Friday, April 11, 2008

Flowers are like babies...

…in just a few weeks, it’s a whole new ballgame! You may remember a previous blog on the tulip bulbs I planted at the convent in Richmond. When I photographed them last, they were just tiny, little stalks of spring-green poking through the soil. When I wrote about them several weeks ago, I thought they’d NEVER really look like real tulips. As full of Easter hope as I generally am, I often doubt my own capacity for things. I’ve always said, “I have a black thumb” because no one ever taught be to nurture life in a garden. I expected these 80 bulbs to get carried off by well-organized squirrels, or die of some rare strain of root rot. I am in awe of these beautiful, delicate flowers – bursting with color – and of the GOD who wires all of creation for life.

Today’s reading from The Rule of Benedict comes from Chapter 58. “Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life easy entry, but, as the apostle says, ‘Test the spirits to see if they are of GOD’ (1 John 4:1).” Sometimes, for the wonderful women who are in discernment with us, the process of becoming a Benedictine Sister of Virginia seems to take a LONG time. The testing, physicals, autobiography and interviews can seem like flaming hoops through which a candidate must hurl herself in order to knock on the door of the monastery. Like baby bulbs planted in the cold autumn earth, that take months to peak from beneath the soil, these good women wait patiently for the next step in the process to unfold. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I suspect tulips fear safe and secure in the darkness of winter. It’s much harder to wait for your future to be decided – to put your life on hold while all the pieces fall into place. But, as a flower grows silently and steadily, the monastic heart is nurtured during these difficult months. GOD uses this time as surely as the seasons shift the earth from sleep to wakeful beauty. I pray this morning for all the women in discernment with our community. May GOD give you strength to persevere and rock-solid faith in the One who only wants your good.

Blessings and love to you all…see you Monday!

- Sister Vicki

Thursday, April 10, 2008

3osb - Three Houses, One Project

In the winter of 2004, the monastic communities of Bristow, VA, Ridgely, MD and Baltimore, MD met to discuss ways in which the three houses could share wisdom and resources. From this gathering, the Tri-Community Vocation Project was born. Since then, the Vocation Directors of Saint Benedict Monastery, Saint Gertrude Monastery and Emmanuel Monastery, have collaborated on a yearly advertising project - something no single community could do alone. By combining gifts, ideas and capital, the Tri-Community Vocation Project has sought to reach a new level of visibility for monastic life in the Mid-Atlantic region.

As part of this effort, one sister from each monastery was asked to represent her house in a professional photograph that would attempt to capture the joy of monastic life. This photo reached over 25,000 people per day in Washington, DC Metro System during the month of April 2006. This photo appeared again in The National Catholic Reporter in the winter 2007. Pictured from left to right are: Sister Veronica Joyner, OSB, (Bristow, VA), Sister Rosalie Desmond, OSB (Baltimore, MD), and Sister Colleen Quinlivan, OSB (Ridgely, MD). This year's campaign involves electronic advertising for each monastery on the VISION website. Ads will go live in September and remain on a rotation for one full year.

As part of this effort, I met with Sister Patricia Kirk, OSB, Vocation Director for the Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore, from Tuesday evening until this morning. It was the first time the Tri-Community Vocation Project participants met without Sister Mary Paul (of Ridgely, MD.) Her absence was palpable – a sign of her unique gift to us as colleague and friend. Now, we are for a time, 2osb. We look forward to the day when we will be joined in this effort by a sister at St. Gertrude Monastery. This community remains in my daily prayers as the work of grieving and imagining a future without Sister Mary Paul continues.
I slide into home plate (Bristow) for an early morning budget meeting and soon I will be on my way to the convent in Richmond. Thinking about an afternoon “off”…feels possible and downright irresistible! I’m off… More tomorrow, dear ones!

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

RB 1: The Different Kinds of Monks

Chapter 1 in the Holy Rule draws distinctions between various forms of the monastic life. There are the sarabites, who tend to follow their own desires as opposed to a rule, whom Saint Benedict finds the most “detestable” kind of monk. The hermits, who choose the solitary life after successfully navigating the challenges of the monastery, find that silence isn’t really empty at all but filled with the presence of GOD. Cenobites, or those who live in community under a rule and a prioress, are, according to Benedict, “the strong kind of monk.” Saint Benedict had no doubt that it was more soul-stretching to live with others than to live alone. He believed that choosing to give up “freedom”, in the yoke of a rule, would make us truly free as Christ was in obedience to his Father.

This leaves one other type of monastic – the gyrovague. This one travels from monastery to monastery sponging off the hard labor of others. The gyrovague picks up and goes whenever their welcome has been exhausted. Often they are critical of the community they visit – nervy parasites receiving undue attention and having access to the prioress’ ear. Benedict has no patience for gyrovagues. It is only by staying put – what we call the promise of “stability” – that we can face ourselves before GOD. Running away is not an option for the serious seeker. Starting over means a new day in the same place, with the same people. Gyrovagues might travel light, but cenobites stockpile grace upon grace.

That said…I’m leaving for a meeting in Baltimore, MD. I have two days worth of clothes in my overnight bag and hangers bob in the rearview mirror. Vocation Ministry is about reaching out – being visible – and taking advantage of opportunities to share our life with the world. I love this job…more than I have time to tell you. But, my suitcase might make one think of the “G” word. Hopefully, traveling as I do and must, my promise of stability ties my heart to 120 acres of Virginia clay and to the women whose life and love I share in our mutual search for GOD. I carry Bristow in heart – 33 women and 140 years of ministry. My bag is light but my soul is filled with the wisdom of a tradition and the hope that our way will continue as GOD wills.

Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki

Monday, April 7, 2008

"I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD...

On the first Saturday of the month, the monastic community gathers to pray, plan and learn together. This year our “Community Days” have been dedicated almost exclusively to the work of strategic planning. A somewhat corporate concept, strategic planning has been successfully utilized by Saint Gertrude High School to envision a not-so-distant future. So, with the help of Katherine Whitney, of Warren, Whitney & Sherwood, a leading management firm in Richmond, VA, we have undertaken the task of imagining our community’s future – the needs, dreams and hopes of this monastery and its ministries. I can think of no more exciting or important work.
With Katherine’s guidance, we are making great strides. We are taking a grateful look at what GOD has given us and discussing how to be good stewards of those precious gifts. We are talking about our human and spiritual resources and how best to use them for GOD’s glory. We are envisioning a monastic community that continues to grow in number and a community that nurtures its elders with loving care. We are planning with hopeful hearts and walking forward in faith. This is, without a doubt, the most exciting time in our recent history. (Keep in mind I’ve only been in the monastery for six years, so my perspective is always skewed by the enthusiasm of youth and blinded by the reflection of a shiny, new ring.) But to be a part of this conversation seems a great privilege. I want to live to a ripe old age and tell the new sisters what these days were like – the excitement, the fear, the thrill of being an organic life form moving through time, open to change – to life itself. Whatever we decide to do – I’m in. I’m in because of the shiny, new ring, because the Spirit is leading us, because we’ll do it together. Keep us in prayer…

Blessings and love,
- Sister Vicki

Sunday, April 6, 2008

1st Sunday in the Monastery...

I am home again at the monastery. I arrived Friday evening from Minneapolis and spent all of Saturday in a community meeting (1st Saturday of every month.) I woke up happy this morning…because it is Sunday…because it is still Easter…because there is no place I’d rather be on the Lord’s Day.

I enjoy the travel and, like the disciples in today's gospel, often find Him on the road. The work at St. John’s went incredibly well. The four of us on the planning team seemed to click. We were able to listen well to each other as the Spirit began to shape our ideas and longings into something tangible. I hope, when this conference actually happens, (in 2009) it will be both inspiring and informative – a source of hope and an opportunity for growth. I think Benedictine Vocation Directors will be intrigued by our theme: “Monasticism as Radical Christianity: Reaching the Serious Seeker” and eager to engage in this conversation. I’m certain that the new guesthouse at St. John’s Abbey will provide the perfect atmosphere for a professional gathering. Set in a hillside on Lake Sagatagan, the new guesthouse is in harmony with its natural surroundings. The interior spaces are simple, functional yet beautiful. Each guestroom has a large window overlooking the lake. There are spaces for meetings, socials and private prayer. It will serve us well for our conference. If you’re interested in touring the new GH at St. John’s, click on this link.

There was great joy for me in this work. It was a new experience to plan a conference. There is still much work to be done, but the important groundwork is laid. I just loved being able to have ideas…lots of them...and share them…watch them bounce around the room like those little “super balls” of my youth...see some take and others bounce right into the lake. Working with my friend, Sister Mary Catherine, was also a new experience. It would seem that love is the best ground on which to build. No skirmishes or serious disagreements – an “F’s” worst fear. (Meier’s-Briggs ENFJ) Brother Paul-Vincent and Brother Daniel are new friends for whom I am most grateful. Between the four of us, we represent three different generations. I learned a great deal from our grouping and look forward to the work ahead of us in the months to come.

After our planning days were over, Sister took two days off. Yup. Two blessed days of doing nothing at a place called Fish Trap Lake. The sisters at St. Ben’s own a house on this lake and it’s just an hour drive from their monastery. Like our “Ridge” house, it provides a space for rest and holy leisure. For this time of rest and refreshment with my friend, I am truly grateful.
So…another trip finished and a suitcase full of dirty clothes to wash…but not today. Today is “Silent Sunday.” On the first Sunday of every month, the monastic community has a day of silent retreat. No phones…pages…TV…or talk. I will post this and head upstairs for a quiet, restful afternoon. Reading, praying, dozing…it’s all holy when we open our hearts to gratitude for the gift of silence and solitude. We will listen for the 4:30 office bell which will call us back to the oratory for Evening Prayer. Sunday dinner will last at least an hour…three courses to enjoy. Sister Lisbeth is making Puerto Rican rice & beans – one of my very favorite dinners! And there will be wine on the Lord’s Day. ALLELUIA! May this afternoon hold its own joys and graces for you…and the Spirit of the risen One who is the source of every good thing in our lives.

Blessings and Easter joy…
- Sister Vicki