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


Here I was sloshing through a torrential downpour, puddles up to my ankles in spots, to attend Sunday Morning Worship service at Chautauqua Institution. “Is this really worth it?” I thought to myself. Sure, I wanted to hear Barbara Brown Taylor preach and I don’t think there’s a better worship presider than Rev. Joan Campbell, pastor of Chautauqua Institution and Director of the Department of Religion, and I love the choir but…..soaked from head to foot while sitting through an hour-long service?

One Moment

I’m reading a book called The Moment. It’s edited by Larry Smith who popularized the six-word autobiography a few years ago. In this book, 125 writers and artists (famous and obscure) were asked to share a moment that had a big impact on the teller’s life—“the good, the bad, the embarrassing.”

Poem--July 2012

German theologian Dorothee Soelle called in “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.

Ryokan poem

When all thoughts
Are exhausted
I slip into the woods
And gather
A pile of shepherd’s purse.

Doctor of the Church

Mary Sharratt sent me an advanced reading copy of her book, Illuminations: a novel of Hildegard von Bingen, which is being released to coincide with Hildegard’s upcoming (October 2012) elevation to Doctor of the Church.

Becoming a Book

The day after Ray Bradbury died (June 5, 2012) we were sitting around the lunch table discussing his impact on our lives. I remembered being scared to death over episodes of Twilight Zone—one remains with me to this day and makes it impossible for me to drive on a highway alone at night. I’m always expecting a person I know to be dead to appear in my headlights hitchhiking a ride.

Going Home

I’m on retreat this week and came upon this poem by Shinsho:

Does one really have to fret
About enlightenment?
No matter what road I travel,
I’m going home.

Poem--June 2012

It’s called “theopoetry.” That’s what I’ve been doing for years and didn’t realize it until I read Dorothee Soelle Essential Writings, selected with an introduction by Dianne L. Oliver (Orbis.) I’ve mentioned before that the late German liberation/mystical theologian Soelle had a significant impact on my spiritual development and reading the book was like visiting a dear old friend.

Question after question

As May, the month dedicated to Mary, winds down I’d like to share this thought:
Have you ever thought about Mary’s first response to the angel? It’s a question. How can this be? Think about it, a young uneducated teenage girl questioning God? Not even a rabbi or Pharisee or even a high priest, but God itself. In Mary’s litany we call her many things: mystical rose, star of hope, refuge of sinners….How about adding, “Bearer of Courageous Questions, pray for us.”

Not Yet Discouraged

“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged with humanity,” Rabindranath Tagore

Drunk on God

The four Benedictines—Anne McCarthy, Mary Ellen Plumb, Mary Miller and myself-- who live on the same inner-city block gather for prayer every morning and usually read some contemporary work as part of our praise.

Following our Lenten readings, we started Love Poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky. I have so many post-notes and bended pages marking favorite poems in this book that I’m not sure I could give it away in a yard sale.


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