Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal

Journal Entry 210

Here’s a good quote for all writers to tape next to their keyboards. It’s from the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe:

The poet who is not in trouble
With the King
Is in trouble with his work.

Journal Entry 209

May is one of my favorite months since I have such tender memories of May altars, Mary devotions, and dropping rose petals in my parish’s outdoor May procession. A prayer that I’m saying during this month is new version of the “Hail Mary” offered by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. During a pilgrimage he led to the Holy Land, the group visited “The Spring of the Virgin Mary” in Nazareth, the site of the Annunciation. As is his custom at Marian sites, Shapiro said a Hail Mary and then he claims he heard a woman’s voice in his head saying, “Thank you, but it is time these words change.

Journal Entry 208

Every Good Friday the community does a contemporary Stations of the Cross through downtown Erie. I came down with a bad bout of bronchitis and missed it for the first time in 39 or more years. I’m sorry that I missed this one because it centered around the Sorrowful Mother grieving the death of a son and our Earth Mother grieving the death of the globe.

Journal Entry 207

Meinrad Craighead, one of the great pioneers of woman-centered religious art, died last week. In 1978 when she was a Benedictine nun in Stanbrook Abbey, England, I interviewed Meinrad for my book, Peace Is Our Calling. I was asking high profile people in monastic orders and in the peace movement what the Benedictine motto “Pax” meant to them. Did it have anything to do with building a more just world or was it only about interior peace. Of all the interviews I did, I remember hers the most.

Journal Entry 206

I’m reading today’s Gospel that opens “Jesus move about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel to Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him.” (Jn 7:1-2. 10. 25-30). And I’m reminded that what bothers me about Lent is praying a theology that I don’t believe in. It has to do with why Jesus died.

Journal Entry 205

“Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion,” write Meister Echkart. I believe that compassion is the supreme virtue, the most godlike of actions. And yet I found myself today in a situation where the people I was with were talking about the poor with judgment, not compassion. I sat there stewing. Should I just get up and leave? Should I say something at the risk of sounding judgmental myself. One person finally spoke up and said that she has never been so bereft that she had to panhandle. But if she ever were, she might lie and cheat her way to a few extra bucks.

Journal Entry 204

One of the most touching moments during a recent celebration of Mary Oliver’s poetry did not involve the sharing of a poem. Rather, a woman went to the microphone and talked about her teenage daughter who is autistic and doesn’t have time for organized religion. “I didn’t know how to reach her,” the mother explained. “We were growing apart…we couldn’t connect and I wanted something for her that would substitute for a religious practice.” What the mother and daughter began doing is going to the lagoon area at Lake Erie on Sunday and reading Mary Oliver poems together. “The poems are enabling the two of us to talk about God in an intimate way and to build a stronger relationship. I will be forever grateful to Mary Oliver.”

Journal Entry 203

Whenever I hear the name Francis of Assisi, I think of Saint Claire—they were a spiritual super team. But after reading my saint of the day feature in Give Us This Day, I now have to associate Francis with Blessed Jacoba of Settesoli. I’d never heard of her, but today I learned Francis and she were intimate friends. It was Jacoba that Francis called to his deathbed—Claire was still alive—and he was buried in the shroud that she brought him. Francis even insisted, despite his community’s strong objections, that she be allowed into the friary to stay by his side until he died.

Journal Entry 202

What is forgiveness? Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes that forgiveness is not forgetting, excusing, accepting, denying, or numbing yourself to pain. What is it then? Forgiveness is letting go, not clinging to memories and feelings of pain that you caused others or others did unto you. That’s a definition worth memorizing and living.
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Journal Entry 201

Mary Oliver is dead. I can’t believe how sad I am knowing her work is finished. I’ll never get another email from my friend Mary H saying, “Hey, Lou, do you know a new Mary Oliver book is coming out next month?” I had the good fortune of hearing her read in Cleveland once and consider that a top ten highlight of my life. She was a mirror of her words—simple, unassuming, humble, holy. Definitely at home in solitude. And playful. And able to make you lust for her wonder and amazement.

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