Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal

Journal Entry 168

As I write this, Erie is recovering for a record-setting snow that dumped 84 inches on us in 5 days, beginning on Christmas Day. December is ending with a whopping 121 inches of falling white stuff. For almost 60 years I’ve prayed the psalms and canticles as part of daily monastic prayer. One of the Canticles is “The Song of the Three Young Men” from the Book of Daniel. In that story, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon put the youths in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow before the King’s image.

Journal Entry 167

The body of a woman who came with her two children to our soup kitchen washed up on the lake shore this month. She suffered severe mental illness and committed suicide. This was the first tragic death at the kitchen for two new staff members, Breanna and Karen.

Journal Entry 166

Since I’m a big fan of Mary, Mother of God, I’m always grateful to find a new idea that intensifies the relationship. Don’t ask me why but I’ve never read anything by the German Benedictine monk Anselm Grun until this Advent—and he’s written over 300 books!!! But, lucky for me, I picked up his book, Your Light Gives Us Hope: 24 Daily Practices for Advent at the Chautauqua bookstore on a recent visit. The daily readings and practice suggestion are brief, but weighty and creative.

Journal Entry 165

I am still conversing with the Japanese Buddhist nun and poet Rengetsu, “Lotus Moon.” I read one of her poems and then respond.

Pouring rain,
Evening gloom,
In the mountain paddies:
Other than a scarecrow
Not a soul around.

Pouring rain,
Morning sadness,
On the inner-city street:
Other than the young prostitute
Other than the slow-moving car
Other than the feral black cat
Only Old Monk and her beads.
—Old Monk


Journal Entry 164

Best-selling author Cheryl Strayed said that the two keys to a happy life are perspective and gratitude. And Harvard researcher Shawn Achor claims that if, for twenty-one straight days, you practice saying three things you are grateful for when you wake up every morning, you become a more optimistic person. You cannot repeat what you are grateful for, each morning you must be thankful for something new. This morning Old Monk is grateful for Cheryl and Shawn’s insights.

Journal Entry 163

It is Thanksgiving and I am remembering two people with a grateful heart—my mother and the poet Robert Lax.

Journal Entry 162

Lily Tomlin played in Erie last week and I’m still laughing…or at least smiling every time I think of her solo performance. What a woman. I’d be hard pressed to think of another 78-year-old who could deliver a two hour, no intermission, performance that included falling to the floor numerous times as part of a skit she was delivering and then standing “without any assistance,” she informed us. I haven’t laughed that hard in years…and more years.

The next day I was reading an excerpt from an Oprah interview with Norman Lear that read in part:

Journal Entry 161

In an interview, Wendell Berry wonders
why we don’t have a gross earth product
that counts the number of trees and the
apples since our lives depend on things
of the earth. Why celebrate a rising
gross national product when we should be
mourning a declining gross earth product?
He notes that we wring our hands over trade
deficit yet it pales when compared to
earth deficit. Berry’s words make Old Monk
wonder why we don’t have a gross kindness
product or gross compassion product that counts

Journal Entry 160

When writing about saints, theologian Walter Burghardt wrote, “Touch men and women like these and you will touch the stars, you will touch God.”

This week we celebrate All Saints Day, a time to honor those who mirror the Divine. I have a personal litany of saints, men and women, whose touch “struck me to the ground,” so intense, dazzling and radiant was their inner light.

Journal Entry 159

This haiku appears every time I wrestle with the issue of dignity and the poor.

the homeless man
takes off his shoes before
his cardboard house
-Penny Harter


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