Monasteries of the Heart

Heart of the Matter

What is Heart of the Matter? For most of my adult life I’ve kept copybooks filled with stories, prayers, art, quotes poems—anything that gives insight to the human journey. It is my favorite spiritual practice. It is also an ongoing source of monastic formation: the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. Now I have a blog copybook called Heart of the Matter. Welcome.  —Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator

The Waiting Room

I spent four hours in a mental health and detox unit recently, waiting to see if someone I care about very deeply could commit himself. He knew he needed help, but that doesn’t always guarantee that residential help will be given. Two young adults, for example, were refused admission to the detox unit because they had just been there in April. Instead they were given sheets of paper with phone numbers for a dozen or so agencies in the state and told to call. I sat by the young woman, a heroin addict, who sobbed through every phone call as she was told, “Sorry, we cannot take you.”

A favorite entry

The other day a woman, Christine, stopped in the Erie office where I work so that I would sign her copy of my book, The Old Monk. She was traveling from the South to Canada and noticed on the map that Erie was within distance and decided to visit. I was really touched that she would go out of her way for a mere signature.

About a Table

I’m reading Pat Schneider’s Where the Light Gets In: Writing as Spiritual Practice..
Today she talks about using the poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo in her writing workshops.

She asks her students to concentrate on the first line of the poem, “The world begins at a kitchen table…” and to write about a table.

On reading an obit

Tragic is too facile a word to use when your fifteen-year-old boy dies. It’s best to be silent, you think. Don’t try to explain the impossible, just be silent and absorb the pain. And yet you want others to understand the terrible grief and loss you feel. So you write a beautiful obituary for the newspaper and tell the world how much you loved your dear son, how proud you were of him, and what an impact his brief life made on so many. You talk about your son’s unusual gifts. You tell them about his talent for music and all the awards he won for piano.

Koan of the day

I found this lovely quote by Terry Tempest Williams from her “Ode to Slowness” in which she dreams of making a living by watching light like Monet and Vermeer and being “a caretaker of silence, a connoisseur of stillness, a listener of wind where each dialect is not only heard but understood.”

Isn’t that a beautiful profession—watching light and being a caretaker of silence. Someone should be paid to do it. Hmmm….maybe that’s what monks are for.

What do you seek?

As you know, Saint Benedict listed only one criteria for accepting members into the community. “Do you seek God?” was all he cared about.

But what does it mean, “to seek God?” Does the search ever have an end? How do we know when we’ve found God, as if God could be absent? Then a friend told me a story.

On the 7th Day

“On the seventh day God rested”—how I love that passage in Genesis. But how little I practice it, even though holy leisure is a cornerstone of monastic life.

As you know, this is the year of Hildegard of Bingen, recognized as a Doctor of The Church in October 2012. Because she was a Benedictine abbess, our community is remembering her with special events throughout the year.

On a recent Sunday, an award winning church choir from Cleveland, Ohio came to the monastery for a public choral presentation of music composed by Hildegard of Bingen.

What I Learned

Mother’s Day is coming up and mother is a word rich for spiritual mining. The poem, “What I Learned from My Mother” by Julia Kasdorf begins:

What I Learned From My Mother

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds…..

The finals lines of the poem are:

An anniversary question

Last week I received an email from a young woman who asked if she could come to Erie for a weekend to talk about things I wrote in A Monk in the Inner City.

I gave her a few dates and ended my reply with an invitation to check our Monasteries of the Heart website. “We started this movement for seekers like you,” I said.

She replied immediately with dates that were good for her and this: “A friend of mine told me about Monasteries of the Heart recently. I definitely signed up.”

Solitary Witness

Franziska Jaegerstatter just died. She was one-hundred-years-old. Tom Roberts wrote an excellent piece on her for the National Catholic Reporter and I urge you to read about this beautiful woman.


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