Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 231

A kind of malaise has taken over. I suppose it’s my cancer diagnosis and the weekly trips to the cancer hospital in Pittsburgh for my clinical test procedure. The first three overnight stays were not pleasant as far as side-effects go, but that has settled down and I am not experiencing any physical pain or discomfort—just some tiredness and inner malaise. And, of course, there’s my brother’s death. My personal writing has suffered as a result and I’m not journaling much.

I am surprised by the number of notes and cards and gifts and books I’ve received from friends around the country in response to my illness. People say such nice things to me…even the sentiments that sound as if they’re already part of a memory service. I know that all of them are heart felt and they fill me with gratitude and encouragement. Thank you.

On one of my first trial test appointments in Pittsburgh, one of the nurses said, “Oh I see you’re a sister, I bet you miss not having Sunday Mass during this pandemic, I know I do.” To which I replied, “Not really. I’ve prayed publicly so much for 60 years—at one time in my life, seven times a day—that I can’t say I miss any of it. I’m glad for a little respite.” I might have mentioned, too, about not being happy with an all-male priesthood and this pandemic giving us a chance to celebrate differently. She laughed, a bit nervously I thought. On the car ride home, I thought to myself, “Why did you say that, Kownacki? Always giving in to the temptation to shock. You probably gave scandal. You should have just nodded your head and mumbled hmmm.” There is no doubt that I should pay more heed to Emily Dickinson’s advice: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

Last week I had the same nurse and when she was inserting my IV, didn’t she go right back to our conversation of a month ago. “Remember that Sunday mass conversation we had,” she asked. I nodded yes, dreading what would follow. “Well our churches have opened up and I went to one last week that was held outside. It was awful. It was Father’s Day and all the priest talked about was how men and fathers were the most important things on earth and how everything depended on them. I was furious. I almost walked out. I went home and called my mother and ranted. One thing for sure, I’m never going back there.” Now there was something I could converse about and no longer worry about giving scandal. Ah, I thought to myself, your prior comments didn’t shock her, they made her feel safe to talk to you about how she really felt. “And this priest was young and wearing some kind of little hat on his head,” she added. So, we had a good talk about clericalism rearing its ugly head in many of the newly ordained and what a Sunday gathering could look like in a church that practiced equality. “If this keeps up, they’re going to lose a lot of women, including me,” she concluded. To which I just nodded my head and mumbled hmmm.

It’s T.S. Eliot who said, “Immature writers borrow, mature writers steal.” Nobody quite knows what that means but here are two phrases I either borrowed or stole from other poets.

In the first poem, I borrowed “a hermit’s sigh” from the poet Dick Allen. In the second poem, I took “tasting juice dribbling” from someone. In the third, I reflected on my sins.

The last thing
I’ll remember has already
like a hermit’s sigh
after evening tea.


In the hospital
waiting for my cancer
tasting juice dribbling
from a peach

How many words, phrases,
ideas can you steal
from other poets
and still remain free
on bail

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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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