I arrived at St. Benedict’s Monastery a week ago Monday, for ten days of uninterrupted work trying to finish the book I’m writing on my conversion from Catholicism to Buddhism and back to Catholicism. This is my sixth or seventh visit to the Monastery in the last three or so years and I always get a ton done when I’m here. The Sisters tease me about how focused I am on my writing and editing, breaking only for prayer and meals.
Thursday I woke up feeling miserable. I don’t think I had a fever, but my head was clogged, my nose was an open faucet and I felt awful. Dayquil allowed me to get some hours of work done, but I was not as focused I as would like. Friday was better than Thursday, Saturday better than Friday and yesterday I thought I had it licked.
Yesterday morning I woke up feeling worse than I had on Thursday. I’m pretty sure I had fever (the chills were my clue that might be the case) and although I got some work done, I had to stop twice for long rest breaks.
My first thought at all of this was,”This isn’t supposed to happen. I’m here to work, not be sick. I need this time.”
Except of course, that it did, and that I did is completely our of my control My only choice in this is to add mental anquish to my physical discomfort by fuming about how unfair it is that I got sick or to accept that it is what it is. I will get done as much as I can. It may not be as much as I wanted (although my husband reminded me on the phone that no matter how much I get done is it never as much as I would have wanted), but it will be all I can do.
And that is all I can do.
Posted in Main | Tagged acceptance | 2 Comments »
At yesterday’s Mass at St. Benedict’s Monastery, the priest focused his homily on two lines in today’s Gospel from St. John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
He contrasted the peace the world gives and the peace of Christ with two powerful examples. His first example of the peace the world gives was the family and friends of a murder victim having a tailgate party outside of the prison at which the convicted murderer was being executed. “Now we will finally have some peace,” they say among themselves with joy. What kind of peace is that, he wondered? His second example was politicians claiming after 9/11 that they would hunt down everyone responsible for the act, for then we would have peace. One candidate for office claimed we would hunt Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell in the name of peace. What kind of peace is that?
The peace Jesus offers is not the peace offered by the world. Not a peace based on returning hatred for hate, violence for violence. The peace Jesus offers is a peace based on love. If I respond to a wrong committed against me with love, said the priest, I already have peace. If am steadfast in the love of Christ, nothing can ever take that peace away.
Peace of the world or peace of Christ. Which would you rather have?
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My friend Gerry sent me the other day an excerpt from one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, Our Appointment With Life: The Buddha’s Teaching on Living in the Present. The statement of the Buddha’s teaching on living in the present moment is no less useful for Christians and other non-Buddhists as it is for Buddhists.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is
in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells
in stability and freedom
We must be diligent today.
To wait until tomorrow is too late,
Death comes unexpectedly.
How can we bargain with it?
The sage calls a person who knows
how to dwell in mindfulness night and day “one who knows the better way to live alone.”
Mindfulness is something we can all benefit from cultivating, and there are many practices for doing so (some of which I talk about in Growing in Love and Wisdom.)
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People sometimes have difficulty with the idea of experiencing God in the ordinary. They think that a “real” religious experience has to be extraordinary – said in a way that precludes there being anything ordinary about it.
I read a line in my draft manuscript the other day in which I described something as being “at the same time, ordinary and extraordinary.” When I read the line (which I hadn’t read in a long time), I was immediately reminded of one of Thomas Merton’s foundational religious experiences (which he describes in Seven-Storey Mountain). Although I don’t have the book with me here at St. Benedict’s, I recall the passage well, since I often use it with people as a way of talking about the characteristics of special religious experiences. Merton’s experience was a quite extraordinary one, yet he writes in two places that what he saw was also quite ordinary.
Still ruminating on this, I picked up the galleys of a forthcoming book about which I’ve been asked to write a review essay. By coincidence (is anything ever a coincidence?) I started reading the author’s description of a deep experience of God he had, in which he said that the experience was extraordinary by definition, and yet absolutely ordinary.
This all leads me to think that the mistake people sometimes make is thinking of ordinary and extraordinary as two mutually exclusive categories. But with God, I think ordinary and extraordinary collide. And that means if one rules out God in the ordinary, there may be no extraordinary in which to find God.
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On September 17, 2001, I drove into St. Ignatius Retreat House (Inisfada) in Manhasset for the first time. Once I did, I never really left. I regularly attended Mass, retreats, and other programs there. I did my training in retreat house ministry there and then, after completing my training as a spiritual director, became a member of the adjunct ministrial staff. Even after my move to Minneapolis in 2007, I have continued to go back to the retreat house to give retreats.
St. Ignatius Retreat House will close on June 1. I’ve known for close to a year that this was happening. But learning the other day that today begins the last directed retreat there makes the closing seem all the more imminant. Makes it much harder to put the June 1 closing date out of my mind.
“We could use prayer for this last retreat,” wrote one of the staff associates.
I will be this weekend praying for those involved in the last retreat. I will be praying in the weeks ahead for all who have be blessed by the retreat house these many years and who will be touched by its loss. And I will pray prayers of thanksgiving for the many blessings I have received in my years there.
This weekend, I will begin praying my good-byes.
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I wrote the other day about the welcome I received when I arrived here at St. Benedict’s Monastery on Monday.
The subject of hospitality also came up in the discussion period after my talk at Our Lady or Lourdes on Sunday on the subject of Intentional Discipleship. One young woman talked about the lack of welcome she felt in a Catholic church she attended.
I was reminded of both of my welcome here and Sunday’s discussion last night when I came across something in a blog post, a copy of which was in a pile of papers I brought with me here to St. Ben’s. Although the post was written last year, it mirrors the experience I and others have had. The author of the blog, writing about the efforts of she and her husband to find a community in which to find Jesus, said this:
We knew just two young Catholics who practiced their faith, but their quiet reverence was eclipsed by the Protestants we knew, who unabashedly talked about their love for Jesus and whose churches were vibrant and welcoming. When you showed up at their services, they were on you like white on rice and never failed to invite you to their spiritual family. We’d attended several Catholic Masses to learn more about Catholicism, but we’d never once been approached by a welcoming Catholic. In fact, when we’d asked one priest if he’d meet with us to answer questions about the faith, he gruffly told us, “Call the diocese.” Catholics seemed to worship more as individuals, even in Mass.
As I said when this issue came up in the program at Our Lady of Lourdes on Sunday, it may be that instances like this are isolated. But if they are not, our lack of welcome to newcomers in our midst is something that deserves attention. How can we be in relationship with people if we can’t even make them feel at home in our home?
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I spent much of the time Monday and yesterday re-reading the current draft of the manuscript of my conversion book. I’ve been so busy with retreats and book talks on Growing in Love and Wisdom these last six months that it has been quite some time since I’ve looked at this manuscript. So it seemed to me useful, as I settle into ten days here at the Monastery to (hopefully) finalize the book, to take some time to just read what I’ve already put on paper.
One of the thoughts that came to my mind as I did so is this: We experience many things, many events over the course of time. The various events and experiences of our lives are in some sense unconnected until we construct a narrative of those events. Out of our experiences, we construct various narratives that explain our tendencies, our views, our ways of approaching people and things.
The (perhaps obvious) truth that became clear to me as I look back over my description of various segments of my life is that there is more than one possible narrative for any set of events. Meaning that we choose the shape of our narratives of those events. And once we do, we are affected deeply by the narratives we choose.
What I’m wondering is how carefully we examine the narratives we create? My suspicion is that once we create a narrative, we tend to see only those experiences that support that narrative, short-shrifting those that are inconsistent withe the narrative we’ve constructed. So that everything we see reinforces the story we’ve created.
That made me wonder how often we directly ask ourselves the question: What if the narrative I’ve created is false? What evidence am I looking at? And what have I ignored?
I think this is something worth thinking about.
Posted in Main | Tagged false self, true self | 6 Comments »