The other morning I had come back to my monastic cell after getting some breakfast for myself. I looked out my window, a view always perfect in the morning as it faces eastward. Lo and behold, I find myself watching two fawns and three older deer grazing on the other side of the walking path that circles the monastery.
We Erie Benedictines have developed eyes attuned to spotting deer; they are frequent guests on our grounds, and we just love it. If a family is out in the backyard at meal time, a swell of sisters rises up to watch young deer on their hind legs digging through the fruit trees for food in the summertime. Come winter, our eyes dart to the footprints that might lead to a sighting. In short, we gladly welcome our graceful four-legged friends.
So much so that a sister and I (with the help of someone on the kitchen staff) collect old apples to feed the deer, especially during the colder months. We gather the expired fruit, bring it in a box labeled “DEER” to a designated spot outside our rooms, and take a few out each day, tossing them into the grass until the box empties and we start again. It proves to be a delight on many levels to feed our furry friends this way.
But, the other morning, we experienced something even greater and more delightful than usual.
After I noticed these five deer outside my window, I called my sister to tell her to look outside for herself. A minute later, I heard her gathering up some apples and telling me that she was going out to do an experiment; I should watch from my window.
I could only see the deer, specifically fixated on one of the adults who was not running away as the apples were rolling on the ground, but instead moving closer and closer to my sister—yes, now with an apple in its mouth—only thirty or so feet away. She was a gentle enough presence that the deer need not be afraid, scared back into the woods. Pure delight!
I went outside to try and capture a photo of this unexpected, sacramental moment, but it was too late. My sister had already turned around to come inside, and together we did a true “happy dance,” reveling in the joy of the natural world and our communing with it. I am now envisioning the day when she feeds an apple straight into a deer’s mouth!
Have you ever seen a deer move closer rather than run away when we humans start to get close? I hadn’t until that summer morning. There is such beauty and such conversion found in practicing presence to others—and in others witnessing that presence. Now the young deer, too, will know that my sister is a safe and gentle friend to them as well. I beg you to imagine a world where we live with one another in such a trusting and caring way that we might be able to nourish someone, some thing, some part of the created world like this, a world where others feel safe and loved and nourished in our presence.
Oh, for a world.
Valerie Luckey, OSB is in the initial monastic program of the Erie Benedicintes and has taken temporary vows with the community as she discerns the possibility of perpetual monastic profession. She shares her "monastic journey" on the community website in her blog, "Walking in the Holy Presence"
Spend some time the author's challenge: I beg you to imagine a world where we live with one another in such a trusting and caring way that we might be able to nourish someone, some thing, some part of the created world like this, a world where others feel safe and loved and nourished in our presence.
What might it take in you, from you to create such a world?
Please share your insights with us here.
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Monks in Our Midst: writings by monks from the 3rd to the 21st centuries.