Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Today we had a monastery retreat day focused on reconciliation. It was a good way to try to tie up some of our "loose ends" and to make good on resolutions to be better at living community in the new year. Tonight we had First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, complete with a sung "Te Deum," and a lovely candlelight dinner. Very shortly now the party starts!

Hope you all are well and that your 2010 is blessed indeed. Know of our prayers for all of you and for peace in our world!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Time

Merry Christmas! It is so neat to be in the midst of all the Christmas joy that I experience at the monastery. I also got to go to Georgia to spend time with my family there for a few days. I had so much fun. My nephews are so sweet and have lots of energy! We are getting ready for a community retreat day/ New Year''s Eve gathering tomorrow, and I am looking forward to that. As 2009 draws to a close, I have so much to be thankful for- it was an eventful year, and God has been with me every step of the way. I don't know what my resolution is going to be (I'm not very good at keeping them), so I pray that God graces me with the ability to decide on something that will draw me closer to him and that I can live it out each and every day!

Christmas Break

I have come back to the Monastery from spending a few days with my family. I enjoy spending time there with my parents, siblings, and neices and nephews. We had a great time playing games and just hanging out. We even went to see Alvin and the Chipmunks. It was a cute movie. My 3 year old nephew really liked it. It is a shame that my Christmas break is almost over. Breaks always go too fast.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A different Christmas

My prayers this Christmas are different than in years past. They are for those who are experiencing their first Christmas without a loved one due to death. This summer I also lost my stepmother after her year long battle with cancer.

Christmas is a time for joy and happiness. A time to be with family sharing food, stories, fun, and play. When a loved one is missing it is usually in these special times we miss them the most. I know that I will miss my stepmother's enthusiasm for decorating the front yard with blow up statues and lighted deers. Although my father does not miss the putting up and taking down of all those decorations some how he does miss some of the experience, including the arguement over putting them up. I believe he did it to get a rise out of my stepmother.

So, for all of you who are missing a loved one this Christmas know that my prayers are with you. We remember that the coming of Christ gives us hope that our loved one is sharing in the joy of eternal life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Blessings to You!

All around the monastery "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!" There are beautiful decorations all around. Our church is gradually changing from Advent to the Christmas Season with the decorations. The trees are up, the stable is in place, and the poinsettias are ready to be placed throughout the church. Christmas Eve will be a busy day putting the final touches on the church so that it is transformed from the Advent Season to the Christmas Season.

As we make these final preparations for the Christmas liturgies, know that you are being remembered in our prayers. May you experience many blessings during this Christmas Season and throughout the coming year.

Tis the Season

The halls of the monastery are abuzz with elves decorating every room and baking wonderful breads and rolls for our "Monastery Christmas" celebration tomorrow. As Santa's elves are buzzing busily around here, I continue to be transfixed in the quiet darkness of these last hours of the Advent Season. We remain in a place of quiet and prayer as we enter in to the Celebration of Christmas just a few short hours from now. My heart is full of joy for the grace of God fulfills me deep within my soul. As Mary says in Luke's Gospel: "My Soul rejoices in God my Savior; my Spirit finds joy in the living God all around me!"

"Let it be done....." says Mary; for all of life is a prayer! May God fill YOUR heart with joy-filled blessings and gratitude this season and always! Amen and Amen!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home at the Monastery

If you do not already know I live during the school year in Rockport, IN with 2 other sisters. It is such a great privelage to come home to the Monastery. The Monastery is my home. It makes my heart grow each time I come home and get welcomed by the siters who live here at home. They love to hear stories from my students and teaching. I love to hear the stories that they share about their lives. Coming home to the Monastery at Christmas is very heart warming and fills my soul with nourishment.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening

Although I spend most of my year teaching in Louisville and living in one of our monastery's mission houses, I am now "home" at the monastery motherhouse in Ferdinand for the Christmas break. Whenever I stay at the monastery, I have a room in one of the houses that we have on campus that we like to call The Farm House as it is located down a little gravel path, just past some of the barns leftover from days when our land was an active farm. It's a little bit of a hike from the main monastery buildings, where I spend most of my days, to the little house on the edge of the woods, where I spend my nights. I usually enjoy the short walk out to the house, but sometimes I find myself hoping to see one of our sisters taking a car as she heads out to work or to the store or to any other errand that might call sisters away for the day. Last night was one of those nights. It was cold and windy and dark and I had forgotten my sturdy tennis shoes for the walk home. As I headed out of the back door of the monastery, I was kind of dragging my feet, hoping somebody would come along and offer me a ride to the house. No such luck! It appeared I'd have to make the trek by foot.

I headed down the back hill and made the turn toward the house. Just then I happened to glance over toward the grotto hill area of our grounds. The Christmas lights were turned on and I had yet to see the hill lit up in all its glory. Just as I was noticing how nicely the area was decorated this year, I felt something cold on my nose. Then I felt another, and another and I realized that it was snowing!

I stopped dead in my tracks, transfixed my the world around me. Snow falling silently to the ground, Christmas lights blazing as a sign of the days to come, wooden cutouts of three wise men making their way slowly to the baby Jesus. At that moment, I stopped cursing the sisters who didn't come by and save me from the dark walk home. Instead, I thanked God for the amazing opportunity I'd been given. Had I taken a car I would have missed the first snow of the season. I would have missed the beautiful view of our grotto, and I would have missed seeing God in the everyday glory that surrounds me!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My new life here in Ferdinand

It has been almost five months since I have been here. Time has sure flown by! I can't believe it's going to be the fourth week of Advent already! I have been so busy with everything around here, I guess time just some how got away from me!

I have really enjoyed being here. I have had new experiences. I have taken a class over at St. Meinrad on the Psalms taught by Father Harry. I learned so much in this class. I have also taken a couple of classes here at the monastery. One is on The Rule of St. Benedict and Lectio Divina, the other is on The Liturgy of the Hours. So much interesting information!

I have also learned all about living in community with other sisters all different ages, backgrounds and personalities. I have also had the opportunity to do some service around the monastery. I have been involved with cleaning and decorating the dinning room, helping out in activities up in our HHC (Hildegard Health Center for our older sisters), cleaning one of the older sister's bedrooms, keeping up the Grotto, and folding sheets in the laundry. These opportunities have all allowed me to learn how to do different things, as well as work alongside many different sisters.

My prayer life here has been greatly enriched. I really love the praying three times a day as a whole community. I also love the Lectio Divina and Centering prayer that I have learned since being here. I had not really ever been introduced to Lectio or Centering prayer before I entered. They have really opened new doors for me.

As this Advent Season is drawing to a close, I am reflecting on how I have been and how I am continuing to wait paitently for the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Even if it is just taking out a little extra time each day to sit in the quiet and listen with the ear of my heart. I hope you all have a blessed fourth week of Advent and a truely Merry Christmas.

Praying with the Team

This year I've taken on a new duty at the high school where I teach: chaplain of the girls' basketball team. I was nervous about it when I started, because frankly, I didn't know anything about the game and I didn't really know any of the usual attitudes or rituals that go with it, save standing for the national anthem. The coach's request was simply that I pray with the team in the locker room before and after games, and sit on the bench with them. If someone would get hurt, I could help tend to them. How hard could it be? I looked forward to getting a chance to see some of my kids in a different context.

Thus far, it's been good. It can be hard to know what to say to God with them sometimes, especially when the team's just lost and the coach has totally reamed them about it. Other times, after a well-earned win, it's easy to give voice to thanks and praise. More and more I am aware of how we bring EVERYTHING to God: our hopes, our failures, our attempts, our joy, our thanks. We come to God as we are. God sees us and knows us better than we know ourselves. What a wonderful thing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Preparing for Christmas

An eight year old child that I know is very distressed because the lights on his Christmas tree have stopped working and his family cannot afford to replace them or buy cookie dough to make cookies for Santa. The child explained that he is upset not because he cannot enjoy the lights or the outdoor decorations, but because he thinks that the lack of lights, decorations, and cookies will be a poor welcome for Santa, who has been so generous to him.
As I listened to this child's tale of woe, I realized that I am probably not setting up the most hospitable environment in my heart for Jesus to be born. I feel busy, rushed, and overwhelmed -- kind of like my internal Christmas lights have stopped working on a string or two. Like the child, I don't feel ready for Jesus' (or Santa's) coming. I don't have to worry about buying Christmas lights or cookie dough, but I do need to continue to prepare my heart during the remainder of this Advent season. This child's concern about being welcoming for Santa challenges me to be welcoming not only to Jesus, but to others as well.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Nutcracker

Last night, I got to go see the Louisville Ballet perform the Nutcracker. I love ballet and I love the story of the Nutcracker! What an amazing evening it was. It started with dinner at an Italian restaurant, where the food and company were wonderful-then off to see the ballet! Seeing it live, with the breathtaking scenery, hearing the toeshoes tapping on the floor ,and listening to the music helped me to feel God's joy and hope in a special way as I prepare for Christmas. I noticed that there were times today when I stopped and remembered the humorous parts or a particularly difficult lift that the dancers performed. God was very present and I am so glad that I got to attend.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Magic of Advent

The Advent Season is my favorite time of the year! The twinkling lights, the soft glow of the candlelight on the wreath, the eager child ecstatic about visiting Santa Claus and revealing her wish list, the chill of the air - all of it brings to fullness the beauty of the Season! My favorite time of the day right now is about 4:15 a.m. when I rise for the day and sit with my cup of coffee, wrapped in a blanket and spend time with my God praying by the soft lights of our Christmas tree! So peaceful, so quiet, so magical-the stillness captures my heart everyday! What a gift we receive as Christ is born once again into the center of our being this Christmas!

My goal this Advent Season is to find ways of seeing and SEEKING God every day and in all the little things that come to light with each new dawn, not just during the season of Advent but every day, all year long! I often get caught up with homework, studying, household chores, and life in general, which is easy to do, but I decided to make a point to stop for a while everyday and see within where God is working.

After all, seeking God in all ways and in all ways seeking God is the core of our Benedictine life together-right? May God continue to bless your Advent and Christmas Season with many blessings and may the stillness of God's new dawn everyday bring you all that you need and desire! Amen!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The origin of the song: The Twelve Days of Christmas.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics.
It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas pass it on if you wish.'

Merry (Twelve Days of) Christmas Everyone and may God bless us one and all.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Healthy Holidays

As people are trying to avoid getting sick and deciding whether or not to get a flu shot, I'm reminded of our Sr. Mary William who once said, "I'm not sick; I just don't feel well."

With all the hustle and bustle, it's easy to get sick. Here's wishing everyone healthy holidays.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Secrets Revealed

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (12/8) is my favorite feast day. It was on this day that I first told someone that I was considering religious life.

I had just gone to Mass in the evening. A friend and I decided to get something to eat and then meet up with a 3rd friend later to go sledding. When she and I got to the restaurant, she said, "Do you mind if I take in a Bible? You know, in case, we want to pray or something." I was surprised by her question, but how can you say no to the Bible, so I said OK.

We had a nice meal and conversation, but the idea of religious life was dominating my thoughts so much that I just couldn't take it anymore. I tried to get my mouth to form the words, to tell her about this thought that was driving me crazy and taking me over, but I had difficulty stringing the words together. I was hoping she'd be able to read my mind. After some struggling, I said, "Do you know what I'm trying to tell you?" She answered, "No. You're just going to have to tell me."

The time had come. Here we were, having just finished supper with a Bible on the table. I couldn't take it anymore, so I quickly blurted out, "I want to become a nun."

That was it.

My big, dark secret revealed in one short sentence on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, right after supper and before going sledding. Then I thought, "Do nuns go sledding? I just told her I want to become a nun. Should I go sledding? How do I act? Do I walk differently now? Are people looking at me differently?"

I'm happy to say I did go sledding that evening and had a wonderful time, laughing and having fun.

I did walk differently after that. My secret had been revealed. I was able to walk lighter, not worrying about keeping my desire to follow God's will bundled up inside of me. Keeping it secret and resisting it really had weighed me down, but now I was free from that.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception was a wonderful day to share God's love and plan for me with others. It was also a great day to go sledding.

And in case you're wondering if nuns go sledding, come to Ferdinand and join us at the top of the hill after a nice snowfall.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

All's Well That Ends Well

Today I used one of our Mass songs as a warm-up. We sang the refrain and then the choir sang verse 1. Then we all sang the refrain again. I didn't think anything of it. However, when we sang it for Mass, the loudest kid (if not kids) started with verse 2. (Makes sense. We did already do verse 1 when we had the warm-up before Mass.) The other choir kids are all looking at the one singing the loudest and the wrong verse. I'm playing the piano and shout verse 2 when it comes time for verse 2. The loudest kid (who had a microphone by the way), didn't hear me and went on to verse 3. So we had verse 2 and verse 3 at the same time. It didn't get settled out until we came to the last verse and the kid (or kids) who were ahead had no other verse to sing, so we sang the last verse together. Oh, well. All's well that ends well.

Now, back to work. I have a backdrop to create and a Christmas program to worry about. I try to remember to breathe and put all in God's hands. Laughter is good as well.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Gift of Community

My favorite part of giving tours at the monastery is going to Marian Parlor and pointing out 3 paintings by Sr. Gregory Ems. Her paintings are extraordinary. The story is that the community realized she had a great talent for art, so they sent her to an art school. She had been there only a little while when the school sent her back because there was nothing they could teach her. She had natural talent, so she was told to go back to the monastery and paint.

I find her story absolutely amazing - the first part more so than the last part. The part that says, "The community realized she had a great talent for art." I love that part, for you see, I can really relate. When I entered the monastery, I truly was unaware that I had any musical talent. I had wanted to take lessons as a kid, but since that wasn't a possibility, I taught myself. I didn't think much of my ability to do this. Since I could teach myself, I just figured anyone could do it.

I used to buy classical piano books, ragtime pieces, and popular hits. These were well beyond my ability, but I bought them any way in order to maintain my motivation and also in hopes of one day learning them. I worked hard. I even performed in some competitions and participated in talent shows. I never really did well, but tried anyway. I was unaware that I had any musical talent. After all, I had just taught myself. That must mean anyone can do it if they just put time into it like I did.

When I was a junior in high school, my brother and I decided to invest together in a $70 violin and a book called Teach Yourself Violin. I could follow the directions and figure out the fingerings enough to play some simple songs like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." However, I didn't know how to tune the violin, so it was more like an abstract rendition of the pieces. I remember the parish priest visiting our house once. My mom suggested we play. Not knowing we weren't in tune, we were proud to play our songs. Looking back, I'm thankful that he was so kind as we played. I think he must have also been tone deaf.

In college, I went to Mexico for an Alternative Spring Break trip. While there, I bought a really nice guitar for only $20. I had trouble teaching myself, so I put an announcement in the Newman Center bulletin about a guitar group starting up. Other beginners and some intermediate students came once a week, and we all helped each other learn and had a fun time.

When I entered the monastery, I could partly play a few instruments, but like I said, had only taught myself and didn't consider myself any good. Thank goodness the community saw differently. They helped me realize I had musical talent and helped me develop it.

I still remember a few years ago when someone outside community asked me if I was a musician. I paused because I had never used that word to describe myself. By this time, I had been in community for 3 years. I was taking piano and organ lessons and playing regularly for prayer and Mass. Since I hesitated to answer the question, the person asked it again, "Are you a musician?" Three years earlier, I would have answered, "No. Not really." After thinking about it and since the community helped me realize it, I answered, "Yes." By saying it out loud, it was really news to me as well as to the person who asked the question.

I still wonder how I got to where I am today. I had dreamed of teaching music, but never thought it'd be a reality.

When I show tourists Sr. Gregory Ems's paintings and say, "The community realized she had a great talent for art," I think also of how much the community has gifted me, helping me to realize talents and abilities I didn't know I had.