Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 200

I only made one new year’s resolution this year. It came after reading Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s commentary on God’s call to Abraham to “go forth (lech lecha) from your land, your nation, from your parents’ house and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1). Shapiro writes that a more accurate translation of “lech lecha,” is “walk toward yourself” rather than “go forth.”

All these years, I thought God was calling Abraham to start a new nation, and here God is telling him to take a more difficult trip, one that each of us has to trek.

To walk toward myself, according to God, I have to leave my nation, have to let go of nationalism and false patriotism and privilege and “America first” and all the U.S. idols I worship like money, prestige, and power.

To walk toward myself, I have to leave my land, my comfort zones, all the familiar, mostly white, faces, all the ideas and beliefs that I was taught and cling to for security.

To walk toward myself, I have to leave my parents’ house with all the expectations and prejudices and leftover tears.

So, for my New Year’s resolution I want to heed God’s call to “walk toward yourself” so that I see the person yet to be revealed.

Probably the best way I “walk toward myself” is through writing. I try different writing practices to keep myself interested and on the edge. Last year I read an article in Parabola by Betsy Cornwell, a writing teacher who starts each new course by asking students to lie to her. She has them write a three-sentence life story and, except for their names, nothing can be true. Her point was that no matter how fanciful or outlandish the lies, they reveal some insight about what’s happening in our lives. It’s less threatening than sitting down to write a three-sentence factual autobiography and it’s just as truthful, maybe more so. Old Monk is having a great time writing lies. She is always surprised and what finds its way one paper. Here’s one:

Once when no one was looking, Mary Lou buried her mother in the backyard. From that time on she has become the gravedigger for people who died but were never buried. Mary Lou became very rich.

++

A young woman that I’d never met came to my writing class this week. I usually ask for five dollars per session to help with refreshments and materials. At the end of the class she knelt down beside me and whispered, “Here’s ten dollars, please take it because I won’t have anything next month and I want to come.” Of course, I refused explaining that I do a women’s writing circle for the pure joy of it. No need to pay unless you’re earning a decent salary. And it was evident that this girl didn’t have much of anything except a love for writing.

I’ve been thinking about incident all week. Old Monk would never spend her last ten bucks on a writing class. But, oh, how she envies the purity of the young woman’s passion for writing. It is also the only time that Old Monk has seen this ancient poem lived out:

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And from thy slender store
Two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole,
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul.
--Saadi, Persian poet

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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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