Sunday, December 27, 2009

Snow-much to Be Thankful For!

Merry Christmas!

The great South Dakota blizzard of 2009 continued through Christmas Day and the following Feast of St. Stephan. The nature imposed grounding gave us time to see our giftedness and feel gratitude in the midst of all that snow! Sr. Mary Kay found some wonderful and powerful images in the snow during the storm...

We were grateful to be together, safe and sound at the Monastery. The snow buried the cars in our front drive up to the windows. How lucky we were to be inside together. The guests and employees alike were invited to share in meals and worship while stranded away from home. Yes, some of us missed the promised to trips to family gatherings and celebrations as well. We joined with each other in play, prayer, and watching the snow fall.

This snapshot of smaller courtyard demonstrates the power of the wind and snow together. I am grateful for the strong protection of our home. The wind whipped the snow to the west side of the courtyard covering all the windows on the main floor of the Monastery, the library and exercise room. The peaks of the snowbank reached the second floor of the sisters' bedrooms in the care center! Our elderly, recovering, and frail were surprised to find their views not just frosted with snow but half covered!

The larger inner courtyard allowed the wind much more play in designing the snowbank. I'm grateful that I can see the beauty in the storm. Again the wind drove all the snow to the west side of the courtyard. We were amazed to find that the snowbanks totally avoided the Creche scene that is just a few feet to the left of this snow bank. This drift covered all of the first floor windows as well, but it didn't quite reach the second story. However, the Alpine style peak was breathtaking. All throughout the storm, sisters would stop in the hallway to watch this bank take shape.

Our green house sits in a corner of our south lawn. It was one of the few places where the snow fell quietly, well more quietly than the rest of the grounds. It was mesmerising to watch as the inches grew and grew on the greenhouse. It has been at least 13 years since I've seen this much snow fall at any one time, and I was a bit awe struck at how beautiful it could be. Powerful--yes, Overwhelming--yes, and even a bit Scary--yes, but still beautiful.


PS...This still shot of the snow is hard for you to judge, but there is approximately 18 inches of snow on the ground. It came about even with the low window ledges of our solarium hallway! The turkeys, squirrels, and birds that usually frequent our south lawn were in hiding among the bushes until
late Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A White Christmas

Merry Christmas!

All the monastic preparations in the world cannot thwart the path of nature in South Dakota! The sisters arrange for Christmas celebrations and services to be open to the public who joins us, we hope to create a schedule that also allows our employees time to be home with their family and loved ones, and many sisters either invite their families to join us for Christmas or visit their family over the Christmas season...then the blizzard creeped in starting on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday began with some light drizzling rain and sleet. The weather folk recommended getting to your destinations by late afternoon because the roads would be so slick. This was not unusual for December and while the weather channel seemed a bit excited, we assumed it would all blow over. Thursday dawned with more snow and high winds. Neither of these let up throughout the day, soon the swirling snow began to create the most beautiful drifts in the two inner courtyards at the Monastery. We appreciated the power of the storm, but now began to wonder when it would blow itself out. A usual South Dakota blizzard lasts a day, maybe two at the most. Friday morning I met some of our staff at breakfast! Many of the employees had stayed overnight in our guest rooms and retreat rooms! The weather was too treacherous to try to drive home, and if they had, there would have been no way to come back to work the next day. The wind continued to eddy around the Monastery at gusts between 30 to 40 miles per hour! Wind doesn't stop when it hits a brick wall at that speed, it merely turns direction. Now the drifts in the courtyards were growing by leaps and bounds. The smaller courtyard had snow past the first floor windows and the larger courtyard's drift wasn't far behind! Saturday morning dawned with still more snow and wind. The weather folk predict that the wind will slowly
die away today and the snow should stop for a bit, but now we will
believe it when we see it.

For three and half days, the Christmas blizzard has buffeted and blown the state of South Dakota to a stand still. It may be hard to understand for those who have never experienced such a storm, but the wind and snow were so thick that you couldn't have seen more than a few feet ahead of yourself at times, and snow blown this hard creates drifts that are as solid as rock. The pictures I've added today are from the Kelo Land news site, two Yankton residents had posted the pictures one from the north side of town and the other from within the city...they amaze me!

Back to Christmas!
I have never realized how grateful I should be that our Monastery is city on a hill. Our home contains our bedrooms, the kitchen and dinning areas, exercise and recreation space, library and computer access, and most importantly our Chapel and prayer space. As the blizzard enveloped the world around us in a white blurr, we were able to continue our Christmas prayer.

Christmas Eve Vespers began with Statio (solemn procession) into Bishop Marty Chapel. As Sr. Organist played "Silent Night" we processed two by two into the candle lit Chapel all fitted out in gold and white for Christmas. It was a beautiful way to begin our celebrations. The next morning we realized that our preparations for Christmas Day Mass were, well, not needed...the usual congregation from the surrounding area could not make it out of their homes! So, we celebrated the Christ Child as a community, praying for those stranded by the cold and snow.

Christmas Day was also a time for family, fun, and food (of course). There was a break after brunch to allow for individual plans, I napped, and then we gathered for a Christmas party. All the community came together for cookies and coffee, carols, and laughter. We received a gift from the community and a few gifts from the generous parishioners at St. Mary Church. It was wonderful. The blizzard had kept everyone in and there were more sisters home for the extended Christmas celebrations than anyone had planned--we were all home for Christmas. That night we finished our Christmas Day with a wonderful meal...steak, wine, and all the fixin's. The sisters lingered over supper telling stories and laughing together. I was on dish duty with Srs. Julie and Paulette, we decided sing as we worked our way through the mountain of supper dishes. Christmas Carols and holiday songs from our childhoods rang merrily off the tiled walls of the dish room.

I feel so blessed to have been Home for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"O" So Much Anticipation


This morning was a silent witness to the O Emmanuel within each of us. Advent mornings are a quiet affair in the Monastery. We keep a reflective silence in the mornings until around 8AM, this includes our breakfast. Even with this quiet, the sisters observe and serve each others needs. One of our elder sisters had arranged her breakfast tray (we use a cafeteria style line) but was unable to carry it to her place, and by the time she looked up for assistance, another sister had already picked it up to carry to her seat at the table. At the same time, another got up from that table to pour the elder her morning coffee and milk. All this was done in silent orchestration and beautiful to see. I sat munching my homemade cinnamon bread and used our silent breakfast to consider these small acts done with love...Benedict would have approved. Tonight we continue to reverence the Emmanuel with the final O Antiphon.

O Emmanuel, our holy King and giver of the Law,
the expectation of the nations,
their longed for Redeemer and Savior,
O come, come soon to save us, our Lord God with us!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Preparing for the King


I had a wonderful day of decorating and celebration. All over the Monastery, sisters are preparing for the King the O Antiphon sings of tonight.

Srs. Kathy, Barbara, and I set to work decking the hall that leads to our refrectory. We pinned hundreds of satin covered Christmas tree balls to the ceiling! The red, blue, green, white, and gold balls now dance above whenever we walk down the hallway. Sisters stopped by our rolling scaffolding to encourage, admire, or offer advice as they made their way to various errands around the house.

After lunch a more serious preparation was undertaken, We began to decorate our Bishop Marty Chapel for Christmas. We celebrate Mass and Liturgy of the Hours in our Peace Chapel (lower chapel) until Christmas Eve Vespers. So...we have the next few days to prepare our Chapel, and we'll need it. Today, I joined the sisters (and our Benedictine Priest) in arranging trees and the Fontanini Creche set in our gathering space. It turned out simple and beautiful. Those in the Chapel assembled trees to frame our main altar, took down the Advent banners, and the wreath. Later, I helped with hanging the gold and white Christmas banners. Tomorrow the poinsettias arrive to offset our beautiful gold and white with red and pink...around the trees, in front of the altar, by the ambo, and where ever else they might brighten.

Jordan (my small group) is gathering for our Christmas supper tonight. We have a leisurely evening of food, visiting, and prayer. I assisted by making pretzels for an appetizer...but there will be so much at the meal...everyone signs up to make their best. But in a way, this 'family' supper is also in preparation for the King.

O King of Nations, you for whom all lands are longing,
You are the holy cornerstone who bind together all God's people,
O come, come and save human-kind, whom you formed from the dust of earth.


Monday, December 21, 2009

"O"nly a Few More Days of Advent


Today we celebrate Christ our Dawn, but today was also the day I forgot to set my morning alarm clock and missing Lauds. I didn't awake with the dawn at all; however, there was much to do once I found my morning cup of coffee. I had been asked to set up the Christmas tree in our care center in the Monastery. Sr. Barbara helped fluff and arrange all the branches and set the lights (all three strands) on the tree. Then our lights went dead...and she had to get to her next assignment. Luckily, Sr. Virginia found an extra set and one of our care center staff helped me relight the tree! I encouraged our elderly sisters to help choose which decorations to add to the tree to set some on the branches, it was a good morning. The afternoon was supposed to be spent pinning satin balls to the ceiling but it was post-poned until tomorrow.

O Rising Sun, the splendor of eternal light
and brilliant sun of justice,
come and with your holy light,
shine on us who sit in darkness and in death's shadow!

Sunday, Fr. Benedictine (yeah home from Jesuit land!) had a wonderful homily about Mary and Elizabeth. They supported and nurtured the Divine in each other, and we are called to bring Christ to the world and nurture the Christ in each other as well. It was a quiet day in the Monastery. Just nice to be home...evening prayer begins with the chapel silent and in the dark except for the lights on the Crucifix. Then one sister carries in a lit taper to light our Advent wreath. As she steps down from the wreath, the lights come up and we begin our Vespers. I've missed these quiet endings to the day.

O Key of David, and scepter of the House of Israel,
who open the door and no one closes,
who close the door and no one opens,
O come, rescue us from our dark prison, where we sit in death's shadow!

Saturday, I putzed about the house after cleaning the chapel entrance. Somehow, I was tapped to do a bit of dusting, vacuuming, and mopping after being home 24 hours. Then, I wrapped a few Christmas gifts for the nieces and nephews, and their moms, and spent time just visiting with sisters as they trickled home for Christmas.

O Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign of the people,
before whom kings shall be silent,
to whom all nations shall pray,
O come, come Lord to free us, and delay no longer!


Friday, December 18, 2009

"O" So Glad to be Home

Greetings...two "O" days in one...

Friday we celebrate "O Adonai" and Advent is slowly giving way to Christmas around the Monastery. The sisters' living groups within the house have begun to decorate their group rooms with trees, tinsel, lights, and nativity sets (with the Christ child waiting until Christmas Day). Holiday baking can also be scented all around the house. Me? For the most part, I spent the morning catching up on paperwork and making deliveries around the Monastery offices. This afternoon I reserved for a deep meditation on silence...truthfully, 6:30AM prayer caught up to me and I rested with God for a bit. Then I helped carry in Christmas gifts from St. Mary Parish!

Tonight's O Antiphon is Jesus as the anointed leader...

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared in a burning bush to Moses and
gave him the Law on Mount Sinai,
O Come, come Lord and redeem us with your strong arm out-stretched!

Thursday...I was home in time for evening prayer and supper, but the day was long. The short version is that all the flights were out and in on time and the connections were good. I was happy to be home and found greetings around each corner. At supper I even received a kiss on the forehead from one of our wise elders, I think of it as a blessing. The O'Antiphon wreath of pine cones and lights was hung in the hallway to the refrectory with a one word written in delicate calligraphy displayed in the center...Wisdom...the antiphon and our prayer for the day.

O Wisdom of God, who came forth from the mouth
of the Most High, reaching from beginning to end,
and with great power yet gentleness
you set all creation in order,
O come, come Lord and teach us the way of Wisdom!

Blessings from the Monastery!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two Sleeps!


Only two sleeps until I come home for Christmas and all the holy days that follow! I'm very excited to see all the sisters, family, and friends. I'll have just over two weeks at the Monastery in Yankton and then just under two weeks to bounce around and between family. This is the part of college that I like best, four weeks over Christmas to travel about and catch up with all the folk I've been missing. Okay, so I like the learning and meeting new professors and friends as well.

I sent home an e-mail to our sub prioress, anticipating the possibility of volunteering in a variety of ways while I'm home. The liturgist has claimed me for part of day to help out in preparing the chapel. This could involve carrying/arranging/rearranging poinsettias, setting out new candles, hanging the festive banners from the columns, draping white and gold material, and (of course) cleaning up after all the tramping about. I'm sure I'll get to help put several trees together for our hallways, entryways, and the gathering space by the chapel. My biggest hope is that our baking sister will need help with all the Christmas cookies, breads, and goodies that pour out from her ovens during this season. The warmth and smell from our bakery is intoxicating this time of year.

Sisters, I'm on my way home soon! I can't wait to be hugged over coffee, quizzed about school, and in all ways warmly brought back into the fold.


Monday, December 14, 2009

An Advent Pilgrimage Stop


Today, I stopped by The Basilica of Saint Josaphat after my morning tutoring with the boys. All I have to say is WOW did those Polish-Russian folk know how to embellish their church buildings! The windows told scripture stories, Franciscan saint tales, and a stories from a few Dominican saints as well. All four side altars and the main altar are surrounded by paintings, mosaics, and phrases in not only Latin but also Polish or something similar.
The body of the church was filled with wooden pews that creaked comfortably when I sat down. I didn't venture up to the balcony level, but they were filled with galleries of pews also!

It was wonderfully quiet inside, it reminded me of the kind of quiet at home. I was able to just sit and be for awhile. However, now that I'm back at the house, there are a few last minute preparations I need to finish for my presentation tonight.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gaudete! Rejoice!


Today, I joined the sisters in Gaudete Sunday at St. John's Cathedral. The space was renovated not too long ago (not sure when) and the result is warm and welcoming. It was a beautiful space to celebrate and rejoice during Advent. The whole of the interior seemed to be ready for Advent...a soft tan-rose color was used in much of the repainting and in the floor tile. Still, I must admit that the music was my favorite part at the Cathedral. It was only simple Advent music, but the parish I joined likes to jazz it up during this season and the Cathedral kept the organ subdued and the hymns familiar to the congregation. The result was everyone singing out loud and clear...

Tonight, the rejoicing continues with a wassail party. The sisters have invited family, friends, and neighbors to the house for fellowship, food, and wassail.
Last year it was quite the social event, and I'm assuming it will be filled with laughter again this year.

However, the student can only come up from her office for a quick bite or two. Tomorrow, each of us in the research class will present our study, findings, and implications to the group. We do plan on a little bit of Christmas Joy as well ~ one can't have presentations and not have treats : )


Saturday, December 12, 2009

One More To Go


School is wrapping up all around me. The library is overrun with students trying to cram that last bit of information or write that last paper, the English teacher in me is suspicious that no outlines or rough drafts are being used in that process. There is this air of frantic, caffeine charged frisson where ever I walk by these clustered groups of students. I'm working down to the line as well, but a little more controlled.

The research study is written and safely saved in three locations (I don't want to loose those 53 pages). I have finished the presentation for class on Monday night as well...speaking in front of my classmates doesn't worry me. It will be interesting to hear about every one's research and conclusions. The paper I'm rewriting for the history course has me a bit more concerned. The prof. read a rough draft for me (very generous) and made several good suggestions, and now I need to reorganize the content of the paper to better fit his requirements.

All in all, I should be ready to fly home soon! I am excited to be home to help prepare for Christmas at the monastery. There will be hallways to decorate, cookies to bake, and a thousand little details to cover. Plus...O'Antiphons to sing and the chapel to prepare. I hope someone is making a list for this willing volunteer when she gets home for the holy days!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Feast of the Immaculate Conception


The snow was beautiful today! It fell in large, fluffy flakes frosting all the buildings, shrubs, and grass. The evergreen trees and Christmas greenery seemed so much more cheery when flocked with snow. Small trees all over campus were speckled in little red berries...I love the university campus in the winter time.

The campus Mass was held in the Holy Family Chapel in the union building. Joan of Arc was too small for the Holy Day crowd. Father Jesuit had a wonderful homily. He explained that Mary should be our guide to Advent. She waited in hopeful expectation for nine months. If we allow her, she can lead us through our Advent of growing with Christ. Past the fear what new Call God might ask us to live; to the hope of what gifts that new Call might be in our lives. During the preparation of the gifts, the woman leading the music sang "Ave Maria, gratia plena...". It was the same Gregorian chant tone we use at home. I admit, it brought a tear or two to my eye, knowing that tonight you would be singing it too.

Oh Sisters, say a little prayer for guidance. One of my courses was cancelled due to low enrollment and now I'm trying to find another course. My advisor might turn the course into an independent study; I'm also working with another professor about some possible study/volunteer positions. I tried the theology department,
but they bumped me off to the the undergrad list that is already filled...ah well...


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent Joy


This week of Advent Joy started out with the Old Testament prophet Baruch, "Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God."

It was a beautiful morning here to reflect on throwing aside my cloak of sorrow, sin, and all that holds me back that I may follow Jesus. Fr. Jerry's homily similarly called on the people to consider what they wrap around themselves that keeps God from touching our lives or the lives of others through us.

With only ten days remaining before I fly home for Christmas, I need to focus on my studies without letting them overwhelm my anticipation to be home. There are a variety of due dates within the next week and a half. I have a completed rough draft of my study written! It has topped out at just over 40 pages! Now my professor will look through to check the newly added sections to be sure it all makes sense. The history prof is currently checking out the rough draft of his paper. And I'm finally getting the differentiated education case study presentation put into a power point. But, all is good, and I will be home soon.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A View from Home


This beautiful image from home was a welcome gift from Sr. Marielle! I love how the photographer (P&D) was able to catch our Chapel roof low peak and the full moon in the same frame. The two birds on the cross just make me smile. It could work well as an Advent meditation...waiting upon the Lord...

A December homework update: I have turned in a rough draft of my policy history paper. The Prof is willing to preread student work to make editing and revision recommendations. He is the third former English teacher I've had in the College of Education! I am still working on formulating my discussion of the findings for my study. It has been interesting to peek into the perceptions of first year teachers, but I'll be glad to jump back into some practice of my own.

Speaking of practice, I had a good chuckle while volunteering today. The sixth grade boys were writing directions for making one of their favorite foods. One young man was explaining tamales. When I pointed out the need to be more specific in telling others how to wrap the tamale, I admitted that I had never made a tamale. He just looked at me for a moment and then said, "Miss, you've NEVER made a tamale?" "Well," I responded, "have you ever made pigs in a blanket?" His only response to this was if I had just made the name up.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Awareness


It is a gorgeous day here in Milwaukee. The sun is beaming down brightly and there is a light breeze with just a hit of autumn coolness. The little chapel was locked up until just before Mass; so I sat out in the sunshine to listen and look for Advent.

The trees have lost all their leaves here, but the smaller (decorative) trees are covered in little red berries. The cool breeze waved through tall grasses planted between the flower beds. The grounds crews here at the University were driving about with pickup loads of evergreen branches to cover many of the flower beds for the winter...the whole of campus smells like Christmas already. The squirrels do not seem to appreciate this new development. They bounced all throughout the beds and bushes like little silver balls of fur. I wonder if they were searching for a way to their treasured buried far beneath the evergreens?

I was a wonderful break to just sit in the sunshine to look and listen. It is a beautiful day here, but now I go to the library to face papers, computers, and pages and pages and pages of reading.