Monkey Business on New Year’s Eve

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Jerry (tall, with the beard) and Jengo (small, with the tail) were our overnight guests last night. They did several performances at First Knight, New Year’s Eve festivities in Windsor, sponsored by local churches and the Community Center. Jerry brought us a gift of cinnamon swirl whole wheat bread that he had made himself. They were delightful guests, and we hope they’ll come back some day.

On the Feast of Stephen: Reflection by a friend who joined us for Morning Prayer

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Yesterday, we celebrated the birth of Love with Christmas. Today, we memorialize a man, who filled with Love, came up against the cruelty and harshness of the world and was killed by those who could not see Love. December 26th is the feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. His story is as follows:

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts 7:54-8:3)

As I was driving to Transfiguration Monastery in Windsor, NY, I passed my high school, where up until about a month ago a young man, a freshman, also attended. My heart sank to think of him and how his parents must be grieving him, their son whom they lost to suicide. My heart sank further to think that it was cruelty in this world that killed him, the cruelty of his fellow classmates. Yesterday, I was speaking to a friend of his parents and learned how students constantly taunted him for being small-framed, and called him “gay.”

This young man was not gay. Gayness and sexuality is not the point. Cruelty is. It is very much the point that we must persist in the doing of all good works that Love has prepared for us to walk in; we must continue to teach our children love. We must refuse ignorance and teach our children that individuality is not something of which to be afraid, something we must push away from us. We must open our eyes to the truth of our commonality—this young man was a son, a grandson, a friend. He was a student with his own dreams, a hope for our future. He laughed, cried, loved, learned, and wanted to be included in his community the same as we laugh, cry, love, learn, and want.

It was more than stones that killed Stephen. It was the anger of the men which blinded them to Love that killed him. Stephen only lost his body in death. They could not kill Stephen’s spirit—even at the point of being stoned, in love for those who were cruel to him, Stephen prayed. Stephen did not lose sight of Love. In reality, the greater death here was not Stephen’s, but his community’s. Like Stephen, we must fix our gaze on Love.

It says that Saul approved of their killing Stephen. It says in other translations that Saul “was complicit” in Stephen’s death. Saul was later converted and worked for the love of the same community that he once persecuted. He was renamed Paul and joined the ranks of Jesus’ Apostles. It is Love that brought both Stephen and Saul to peace. It is Love that saved them.

We do not want to be a community complicit in death. But, if we do not teach our children to respect each other, to see themselves in each other, that is what we have—a community complicit in death. That is not what living together in this world is to be about. We are here to live life, to praise life, to love life. To be alive and thrive in this life, we need what we desire in the deepest parts of ourselves—love. We are beings that are sustained by love permeating every facet of our lives. We must love Love.

With Stephen, let us gaze to the heavens if we must. But, each of us, let us gaze within ourselves—then we will find an opening to the vision of where Love stands. Let us see Love and in Love let us know how to live fully who we are. Let us love so much that we pray for each other’s forgiveness in our part of wrongdoing. Let us love so much that we drop our stones that they draw blood no more.

We may in some corner of our thinking be like Saul, hardened against love and life. But we can become Paul, we can become people of life. We can defend life by teaching love. We can love our lives that we cherish for ourselves so much that we ensure that others can live. Eventually, Love came around and it is what converted Saul and renamed him Paul. Each of us, doing our part, can covert our community.

If we are persecuted, we can sling stone for stone and hope to come out on top. Or we can be like Stephen. We can refuse to let anything that others do to us detract our gaze from Love. We can refuse to let hatred cycle through us and creep into our thinking. We can be like Stephen and love at all costs. If we find ourselves in unkind situations, we must have faith that our actions of returning love for hatred will have an effect. Not allowing cruelty to continue with us; one by one, perhaps this is the only way we can truly honor the life of that young man from my high school who shot himself.

A sermon written by a bishop long ago was read during prayer at the monastery. It said: Love is the ladder by which all climb to heaven and God. Let us make our ascent together!

Let us ascend to higher thinking, Let us ascend to being more pro-active in our community. Let us rise and meet our challenges so that no more parents will feel they have failed their children, that no more students will feel that one of them is so unbearable that they must put one outside their margins, that no person be pushed out of life altogether, that no more teachers are left wondering what more could they have done to protect the students in their schools.

Let there be no more death, except the death of harshness, derision, ignorance, and hatred. Let all that is against life, life for all, be killed by your love. Let all that is against precious life be what love kills.

© 2016 Daniel E Crocker Jr

Prayer for Balance, sent by a friend

Prayer for Balance – Jennifer Lothrigel

Oh Bringer of butterflies and bumble bees—
 Creatrix of cockroaches and caribous,
 whisper the truth upon our bones,
 that we may never forget the place of all things
 within the grand Universe, including our own unique being
 and that of the person whom we dislike most.
Oh Composer of remarkable accomplishments,
 ladders to climb and couches to rest upon with our feet up,
 may we marvel equally upon contrasting moments as
 if each one is a divine love letter from God herself.
Oh Trickster, dear Spinster—
 please spare us your jokes when our egos lead us astray.
 For we are prone to loss of consciousness,
 particularly during hard times.
 May you ease our life lessons by settling us back gently
 into our heart of hearts.
 And may those steady heart beats be the chords of wisdom 
 that plug us back into our soul.
Oh You, whoever might lift just half the sorrows—
 leave us only the most important lessons
 you have in store for our human race.
 And if you must persist in teaching these lessons,
 give us each other in a more accessible way
 that we might set aside what we fear about one another
 and work together to transcend them.
Oh Great Creator of the original essence
 that permeates all living things,
 forgive us for creating things that pollute our Earth home.
Lastly, oh Earth Mother, may we not feel separate from You.
 Reweave our chords of light
 so that they descend to us directly from Your lineage
 so we may all see that we come from the same ancestors
 once and for all.

Poem Contributed by One of Our Readers

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

And I wake in the night at the least sound

In fear of what my life and my children’s life’s may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

Who do not tax their lives with forethought

Of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

Waiting with their light.  For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.

Wendell Berry

Odyssey of an Oblate

The following was submitted by our good friend, Rosalie Krajci:

Odyssey of an Oblate

It didn’t take much to persuade me.

A couple of years ago I made a short retreat at Transfiguration Monastery. One of my purposes was to learn more about monasticism. Not that I was thinking of entering the monastery, but rather, drawn to the spirituality of monasticism, I wanted to learn about the “monastery of the heart.”

The very concept of monasticism – the totality of its dedication to the interior life, to a growing intimacy with God – had appealed to me long ago, even in my teens. But life takes us on different paths and here I was, close to where I had wanted to be so long ago.

After a short but substantive conversation with Sister Mary Donald, she gave me copies of some of her articles, along with the Esther de Waal book, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict. That sounded like just the thing, as indeed it was!

I resumed going to Mount Saviour Monastery which is less than a ten-minute ride from my home and had some conversations with then-prior Father Joseph Gabriel. He told me I needed to write him a letter requesting acceptance as an Oblate of Mt. Saviour. I composed and sent the letter that very day. He later described the simple process: I would attend a brief rite to publicly express my desire and choose a name. This part was easy too, and just seemed to pop out of my mouth. My patroness? Mary Magdalene whose feast just “happened” to be within the next 10 days!

Father Joseph steered me to the writings of Michael Casey, OCSO, who explores in depth every word of the Rule. I was formally received last year, shortly before Father Joseph left.

While the whole process of my becoming an Oblate seems very short and maybe even inordinately swift, I must emphasize that this had been in my mind and heart for many years. The decision was relatively quick only because it had been gestating in my spirit for literally decades, even if at times it had been submerged beneath other activities.

How did I decide so spontaneously on Mary Magdalene? Certainly, Thérèse of Lisieux has long been a favorite of mine since girlhood. But Mary Magdalene seemed closer to the adult me. She was one of the few to endure watching the lengthy dying of Jesus crucified. How much love and strength did that require! She was then the first to see and speak to the risen Christ. In her great love and joy, she threw herself at his feet, clinging to him, not wanting to be separated from him. Christ commissioned her to give the good news to the brother apostles. He had total trust that she would do this, even though this was a very bold action for a woman.

There is much we do not know about Mary’s apostolate after that. Pope Francis has just “upgraded” her feast day, July 22, to the same level of celebration that is accorded to the other apostles. After so many centuries when she was associated with practically every fallen woman in the Gospels, it is a true grace to have her honored in this way.

Yes, she had needed serious help from our Lord. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had expelled seven demons from her. Like any other Christian, she undoubtedly was flawed. And with us, all of us flawed, she received forgiveness with great joy and gratitude. I’m in good company.

Rosalie P. Krajci

 

Ora et Labora

Rosalie Krajci, an oblate of Mount Saviour Benedictine Monastery in Elmira, NY, sent us the following poem. It is reproduced here with her permission.

By way of explanation to those whose Latin may be rusty: Ora et Labora is a Benedictine motto meaning “Pray and Work”. Rosalie plays with the Latin in her title: Orare est Laborare: “To Pray Is to Work”.

Orare est Laborare

I Will Go to the Altar . . .

I will go to the altar of God,

To God who gives joy to my youth!

I will go to the altar of my laptop

As I compose this prayer.

I will go to the altar of my phone,

As I call or respond to a friend.

I will go to the altar of my piano

Where I touch the soul of Beethoven.

I will go to the altar of the sidewalk

That leads me to my neighbor.

I will go to the altar in my kitchen,

As I prepare what God provides.

I will go to the altar of my appliances

That make light work of many chores.

I will go to the altar of my books

That bring food to my spirit.

I will go to the altar in my prayer corner

Where I find the grace to surrender and

To love.

Rosalie Krajci

Psalm 23 – Meditation by a Benedictine Oblate

Water lilies

Psalm:
The Lord is my Shepherd . . .
What more could I want?
He takes me by the hand
to a quiet place of rest.
He stops by a river of living water,
letting me drink deep
from the faithfilled
stream.
He lifts me up, lest I dash my foot
against the stony path.
He raises me up high, so I can look
far down onto the heads of my foes.
They scurry before him in confusion,
like dry ashes in the wind.
He enfolds me in his arms,
My holy Pelican,
Embracing me, and I him, as he nourishes me
with his Body and blood.
He anoints me with the holy chrism of Mercy,
Healing the wounds of my forgotten sins.
Yes, let any darkness come!
I travel forever in the dazzling light
of his Love!
© Rosalie P. Krajci
May 31, 2016
Feast of the Visitation

A Retreat Gone Awry

This post was written by a recent guest, who gave us permission to reproduce it here.

A Retreat Gone Awry

I had scheduled a three-night retreat at the monastery. I needed this retreat. It was to be a really good silent retreat. I would take no book except for a Bible. I would have no plans, instead letting the Holy Spirit lead me however it would. (Somehow, I failed to see the contradiction in planning to have no plans.)

When I walked into the guest house and was greeted by Jim, an elderly stranger using a walker, I returned his greeting with only enough warmth to avoid rudeness and withdrew unto myself to maintain my promised silence.

“Do you suppose,” I asked Sister Sheila when she arrived to show me my room, “that Jim would mind if I had my lunch alone?”

“I’m sure he realizes you’re here for a retreat.” And so she casually explained to Jim that I’d be taking my lunch in the upstairs sitting room.

Shortly after, I brought my plates downstairs. I had eaten rather quickly and unmeditatively. Sister was chatting with Jim at the kitchen table. (She normally would have been having a silent lunch with the other sisters.) I had the good sense to feel somewhat abashed and, frankly, ready to atone for my coldness.

I made a point to be more available for friendly conversation. I learned that Jim had a doctorate in the classical languages, including two years studying at Oxford, and had taught at Cornell University. He even recited for me the opening lines of the Aeneid—in Latin, of course. Though retired and afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, Jim was nonetheless engaged in activities to stimulate his mind. He had a little keyboard and was plunking out a tune he composed. At home, he also ran his own press for block printing.

On the last evening, I prepared and served him a light supper consisting of soup and two perfectly timed soft-boiled eggs. I stuck around to help Jim prepare for bed, or I should say for sleep, since he slept upright in a chair. It was difficult enough for him to get out of a chair, let alone a bed. Throughout minimal preparations, Jim maintained a gentle smile and spoke in a soft voice. I quietly watched him as he would pause in his movement, looking straight ahead. He explained that he had to concentrate on moving his legs, focusing on keeping his balance before he lifted one foot and left the other on the ground.  I made sure that the necessary lights stayed on so he could see his way to the restroom during the night.

Today there was a note from Jim in my mail. I opened the envelope and burst into tears. It was a thank-you letter from him, written in letters so tiny that I needed a magnifying glass to read it.

“This,” I said to myself, “is what the Kingdom of God is like: the tiny mustard seed, the bit of yeast in a vat of flour.” Truly the Kingdom is in these small attentions to one another. This was Ignatius “seeing God in all things.” This was Thérèse of Lisieux’s Little Way.” Our God does not ask for, or expect, spectacular deeds from us. No, God wants us to show a bit of kindness toward one another, sincerely bestowed and graciously received.

My retreat taught me that there is a time to speak and a time for silence. I learned that silence is not simply the absence of speech or sound, nor is it for our own personal edification as we, in attempted holiness, clutch the Lord God to our solitary bosom. Silence can be an attentive listening to another person so as to anticipate his needs, saving him the need of asking for help.

Retreat gone awry? No. In spite of myself and my high-flown plans, I had let God have his way, and that made all the difference.

Rosalie Krajci

Rosalie P. Krajci, Ph.D., a Benedictine Oblate, is retired from two careers: language teacher and consultant in human resources management. Her third and most rewarding career is as a spiritual director and freelance writer. Rosalie and her husband raised seven children. Now widowed, she lives in the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York.

A Fisherman’s Prayer

At our community meeting this morning, Sister Donald offered the following poem in honor of today’s Gospel reading celebrating the haul of 153 fish:

A Fisherman’s Prayer

God grant that I may live to fish

Until my dying day,

And when it comes to my last cast,

I then most humbly pray,

When in the Lord’s safe landing net

I’m peacefully asleep,

That in His mercy I be judged as

“Big Enough to Keep.”

fishing