Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 205

“Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion,” write Meister Echkart. I believe that compassion is the supreme virtue, the most godlike of actions. And yet I found myself today in a situation where the people I was with were talking about the poor with judgment, not compassion. I sat there stewing. Should I just get up and leave? Should I say something at the risk of sounding judgmental myself. One person finally spoke up and said that she has never been so bereft that she had to panhandle. But if she ever were, she might lie and cheat her way to a few extra bucks. I agreed and added a few words. Did I lack the virtue of courage? Or was it tact? Is tact even a virtue? How to speak your truth without coming across as preachy and sanctimonious, without hurting others or making them feel guilty and small? I’ve never been able to figure it out. My tendency is to blurt my truth out and everyone goes silent. And the gathering gets uncomfortable. I guess I prefer that action to saying nothing, but I’ve seen people handle these situations without compromising themselves and without embarrassing the other. Old Monk still has a few years left to figure it out.

I’m having a pretty lousy Lent, as usual. Nothing much different during these three weeks than any other time on the calendar. Oh, I read a little more and try to watch my smart tongue a bit. But I do lack the joy of the season. Always have with Lent. Then today I reread this Mary Oliver line, “It must be a great disappointment to God if we are not dazzled at least ten times a day.“ My heart lifted a bit. Now here’s a good Lenten discipline, I said to myself. I could try Oliver’s advice for the remainder of Lent and look, really look at all that is…and be dazzled. That practice is, I think, the bedrock of joy. I’ll let you know if my fervor lasted.

And speaking of Lenten practices…. I heard about one of our sisters who, after attending 6:30 a.m. liturgy at the Cathedral in downtown Erie, gets a cup of coffee, drives to our Inner City Neighborhood Art House, and parks her car across the street from it. She sits there every morning sipping her coffee and praying. What’s she praying for? Well, she’s looking at the mural that spans the Art House–a poet’s words “Hold fast to dreams” are painted on it and there are figures of children doing art: dancing, throwing pots, painting, reading. “I look at that mural and I say a prayer for each child who goes there,” she said. I pray that their dreams don’t get dashed.” Wow, to storm heaven every day for those children. And she’s been doing it for years. I am dazzled.

In conversation with Saigyo…

A world without
the scattering of blossoms,
without the clouding
over of the moon, would deprive
me of my melancholy.

A day without
the bell calling to compline
without reading again the yellowing
letter folded in my Bible, would deprive
Old Monk of her melancholy.
--Old Monk

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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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