Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Recommendations

A 'Bookie' from Birth

Back in 1945, when my mother was nurturing me in utero, Dr. Spock said nothing about the benefits of reading to your unborn child, a notion quite accepted today. But, nonetheless, I have been a book person virtually since birth. The first books I remember were the "Little Golden Books" my mother regularly purchased for us. An early eye for art drew me to those illustrated by Eloise Wilkin like the version of "Hansel and Gretel" shown here. I was delighted to see so many covers I remembered when I googled her name - a walk down memory lane.

There were lots of bookcases in our house. My father, still a great and eclectic reader at the age of eighty-seven, was pursuing an engineering degree at the time. While technical textbooks piled up so did modern and classical literature. When I began to read in school I thought it cool to announce my achievement by carrying around my young uncle's cast off high school history book in which I had underlined every word I could read - all monosyllabic. I am told that I had a hard time really getting the hang of reading. I also know that my teachers in second and third grade could not match the one I adored in first. Could there have been some resistance there? Fourth grade was the hook - great teacher and more independence at the store front public library in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Our classes walked to the library. I discovered the biographies, the Landmark and Signature series of middle grade bios. I walked out with, of all titles, "Robert Fulton and His Steamboat" just right for our unit on local history which is still in the fourth grade New York State social studies curriculum. After that day life was not the same. It was on to Louisa May Alcott (not just "Little Women" either), Nancy Drew, Sherry Ames Student Nurse, etc., etc. If a teacher said to me, "Extra credit for book reports," I was in my glory.

Is it any wonder that literature was always a big part of my primary grade teaching years and that I eventually became a librarian? I am still an avid reader and have very broad interests - biography, mystery, spirituality, scripture, poetry, arts, memoir. Reading of the lectio divina variety is essential in monastic life not only to feed the soul but also the mind. Contemplatives, nuns and monks, need to dip into the treasured record of human experience with the divine. They also need to allow awe at the providence of God to penetrate them by way of literature, history, science and the complexities of the human experience.

Monastic Wisdom Series by Cistercian Publications

A few years ago Cistercian Publications began this new series, now boasting fifteen or so titles. The general editor is Patrick Hart, OCSO and the advisory board includes Michael Cassey, OCSO, Lawrence S. Cunningham, Bonnie Thurston, Terrance Kardong, OSB, Kathleen Norris and Miriam Pollard, OCSO. Here are some titles I heartily recommend:

Secret of the Heart: Spiritual Being by Jean-Marie Howe, OCSO

Thomas Merton: Prophet of Renewal by John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO

Centered on Christ: A Guide to Monastic Profession by Augustine Roberts, OCSO

A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century: Where Do We Go From Here? by Patrick Hart, OCSO

Four Ways of Holiness for the Universal Church: Drawn from the Monastic Tradition by Francis Kline, OCSO

As a 21st century contemplative nun, I have appreciated reading recent works so timely and full of wisdom yet rooted in the very ancient traditions of this vocation, continuing to profess monasticism as an effective expression of the human call to search for God alone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wedding and Family Photos

Love conquers all.
Endurance is everything.
65 years of wedded bliss.

Nicholas and Benjamin in Hawaiian
garb for rehearsal dinner.

Newly weds....

Regular readers will know that I recently escorted my parents to the wedding of their grandson, my nephew, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Regular readers will also know that my parents will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary on Sunday, August 3rd. Here are some pictures of recent events, photos of my sons and their ladies, my own grandsons and images of my parents on the dance floor. We should all look so good!

The "Crew"

Friday, July 25, 2008

Christmas in July

Saying "YES" ...

The Choice for Obedience
in Vowed Life

Once again our community is celebrating "Little Christmas", marking the feast of the Incarnation of the Son of God on the 25th day of each month. It is our custom to have the Prioress offer a reading and a talk following recitation of the Psalms at Midday Prayer of the Divine Office. Following her talk we renew our vows together and then enjoy a festive meal. I have posted here the talk given today by our Prioress, Sister Paula Schmidt, OSsR, one of the foundresses of this monastery who came to Esopus in 1957 from Canada. She has been a vowed religious for fifty-six years.

July 25th, 2008 Talk at Midday Office by Prioress, Sr. Paula

From our Constitution and Statutes [the Rule]:
Constitution #30. "Having come into this world to do the will of His Father, Jesus conformed Himself totally to it even to dying on the cross in a supreme act of love and filial obedience which was a perfect reparation for the disobedience of humankind.

Our vow of obedience is directly in keeping with this loving obedience of the Son of God, at the very heart of the mystery of Redemption. "

#31. "Our consecrated obedience, like that of Mary the humble servant of the Lord, brings to reality and prolongs the obedience of Jesus for the salvation of the world. Offering our will to God through love, we are all the more in communion with the Mystery of Christ, obedient even to the cross, and in this way we become more disposed to seek the Kingdom of God in all and above all."

Today, as every month on the 25th, we are focused in a special way on the mystery of the Incarnation. Today, as usual, I have struggled to select the special focus for this month’s reflection. The problem, I find, is not that the topic has been exhausted but that it is so vast. And the question for me each month is: what do we need now, as community of contemplative nuns, to “relight our fire”?

Each of us, I am sure, in the past month, has had some moments of those personal ‘darts of fire’, as Alphonsus calls them, that woke us momentarily out of our daily routine. Moments when we knew, and felt deeply, the blessing in which we are involved in our particular call as Redemptoristines.

This month of July, in our tradition, was for centuries devoted to the virtue of obedience. With this in mind I looked at our Constitutions and a quick reading of the above sections can give the impression that the obedience of Jesus is more passive than active—a matter of surrender to the Father’s will.

In the Synoptic Gospel tradition this is the struggle in Gethsemane: “If it is possible, take this cup from me—yet not my will but thine be done.” In John’s Gospel, on the other hand Jesus is shown as “choosing to lay down his life, and choosing to take it up again.”

And that is what we read in the next sections of our Constitutions:

#32. "Our obedience cannot be a simple exterior fidelity to a law but it must be the fruit of a choice, authentic, free, adult and responsible; it must spring from the heart as a witness of love and an expression of deep and living faith.

By our way of living our religious obedience, we bear witness together that this freely chosen obedience lived in love brings true joy, that it contributes to the growth of maturity and that far from being opposed to the dignity of the human person, it liberates and increases it.

So we become—personally and in community—living signs of the liberating and all illuminating power of Jesus Christ."

Do you remember the workshop on The Redemption given us by Fr. Jorge Colon [Redemptorist of Puerto Rico] last year? In these few sentences St. Irenaeus sums up both the Incarnation and the Redemption: "Adam is an infant who tripped. God picked him up and showed him the way to divinization. The Son of God became man so that we might become God. The glory of God is man fully alive.” The important thing is not that man fell but that man was picked up by God.

To be human means to pass from the image of Adam to the image of the Risen Christ. It is a life-long process, a life-long journey. Obedience is that daily ‘listening’ in order to more and more freely choose that way of God, the way of Christ. Ob-audire=to listen to.

In the Gospel chosen for today’s feast we have the two brothers James and John approach Christ through their mother and ask for the best seats at the table of the Kingdom. Jesus asks them: Can you drink the chalice I shall drink? They say, We can! Little do they know what they are saying. But Jesus answers them—You shall indeed drink of the cup that I will drink, the cup of total self-emptying for the salvation of the world. Jesus choose this for himself, and the apostles choose this for themselves, and we too, choose this for ourselves, only realizing little by little, day by day, what this means. In essence the ‘obedience’ God asks of us is the obedience of love, love in ever broadening circles of impact, beginning very near, and spreading out to encompass the whole universe.

Those darts of fire give us a glimpse, now and then, what it is all about, who and what we are called into when we say our “Yes” to God as Redemptoristines.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


And Life Moves Along

Here's a peek into our current monastic days. We have three retreatants with us; two apostolic religious and a lay woman who was, many years ago, a Redemptoristine in Canada. It is gratifying to us that women such as these find our monastery a place of refuge and quiet, just perfect for a tryst with the Lord. One sister comes each year and receives guidance from a local spiritual director. The other wanted 3-4 weeks in a monastic community with a structure of prayer. All of these women keep the silence. Some participate in our Offices of the Liturgy of the Hours and others do not. It is a joy to have them among us and praying with us, all in keeping with the ancient monastic tradition of hospitality.

Last Sunday, July 20th, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Redeemer, the patronal feast of our Order and the Redemptorist Congregation. This is always a special day.

These days we are exchanging a lot of e-mail with others in the Order around the world as some sisters prepare for a meeting with the Redemptorist Father General in Rome. As part of this effort we experienced a great 'first' for us. We had our first SKYPE audio and video communication with the prioress of our Dublin monastery. Should you wish to visit their new web site AND check out their new webcam here is the link: One of their sisters will be professing first vows this coming Saturday at noon their time. It will be available on their webcam. In the eastern time zone that will be at 7am.

This last weekend I was given permission to drive my elderly parents and two other relatives to the wedding of my sister's son. My father and mother are 87 and 84 respectively and preparing to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. It was a great gift to have them share in this delightful occasion. All took place in Gloucester, Massachusetts, an historic whaling port that remains very much a community oriented to the sea.

Here is a close-up of their famous monument to sailors lost at sea. The second photo shows the venue for the wedding reception. At the end of the festivities some guests, along with bride and groom, ventured out to wade in the ocean surf photographer in tow.

We are all so grateful to God for His protection and guidance during this trip. We pray God's every blessing on Vicki and Erich, the bride and groom. And I am very grateful to be a member of a community which permits me to assist my parents when help is necessary. God is good.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kudos and Awards

Arte y Pico Blog Award

The extent to which blogging puts you in touch with the world is astonishing, especially when you have withdrawn to a rather hidden place, living a very small life in terms of miles traveled and people met.

Blogging changes all of that is very surprising ways. One of these surprises has been repeated and encouraging comments from a reader in Jerusalem! Dina is an archaeologist, gifted in expressing her Jewish heritage but very well-versed in things Christian and very open to spirituality across the spectrum of faith and of culture. Her blog, Jerusalem Hills is a joy to behold at The photography is tops but, in addition, you really get a sense of the city, its environs and current political experience.

Dina recently presented ARTE y PICO awards to five of her favorite blogs. Contemplative Horizon was one of her five choices. Here is how the award works:

1. Recipients must pick 5 blogs they consider deserving of this award for creativity, design, interesting material, and for contributing to the blogging community in whatever language.

2. Each of the 5 selected blogs must include the name of the author and a link to his/her site to be visited by readers.

3. The recipient must show the award and indicate the name and link to the blog of the one that handed it to him/her.

4. All award recipients must include a link to the Arte y Pico site to inform all readers about the origin of this award.The best part of receiving an award is the opportunity to pass it on, to play matchmaker between you and some of my favorite bloggers.

My five awards go to (Do I hear a drum roll?):

A Nun's Life by Sister Julie, IHM. A refreshing look at apostolic religious life in the USA. Attractive, informative and very well done.

Homilies by Rev. Thomas Travers, CSsR. Fr. Tom is an exceptional homilist - funny, practical, insightful, faith-filled and theologically on the mark. He often shares from his vast experience as a Redemptorist missionary. His compassion and commitment to serving the poorest of the poor are evident.

Notes from Still Song Hermitage by Sr. Laurel, a hermit in the Benedictine Camaldolese tradition bound by vows in her diocese. This is a recent discovery of mine and very welcome because I am much drawn to Camaldolese spirituality. The spirituality of the hermit living in a community has helped me to come to grips with the realities of being an extroverted personality in a contemplative community. I am drawn to the hermitage of the heart.

Lazy Gal Quilting by Tonya, an American living in Paris who has been quilting for twenty years. This site is also a recent discovery. Impressed by the liveliness and use of color in Tonya's creations. Her imagination sparks mine. The photography is super, especially for lovers of Paris, quilts and cats. Like the French influence on this artist and her sharing.

Reflections by the Bay by Father Andrew Costello, CSsR. This is yet another homily blog and another that you may find refreshing and inspirational - new takes on perennial issues of faith, Christian life and discipleship. Fr. Andy has a great sense of humor too. Some don't get it but others surely will.

I urge you to check out these blogs. Our world is expanding all the time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Dangers of Solitude

All of the People of God, all of the baptised are called to a life of prayer and contemplation, not just contemplative nuns. Most people get the prayer part but not the contemplation part. How can I, with my busy life, the obligations I am bound to by conscience, my short attention span, my weaknesses and addictions, my phobias and fears, be called to something as other worldly as contemplation? Does it help to translate a life of contemplation as a life of intimacy with God. Or is that notion of intimacy with the Almighty just too scary?

Well, in spite of all the possible objections we are all called to contemplation to some degree or another according to the circumstances of our lives. But, instinctual fear at the thought of such engagement is not so far from the mark. We ask, "What will happen to me if I go there? What will happen if I go to that secluded place, or if I just enter into the seclusion of my own heart and dwell there for a while with God? We are wise to ask.

Believe it or not, there has been a recent wave of people choosing to move even more radically into contemplation by living the life of a hermit. They do not chose to dwell in caves as did St. Anthony of Egypt but make their apartments, their trailers, their cabins or yurts into their hermitage, a place of intense and exclusive intimacy with God.

According to the practice and customs of this monastery silence and solitude are sought and cultivated outside of the times in which we prayer, work, eat and recreate together. For an extrovert like me, these times carved out of daily life feel like my hermitage. For a busy family person, or someone with a career, the time and place they find to engage in the life of prayer and contemplation may feel like their hermitage, their place apart.

And now we get back to that question. What will happen to me if I go there? What will happen to me if I make myself available to God? Some have images of St. Teresa of Avila in levitation, to the ecstatic look of the saints in medieval and Renaissance art. I don't think most of us have to worry about this happening to us. At least, I don't.

Much more realistic possibilities were explored in an article by Kenneth C. Russell entitled The Dangers of Solitude (Review for Religious, Nov.-Dec. 2000, p. 575). The intended audience are hermits living alone. However, I believe that anyone who seriously pursues the contemplative life in the midst of their particular day to day will inevitably face the same experiences. Here is some of his wisdom in the short form. Hope it draws to seek the entire piece.

* If you leave the flurry of activity you will come face to face with the self that you usually scurry around trying to avoid. If one begins to see behaviors for what they truly are it can be awfully uncomfortable. Even worse, it can make it a matter of conscience to do something to correct an unfortunate reality.

* "Hermits [read as contemplatives] also soon discover, as the Carthusian GuigoII put it, that they are a crowd unto themselves." Distractions and temptations will abound. This reminds me of a saying that can be heard in 12 Step support groups. "While you are at a meeting, your addiction is doing push ups in the parking lot." In other words, spending time in contemplation doesn't necessarily make life any easier.

* Solitude, not playing an active part, even for a short time, on the busy stage of life can makes us "vulnerable to the imagination's readiness to reassert our right to a place in the world."

* "Hermits have to live without the external momentum that social interaction usually provides."

To the extent that we are addicted to this momentum, that we think we cannot live without it or that live without it is not worth living, we resist the life of contemplation to which we are all called.

* Doing "good things or deeds" to relieve pressure or to justify a lapse from our contemplative practice can lead us down the proverbial road that is paved with good intentions. For people who are not hermits but living in the world, these can also happen to those enticed into speaking more and more about contemplative prayer to others, to suddenly entertaining groupies and finally to the total collapse of their contemplative life. Russell quotes Aelred of Rievaulx, "When you are pressured to get involved: Tu sede, tu tace, tu sustine. Sit still, keep quiet, and stick to it!"

* The social self will not go lightly into solitude. Our moodiness will show. Solitude once eagerly sought will become distasteful and repugnant. Those who spend time apart can become the target of acedia (dryness in prayer) and sadness.

* In response to all of this is the advice to live in the now. Living in the present moment counter acts weariness and distraction.

* Above all else is the need to remain faithful to the practice and to stay focused on one's center, the place within where God dwells waiting for us to cast the eyes of our soul upon the presence and contemplate the glory.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Year of Guest Creatures

Just a few weeks ago I posted pictures of a little fawn who had come to rest right beside the chapel entrance to our monastery. Something about our life as contemplative nuns must be drawing the creatures to us this year. The latest is a Eastern Phoebe who crafted her amazingly beautiful nest of straw, leaves and moss less than two feet away from the door to our mud room - a pretty busy entrance and exit. Not only is it so subject to disturbance, it is also, at least to our eyes, very precariously perched on a rather shallow light fixture.

It is impossible to take a photo of the nest with Mama bird sitting on her eggs because the very second she spots an observer as far as twenty feet away she takes off. If the intruder insists on hanging around, Mama takes up her post on a tree in the nearby cloister garden, all the while keeping a nervous eye on her nest.

We have high hopes for the eggs although we cannot see them. Perhaps when the little one hatch, and before they can fly, I will get a photo of their hungry beaks poking out of the nest. We shall see and keep you posted.