Introducing Brenda Lisenby
On Wednesday, October 29, 2014, the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis welcomed Brenda Lisenby in an intimate commissioning ceremony as the community’s latest Monastic Immersion Experience resident. On the heels of this event, Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde had an opportunity to interview Ms. Lisenby via emailed questions and answers. That Q & A follows. Let’s warmly welcome the latest addition to our Salesian family!
Q: What’s your full name?
A: Brenda Ellen Lisenby
Q: Where were you born?
A: Beaumont, Texas
Q: How did you come to be immersed in the monastic life of the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis?
A: The short version is, “It was just the next thing!”
The journey to this place has been an interesting one where I have mis-taken detours for my destination, and my destinations for detours. But pilgrimage often includes a time of losing one’s way and finding it—and I see life as a pilgrimage to know and love God, self, and others (Mark 12:30-31). So I arrive at Visitation Monastery as a place along the way in my pilgrimage of life and learning to love.
Q: How does a Baptist missionary in Hong Kong come to a Roman Catholic monastery in north Minneapolis?
A: As I read your question, for some reason I am reminded of Mary’s exclamation of “How can this be?” when the angel announced to news of her pregnancy! Mary’s question is often my question and always alerts me to the work of the Holy Spirit… “this” can only be by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has graciously accompanied me along the way, often through very practical, everyday things that I needed to tend to such as changes in ministry, burnout, depression, and physical illness.
Q: What is the Holy Spirit whispering to you these days? Take us into the heart of your listening journey, if you will, and what you are noting that’s inspiring your present walk with God.
A: As I tend to the daily, I realize I am learning to walk with God in a new way. I can and do make decisions and plans, but I am learning to trust what follows as the unfolding will of God. In short, I am learning to “listen” to my life. I once read that listening to one’s life is a form of prayer and this idea has stayed with me and born fruit.
Q: What excites you about religious sisters and monastic communities in this day and age?
A: I am excited to see traditional monastic communities tackle the tough questions about how to live their prophetic life form in the 21st century. The Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis is only one example of communities experimenting with “new” forms of monasticism. The “new monastic” movement is another. It is interesting to see the traditional understanding about what it means to be “monastic” challenged and see what emerges that is identified as the “essence” of monasticism in this evolving life form.
“How can this be?”…I am thinking that monastic communities of the 21st century will bear little resemblance to the monastic communities of Christendom. Even traditional apostolic communities are looking for new ways to be community and finding new ways of belonging that opens the doors for a more ecumenical inclusiveness.
A friend and I have joked about the new “monapostolic” approach to religious life and emerging faith communities that integrates the values of monasticism (stability and balance) with the values of apostolic communities (ministry, social action). It is exciting to see the things stereotypically associated with monasteries (prayer, contemplation) come into one with the things stereotypically associated with apostolic groups (action)…contemplation and action are no longer seen as separate roles, but are coming together to form a complete whole, in individuals and in communities, that is being present in a new and dynamic way in this day and age. Perhaps the Spirit is bringing forth new wineskins for new wine!
Q: What do you hope to gain from your time with the Visitation Sisters?
A: During my time with the Vis sisters, I hope to deepen my own integration of contemplative prayer and daily action, learning love and humility within the monastic community and the circle of communities that surround them. I also want to learn more about Salesian spirituality—what little I have studied resonates deeply with my own understanding of the spiritual journey.
Q: Who is your favorite saint?
A: At present, my favorite saint is Hildegard. Her personal story fascinates me—a cloistered, hidden nun until the age of 40, when she became leader of her community and began sharing her experience of God. She related to God as her Living Light and articulated her understanding of the life force that animates all creation as viriditas or the “greening power”, that is God present in all creation.
Q: What prayer practice or practices are at the center of your spiritual life?
A: I tend to have eclectic prayer practices. But at present, the primary ones are daily community prayer and faith sharing with the sisters, centering prayer, gentle yoga that I like to think of as “body prayer”, and spiritual reading (lectio).
Q: What ice cream best describes you?
A: I like things plain and simple—vanilla is my favorite, and probably best describes me.
Q: What is your favorite tea or beverage?
A: I like oolong tea and vanilla malts.
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: I am currently reading “Letters of Spiritual Direction” and “Introduction to the Devout Life”…to begin my studies of Salesian spirituality and learn more about Francis and Jane. I also read a daily selection from “Fragments of your Ancient Name: 365 Names for the Divine” by Joyce Rupp (here is a reading by her from her book )
Q: What most surprises you about north Minneapolis?
A: I am surprised that it doesn’t feel like “big city” to me. I have mostly lived in highrise or condo apartments in large cities for the past 15 years so I like living in a neighborhood of houses with little traffic. I often am greeted by people as I walk.
Q: You are acquainted with the Rule of Benedict especially given your time with the Holy Wisdom community in Wisconsin. How does the RB anchor or influence your practice of Salesian Spirituality and Visitation life?
A: The first word of the RB is “Listen!” That is a word I take seriously—listening in all its forms: listening to my own life, listening to others, listening to my body, listening for the movement of the Spirit. Benedict also has given me an appreciation of the idea that our “work” is prayer and while for Benedict that means the daily office, I have taken an expanded view that all of life is a prayer. For Benedict, it was also important to have a balance, and I have learned about the idea of “holy leisure”, keeping attentive to the Spirit and present to the moment. By practicing holy leisure, I have found balance in my life. I take all of this with me as I come to my study of Salesian spirituality and find it provides a wonderful foundation. I resonate deeply with the Salesian values and am excited to see how well they fit as I integrate Francis and Jane with Benedict.
Introducing Marsha West —
First Monastic Immersion Experience (MIE) Participant
It was a year ago last summer that I came to Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis for a week’s retreat. I had read about the Sisters on their website and was curious to learn more about their life in this urban setting.
I am 74 years old. I was married for 53 years. My husband died in March of 2009. I have three children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. I have lived in the same house and been part of the same little Catholic parish in the Pacific Northwest for the past 38 years. I’m a retired teacher, and have a great group of friends, mostly other retired teachers. I’ve loved my life there.
After my husband’s death, I began to experience a call to leave that life to give the rest of my life to God as a religious sister. But I am clearly too old for that. So the challenge has been to find a way to live out that call.
When I shared my story with the Sisters here, they invited me to become their first applicant for a new program called a “Monastic Immersion Experience,” I accepted that invitation and asked to come and live here at Visitation Monastery for six months and be immersed in their monastic way of life.
Immersion means being plunged into something (ordinarily liquid); being filled up and soaked through. It has come to have an expanded meaning of a “deep mental involvement” in something. It’s significant to me that there is a close connection between the words immersion and baptism. Baptism also means to be “plunged into, soaked, and filled.” I came here this July to begin my “immersion” in monastic life. And in being here, I am also living out a new dimension of my own baptismal call.
I am plunged into their way of life, soaking in their pattern of prayer and spirituality, sharing their daily life in every way. I join them in the chapel four times a day to pray the Divine Office. I join them for Mass here at the monastery at least three days a week and go out with them to neighboring parishes for liturgy on the other days.
Each Sister spends an hour and a half each day in private prayer and another half hour in spiritual reading. I try to do the same. I share in the ordinary work of the household, assisting with cooking and clean-up; I also help in the library.
I am studying the writings of their founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, and soaking in this Salesian spirituality. I take my turn at what they call the “ministry of the doorbell.” Every time the doorbell rings, a Sister goes to answer it, with the expectation of meeting Jesus on the threshold, with the intention of “being Jesus,” to that person. I saw that happen last summer. I experience it every day here. I love it!
I love living in a situation where every minute of every day is totally centered toward a single end – to be “a peaceful, prayerful presence” in the neighborhood, to see Jesus in the face of the other; to be Jesus to others. That’s what life here is all about. And I am so privileged to be here with them and to be part of it. This Monastic Immersion Experience is deeply satisfying to me. I wouldn’t have missed it for all the world.