Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 224

How does one listen to the advice of Saint Benedict to “seek peace and pursue it” in a time of pandemic? The offices of Benetvision and Monasteries of the Heart are closed as requested by the governor and the staff is working from home. Like cities across the world, Erie’s schools, small businesses, restaurants, libraries, and taverns are chained shut. The monastery is on a three-week lockdown. Our Benedictine soup kitchen is preparing portable meals and handing them out at the door. Our food panty continues to operate under very strict safety guidelines. Today the bishop canceled all Sunday liturgies. Every moment seems more surreal, but unfortunately, it’s reality at its rawest.

I’m home all alone during the day. Sister Mary, whom I live with in the inner city, is director of the soup kitchen and pantry and reports to work every morning to make sure Erie homeless and hungry are cared for. But for me, there’s nothing but time now. And oodles of silence.

I’ve always thought the saying, “May you live in interesting times” was a challenge and a blessing. Today, when I looked it up on Google, I found out it was a Chinese curse. But, of course. Who wants to live in interesting times? I mean, really? Give me the comfortable, mundane, boring, and predictable any time.

But here we are—in interesting times. So, I think I’ll journal a bit more to examine how I’m dealing with this curse. Also, is it possible for a curse to become a blessing? Let’s see.

Today I’ve been sitting with a poem from a remarkable book that I’m reading. The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns adapted by Matty Weingast. These poems, the Therigatha (Verses of the Elder Nuns), were composed during the Buddha’s lifetime by the first Buddhist women.


When everyone else was meditating,
I’d be outside circling the hall.

Finally I went to confess.
I’m hopeless, I said.

The elder nun smiled.

Just keep going, she said.
Nothing stays in orbit foreve

If this circling is all you have,
why not make this circling your home?

I did as she told me,
and went on circling the hall.

If you find yourself partly in
and partly out—
If you find yourself drawn to this Path
and also drawing away—
I can assure you,
you are in good company.

Just keep going.

Sometimes the most direct path isn’t a straight line.

So today I’m trying to make the pandemic circle my home, remembering that nothing stays in orbit forever. Most importantly: just keep going. This circular path we are all on, may get us to where we are meant to be going in a more direct and surprising way.

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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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