Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 155

It is 6:39 a.m. on Tuesday July 11 and
even though the sky is gray I am celebrating
the feast of Saint Benedict who was rather
gray himself with all his talk about moderation,
as if life was a gift to tippy-toe through
rather than streak across like a
bolt of lightning.

Today I read that missionary Saint Francis Solano
warned the indigenous Indians in Paraguay that he
was approaching by playing a violin. How sweetly the saint
honored the host. It is dawn, July 15. Can you hear it?
Barber’s violin concerto opus 14 lifting your horizon.

I greet you, July 19, with prayer as explained by
Brother David Steindl-Rast who tells me that the
cup of coffee I so lovingly prepare and unite with each morning
is a moment of intense prayerfulness because it is
a brief resting in God. And then there’s this paragraph:

Suppose, for example, you are reciting the Psalms. If all goes well, this may be a truly prayerful experience. But all doesn’t always go well. While reciting the psalms, you might experience nothing but a struggle against distractions. Half an hour later you are watering your African violets. Now, suddenly, the prayer that never came during prayers overwhelms you. You come alive from within. Your heart expands and embraces those violet leaves, those blossoms looking up to you. The watering and drinking become a give-and-take so intimate that you cannot separate your pouring of the water from the roots’ receiving, the flower’s giving of joy from your drinking it in. And in a rush of gratefulness your heart celebrates this belonging together. As long as this lasts, everything has meaning, everything makes sense. You are communicating with you full self, with all there is, with God. Which was the real prayer, the Psalms or the watering of your African violets. –Brother David Steindl-Rast

Thank you, August 1 for letting
me practice a favorite pastime:
turning the page of my Zen calendar
and for being greeted with a painting
of a translucent dragonfly, brown-tipped wings,
praying the words of Rumi:

“Stop the words now.
Open the center of your chest
And let the spirits fly in and out!”

Imagine, that advice from a poet
who has an ode numbered 3748
and more poems that followed.
Proof, once again, that writers write
what they need to hear.

Dear August 5, another day to remember how
William Stafford rose before dawn
every day, heated a cup of coffee, buttered
a piece of toast, picked up pen and paper
and wrote a poem. One poem
every morning of his life. How on his last day
he began to write:
“Are you Mr. William Stafford?”
“Yes, but….”
How it might take a lifetime of mornings
to finish the poem:
“Are you Old Monk?’
“Yes, but….”

In early morning on August 8, I read
a prayer service a friend sent and found
this koan for the congregation to discuss:
A monk asked Kegon, “How does an enlightened
one return to the ordinary world?” Kegon replied,
“A broken mirror never reflects again;
fallen leaves never go back to the old branches.”
What? Old monk is so grateful she is not Zen.
The one thought about enlightenment that
she would add to the discussion is
from another Zen Master,
“Now that I’m enlightened, I’m as miserable as ever.”

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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