teaching summer school at North High. My colleague, who accepted the post we had both interviewed for,  resigned two months into the following school year citing mental health issues. I learned this from our mentor at the Professional Practice School. “Does an ‘I told you so” make you feel better, Melis?” she asked.
“Perhaps vindicated,” I think now.

I thank God for the directions my life has taken,  my journey to north Minneapolis, and the way Spirit has lead me.

Invitation to reflect:
What is your story? How have you arrived in your own particular perch or area of the world? What has inspired your course of action or decision making? How has your heart, mind, and prayer lead you? What sage counsel have you sought in discerning your next best step? How have dreams influenced your journey ? What wise, inspired, pastoral presence or mentorship has influenced, or affirmed your discernment process?

I welcome your words.

A Discernment Story: Listening to Dreams and Preachers

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I did not want the job I was invited to interview for. I’d been teaching at this particular Twin Cities public high school for almost two years — student teaching one fall,  long-term subbing in the spring, interning full time the following year. It was great. But I was tired. I was all over the map in preparing different curriculum for the different subjects I was asked to teach, and getting burnt out from the late nights and weekends I was at the school stage managing or directing after-school speech and musical productions. It was invigorating and overwhelming. I knew my limits, and while I was happy the administrators wanted me, I knew that no one would benefit from a “not breathing” me. In my humble opinion, whoever took the job that the administrative team had posted was on the fast track for a nervous break down, or a very early retirement.

I had a long weekend to discern my application — my “yes” or “no” to interview. I was en route to Chicago when the invite came to apply and interview. I had just dropped off “Ayana” at her mother’s house. (Ayana, who had just qualified for State Speech and was the first student in the school’s history to make it that far in Speech competitions.) As her speech coach, I was ecstatic, but I was also very ready for a break and enthusiastic to hit the road and enjoy a long weekend away from my job and home. I wanted to relax. I was going to spend time with my cousin in the Windy City, maybe drink a beer or two, unwind in her downtown warehouse loft, and revel in the energy of another space and set of human stories. This is what I wanted to do. But then the call came.

For the next 48 hours, I basically breathed questions around my calling to teach at this school. I inhaled pros, exhaled cons. Details of my last two years in the classroom flooded my brain as information; images of joy and mental exhaustion filled my mind and informed my spirit.

I arrived in Chicago, after 6 hours of road trip weariness in thought and contemplation, with a resounding “NO” on my lips. I shared all of this with my cousin Jill.

She, the elder, wiser, more learned and seasoned English and theater teacher, advised me otherwise. “Just interview for the job, Melis. Get the position before you turn it down, or ask them to change the position.” I appreciated Jill’s advice, I took it in as wise counsel and went to bed for two nights with a greater sense of peace. On my third day, I rose in the morning unnerved by a vivid dream.

It was Sunday morning, and as my cousin and I were getting ready for mass, I relayed the dream.
“I was stuck in a closet. It was dark. I couldn’t find my way out. I didn’t know why I was there. I was searching for a door.

My cousin responded, laughing, “Well, it’s not about this place! We have no closets in our condo.”

She was right. But it occurred to me: “What if it isn’t about my physical space, but where I am professionally? I feel trapped, and I’m looking for a way out?”

We laughed; we dressed and went to church.

I’ll never forget that Sunday. My cousin and I walked into Old St. Pat’s in Chicago, to a packed house, looking for a place to sit, feeling we must be very late. Was it the homily we walked into, or just a long pre-amble to the service, I wondered. The priest was on fire.

“You have to ask yourself why you are here!” Father exclaimed. He invited us to to tune into the gospel and apply its lessons to our current life situations. When you go into work on Monday morning, you are going to ask yourself why you are there. Some of you may recognize it’s not a fit for you, and you are seeking a way out. You have to trust that God will open a door.”

I got goosebumps. Jill nudged me. “I think God is talking to you.”

Indeed.

Can you imagine what happens next?

***

Stay tuned for part two!

On Silence: Thoughts from VIP Anna D. on one of the seven Essentials of Monastic Life

Anna Dourgarian, VIP 2012-2013

Anna Dourgarian, VIP 2012-2013

by Guest blogger Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer

The 2012-2013 Salesian Monday Night series focuses on the 7 Essentials of Monastic Life that the Vis Sisters have outlined for their community. The following post is part one of VIP Anna Dourgarian’s co-presentation with Sr. Karen on Silence.

I am really new to the concept of silence, but in the short time that I have known about it, I have fallen in love with it. As a Vis Intern volunteering on North Side, one of my main goals has been to serve my community, and silence has helped me do it.

“Silence is not a goal in and of itself; it is a process, a stepping stone—but for what? For me, it’s about being more useful in this world. It forces me to be attentive. I want to serve my community according to its needs, so I need to be attentive to and aware of its needs.”

I was first introduced to silence last February, at a winter campout hosted by REI. There, I met a man named Donnie who was very knowledgeable about the outdoors: he knew about medicinal herbs, tracking, and respecting nature. I wanted to know about the outdoors, so I asked if he could take me for a hike. Hikes for me were about getting outside and ambling about and getting away from electronics—exercising and chatting. But within minutes of hitting the trail, Donnie said, “Anna, you’re walking too fast, and you need to stop talking.” In other words, “Slow down and shut up.” Hikes for Donnie were about being attentive to the wilderness. On that slow, silent hike, we saw two red-winged black birds get into a territorial fight, we heard a robin get surprised by a hawk, and we spied two chickadees building a secret nest.

Over the summer I learned that the most productive hike is one where I sat still, for a whole hour, watching my surroundings. It was PAINFUL. I got restless, I got weird looks from hikers who walked by me, and I could never focus—my brain was always thinking really hard about something else. But the effect was wondrous. I got to know the birds in my area: white-breasted nuthatches in this tree, and these are the songs of a cardinal and a catbird. I noticed that the ground was just crawling with bugs. One time a coyote walked right past me. A few minutes later, a few talkative hikers walked past too and had no idea what they had just missed.

At the end of the summer, I became a VIP and stopped doing my silent sitting hikes. The skills I learned from them were not applicable to my normal life. No one wanted me to slow down; I was supposed to speed up, show enthusiasm, and make a difference in the world! Until Sr. Suzanne asked me one day, “Anna, could you please be quiet?” And I said, “Oh, is someone sleeping?” And she said, “No, you’re LOUD!”

Apparently the skills for spotting a coyote in the woods are still relevant in a monastery.

Silence is not a goal in and of itself; it is a process, a stepping stone—but for what? For me, it’s about being more useful in this world. It forces me to be attentive. I want to serve my community according to its needs, so I need to be attentive to and aware of its needs. In the case of hiking with Donnie, I wanted to serve the environment, so first I had to observe the environment.

Neighborhood Night of Peace-August 1, 2012

Sr. Mary Frances embraces two National Night of Peace Collaborators

Sr. Mary Frances embraces two Neighborhood Night of Peace Collaborators

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

“There are so many wonderful initiatives in this community that never get media coverage;  that’s OK, but we want the world to know that the north side is comprised of so many beautiful people who can teach us all a lot about the value of relationship.” — Sr. Mary Frances

Neighborhood Night of Peace is an event the Sisters initiated some 20 years ago.  It grew out of National Night Out (a block by block event) and became a community wide celebration of peace and community.  In recent years this summertime gathering has drawn between 450 and 600 neighbors to Ascension Church’s  parking lot where there is free food, games and prizes for the children, door prizes for the family, and free school supplies for the first 200 children to arrive.  Community friends Eddie Brown and Tommy Williams MC’d the event, as they have done for the past several years.

NNOP2012.lThe most gratifying aspect of the Neighborhood Night of Peace is the partnerships it has generated.  ASCENSION CHURCH, VISITATION MONASTERY, MASJID ANUR, TURNING POINT, KEMPS, ASCESNION PLACE, BASILICA OF SAINT MARY, NEIGHBORS & FRIENDS FROM AROUND THE METRO come together to provide a spectacular evening!

This event could not have happened without the generous participation and support of the Our Lady of the Lakes Mission Group of 30 youth and adults from Spicer, Minnesota.  They arrived at 11:00 am on a huge bus, packed with door prizes, & kiddy games and prizes.  NNOP2012.mAfter a bus tour of the North side conducted by Don Samuels, they spent the entire day (in 90 degree temps) tirelessly setting up and preparing for the evening which began at 5:30.   This group served food, ran games, etc., until they boarded the bus at 7:30 to return to Spicer.  It is our prayer that this bridging experience planted a few seeds, especially in the young people, of the satisfaction of serving.  Like us Sisters, we hope that they received as much and more than they gave!

The NNOP was a great success!  There are so many wonderful initiatives in this community that never get media coverage;  that’s OK, but we want the world to know that the north side is comprised of so many beautiful people who can teach us all a lot about the value of relationship.

WE’RE ENGAGED!

Vis Sisters Be The Change

"We -- the Sisters -- are engaged! We are committed."

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

“We’re engaged!!”  was the Facebook message from a friend of mine in Mexico. Announcing this to the world through the social media? Why not? Of course! Being engaged to someone or with something should be out there for all to see.

Commitment is nothing to be taken lightly…WE — the Sisters — are engaged. Yes, you read that correctly….We ARE engaged. We are committed…

We are engaged with many people and committed to sharing our Visitation/Salesian spirituality with others. We want to insure that the ministry and mission and our way of living the Visitation charism  continues here on the north side well into the future.  To this end we have been exploring, praying about, formulating and putting into place a five-faceted plan of engagement. There are several ways a person may become engaged with us in our presence and ministry.

Visitation Engagement Programs

cross-in-handsWe are willing to join hands with people who are searching for God’s will in their lives.  Following the Spirit is a series of evenings on discernment and sharing about how God calls and how we can listen to God’s direction. Young adult men and women, single or married can participate in this form of engagement with us.  Space is limited but future sessions have been planned  and interested people can see more info on our website for the series beginning in the fall…there is even a new gem added to this form of engagement!

Our first group of VIP’s (Visitation Internship Program) participants are winding down their time of service and we are currently recruiting young people who are interested in giving a year of service, either in the midst of studies or after college. Sharing prayer, meals and ministry at the monastery and in the northside community are a part of this engagement picture. Building intentional community and living together in a home near the Sisters is yet another important facet of this form of engagement. Young adults, men or women, age 21 — 35  may apply now for next fall. An application can be found on our website.

Our first applicant in our Monastic Immersion Experience spent some time with us this past week.  Women, who are interested in living our contemplative lifestyle at any point in their life may consider spending 6 months to a year living, praying and ministering with us while living in the monastery. Of course, sharing domestic life with the Sisters is involved!

The Visitation Companions are a group of men and women who are interested in studying our spirituality and making a commitment to live it in their own daily life — taking it to the marketplace and wherever they may be.  It is not necessary to live in north Minneapolis, but sharing prayer and ministry with the Sisters whenever possible  and meeting together to share experience and develop their own sense of community is a goal.  Current Companions act as mentors for people interested in this form of Visitation engagement.  Currently there are about 18 Companions…talk about an 18- carat gold band!

And as our identifier says “we are looking for more visionary women to be a prayerful presence in North Minneapolis”  as Vowed Members.

We are not writing our proposal to you in an airplane on a clear blue sky but  know that this sincere invitation is lovingly offered to you and others you may know with open hands….won’t you put yours in ours?

Visitation Has Style

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Last Monday I went back to Visitation Mendota to witness another alumna, Liz Edwards Hewitt, tell the Visitation students her story of surviving breast cancer. A story which led to her deep conviction that it is imperative to advocate for your health. She wanted to catch their attention and decided a good way to do so was to cut her hair on stage for Locks of Love and Beautiful Lengths. As she planned this all-school convocation she invited others to participate. One hair cut on stage led to 33 haircuts of students, faculty, staff, and even parents contributing their hair for people who need wigs due to cancer, alopecia or other medical reasons.

I sat on the steps of the auditorium with my three younger boys and watched as my former teacher and basketball coach, Connie Colon Parsley, cut Liz’s pony tail, and listened to Liz say, “Look around you, the relationships you make here are important. They will carry you through your life. Take care of them.” As I sat in that auditorium, my coat still on, and a hat on my head because of my own alopecia my spirit swelled to be part of this community. To still be in relationship with Visitation through my own friends, through the sisters, and through the school in Mendota Heights and the Monastery in north Minneapolis.

Sr. Mary Paula, stood and shared how she is a breast cancer survivor and what it meant to be able to get a wig when she lost her hair so many years ago. As my boys and I took in the morning, I wanted to say to the students there:

Liz is right it is the relationships that carry you through the joyous and difficult moments of life. While I do not have cancer, but alopecia, I never realized how much hair, having it, losing it, giving it away can define you. But it doesn’t have to define you. You do not have to shrink away from the spot light because of an illness. Nor do you have to explain it. Your beauty comes from that deep reservoir of beauty inside of yourself, your spirit. My spirit is brighter having known the Visitation Sisters, having been steeped in the Salesian tradition, and having been sent out in the world to share the Visitation spirit and tradition with others.

My heart swelled that morning as I watched 33 women donate their hair and 33 stylists dedicate their time to cut and style them. At one point a friend of mine, who was on stage, held her cut locks in a bag and looked in my direction, and winked. Tears brimmed as I basked in her act of sweet solidarity.

I invite you into relationship with the Sisters of the Visitation, like so many of their relationships in north Minneapolis it can start by simply ringing their doorbell.