The Garden of Gethsemane: Hospice and Hope

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

The Agony of Christ in Gethesemane (from BostonMonks.com)

He’s on his knees. His hands are open —palms extended to the night sky. His bowed head and bent back round out his prayerful stance.

This is the way I picture Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane awaiting his impending death. It’s only a matter of time before he will be handed over to Roman soldiers, scourged, made to march to Calvary bearing a wooden cross on his back, and then nailed to the cross and left to die.

But in those moments before — he waits. He prays. He wonders. He beseeches His father; and he opens his heart, mind, and being to what will follow. His posture reflects his human reluctance and divine acceptance of what is to come.

My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” —Matthew 26:42

My walk alongside Christ this Holy Week takes me into the heart of such moments of agony and awe, historical, biblical reflection, and present-moment contemplations.

Last night, a good friend’s grandfather entered hospice. The news caught me off guard, as I had been praying for him and expected — alongside my friend– grandpa’s return home; more days of life and family to be lived.

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Photo by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

But the news of hospice care arrived, right alongside the dawn of this Holy Thursday, and so informs my prayer and contemplations this day. I hold Jesus’ journey to death and new life right alongside Grandpa Sheehan’s.

“How do we hold the mystery of resurrection inside the reality of an angst-ridden-end?”

I lit a candle next to the east-facing window in my house this morning and sat with scripture and these thoughts.

What is it to open ourselves wholly to death and welcome it, as we simultaneously mark the flow of oxygen in and out of our lungs? How do we hold the mystery of resurrection inside the reality of an angst-ridden-end? What does it mean to mark the dignity of our living selves as the circumstances of darkness press in? The Garden of Gethsemane, hospice, and Holy week bring these questions to the fore.

In my time contemplating Christ’s agony in the garden and Grandpa’s failing lungs, I found myself back in my own journey carrying a growing baby boy in my body, who I knew simultaneously would not survive many moments beyond his birth. It was an impending death – one that connects each of us in these agonizing circumstances.

“I know my call in this day, in these moments, is to not shirk away from the reality of death, but rather: be still and repeat with Christ: ‘Thy will be done. ‘”

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God’s Son: Xavi
(photo taken by Salina Caldes from NILMDTS)

Eighteen months after the experience of bearing a son and burying him a week later, I’m in a new place of understanding the gift of hospice care and Christ’s stance in that garden. I feel an intimate connection with Jesus, and all who hover at death’s door, waiting. I know my call in this day, in these moments, is to not shirk away from the reality of death, but rather: be still and repeat with Christ: Thy will be done. 

A year and a half after our son Xavi’s arrival, and brief time with us on this earth, I know a profound grace and joy in the experience of being his mother –of carrying him in my body and recognizing his direct connection to the God that made him possible.

On this day, in this time of marking our walk with Christ to the open tomb, I invite us all to inhabit fully each moment of agony and angst, trusting profoundly that a purpose for this time will reveal itself just as surely as the resurrected Christ will on Easter morning.

LIVE + JESUS!

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!

 

Answering the Door: Some Thoughts on Planning and the Present Moment…

Mary Marg and Demetrius

Who is showing up in our lives? How are we embracing each being at the door?

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“‘And when the door bell rings, you will get your agenda,’ says the Lord.” — Sr. Mary Frances Reis, vhm on the doorbell ministry at the Visitation Monastery north Minneapolis

I’m a planner. I like to plan things. Maybe you are like me? You take stock in naming dates and times and creating agendas that spell out tasks and goals. Perhaps you take comfort in plugging information into your smart phone calendars that informs your next step in the day?  In this world and life that seems so out of our control, perhaps planning provides a bit of security?  As a classroom teacher, we had protocols for such planning where we would think ahead in time and work backwards — identifying outcomes and naming “what success will look like” or “sound like” — and again, planning accordingly for it all.

You know the old adage, though: “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” I think, “Indeed!”

I’m reflecting on this compulsion or desire to plan in the face of all that I have been navigating, personally, in the recent months.  I am committed to honoring the lessons that have shown up in birthing our son Xavi, experiencing his brief life, and looking for ways that God has been present in and through it all.  I find the lessons of letting go (of outcomes/ agendas/ life itself) — such a gift — and I recognize that this is part of what the dear Visitation Sisters have been teaching me, us, the world, day in and out for years…(centuries, even, right?)

It’s a lesson about living in the present moment.

The sisters pray the divine office four times a day, and they answer the door.  In and through it all, is their ministry. They are an urban monastery of prayer and presence.

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When Jane, the ultrasound technician, was moving her sonographic wand over my expanded mid-section at our 21 week ultrasound, I couldn’t go anywhere but that room. When she reported that Xavi’s cerebellum wasn’t intact, that he had fluid around his kidneys, stomach and heart, and that there were several holes in this central blood-pumping organ, I didn’t think I could continue breathing.  I wanted nothing more but to disappear from that room, to dissolve into the air, seep out of that space and avoid the shattering news that my son was not going to live a long life. But in that room were a whole host of prayerful beings, a communion of holy men and women convened in my heart and present in the touch of my husband’s hand.  I kept hearing, “Be still and know that I am God….Be still and know.” Those words were balm as I tried to catch my breathe and be present to life as it was –and is– unfolding.

Life is not all neat and pretty and according to how we want it, eh? It’s not how we plan for it. Enter the embrace of the present moment.

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Sr. Katherine and MoWhen the Visitation Sisters came up from St. Louis and over from Mendota to found the Minneapolis monastery, they were given this directive about their daily life: to answer the door. Sr. Mary Frances explains this in the following words, “when the door bell rings, you will get your agenda,’ says the Lord.” The sisters pray the divine office four times a day, and they answer the door.  In and through it all, is their ministry. They are an urban monastery of prayer and presence. They, like their co-founders Jane and Francis, are “Living Jesus!” in the ways they are each called to respond to the divine life in their midst. And we are all invited to do the same.

How do we answer our doors? Who is showing up in our lives? How are we embracing the being on the other side of that front-porch-knocking in all of his or her fullness? How do we receive the news born out by each messenger? How do we say, “yes” to the incredible uncertainties that life presents us with from moment to moment? What happens when the present moment makes us want to run and hide?

On this day, I hold these questions prayerfully in my heart. I pray, along with the Visitation Sisters, for the courage to answer the door, to rest in the present moment and be okay with the plans that God has for my life — and for all of ours’. I am glad you are here with me.