Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal

Journal Entry 188

My friend Mary leaned over to me, tears in her eyes, when the congregation was singing the soul-stirring-hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” and said, “We can’t let them wreck what is still so beautiful.” We were at the Sunday Morning Worship Service at Chautauqua Institution and she was referring to the horrific Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic church that had just been released. What does she mean, I wondered?

Journal Entry 187

“Don’t just do something, the Buddha said, stand there”-- Dan Berrigan.

A friend gave me this saying on a paperweight in the 1970s and I’ve kept it nearby ever since. Berrigan gave the quote after participating in the Catonsville Nine action when he and eight others took draft records from a government office and burned them with napalm to protest the Vietnam War. He said it to explain why he participated in the action in broad daylight and stood there until police officers arrived to arrest them.

Journal Entry 186

I left the house today in plenty of time to arrive at the Silent Peace Walk, a monthly event organized by our local Benedictines for Peace group. For almost a year now, people have gathered at a designated place in Erie—a neighborhood, a park, a landmark—and walked in silence for 20 minutes. The purpose is to reflect on the violence lurking in our hearts and hopefully take a step or two towards becoming a more authentic peacemaker. I drove toward Perry Square, the gathering center of downtown Erie, and was met by barricaded streets and NO Parking signs everywhere.

Journal Entry 185

“…Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a green visit. It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are,”

wrote Mary Oliver in a poem I read and used for lectio during our annual Benedictine community retreat. As you know, Benedictines take a vow of stability and I’ve kept this one pretty well. The other two are obedience and conversion of life and I’m so-so with them. But stability? I have committed myself to the local community and I haven’t even moved from the

Journal Entry 184

Our women’s book club is just finishing, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. All 442 pages of it. Oliver herself selected the poems for this anthology which is numbered from her most recent to her earliest publication in 1963. We began in January and read about 40 poems a month and then shared the two or three we liked best and why we selected them. So, a great part of the 90 minutes was spent with club members reading their favorites aloud. I’m 76-years-old and don’t ever remember experiencing such a regular group immersion in the reading aloud of poetry.

Journal Entry 183

Love is such an overused and battered word that it can become stale, deadly, meaningless. But today Old Monk heard a PBS interview with a poet that gave “love” a fresh face. Christian Wiman, award winning poet and professor in religion and literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, who “found” God again after falling in love at 30 with the woman he married, quotes a poet friend, Spencer Reece: “All I know is the more/ he loved me, the more/ I loved the world.” If you’ve ever been lucky enough to fall in love, isn’t that the truth?

Journal Entry 182

“Lectio Divina,” reflective reading of God’s word, is the Benedictine gift to the development of spirituality in the church. In the Rule, Benedict allots daily time for this practice, and more time on Sunday and feasts. The traditional lectio confined itself to Scripture and the writings of the church fathers and mothers, but in recent times reflection on “God’s word” has expanded to nature, music, art, the daily news, poetry, and the ordinary things of life that are all sacred.

Journal Entry 181

“Don’t start working with the poor unless you’re willing to be eaten alive.” A sister who had spent long years bandaging wounds and trying to jump start seemingly hopeless lives gave me that advice over 40 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. Though I’m still not sure I understand it completely. I think she meant that if you steer your life toward those in the margins and hold back or don’t engage with an expanded heart, it won’t work. If you don’t feel up to the call to be present to whatever is needed, whenever it is needed, don’t open a soup kitchen.

Journal Entry 180

Old Monk enjoys a brief conversation most mornings with poets, hermits and Zen types, and seekers of all stripes. Here are some recent ones:

Journal Entry 179

I got a new insight into the gospels that we hear during the Easter season, the ones where Jesus appears to followers in locked rooms or to those feeling abandoned and hopeless who meet on dusty roads or seashores.

The commentator Geoff Woods reminds me no matter how tightly I lock the doors of my days or how grey and uncertain the hours unfold, there are moments when Christ can suddenly appear and restore a taste of the victory over death.


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