Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal

Journal Entry 143

I liked the idea of being “uncrushable” and thought of it again after reading an article that a friend had sent me on how to stay sane in these insane times. The author of the article, a behavior specialist, recommends radical mindfulness: to accept present reality but shift your attention to the good. Radical mindfulness does not mean condoning or forgetting the reality, but focusing on what we can do to preserve personal and collective mental health. If I understand the article, I think it happened to me recently.

Journal Entry 142

One middle-age woman read about Legs, hers. About the baskets of laundry they carried up and down the basement stars, how they’ve change shape over the years. Another read about secretly reading her mother’s journal despite the warning of eternal hell fire. A third woman read about coming home from combat looking whole, but broken inside. In all, twenty women went to the microphone at the Women’s Writing Studio this week and read a poem or story or essay that they had written. 

Journal Entry 141

This week I spent the noon hour on Thursday handing out poems in downtown Erie as part of Poem in Your Pocket Day. The Writing Studio that I coordinate organized a small effort for the national celebration handing out about 1,000 poems rolled in scrolls and tied in ribbons at the Public Library, Gannon University, Springhill Senior Living, Neighborhood Art House and in the streets. I’ve pedaled a lot of leaflets in my lifetime—all protesting war or some form of injustice—but handing out poems in another experience altogether. Peoples’ faces lit up, they smiled, and were eager to see what words unfurled. The afternoon temperature was in the 80s, the sun was out, all the blossoms were escaping…and lots of people were reading poems. I kept repeating this poem as I walked the street:

Journal Entry 140

On Good Friday I participated in the annual public Stations of the Cross, an event that the Benedictine Sisters of Erie have sponsored for over 40 years. We used to walk from the downtown cathedral to the monastery, about seven miles, stopping at various places to call attention to how we are causing suffering to “the body of Christ” today. Now, because many are older, we mark the stations in the downtown area and bus back to the monastery for the final station. It’s still about a 2-mile walk through broken sidewalks and traffic.

Journal Entry 139

Just when I’d about given up on Easter Sunday and bodily resurrections I read about tardigrades, more commonly known as water bears. The National Geographic website calls them earth’s “most tenacious creatures.” And BBC titled its story about them “Tardigrades return from the dead.” Believe me, that headline got my immediate attention. The story points out that if we went into space unprotected, we’d die as our blood would bubble and boil. And if by some miracle we survived that gruesome end, ionizing radiation would rip apart the DNA in our cells.

Journal Entry 138

I got a call from Michael Leach asking if he could reprint an article of mine in the Easter edition of the National Catholic Reporter. Mike is publisher emeritus and editor-at-large at Orbis Book and a columnist for National Catholic Reporter. Though his writings have received numerous awards, a great work of his that will never receive the public acclamation it deserves is how he is currently caring from his wife, Vickie, who is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s.

Journal Entry 137

I went to a lecture last week and the speaker repeated a quote by Gustavo Gutierrez, that I can’t shake. Gutierrez’s words were: “So you say you love the poor? Name them.” Old Monk’s been thinking all week about who she could name. At one time in my life, dozens of names would slip off my tongue, but now…maybe one dozen that I know personally. That I can name.

Journal Entry 136

Why do we tell stories? Because these stories encourage us and critique us, writes John Shea, a master storyteller himself.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, Old Monk would like to recognize a few saintly women from the monastic family who both encourage and cause me to examine my life.

When I learn that in the 4th century, self-educated Marcella led public attacks against the heresies of her day, I become less fearful and more courageous in speaking my truth.

Journal Entry 135

I have, over the years, conversed in writing with Japanese and Chinese poets and monks. I copy one of their poems and respond with my own. I’ve used this lectio process with Saigyo, Ryokan, Han Shan and, sporadically, with Ikkyu. Two of these dialogues have become books: Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryokan (Eerdmans) and Old Monk (Benetvision).

Journal Entry 134

About the only thing I like about Lent is choosing the new books I will read for the next forty days. This morning I began The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang which was a big hit in the 1940s.  I learned about it from another book that I read recently, Books for Living by Will Schwalbe.

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