Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 228

During the “stay at home” pandemic, I’ve spent hours reading through journals that date from 1976 to 2020. Here are some random selections and updates as I read.

1984
A woman came to our peace community and said that since her husband’s death she has come to realize why we can’t experience God’s love completely. When you fall in love, she said, it absorbs your every minute. In a sense, it paralyzes you—the lover is all you think about. Can you imagine, she asked, what would happen if we experienced God’s love completely? We would probably die from the unbearable ache and sweetness of it. Hmmm I wonder if that’s what does happen at the moment before death: you truly know God’s love, it is unbearably beautiful…and then you breathe your last.

“Melodious rolls the world from God’s right hand.”—Paul Verwey

1985
“As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by.” (Acts 5:14)

I read that to be touched by someone’s shadow means to be in contact with the person’s
soul, the person’s essence, and to be influenced by that for better or worse. I could make a list of people whose shadows fell upon me and either healed or damaged. But, when I look back on my life with the word shadow in mind, I only travel to one spot.

In the early 60s, every Sunday afternoon in fall, I would climb the steps to the flat roof of Saint Joseph’s convent in Oil City and watch the sun slowly move across the Allegheny mountains until all was shadow. For hours I sat and watched the sun flash on wild October leaves or bare November trees, then disappear into the beauty of black. Those long afternoon hours, immersed in lengthening shadows, built a dwelling place in me. If I were to make a movie of my life, I would open and close the film with the sun patiently, and with such beauty, moving across the Allegheny hills.
++

During a retreat for peacemakers at Kirkridge, one of the leaders in the movement told me how depressed he was because all our efforts seemed futile, the world situation just kept getting worse. He mentioned that he had spent some time with Dan Berrigan the week before and so I asked, “Is Dan in the same state of soul?” “No,” he answered, “Dan is a poet and his center rests in the question: ‘Am I loyal to my friends? Am I living my life in such a way so as not to betray my friends.’” There you go. Instead of being tossed in the winds of daily newspaper headlines, only concentrate on being faithful to your friends. Friends like Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Ita Ford, Dan Berrigan…That makes for a life of integrity. It’s the measuring rod of a life worth living.
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A story from the Desert Fathers and Mothers that is in my top five list is this one: Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said: "Abba, as much as I am able I practice a small rule, a little fasting, some prayer and meditation, and remain quiet, and as much as possible I keep my thoughts clean. What else should I do?" Then the old man stood up and stretched out his hands toward heaven, and his fingers became like ten torches of flame. And he said: "Why not be turned into fire?"

Oh, how I loved that image, equating it with passion and zeal for the work of God, of tossing out all limitations and rules and pious practices and becoming a flame of love. It was all about me and my ideal monastic soul. The one day my friend Mary stopped me in my tracks with this comment: “Fire is out of control. Maybe being turned into fire means not being in control of our lives.” Yikes. Me not in control? I’m going to look for another favorite story to build my life around.
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1987
Anthony De Mello said that we tend to become like the God we adore. A recent survey of 1,400 Americans indicated that 72% think of God as “father”—6% more favoring it than in 1984. 72% said they prefer to think of God as master rather than as spouse and nearly 61% would rather regard God as judging than as loving. This, despite the assertion from Jesus’ beloved disciple that “God Is love and those who abide in love abide in God.” It should be no surprise then, that if people prefer “father” “master” and “judge” our world is rife with war, chants for revenge….
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One childhood memory and discipline that serves me well when I am in chaos or turmoil is the time when my father was training me to be a long-distance swimmer. And in the process was going to strengthen my lungs since I suffered from asthma. He took me to Lake Erie and set a goal that I would swim from one designated beach to the other—from Water Works to Stone Jetty is what I remember, true or not. While I swam, he walked by my side, slowly counting aloud, “one, two, breathe…one, two, breathe” as I did the Australian crawl as far as my nine-year-old arms could muster. And when I could go no farther, he would swoop me out of the water and carry me back to shore in his strong arms. It took a month or more, but I finally swam the entire distance for which I received an extra-large ice cream cone from a Dairy Queen. It must have been an intense concentrated time because even now when life sets me reeling…yes, even now after I received the news that my biopsy was positive, that the eye melanoma had metastasized to my liver

I can still hear you counting calmly
And feel you walking beside me
And I know the years have only strengthened
Your arms.

And I’m grateful to have trained to swim to the next pier even though this lap has no designated goal. It’s more like a swim into the deep…”one, two, breathe…one, two, breathe.”

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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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