Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: 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. That’s two new things and the third is for Patti Smith who wrote a new book called Devotion that I just finished. I always feel like I’m breathing the purest of air when I read Patti Smith or listen to her sing. The book is part of the Why I Write series published by Yale University Press

Thanksgiving has come and gone with it melancholic loveliness of past family feasts remembered, an abiding gratefulness for what is, and a desire to always be in the day’s posture of praise. When Old Monk turned on her computer Thanksgiving morning she found this poem from her friend Linda.

Praise What Comes

surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven’t deserved
of days and solitude, your body’s immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise

talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps

you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few very simple questions: did I love,

finish my task in the world? Learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where one life began and another

ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, at the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?

--Jeanne Lohmann

Today Old Monk read a passage from Sue Monk Kidd in Oprah Winfrey’s book, The Wisdom of Sundays. Sue made a trip to Greece with a group of women in 1993. On the island of Crete they visited an old Greek Orthodox convent. A nun came out to see them and told them about a sacred tree in the garden. She told the women that it was a tradition to go to the tree and “Ask for the thing that lies in the bottom of your heart.” The women took turn approaching the tree, where there was an amazing icon of Mary, and asked for the thing in the bottom of their hearts. Sue said she blurted out, “I want to be a novelist.” And she became a best-selling one.

It’s Old Monk’s birthday and she pictured herself standing or kneeling before the tree and Mary’s icon. What does she ask for? What lies deepest in her heart? No answer leapt to the surface. Is this wisdom or fear or lack of self-knowledge I wondered? Or at Old Monk’s age is this just a non-question? If I haven’t lived into the answer by now, has the life been for naught?

I picked up a pen and wrote this phrase 10 times in my journal: My deepest heart’s desire is ________. Then I quickly filled in the blanks. When I finished, the only one that made sense to me was: “My deepest heart’s desire it to answer the question What is a monk?”

And I have been trying to answer that my entire adult life.

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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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