Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal

Journal Entry 148

The purpose of silence is to learn to hear the voices that no one else listens to. That’s what the retreat director, Bonnie Bowman Thurston, said during our community’s annual retreat this month.

Journal Entry 147

“Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire,” wrote Thomas Merton and it is this quote that set the theme for our community retreat last week.

Journal Entry 146

I’m looking forward to the community’s annual retreat this week in a special way because it focuses on Thomas Merton. And, as I’ve written before, I’m a Merton groupie. Bonnie Bowman Thurston, author and poet, is leading the 5-day retreat that she titled, “Thomas Merton on Monastic Life: Shaped by the End You Live For.”

The three sisters who live on our inner-city block prepared community prayer for the day she explores the monk’s relationship to the world. What exactly is the monastic call to fuga mundi: flight from the world?

Journal Entry 145

When I’m feeling overwhelmed or sorry for myself for “having too much to do,” I read this Prayer by Saint Teresa of Avila.

Journal Entry 144

A book on Spiritual Teachers crossed my desk recently and it got me thinking about its role in my life. I’ve never really had a spiritual director or teacher as such, someone that I met with regularly to examine my soul’s wanderings. I’ve certainly looked to books by spiritual masters for guidance and copied copious notes of teachings that challenged me or opened new doors to light.

What I’ve been blessed with, however, is what the Celtic tradition calls soul-friend. I’ve had a handful of friends who know me bone to bone and still love me. And I them.

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.


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