Thursday, December 30, 2010



Today, we had some new choir members join us for our sung prayer at Lauds and the Mass following. They were a bit high, but their enthusiasm made up for the loss in pitch. There were, however, a few members of our community who were less than excited that these new folk joined us on this gray and drab December morning...some of the sisters don't like bats.

Yup. Bats. The chapel was filled with sisters reflecting in silence before Lauds began, but after the first verse of the call to prayer antiphon with organ accompaniment, the bats decided to join in our song of praise. One or two started out fairly quiet and unless you knew, they sounded like a squeak in our ceiling fan high above on the Gothic ceiling. But as our prayer progressed, those one or two began to sound like a few and grew louder. The bat choir chirped, squeaked, and chattered from the choir loft down to the sisters in our pews. They were quite respectful and did settle back down during the Eucharistic Prayer. I imagine we disturbed their winter rest.

Those of us sisters in the back of the choir looked across the aisle to each other with a smile and then up into the choir loft. We knew that a few of the sisters would gather their Divine Office (prayer book) and make a break for the chapel door if they knew who was singing with us this morning. However, there is not much we can do. The bats can creep into a building using the very smallest of spaces, and it's cold out there in the South Dakota winter. Besides...Daniel's canticles remind us that all of God's creatures, the great and the small, bless the Lord. Even some of the Psalms reflect on all of creation praising God. Maybe our bats decided it was time to join us for a little Christmas prayer : )


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!


The morning silence of Advent was dashed with bright exclamations of "Merry Christmas!" As we met each other in the hallways, refectory, and spaces in between, the quiet greetings of a nod and smile were replaced with cheery wishes of a "Merry Christmas" or "Christmas Blessings" and hugs . The joy of the day flowed into our prayer at Lauds; the simple chant tone for the Benedictus was replaced with a festive mode. Smiles were contagious as we faced each other 'in choir' singing the Psalms and praises of the Benedictus to each other and God. The celebration of our Christmas Eucharist continued the prayer of praise as our guests of family, friends, and visitors from town settled into the Chapel to join us in prayer.

The remainder of our day is fairly open to allow for sisters to gather for games, retreat to their rooms for prayer, and just rest in the blessings of this day. We will come together this afternoon (after the sisters return from singing at the Christmas Mass for the Federal Prison in town) to sing Christmas Carols, share some treats, and open some community gifts. A celebratory supper will be followed by a solemn Vespers for our evening prayer. It is simply a gift to be together as a family of Benedict in Christ.

Merry Christmas...May God Bless you during this new year of life in God's Spirit.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Day...


The Nativity is ready to welcome guests, but there is still much to do as we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Christmas!

However, the jobs are accompanied with humming of Advent and Christmas songs, laughing with sisters, and happy chatting of sisters catching-up. It is a wonderful time to be home and working to together to prepare our celebration.

This noon will be our main meal here at the monastery; however, I'm waiting for supper tonight, we have a simple meal of soup, sandwiches, and pie! Christmas Eve supper is a tradition here: potato soup (my favorite) & oyster soup, cold cut sandwiches, and cherry (my favorite) or Christmas cream pie!

It is after supper that our Christmas liturgical celebrations begin. We have a special Vigil prayer for our Vespers tonight. The readings and Psalms combine to lead us in our hope-filled wait for Christmas morning Mass tomorrow. The prioress (or a sister chosen by her)
also shares a special Christmas message during our prayer tonight. Ah, it's Christmas and there is no place like home.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Eve of the Eve


There are always certain works that must be completed on December 23rd. Most importantly, this is the day that we take down the Advent liturgical colors and symbols and decorate the Bishop Marty Chapel (known as the Upper Chapel in-house) for the Christmas season!

All the purple banners hanging from the pillars of the Chapel are replaced with gold and white. This can be a delicate operation considering the sister wielding the staff used to wiggle the pole and its banner stands on a pew looking straight up into our high Gothic ceiling while trying to balance the banner pole on the staff and not drop it onto the sister below...who is waiting to catch the pole just in case. The purple brocade curtain behind the high altar is drawn back and the white is revealed to celebrate the feast.

There is a whole crew of sisters and our Chaplin the monk assigned to tree assembly as well. Four to six trees between 7 and 9 feet tall are arranged on either side of the high altar. The evergreen stands out beautifully against the sandstone walls and gilded carvings in the altar. However, those trees need to be assembled first...and this has proven a challenge. The tree I tackled with sister grade school teacher and the Chaplin monk was all contained in one box (luckily). We fluffed our 9 and 1/2 foot giant into beauty, branch by branch. Some of our fellow tree workers were not so lucky. One tree assembled well, but its stand left it kitty-wampus and needing the support of a wall. Another tree began with a sturdy base, but the sisters soon realized that their tree in a box was really two or three different trees--a hybrid! It took some time, but the final four trees in the Upper Chapel are beautiful and tomorrow they will be framed with brilliant red and white poinsettias before afternoon prayer. Sister liturgist floated between groups to help with trees and locating needed supplies and step stools. Her work continued after we left as she arranged white Christmas candles set off with gold material where the Advent wreath once stood.

The final group of sisters set up the Creche in our gathering space outside the Upper Chapel. This year's Creche is a wood carved setting with beautiful, yet muted colors and form. As it goes with artists' eyes, it took a few turns of rearranging and standing back to observe the affect before all the sisters were in agreement over the final design. Evergreens with white lights frame the back and sides of the Creche and a bench is set nearby for those who wish to sit and pray with the Christ child. It is lovely; a wonderful pray to reflect on the wonder of this celebration of our faith. And you will have to wait until tomorrow to see it too...


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent-ageous Days


These final days of Advent are a mix of busy silence here at the monastery. The mornings are still filled with silent waiting in the halls and refectory until after breakfast. The daily chapel is still unadorned except for the stained glass lights marking our time through Advent. We are still waiting for the coming of the Christ child...however...

The preparations for the celebration have begun, and it would only be advent-ageous of our sisters here at the monastery to take advent-age of the sisters coming home from teaching or serving away from home or those on break from teaching or serving at the college! Today's goal was to decorate the long hallway past the refectory to the care-center sister's recreation room with hundreds of satin covered Christmas balls. Sister In-Charge explained that we have been bedecking the hall in this way since 1987--twenty-three years of tradition. I love the final affect. The ceiling seems to dance with the swaying and bobbing movement of the ornaments.

The crew of hallway elves included one sister into her diamond jubilee years (overseer or supreme snooper-visor), one sister past her golden jubilee (director of scaffold pushing and ball placement), two teaching sisters in the 'teens' of their profession (one ceiling worker and one scaffolding pusher), and one student sister from Korea (ceiling worker and artistic director).

I admit we had a good time telling tales of hallways past and singing a few Christmas songs
made up to fit the event of day. We also enjoyed the SNOOPER-visors that stopped to visit and check our progress down the hallway. The joy-filled decoration seemed to bring a smile to all that happened upon our work for the day. A few had suggestions about how far to space certain colors or where to fill-in an empty space or two, but all left with a bit more bounce in her steps.

Tomorrow we will begin decorating the upper chapel for the Christmas season. My favorite is the crib scene that we display in the gathering space outside of chapel...and all the poinsettias that brighten our chapel with brilliant reds and whites.

However, it isn't Christmas yet. Our O'Antiphon wreath is still in the main hallway, reminding all who pass by that we still await our King!


Saturday, December 18, 2010



The Rule of Benedict begins with a phrase that condenses how we Benedictine folk approach prayer, God, and each other... "Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui" ... "Listen carefully, my child, to the master's instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart." This includes listening to my dreams like Joseph in the Gospel for this 4th Sunday of Advent; "an angel of God appeared to him in a dream...When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him."

Hearing what others have to say is simply not enough. Listening with the ear of my heart calls me to set aside my own preconceptions and try to understand God's call in the wisdom that another is sharing with me. I should be open to this listening not only to the prioress or superiors, but also listening to my sisters, family, coworkers, and students; there is no telling from where God's wisdom might come to me if I'm open to it.

My first year in community I learned a lot from one of the most unassuming of folk. I was in a funk and unsure of why I was staying and felt that all my choices were being taken or that maybe I had left all my choices at the door. Then one very wise junior sister cornered me and shared her wisdom, "There are always choices, there are always decisions that we can starts with one decision, do you stay or do you go?" I will be forever grateful that I was able to hear her with the ear of my heart. Since then I've often brought myself a little guidance when in a confused funk by using her words, do I stay or do I go?

You never know who your wisdom will touch or what effect it will have on those who are listening.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Anxiety & Anticipation


Classes moved into finals preparation on Monday; the anxiety level of freshmen and upper class men could be palpably felt in the hallways. Teachers also began to exude a vibe of increased focus as tests were written and rewritten. The only folk immune from the end of the year jitters were the sophomore boys, go figure; but even they began to carry extra books, type notes into outlines on laptops, and talk to themselves in study hall.

Wednesday, the finals began with the 'short' periods being combined into one longer test period. I started with all of my freshman in a combined test hour to complete five essay questions. This was their first 'major' test for finals week and I thought it might be best to teach them a little bit about pacing during their time with me. As always, I included a few cartoons (a Calvin & Hobbes Christmas mix) to create natural breaks between every two essay questions. About every fifteen minutes, I would remind the boys of the time remaining and ask them to rest their brains for a minute and enjoy a cartoon. Once, I skipped the cartoon recommendation and asked them to pray for one minute instead. The point? Relaxing or pausing to de-stress every so often would help them work on the test in the long run...I hope they consider that as they continue their finals week today.

Anticipation also floods the halls this week. We begin a two week Christmas break on Friday afternoon! The 5 day boarders will be going home for an extended visit, and the 7 day boarders (many of them students from distant states or countries) will be going home for the first time since school started! I asked one of our students from Korea what his first plans were going to be and he broke into a broad grin, "Hug my mom and eat everything she cooked for me!" The same question posed to one of our boys from way out of state was answered a little differently, "My sisters and I are going to have a Christmas movie marathon." The anticipation of getting to go home and be with family seems to be the focus of the excitement...and I'm excited for them as well.

Me? I'm excited to be going home to the Monastery for two-weeks too! The first week will be the end of Advent and the air of silent preparation will still be settled over the halls of our monastic home. While I could hardly stand the quiet at the beginning of my life with the sisters, now I find myself craving the intentional silence that fills our refectory, chapel, and bedroom hallways. I will also be arriving at home just in time to begin the preparations for Christmas: setting up the trees in the carcent for our elderly, decorating cookies in the bakery, and replacing our advent purple with Chrsitmas white and gold in the chapel. I won't be alone mind you, there are always a few of us from the schools that are excited and willing to volunteer when we come home for the holidays. It will be good to be home.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gaudete! Rejoice!


Advent grows rosey as we reach the third week of our waiting for Christmas! This week of Gaudete! Rejoice! reminds me that I need to be filled to overflowing with the joy of the coming season. It is not only a time of hope and faith, but also a time of celebrating the anticipation of our Savior's coming again.

This video of a 'flash mob' mirrors our own soul's overflowing with rejoicing!

Advent Blessings,

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Mundane


Mundane: relating to, characteristic of, or concerned with the commonplace; ordinary.

The daily events of life can be mundane, but it is the mundane horarium (schedule) that Benedict says will transform our lives. To live the daily with an awareness of God brings my prayer out of the oratory and into the world in which I serve.

My service takes me out to the world of high school teaching; what could be more unpredictable than a courses filled with freshmen and sophomore boys. Yet, the mundane filters into my life here too. The schedule of courses, the responses of each student, even my own responses to certain gentlemen can become so predictable, so everyday that the mundane has slid into a very unpredictable environment.

However, it is in the mundane that I can push myself to look into that dailiness to see God. God laughs in the silly humor of my freshmen boys and celebrates the variety of life in their interests. Recently, they poured down the steps at full-tilt, hit the tile and slid into the classroom, ties flung over their shoulder and bookbags dangling from their hands, laughing as they compared how far they could slide. God reveals His loving care as the boys support each other in times of sickness or academic crisis. We begin class with prayer and the freshmen share the concerns and intentions of their life. God's flexibility is evident in the sophomores as they continue to grow and change so quickly day by day. There are the guys that show up right after the bell to visit and banter; others linger after the bell for one last word or two before they go to the next class.

I continue to teach my boys and daily grow in my knowledge and care for them. I begin to see God in them and find that the mundane reveals the diversity that is hidden within.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Immaculate Conception


Yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Our school celebrated with Mass and music for the monks, boys, and staff. I spent a good deal of my theology class time with a Q & A session about the feast of the day. I had forgotten how many folk misinterpreted this celebration of Our Lady.

I have recently grown in my own understanding and love for this feast. I realized that God's seeking to prepare Mary for the coming of Christ was also God looking forward with anticipation to becoming more active in our lives. God's forethought shows his desire to be with us in the dailiness of our lives. The commemoration of the 1854 declaration of Mary's sinless nature from the time of her conception is not only a feastday for her alone. We celebrate God's love for us and the spark of the divine which is within each of us.

It was a beautiful day to remember Mary and her pure love for God. It was also a beautiful day to see God's love for us in the desire to make all things holy.

The picture of this simple statue of the Virgin was snapped by my sister Lisa on her trip to visit my last spring. Marquette's Joan of Arc Chapel hosted this 16th century favorite place to pray on all of the campus. Her gentle, rounded shape with the infant
Jesus propped up on one hip seemed so natural and real in it's depiction of her motherhood.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Merry Advent


Advent is a time of joy-filled waiting for the Lord. So, I believe it is a time we should make merry and set some time aside for holy laughter! Enjoy this video that was shared with me a couple of years ago...

Praise God with Laughter!