I came across this photo I took years ago while walking up Monastery Rd. It is one of my favorite photos because there is a memory attached to it.

It was a time when I had accepted that my life as I had imagined it when I was younger, was not to be. And that somehow in all the stripping of pretense and of doing what pleased others, I had learned to embrace aloneness, solitude. During that time I would often park my car at the end of the road and walk uphill to the monastery. I’d walked that hill many times before that day, but not so often in late Winter. As I walked I realized I could see St. Peter’s barn through the trees.

Somewhere I’ve read how Winter strips leaves from around us so we can see what was concealed. While I love the greening of Spring, lushness of Summer, and the celebration of color in Autumn, it is in Winter, when the trees are stripped bare of leaves as in the photo, that we can see the farthest. Less is more.

I fell asleep on the window seat last night while reading a book on my ipad. The moon shining large and bright woke me at 3am. Rather than go back to sleep, I stayed up to watch the moon. It occurred to me that I am often looking towards the light, be it the sky, the sun, a window, candles. Sometimes that light shines on me, other times I can only see it from a distance, shining on something or someone else.

Now as I watched the light reflected on the water, it shimmered, it danced.

And as I watched the moon, I thought about the last few days, weeks, and months that felt like darkness for many and how each night I looked for the stars and the moon in the sky. Because I knew in the darkest day and in the darkest night there would still be light. I also know that sometimes only in darkness will I notice light, it is there all the time but I do not see it.

One of my favorite places to sit in darkness is in chapel during Compline when the cooler weather brings longer nights. A couple of candles are the only source of light and the dark chapel feels like a blanket I can wrap around me. Everything else fades and all I can see clearly are the candles. At times like these, I am reminded that night and darkness can be holy, but with our limited vision, we need light from a source, so we can find our way.

During my pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago, my group stayed a night in a hotel located in a fairly busy part of Tui, Spain. My room had a small balcony and I looked out to see how much would be illuminated and if I might be able to see the dark sky that night. I felt disappointed at all the buildings and street lamps I could see in the distance. I would not be able to see the night sky.

After a late supper, a few in our group decided to go for a walk. As we stepped outside, we noticed lights strung high above the streets. Some of them were arranged in the shape of a shell, similar to the one pilgrims on the Camino wear. The shell design is everywhere, some of them pointing in the direction we should go. This the shell I wore on my pilgrimage.

And the lights welcoming pilgrims on the way..

We noticed that we could hear music and shortly after saw more lights strung across some of the streets.

Although we knew we had to be up early to start our hike, we decided to follow the lights and the music. Down a side street we caught a glimpse of colored lights and walked towards them. We discovered a festival!

And music!

We didn’t stay long because we were hiking the next day and the festival hadn’t quite started, people were just arriving when we were leaving. I didn’t see the moon and the stars that night, but I certainly saw plenty of light (and celebration!) in the darkness.

Light comes, it always does. Knowing that, we need to look for it, for what may not be obvious. In today’s reading, a blind man calls to Jesus as he approaches Jericho. He calls out “Jesus, son of God, have pity on me!”

” I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.”

Recently I traveled with a group of peregrinos to Portugal and Spain with the intention of walking the Portuguese trail of El Camino Santiago. Before the walk we visited what is known as the Basilica of Fatima.

We arrived in Portugal on my feast day, St Hildegard, and I was happy to be able to celebrate it at Fatima. The following images are from that visit. Some of the photos are not very clear, but I think it is still possible to have a sense of what I encountered. Some of the photos were captured by my companions and used with permission.

From my window on the plane, a view of the sun rising as we traveled to Lisbon.

After arriving, a van took us to our hotel in Fatima. We set out to find a place to eat and found a restaurant. Photo is of sea bass. Note the blue and white tile. We saw a variety of blue and white patterns on walls, floors, pottery.

Our hotel was only a few blocks from the basilica and so we were able to see the steeple and hear the bells ringing as we approached. The first thing I noticed was how quiet and peaceful it seemed despite the number of people present.

Then I noticed there were people walking on a long path made of marble, some on their knees, some carrying babies. The day was sunny and hot and occasionally a companion walked by their side, shielding a baby from direct sun. I wondered, will those babies ever know how much their father or mother or grandmother loved them that they would do this?

A few photos of the Chapel of Apparitions, the people and more… We stayed only a short while so we could rest before returning in the evening.

Back at the hotel outside of the dining room, I saw this… Closed it would look like any other cabinet. I wonder if there is a specific name for this.

And just because…

When we returned in the evening, we found people gathering on the steps of the basilica and around the Chapel of the Apparitions. We estimated there were 25,000 present. All joined in praying the rosary in several languages that somehow all blended together.

Afterwards we joined in the candlelight procession singing Salve Regina. Again, despite the number of people present it felt very peaceful and instead of feeling crowded, it felt to me like breathing in a wide open space.

The next day we returned for Mass which was held outdoors due to the size of the crowd. It was a hot day and so along with many others, we tried to stay in the shade as much as possible. A few brave souls stood in the center.

We left Fatima after our noon meal, our stay feeling way too short and so I hope to return and explore Fatima and Portugal more fully. But since our goal was to walk the Camino, we gathered our things and started the next phase of our pilgrimage. More photos soon….

In September I prepared to go on a pilgrimage. My goal was to walk the Portuguese trail of the Camino de Santiago with my daughter and six other companions. Knowing we would be doing a lot of walking during this pilgrimage, I had been walking daily. I was pretty set for my trip but decided to go on a hike with a fully loaded backpack to determine how I would need it adjusted for wearing it for hours at a time.

My daughter and I chose to hike the overlook trail at a nearby nature center for our practice hike. The trails are well marked and include a variety of easy and challenging paths. At the overlook, which was about midway through the hike, I took this photo.

Though it had been a bit strenuous hiking to the overlook, I knew, or at least I thought I knew that going back would be easier. I’d taken off my backpack to rest for a moment while taking the photos and had put it back on without buckling all the straps. Starting back I was talking, not paying attention and tripped down a steep path. My loose backpack shifted and I pitched forward. I was able to turn enough to let my pack take the brunt of the fall. Though I suffered injuries to my arm and leg, I realized I could have been more seriously injured.

I also realized there was a lesson to be learned from my fall.. that the most important things for me to remember during my walking pilgrimage would be to be silent and to pay attention to where and how I walk.

This photo is of the walking trails.

This photo is of some journals I created from papers I made with paper pulp from recycled materials. My grandson helped bind one as a gift for my daughter.

I will be posting photos of the pilgrimage shortly…

 

This past weekend Benedictine Oblates came together for the annual Oblates retreat at Mount Saviour Monastery. We attended lectures led by Fr. Donald Raila, OSB, oblate director at St.Vincent Archabbey. Latrobe PA. In between the lectures, we enjoyed the meals with the monks, and the free time for resting, reflecting, taking in the beautiful autumn colors of the surrounding hills.

Some of the oblates that come to these retreats travel a distance. The time that we have between lectures and meals allows us to get to know each other a little better. As oblates we already have a lot in common in that we have made a commitment to daily time of work and prayer. I have also found that most of the oblates are involved in some type of work that is of service to others.

This fit right in with the theme of the retreat… Mercy, misericordia, compassion, kindness, commitment, service, hospitality. Fr. Donald also talked about the role of oblates, monks, community and how we support each other, encourage each other. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend all around.

And on the topic of encouraging others….

During the weekend I had an encounter with a monastery guest, someone not part of the oblate retreat. He sought me out and asked if I was the author of the blog Perennial Grace. We talked for only a few minutes but it was long enough for me to realize my musings matter to others.

I have taken on a few things in the last few years that have left me with little time for writing. I have been helping to homeschool a grandson and I am in charge of caring for the women (and sometimes men) guests at the monastery, I sometimes facilitate groups, retreats and more. Along with everyday life and interests, my days fill up quickly and blog writing had taken a back seat to other things.

To this guest, you know who you are. Thank you, thank you for the encouragement to continue with my writing. There are times when this type of writing feels much like talking to oneself. It matters a lot that what I write impacts others in a positive way.

About the word Encourage. I collect words (keys) and after the encounter I mentioned above, I looked up some of my notes on the word encourage and courage. Here are a few…

When you encourage someone, you give him or her the courage or confidence to do something.

….

The word encourage comes from the Old French word encourager, meaning ” make strong, hearten.” Encourage can also mean to inspire with hope.

“Have courage,” we often say to one another. Courage is a spiritual virtue. The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, which means “heart. A courageous act is an act coming from the heart.

Finally, I must put in a plug for the new hoodies being sold in the monastery gift shop. We opened the boxes full of them on Monday and by the end of the week had only one left. They come in sizes S – XXL. They will soon be available for ordering through Mount Saviour Monastery’s website.

Eve

Thus am I a feather on the breath of God – Hildegard of Bingen

My word for 2015 was Dance. Dance, I have. On the first day of the year I joined a fitness club after hearing about the yoga and dance classes offered. Since then along with the usual walking and activities I do daily, twice a week I practice yoga, twice a week I dance. With little change to my diet, the extras pounds I was carrying have vanished. I am stronger, I have regained my balance.

As movement became easier, my reactions to everyday situations have become, if not always easier, at least more grace filled. Having rediscovered the joy of doing something I love, I am more open to trying new things or returning to some things I’d enjoyed but had set aside. How I use my time and my hands, how I interact with others, how I live, all have changed.

Towards the end of summer I agreed to care for a women’s guest house and guests at a monastery where I am an oblate. Shortly afterwards I co-facilitated a women’s retreat there. Surrounded by trees splendid in their autumn colors, we celebrated the seasons of our lives, we danced.

I tried not to think about my word for 2016 while still embracing the word Dance. Still, several words kept showing themselves to me. Most had to do with walking, way, path. I dismissed these words thinking they came to me because I am planning a walking pilgrimage sometime in the future and thoughts about preparing for such a walk is often on my mind.

Then as I do yearly, I celebrated Winter Solstice and the anniversary of my mother’s death and birth into a new life by participating in a group candlelight labyrinth walk. As we gather in a circle around the perimeter of the labyrinth, the candles are lit, participants blessed, the readings shared, and then the walk.

Up to the evening I’ve had a full day. A companion and I met with a man who restores books, documents, sacred texts. After a pleasant drive I was able to spend hours with this gifted man, exploring his workshop and tools, listening to his stories about traveling to other countries in order to help protect or restore their precious books and papers, looking through his photos.

I shared my experience of working in book repair and restoration in a library when I was a teenager. And about my love of old books and my knowledge of fibers and papers. Recognizing a kindred spirit, he gifts me with handmade paper and a video of the process for making Japanese paper. He also offers to give me ‘tuition’ in book binding when he comes to the monastery for a visit. Afterwards a meal with my companion feels like the breaking of bread, a blessing.

My ‘day’ is still with me as the solstice celebration starts, my mind wandering. When my candle flame flickers and dies out, I approach someone near me so I can relight my candle. My thoughts wander again, my flame flickers and dies, I once again light my candle. The third time the flame dies I notice that I am the only person having this problem. I feel as if my mother is nudging me and I think “alright already, I’m paying attention” and although my mother passed into her new life nineteen years ago, I feel her presence.

As I walk the path of the labyrinth I look down at my feet, at the pavers forming the path. They remind me of the floor around the altar at the monastery and how they form a star pattern. I often gaze at the bricks and stone in that floor and how they form a path that one could walk on. I think about walking, pilgrimages, my path in life and a song, Psalms chanted in chapel, that includes the words ” and walk in his way”. I am thinking that maybe there is a word in there somewhere and open myself to receiving what comes.

Two words have chosen me.

One of them is Mother.

The other is Pilgrim.

When I think of Pilgrim, I think of a pilgrimage, portal, ingress, guide, inner journey, mission. I am reminded of something I read by Henri Nouwen. He speaks of the questions we often ask about our futures, to which there are no answers. He suggests that instead of a great beam that would take shadows away, what we need instead is just enough light to see the next step: to do what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. That when we are able to trust there will be enough light, we can walk with joy and be surprised at how far we go.

I am also reminded of something else by Henri Nouwen, it may have been from the same discussion or book. He speaks of times when we have to ‘step over’ some things, negative feelings and places. It does not mean we should ignore them, but that at some point we need to be done with exploring them and then move on, leaving them behind.

My Pilgrim prayer is that there be just enough light for me to see the next step, and what to step over, as I practice the art of living a step at a time.

Photos show the stone floor in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at Mount Saviour Monastery and the entrance steps to the chapel.

From the window seat where I’m having a rugelah with my morning coffee, I’m watching a Blue Heron at the edge of the water. Its stilted wading through the water while searching for breakfast appears to be a delicate dance.

Although I can’t see it, I know there is another Heron close by, companion to the first one. I have been watching them for days. When they lose sight of each other, one will call out, the other will respond. They can’t see each other but each knows the other is there and they continue doing what they need to do.

I’m grateful for that reminder this morning… that just because I cannot see someone, does not mean they are not with me.

Needing a break from what seemed like never ending subzero temperatures, a week ago I headed for the Philadelphia Flower Show. I enjoyed being surrounded by color and texture and a chance to explore new gardening ideas. Some seeds, tubers and a new garden tool came home with me. Somehow I managed to stay away from any textiles of which there were plenty.

The theme for this year’s show was ‘MOVIES’. I’m not much of a movie goer so I couldn’t appreciate what some of the exhibits but were about, but I still enjoyed the beautiful creations.

A few things I saw …

Hats made using leaves or flowers. I love hats, maybe I’ll make one of these and wear it!

A few other exhibits.

My favorite vendor or booth was one that sold things for use in the garden, statues, benches, pots and more. I loved this statue and the saying on the pedestal.

Each year I lead my discussion group in practices that help us in finding a word ( or letting it find us ) to work with throughout the New Year.

Part of my inspiration for my word came the day my 9 year old grandson was poking through a cabinet and discovered a very old, very large Bible, a gift from a friend who collects antiques. The cover had come off and it cost too much to repair and so I was offered this Bible. I’d put it away to prevent it from falling apart any further than it had. I helped Connor lift it out of the drawer and we explored it. I showed him the beautiful hand painted pages, still vibrant with color. And the pages where families kept track of births, weddings and deaths. We noted how unlike modern Bibles, this one contained a large section devoted to a dictionary giving the original meaning in the original language of many words. It also contained a section on geography, another about the meaning of each book and more. Almost half of the book is information about the time and language and then finally the books of the Bible.

What grabbed my attention the most was the section about the Song of Songs, not the book, but the description of the book. I already had a few words in mind for this year and I found them all there. My work then was deciding which word was mine. And so I reread the Song of Songs.

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Listen! My beloved is knocking. ‘Open to me.’ — Song of Songs 5:2

For 2014 my word was RECONCILIATION. It was a busy but fruitful year. But I also spent a lot of time studying, working on things on everyone else’s time schedule. My studio work had come to a screeching halt. My body craved movement and my mind craved being challenged in a more creative way. I need balance.

And so my word is DANCE

And here I am sharing my notes in my journal when I discovered my word.

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DANCE! ( Invitation and Delight )

Delight – Beauty goes beyond mere necessity. Grace, gracefulness, graciousness take us beyond mere necessity to a place of delight, even joy. Balance – ” beautiful– In Dance there is balance as well” – Br. Justin

My word is Dance!

Last night my daughter and I observed Winter Solstice and celebrated my mother’s life by participating in a labyrinth walk. Through Advent I have been learning dance movements as prayer in honor of archetypes, the one this week for Mary and my Inner Mother. And this morning in a course on non-violence I practiced a prayer movement. I realized that what all these things have in common for me is the exploration of movement, of creativity of being comfortable with myself and not being concerned with what others think, just moving, being in motion as I’m led to be. To dance with life, to be in flow.

This encompasses words that have been coming up for me:
– Intimacy – my dance with God, with others, with myself
– Compass – being able to come back to focus on my direction and space as I move, my true north.
– Veriditas – Hildegärd, one of my spiritual guides believed that the greening power of God was in everything, a spark, a celebration – Custody – owning my movements, being true to what I feel
– Vision – Being able to see the dance in everything and explore it. – Balance – physical and spiritual balance
– Yes! – Just do it!

Dance!

I feel God whispering … Come dance with me!

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THE INVITATION

”My BELOVED speaks to me and says, arise…and come AWAY with me.” Song of Songs

DANCE feels like that invitation

to MOVE…….. to WALK ……..to WANDER……..to WONDER at all things….a PILGRIMAGE……….. to explore praying with my body…… a walking meditation…DELIGHTING in creation… observing…. and making poems and ART reflecting my delight in creation…. an INVITATION… to take the Words of my BELOVED with me…. BREAD for the journey…….an invitation to meet the STRANGER who is me and the one who is on the road …..to bless her or him (and me) in whatever way seems appropriate…. for a whole year…..

The phrase that embraces all of these words, that is choosing me is
AN INVITATION TO DANCE ….my response, I hope, is a resounding YES…. I look forward with joy to discovering the meaning of this invitation to dance for me in the year 2015.

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After writing this, about my old word Reconciliation and my new word Dance, the next morning I received in my email, an inspiration that included this:

“Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established. A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements. There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation. When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part. Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act. They all can become “them.” Right there is where reconciliation is needed. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. ”

Our old words are sometimes something we continue to work with long after the year is over or occasionally we just need a reminder of what we learned in our year with our word.

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So now I have my word, what shall I do with it? I’m going to Dance!

The first image is of a collage card I made for an Epiphany retreat.

The image below is one that someone shared with me. I don’t know who to credit it to, wish I knew. But, this is what I was doing this morning, dancing in class with other women …. Ok, so maybe we weren’t dressed this way… but we danced!

Practicing Hospitality, Gratefulness and Patience when I’m feeling like a Maxine this Advent Season

I read something this morning about the national pastime of complaining particularly during holidays. It struck a chord. While I may not always complain out loud, I often feel myself tense over small things. It is at those times that I feel like that Hallmark greeting card character Maxine. That I can be cranky is nothing new to my family. My daughter once gave me a doormat for the entrance to our side door. It had a image of Maxine and said ” Welcome to my Home, But don’t touch anything!

At times my house seems to have revolving doors with all the people coming and going. I try to provide a peaceful place, good food, wine and more. I love guests! But I am crabby before my coffee in the morning, don’t want to talk to anyone, don’t want to listen to anyone and don’t like anyone touching my ‘stuff’ particularly in my studio. You can help yourself to my food, clothing, just about anything, but don’t mess with art and work stuff, don’t make a mess, don’t yell and don’t turn on the tv. And if I don’t have enough quiet time to myself… yes… cranky..

Those times when I am not feeling very hospitable to others or even to myself is when I pause to count my blessings.

I am blessed to have family and friends that want to come and spend time with me, in my home, break bread with me, relax and sip some wine with me. Who come for a few days because my house is a peaceful refuge for them. I am grateful that some eat differently than I do or have different spiritual practices than I do, for it allows me to explore new things. And I am grateful for this sacred space that is home.

I am blessed to be able to choose how much or how little I eat or spend. There are many who do not have these choices. I do not need to apologize to anyone for my lack of shopping enjoyment and little gift giving. Nor for the food I choose to eat.

I am blessed for the parties, dinners, festivities and meetings this time of year. It means I am a part of a family or group or community. It means that I have people and places I care about and that care about me. I can choose to go and participate or not..

I am blessed to experience the four seasons… yes a snow storm is predicted and it will probably make travel a bit tricky. But snow can be beautiful, Winter sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous and I love the silence of a starry night when everything is under a blanket of snow. Spring and blooms (yes I know it rains a lot) will come soon enough..

May you find Peace and be showered with Blessings this Advent season.

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