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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.”

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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.

In her blog ‘Old Monk’s Journal’ Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki talks about Autumn being a time for sadness. She included this quote by Thoreau. “There is a certain fertile sadness which I would not avoid, but rather earnestly seek. It’s a kind of contentment with the poignant and passing parts of life, rather than the surface of all sunshine.”

Fertile Sadness. What a perfect description of this season for me. Autumn is my favorite season. I do enjoy Summer and all that comes with it. But, our short summers here means most of the garden work is done then. And there are the summer festivals, vacations, and more so that sometimes you feel like it just rushes by too fast.

In early autumn, the days are still warm but not as long. It feels balanced somehow. The neighborhood boys are back in school and with colder rainy weather their sometimes too loud voices are rarely heard. The trees display their colors in a dazzling display. The last of the produce in the garden is harvested.

Now, what is left in the garden has been hit with frost and decomposing, adding fertility to the ground. There seems to be a grey mist rising from the river daily and unless the sun breaks through it, it looks and feels like a blanket you can cover yourself with.

The grey days, rainy, windy or chilly days seem to require less of me. They encourage me to be still, rest and sit with what has passed. I think of memories made, seeds planted in the garden, in relationships, in community, what has been harvested and what has been left behind to add to fertile ground.

I walk outside and feel the fallen leaves crunch under my feet, dried and brittle now. Just as I did as a child I enjoy the sound of them, aware that this dying is necessary to give life to something else. In amongst the dried leaves I find a few freshly fallen ones, still brightly colored. They are reminders of the bright days past and I bring them indoors for when I need them.

But for just a little longer I need this season of falling. It allows me to remember, to grieve in a gentle way.

Often during Lent I will participate in a group study or group retreat. This year, being already quite busy with organizing several groups, I decided to take a step back and do a personal retreat, setting aside a time every morning and evening to explore a topic and reflection for the week guided by the ‘Called To Be Saints’ Lent retreat on the Pray As You Go website.

Meanwhile, last week my niece visited and gifted me with a pendant that is a crystal. It is roughly egg shaped and I like that it reminds me of ‘birth’.

Then 3 days later we had a mild day and I decided to do a little garden work on the flower bed at the monastery where my Stepping Stones group meets weekly. I packed some tools to take with me, unsure of what I would need. Since there was no noon prayers that day I decided to pull a few weeds from the garden before my group met. While doing so I noticed something sparkle in the soil. I dug out a small crystal, receiving it as a gift. Later I returned and finished trimming most of the winter debris from the garden.

Arriving at home I found a very heavy box from my son in Florida. In it I found 4 large crystals! I show my 12 drum in the photo as a size comparison. My son asked that I pick one for myself and then give one to my daughter, my sister, my niece. For myself I chose the one at the top, clear in color with little bits of sand or soil in the crevices. This reminds me that I sometimes feel God’s love and light the most when I’m in the garden digging in the soil. But the color of this ‘soil’ in the crystals has a gold tone to it and it reminds me of things that don’t tarnish, that even when they get dirty, they can be cleansed.

The next morning I listened to the next segment of the Pray As You Go Lent Retreat. The focus this 5th week of Lent was our role in a wider community of faith. For part of the prayer you are asked to choose an object and then examine how it is unique, focus on its qualities and on the words from Romans 12:3 – 13.

Listening to the prayer I am reminded that I am as unique as the object that I began my prayer with, the crystal from the monastery garden. That we each have our strengths and weaknesses, talents. And I’m invited to examine my relationship in community, how I care for and support them and how they care for and support me.

The retreat link is included for those who would like to explore the Lent prayers or visit the main page for daily prayers, music and reflection.

http://pray-as-you-go.org/prayer-resources/lent-retreat/

I’ve been away at a Knitters Retreat at Mount Saviour Monastery for the last 5 days. We shared projects, enjoyed wonderful food, fellowship, were able to pray with the monks often, go for walks and more.

As it is Martin Luther King’s day today,  in this morning’s homily Fr. Joseph Gabriel talked about Martin Luther King and what we learned from him..

– that kindness and compassion takes more courage than violence

– to live out our dreams rather than our fears

The image shows the view from the guest house where I was staying. I captured the image from the window near the table where I was enjoying a cup of tea.

My WORD to walk with in 2014 is Reconciliation

R- related to
E – everything, we are
C – connected, we are all
O – one, with
N – none left out in
C – community, where
I – identity is important, where
L – love is present, all are
I – included, embraced,
A – and accepted, as we are,
T – trusting, seeking,
I – Integrity guiding us, so we may be
O – open to sharing our gifts,
N – now and forever!

To me It speaks of
– humanity, identity, dignity.
– home or sacred, safe place, where others can take their shoes off
– honesty, having a passion for truth
– hospitality, benedictine – a welcoming presence
– humility, modesty, listening to others
– hope, a healing heart

And it speaks to me of the past …
“The transgressions of the past are water under the bridge yet the bridge remains burned despite the charred timbers having long cooled.” found in my notes..

It prompts me to serve the community by building bridges of reconciliation and restoration. To experience the peace and presence of God, to experience grace and integrity through hospitality

Some favorite quotes:

“Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you
for everything.”
–Mary Oliver, What Do We Know

“Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person.”
– Rachel Naomi Remen

“Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane.”
Thich Nhat Hanh – Source: Peace Is Every Step

Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

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Photo is of artwork purchased from the gift shop at Mount Saviour Monastery. It is titled .. The Burning Bush. What drew me to it was sandals… The reminder to take off my shoes and pause … so that I may be open to blessings.

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Many helpers made it easy to bring in hundreds of sheep for shearing day tomorrow at Mt. Saviour Monastery.

While working on a sample basket for a workshop I’ll be teaching soon, I was reminded of something I read recently in a book about writing practices. The writer compares walking along a straight line and walking along the spiral. You are moving in both cases but in one you also go round and round in a circle.

Practicing anything is sort of like walking that spiral, you do the same thing over and over but learn something new and thus move forward every time you repeat the same thing.

The photo is of the basket finished yesterday. It is less than 6 inches across and while it is time consuming, I really enjoy working on this type of project. There is no way to rush the process. It is worked in spiral fashion, 1 wrap and stitch at a time.

I used yarn sold in the gift shop at Mount Saviour Monastery, soft enough for wearables but sturdy enough for this type of project where the tension is very tight and where I want it to hold up to a lot of wear, because after all, baskets are meant to be used.

Note: 12 year old Krystal was trying to get my attention so I could let her out. Bossy little thing!

While going over material for what I refer to as the ‘Wednesdays at the monastery’ group or Moth (monastery of the heart) group, I got to thinking about the difference between what is urgent and what is important.

Preparing a meal is important. The phone that rings while I’m preparing that meal is urgent, but not necessarily important.

Reading a book, or studying, being creative, playing, praying, is important. Constantly checking email or texting, rushing around to do more, acquire more, be more … all urgent.

There are times when things are both important and urgent. Stopping whatever you are doing to provide loving care, for the crying infant, the neighbor who comes knocking at your door with a need, the old blind dog confused because someone moved the furniture…

So how do I measure what is important and not just urgent? Beauty…

I’m reminded of a conversation with my 11 year old granddaughter regarding criteria for things we bring into our new home which is about 1/4 the size of our last home. We decided that something had to be beautiful. As a gardener and artist I often see beauty in a different way than others might, so something also has to serve some purpose to come into our small home and not just be another thing that we continue to pay for over and over again in terms of time and space. That purpose is sometimes just to remind us to smile and play.

It is easy for me to use beauty as a measure for what is important because it is something my Mom taught me early in life. We understood that she meant beauty to describe what we did, how something made us feel, would it be pleasing to God. She’d often remind us that… God doesn’t like ugly. And so I passed what Mom taught me on to my granddaughter so she would learn to see beauty in a different way. And have some way of measuring what is Important and what is Urgent.

Photo is of the Guava pastries and Tres Leches cakes served at the Sunday dinner during retreat weekend at Mt Saviour Monastery. Traditionally the monks and monastery guests join us for this meal. The theme for this year.. Cuban fiesta. Breaking bread with others… Important…

Last year about this time I was thinking about a ‘Word’ for the New Year 2011. I considered Peace and also Growth.

Peace– because it was something I’d been seeking for some time. I’d been feeling too busy, pulled in too many directions, crowded and owned by too many things and people. And while I missed the old large house we’d recently moved from and the large gardens, I was looking forward to having less to care for and a simpler life in our cottage sized home. I wanted time to slow down, be still and time to write again.

Growth– because in my busy-ness, I was neglecting reading, studying, meditating. The only real growing was what was happening in the garden. Again I wanted to slow down, have time to listen, explore and be creative again.

The New Year started with me not having decided between the two. I knew it would come to me and forgot about it till much later. As it turned out both words ended up having great meaning for me.

What I learned about Peace:

When you pray for Peace, be prepared to be the one to fight for it and to be the one who provides Peace for others. You know how that is.. you pray for patience and then have plenty of opportunity to practice it.

That Peace is a blessing, a hope and a promise, our legacy, our mission, a lifestyle. It is not just something to practice on Sundays in chapel or in good times.

Peace requires humility and willingness to share with others.

That even in the most difficult situation, I can find inner Peace and Joy.

– I wrote a special poem titled Waging Peace, as part of a writing prompt for the MOH group. Something I enjoyed very much, a posting for another day.

What I learned about Growth

That a good way to grow is to help others grow.

That I can learn from anyone and every situation if I pay attention. Sometimes I learn something that I can use to live a more meaningful life, but just as important I sometimes learn how not to be or what not to do.

That in order to see things clearly I sometimes need to see things with new eyes.

That in order to grow, some pruning needed to be done.

2011 brought with it many stressful situations. I’d like to say that I faced them all with grace and patience but I did not. I can say however that I did find ways to bring peace to others and that many times I was pushed way out of my comfort zone, forcing me to grow in many ways … and … that while it was painful, it didn’t kill me.

I found that it can very hard to accept some situations, but that sometimes we must even if it means doing so mentally kicking and screaming. Then I learned that the kicking and screaming really do not help much and it is so much easier if we try to accept things with grace and with the faith that all will be well.

I was reminded of how hard it was to raise a child and wondered how I raised four.  But I was much younger then. I applaud all the parents trying their best to be good parents.

Instead of getting my studio in order after our move, or working on the new garden, I spent most of the year, particularly the summer, keeping kids busy … it was work but it was also fun!

Special Blessings this year:
8 months with a granddaughter here.
Frequent visits by a 16 year old grandson.
Successful cancer treatment for a young grandson.
Family support.
Starting of the Monasteries of the Heart group at Mt Saviour Monastery. So thankful that I was granted permission to use that space for my Stepping Stones Community. It has allowed us to grow while exploring the Rule of Benedict away from distractions.

So much more… I am grateful

Lastly I am loving the sweet gifts shared the last few days …. and I don’t mean cookies. Time with family and friends, singing in the chapel by candlelight. The hospitality of the community of Mt Saviour Monastery. Thoughtful gifts that allow us to do the things we like to do and enjoy life, fun stuff such as a ukulele for Ruben from our daughter. But also practical things.. The best gift of all from Ruben who took me on a trip down memory lane.. started with ” Do you remember when you were 13 and I was 14?”. One memory after another…

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