Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 221

Saint Benedict had a soft spot in his heart for the young and instructed the seasoned monks to pay special attention to their ideas and opinions because “God often reveals what is better to the younger." I thought of Benedict’s off- beat insight when I received a New Year’s card from a friend who is also a grandmother. The handmade card was a photo of a tablecloth upon which her 9-year-old granddaughter Lucy had printed this message with a ballpoint pen: Met Jane Goodall, got glasses, changed the world little by little & was awesome. Peace (read a lot) L.G.

My friend explained that for the past 26 years her family has signed the tablecloth on Christmas day (an idea she got from Martha Stewart) that sends a greeting or summarizes the past year. This year, awed by the nine-year-old’s confidence, her mother printed, “I’m with her,” and her grandmother echoed, “I’m with her, too.” Saint Benedict would be proud.

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This morning I spent time in my writing space reciting an Issa poem while gazing at a painting of Mount Fuji that a friend brought me from her trip to Japan:

O snail,
climb Mount Fuji
but slowly, slowly

I’m 78 now. Am I still climbing? Should I be? Is there something to be said about the view from where I now stand on the mountain, even if it’s not the top? Why not be content with staying at the foot of the mountain and becoming intimate with all the wildflowers? Are we put on earth to climb a mountain or kiss the grass? Or both? Is it better not to attain a goal, not to climb some pretentious personal mountain and learn the virtue of failure? Are relentless seekers who give their lives to the impossible quest filled with ego, disguised as zeal for the things of God. Or are their hearts so afire with love that all things are possible?

This poem is also a gentle argument for patience on the journey, especially with the self. And I agree. But sometimes patience is a sin. During Advent I listened to a homily about how we should all be patient for the day when “the lion would lie down with the lamb…and war would be no more…and the oppressed would be free.” As the priest went on, I got more and more impatient. Patience can be such a copout, a temptation to accept what is because God will do God’s will in God’s time. Rarely is it pointed out patience is only half the equation. As Maya Angelou reminds, patience is empty without passion:

Seek patience
and passion
in equal amounts.

Patience alone
will not build the temple.

Passion alone
will destroy its walls.
~ Maya Angelou ~

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Hello, January 17, grey grieving day, or as Du Fu
writes of you, “a flick of the hand/and it’s rain
or storm” except for that wisp
of blue in the sky
that even Emperor Trump can’t erase
no matter how many times
he flicks his wrist.

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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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