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

Happy birthday, O'Keeffe

One of my favorite artists is Georgia O’Keeffe whose birthday we celebrate today, Nov. 15. A few years ago I had a chance to visit her museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I liked it so much that I went back twice and bought all my souvenirs in the gift, shop including a photo of her that hangs on a wall in my writing space.

To vow nonviolence

A friend wrote me recently about going to a Pax Christi weekend that concluded with the group standing and reciting a vow of nonviolence. She wrote of the vow, “It’s a wonderful statement of both the dreams and the challenges of nonviolence (starting with our hearts).”

Old Monk 5

Old Monk loves the ancient poets
who delighted in moonlight and tree shadows.
Poets like Han-shan who called
the white clouds his friends.
Imagine her distress when she read today
that IBM had lasered its logo on a cloud.
Arise, Han Shan they are wounding the clouds
Your friends need our help.

November Poem

Poetry always goes to the “heart of the matter.” So once a month this blog will present a poem for you to play with. To get things started I ask a few questions and put in a writing prompt that I play with.

By W.S. Merwin

Holy Women

Tomorrow the church celebrates All Saints day. Here’s a litany for some of the holy women who have lived among us. Who would you add to the list?

O Cosmic Christ,
in your heart
all history finds meaning and purpose

Through Teresa of Avila, charismatic leader,
You inspire a church of courage and wisdom.

Through Catherine of Sienna, fearless visionary,
You forge a new path for women.

Through Hildegard of Bingen, greenness of God,
You pour out juicy, rich grace on all creation.

"Keep a red heart of memories"

Okay, it’s the end of October and I promise that this is the last thing I’m writing about my 50th Jubilee celebration that took place this month. But if someone asked me to capture that event in one word I would say “memories.”

The troubadours Simon and Garfunkel sang, “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

Heart of Mary

The Benedictine Sisters of Erie have a tradition of giving a “title” to each sister on the day of their final profession. For the most part, the titles are given to match some virtue or aspect that is glimpsed in the sister receiving it or one she might desire and aspire to.

To Master Light

I recently needed some background for a homily that I was giving and thought of a book by Henri Nouwen that might help. I read The Return of the Prodigal Son: a Story of Homecoming in the early 90s and remembered its impact. Surely, I thought, this book will trigger an idea. So I went to the monastery library and signed it out. In the book, Nouwen meditates for months on the painting The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt and then writes his reflections.

What had I liked about the book? I leafed through the pages—once, twice, three times--but couldn’t find anything.

Old Monk 4

Oh, Old Monk has seen her share of life.
The turquoise waters where she swam with stingray.
The Nevada Desert where she knelt and prayed for peace.
She sipped beer one afternoon in Krakow Square
and faced machine guns to accompany
an old Haitian woman casting her first vote.
Who would believe Old Monk strictly followed the advice of Abba Moses:
“Sit in your cell and it will teach you everything.”

Learning by heart

Memorizing came easy to me as a child. Every Friday night my dad held an amateur hour in our house and my brothers and I would have to perform something. For example, Joe had a good voice and sang. I always had to memorize something and recite it—usually a poem or song lyrics that my dad liked. At about 9 years old he had me do the Gettysburg Address.


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