May is one of my favorite months since I have such tender memories of May altars, Mary devotions, and dropping rose petals in my parish’s outdoor May procession. A prayer that I’m saying during this month is new version of the “Hail Mary” offered by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. During a pilgrimage he led to the Holy Land, the group visited “The Spring of the Virgin Mary” in Nazareth, the site of the Annunciation. As is his custom at Marian sites, Shapiro said a Hail Mary and then he claims he heard a woman’s voice in his head saying, “Thank you, but it is time these words change. Please, whenever you honor me in this way, use these words instead:
Hail Mother full of grace, the Divine is you.
Blessed are you and all women, and
blessed is the fruit of your womb—all beings.
Holy Mother, fount of Wisdom,
guide us seekers now and into the moment of death. Amen."
It took me two months to get the book, A Velocity of Being: Letters to A Young Reader, eds. Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick. The original print was modest and then sales took off in one of those wonderful publication stories where you get a big seller by surprise. The book is 121 brief letters from writers, artists, scientists, musicians, entrepreneurs--you name it—to tweens and any post-tween book lover telling why reading is such a superpower gift. There are notable contributors such as Mary Oliver, Yo-Yo Ma, Jane Goodall, but all the letter writers had to pass only one criteria—do you love to read? Even if I wasn’t passionate about words, I might still buy this table book for the art work. Every letter to a young reader is accompanied by a stunning illustration from a notable illustrator or graphic artist.
Here is a part of a letter by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, that I copied:
“People in Silicon Valley—where I live—like to say that you’re the average of the five people you associate with most. I believe you’re also the average of the five books you hold closest to your heart.”
Now there’s a thought, and an interesting prompt. What are the five books that I hold closest to my heart? And, is it true, am I a composite of them? And if so, how so?
I’m also reading Haiku: This Other World by Richard Wright. It’s hard to believe anyone can write 810 publishable haiku but if you’re a master writer like Wright you can pull it off. Wright’s son says that all his father did in his later years—keep a pen in hand and write three line poems. As far as Old Monk goes, she’s only satisfied with one haiku out of every 236 that she writes. She likes this one that she wrote on Easter.
It’s Easter morning--
A slice of Polish sweetbread
Slathered in butter!
“Keep a poem in your pocket/ and a picture in your head/ and you’ll never be lonely/ at night when you’re in bed,” wrote Beatrice Schenk de Regniers. With that image and insight in mind, lovers of poetry celebrate an annual “Poem in Your Pocket Day” during National Poetry Month in April. Ten of us organized the event in Erie, soliciting the cooperation of 12 businesses and non-profits to hand out over 2,000 free poems to their customers and residents and guests during the day. Lots of magic moments, my favorite taking place at an assisted living center which one of our sisters, Carol Ann McLaughlin and her dog, Rusty, visit each week to lead a game of bingo for a small group. Instead of passing out bingo cards, Sister Carol Ann announced a surprise. “It’s poem in your pocket day,” she told them and proceeded to hand each person a specially rolled poem. The residents opened their poem and read them aloud. Then they began to talk about the poems they remembered from their youth. One of them said, “I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast, but I do remember this poem that I memorized…” and then recited it aloud. Others followed with memorized poems of their own. “We never got to playing bingo,” Sister Carol Ann reported, “instead we spent the entire time reciting and talking about poetry. It was so meaningful to the group.”
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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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