Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Feast of All Benedictine Saints

Today at Vigils we prayed:
O God, you promise those who enter the narrow gate, life in abundance.  May we learn from the example of St. Benedict and his disciples to see all things in your grace and to live in this world as your new creation.  This we ask though Christ our Lord.  Amen.
This prayer links two images: the narrow gate or door, and newness of all things in Christ.  What is this narrow gate?  The prayer implies that it is life in the monastery and St Benedict in his rule agrees saying:
But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity
for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity,
do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation,
whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14) (Prologue Rule of St Benedict)
Having lived in the monastery for almost 20 years, I have seen many enter, but few persevere.  Is it because the way is narrow or too restrictive?  Is it really that difficult?  It is easy to look at the monastery and see it as only a place of renunciation.  We give up setting our own schedules. We pray even when we don't feel like it and we try to live under a vow of obedience to a superior.   We keep an enclosure that is not only physical but also spiritual and psychological.  This is the discipline of guarding the heart.  All these things may seem difficult and they are at first, but most enter the monastery with a certain zeal that gives initial energy to accept these hardships.

No, the the real test of a monastic vocation is the long haul.  The "everydayness" of the life - where it becomes tedious, or as the Constitutions of our order states, "ordinary, laborious and obscure."  (Constitution 3.5)  This is the real narrow gate.  We are not special anymore - not even to ourselves.  

Having encountered this point of temptation and testing, one can easily give up: quit the wilderness and return to a life that offers more of a sense of gratification.  And that may be the right decision for that person.  But for others these points of crises can resolve into a new creation.  A new appreciation of who am really am and who God is for me.  
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. (St Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17)
Let's remember today all those who persevered in Benedictine monastic life and became models and guides for others.  May they help us to live in this world as a new creation in Christ.

Sr Suzanne

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Monastic Experience Weekend - Summer 2013

This summer Redwoods Monastery hosted a weekend geared especially for young women (ages 18-40) who were interested in learning more about monasticism and contemplative prayer. 6 women attended – most in their early twenties. Some were interested in a religious vocation but most came just to experience a deeper level of prayer. This was the second year we hosted this event and we now hope to make it an annual event.

 Our guests followed our monastic schedule of prayer, spiritual reading, and manual labor. They got up and joined the sisters for meditation first thing in the morning. For some, this was a stretch. But all believed they benefitted from the experience. Coming from a busy world of work, school, and social life into the silence of the redwoods can be a dramatic transition. Cell phones don’t get reception here; there is no texting or wifi for internet connection. Without these distractions, we hoped there would be space for each participant to enter deeply into her heart and soul and listen for God’s voice. This is the intent of the weekend.

 For morning work, they helped Sr Ann Marie in the garden and constructed a frame for the pole beans. Working with the hands, being in touch with the earth and collectively creating in community is a foundational monastic practice. Community life is a very simple joy and one that may well be hidden in today’s competitive work and study environments.

 There were three conferences during the weekend. The first was of a very introductory nature, explaining our prayer practices and giving suggestions for morning meditation. In the second conference, we showed a DVD we recently filmed about our life at Redwoods. Sisters also shared their own vocation stories and impressions of monastic life. This conference is usually the most meaningful to the participants. They want to hear about our personal journey to the monastery and the commitment to God that keeps us here. One woman commented that though our life is restrictive, we seem happy, free, and emotionally balanced. She didn’t expect the joy she saw in us.

 The final conference was on the monastic practice of Lectio Divina. This is a very traditional practice where scripture is read very slowly and intentionally, listening for the voice of God in the reading. What is God telling me personally through this reading? How do I connect this scripture with my life? We read silently and then shared about the text. The conference gave the participants the opportunity not only to explore scripture, but also to open up new vistas and insights into their personal lives and experiences of God.

 The impact of the Monastic Experience was reciprocal. The Redwoods community was enriched by seeing young people really “get” our life. They entered into it with “beginner’s mind” and reflected back the treasures of monastic life that we sometimes take for granted.

 Of course no experience of Redwoods would be complete without walks in the woods, animal watching, and star gazing. And nature did not disappoint us. A doe gave birth under right outside the cloister windows and the mother deer proudly showed off her newborn twins to our guests.

On the evaluation for the Monastic Experience Weekend, we asked the question, “What did you find most beneficial to you personally?” Here are some of their responses:
To be given the chance to step into the life here. For me it was really valuable to experience for myself how a life of prayer actually works… not just the Office and Mass… but work and living in the surroundings here are a part of the holistic life style.

The joyful openness everyone fosters here. I felt free to explore the forest, which I know gives me life, but also invited to interact with everyone because of the joy with which you life.

It was the common prayer - when prayers were offered, sung with beautiful voices, profoundness could be felt. I felt inspired as prayers were offered amidst beautiful nature reflected on the glass (in the church)

To join in the gardening as a group is something I did not expect, but it was fun, meaningful when we ate something that we grew.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

How Do We Serve

Pope Francis is a man who is leading his Church by example.  Today he is holding Holy Thursday services at a prison for juveniles on the outskirts of Rome.  He showing us how to serve the marginalized, the poor, those shunned and feared by society.  He has told us this week that we are not to be a complacent 99% but rather extend a hand and a heart to the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.  Live Christ's Gospel of love not only in the Church or Monastery, but in the world. With that message of love we enter these most sacred days of the Church calendar.

At Redwoods we began the Triduum with a chapter talk by Sr Kathy, Abbess.  She emphasized the importance of our images of God; how they influence our relationships with one another and even extend into the world. The liturgy today exposes a radical new view of a "God with us." It is Christ who feeds us with his body and blood and washes our feet in personal service.
Hear the entire Holy Thursday message:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Christmas Season

It's now almost February and the Church calendar is propelling us toward Lent. But before we leave Winter all together I would like to recount highlights of Advent and Christmas 2012 at Redwoods Monastery.

Every Advent at Redwoods is begun with the making of the Advent wreath. The sisters gather at Vespers of the first Sunday of Advent with greens collected from the surrounding forests. We lay our green on the wreath with an intention for this Advent time - an intention that will help us prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

This past year, Sr Kathy gave the following chapter talks to help prepare us for the Coming of the Lord.

First Sunday of Advent. 
Second Sunday of Advent:
Third Sunday of Advent:

Christmas Eve in the monastery is marked by the placing of creche figures. Each community member makes their own figure from clay and bits of cloth and other decorations. This Creche is up for the entire Christmas Season and sits just in front of the altar. It is a tangible reminder of the Humility of God who become flesh for our sake.