The first blog of the month is usually reserved for writing a poem together. Today I’d like to suggest a journal exercise that appeared in Oprah Magazine (February 2013). In that issue, freelance writer Sarah Beauchamp explains her “Five Moment Memoir.” She writes that every day she forces herself to list in her journal five things that have happened—the highs as well as the lows. She notes, “Limiting myself to five lets me recount enough to ruminate and decompress. As the stress leaks out of me and onto the page, my problems begin to seem more manageable.
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 Rule of Benedict invites extra reading during Lent and it is the custom in our community for the prioress to give each sister a special book to read during that period. As members of Monasteries of the Heart, we are suggesting God Speaks in Many Tongues: Meditate with Joan Chittister on 40 Sacred Texts for your Lenten reading. As you know we are offering the book in print and online (along with 8 videos by Joan), as well as an open discussion on the website.
Every week I post a story for the “Give Me a Word” section of the MOH website. Last week, Story 58, was one by Abba Poemen in which he noted that, given enough time, soft water can wear away hard stone. In the same way, he concluded, constant exposure to God’s tender word can soften our hard heart.
The discussion question asked readers: Is there was a particular scripture quote or story that, over time, changed your heart?
At the start of the New Year I always find myself reflecting on how I use time and maybe beating myself up a bit for wasting too many precious moments on meaningless activities. This year was a bit different because the last book I read in 2012 was Making Time for Yourself: It’s Your Time by Abbot Primate Notker Wolf.
Today I read a rather depressing end of the year poem by Han Shan, the Chinese recluse and author of Cold Mountain, that ends: “Seasons pass and my hair grows ragged and gray;/ year’s end finds me old and desolate.” The first part is true for me, too: “my hair grows thin and gray.” But I don’t want to end the poem like Han Shan. So here’s my attempt at a New Year’s poem. How about you? Want to try one?
End of Year Poem
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but a beautiful response to the Newtown, tragedy that I read about has me rethinking the idea. It was reported that in Altoona, PA a woman returned to her car after holiday shopping and found a Christmas card under her windshield. When she opened it, she found $10 and this message: “How do you fight evil in the world? You fight it with good. This act of kindness is in memory of a child who lost his or her life yesterday. Make the world a better place. Do good and Merry Christmas.”
A friend was cleaning out and found a homily that I gave for one of our sisters a number of years ago. She gave it to me and I was reminded about how important friends and mentors are in life. This sister, Ethelreda was her name, was my first principal when, at the age of nineteen, I was sent to teach 4th grade in one of our schools.
In that classroom was a little boy who was very poor and a troublemaker, probably ADD, though we didn’t diagnose it them. His mother was mentally ill. There was no father.
I planned to do this blog on Christmas carols—which ones I liked best and why. And I was going to ask you to share your favorites.
Then on Friday Newtown, Connecticut happened. And suddenly it seemed ludicrous to write about “Joy to the World” and “Bless all the dear children in your tender care.” How can we voice these tender and hopeful sentiments with the blood of 20 holy innocents splattered across our creche sets?
Last month I watched the taped PBS show of comedian Ellen DeGeneres receiving the 2012 Mark Twain Award. Ellen, of course, is a great advocate of dancing. A dance by Ellen and often a guest is the signature of her afternoon talk show, Ellen.
Poetry always goes to the “heart of the matter.” So once a month this blog presents a poem for you to play with. This year we are doing what German theologian Dorothee Soelle called “theopoetry”—doing theology by communicating with God through images that spring from our everyday experiences. Once a month I present a starter poem from the Japanese monk poet Ryokan and my response to it. Then it’s your turn. I invite you to join the conversation.