Center Journal

Late Summer 2016

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.   (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

We’ve recited this in our prayer, sung it in our choir, hummed along with it. And probably all of us can point to a time we reached for this to explain and comfort.  It’s part of the archetypal story that can be claimed by nature and human constructs.  Really, by everything.    And all of us know this with a deep knowing.

The words in our new banner and the text on the homepage hint at one of those moments for the Sisters of the Divine Compassion.  It’s been a year and a few months since we vacated all the buildings except the Chapel and St. Joseph’s, that grey Victorian building on the south side of the property, and by the way, one of the two buildings Mother Veronica bought early on.   We’ve been at 52 N. Broadway for 110 years.  Every sister began her religious life there, and for every one of us the Chapel of the Divine Compassion has or will hold us in farewell.

The phrase from Ecclesiastes certainly relates to the work that has been done there.  The women and men, boys and girls have come and gone in their season, none meant to remain forever frozen in time, and in fact, some of the ministries begun there over the years have come to completion.

And now we know that the place that has been witness to a great part of our history is, itself, caught up in that rhythm.

This moment has been framed variously as “so sad,” “a tragedy”, “a great loss,”  “a great blessing,” “our transformative moment.”  Nostalgic snapshots of another time. Fear of an unknown.  Loss of how one identifies oneself.  Caterpillars and butterflies.  “A seed needs to fall into the ground and die.”  A year is not a long time.  Feelings run deep and letting go is a process, not an event.

And yet…how to place this moment – or really any moment of great change – into the context of the evolutionary process.  This is what the author of Ecclesiastes and the great spiritual writers are really describing, without contemporary vocabulary.

On a way more mundane level, most everything outlives usefulness, and when it does, we adjust.  In my family after the last one of us went off to college and the rest of us were moving on with our lives, my parents no longer needed a 4 bedroom house;  that’s not how they wanted to continue to spend their finite funds.  And so they down-sized, and other choices emerged for them.  And they LIVED until they died.

This moment in our life is not at all different.  We are older and fewer, and so we make the necessary adjustments.  We know what has been, and we grieve its loss;  at the same time the invitation into mystery awaits us. The challenge is to face it with excitement, enthusiasm and a renewed energy…and the daring it takes to really LIVE!

  November-December 2014

When is Enough Enough? 

Ever hear of a kōan?       It’s a puzzle presented to the Buddhist disciple to solve.  A well-known example is, “When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand c lapping.”

The point of a kōan is to move the seeker beyond the analyzing to the intuitive mind and into enlightenment.

A few years ago we invited Sr Elaine Prevallet, a Sister of Loretto, to come to Good Counsel to talk to us about the radical living of the vows of obedience, celibacy and poverty, the vows that we and most other sisters make. This theme emerges in Elaine’s ministry as a spiritual guide, author, and retreat leader.  At one point in her presentation she contrasted the idea of simple living with her experience in a visit to  the dining room of a motherhouse somewhere.  By her count the sisters who lived there had 17 beverage choices –hot, cold, caffeinated, non-caf, diet, regular, and all in a variety of flavors.  The same for the chip and pretzel bin and cookie trays.

It could have been our dining room…

Her question to us:  “When is enough enough?”  A kōan.

So, was this enough?  I certainly thought so;  there certainly seemed to be something for everyone, or almost.
Who decides?
What is “enough”?
Who defines enough?
What if my preference is missing?
Does it have to do with desires and wants or is it about needs?
What’s the difference?
What’s the difference between enough and too much?
Would the quality of life – or life itself –of anyone be jeopardized in the absence of any of the choices? If there were just one item in each category?
If nothing at all were served, would that be enough?

The questions can be crazy-making but I think they are important for anyone making serious life choices.   “Enough” is a pretty universal concept that underlies everything we do:  eat, sleep, study, play, love, buy, etc., and how we answer them at any point in our lives speaks volumes about who we are.  Our values show up here – not necessarily the ones we think we have, but the ones that show up when we’re not paying attention – the real ones

For the mindful person the answer to “When is enough enough?” emerges over a life time.

A few guiding questions:
Do I need it?
Does someone somewhere pay the price for my choice?   Am I ok with that?  If the situation were reversed, would I be ok with that?
What will happen it if don’t have it?
And on and on. And on

In my work at Pace University I invite students to take the “Iron Nun Challenge” – to spend a few minutes in the evening listening for the sounds of crickets and note the date they are gone for the season.  Is this about crickets?  No really, it’s about attentiveness.  So is “when is enough enough?” Spend some time attending to the question and see what happens for you…

March-April 2014

Sometimes Things ARE Black and White

At lunch today someone was talking about getting off at her usual highway exit on the way into work and sensing that something was different.  It took her a minute to realize that for the first time since before Christmas the ground was clear of snow. Tomorrow is the first day of spring.  At this time last year crocuses had come and gone, by now skunk children were quite at home on our grounds, and many late winter days were a tease about warmer weather ahead.  Spring came subtly.

Sometimes subtle means that the profound  goes unnoticed.  It’s the sudden shifts that get our attention.  A couple of Halloweens ago in the midst of a very mellow season we had a five inch snowfall.  Not much by January standards, but high drama for October.

I haven’t really given it much thought til right now, but I’m thinking that a rhythm of life with no changes in tempo, no fast starts or quick stops, no corners come up fast, has got to be pretty dreary.  We need surprises.  They hold the moment up in sharp relief to the one before it and demand that we pay attention.  And we do.  We can’t not.  What the moment holds could be anything at all – joy, gratitude, sadness, loss, pain, anger – any one of a million parts of our story, and it’s these moments that remind us of the depth of our aliveness.

They say that a rut is a shallow grave.  Ruts are subtle.  Water wearing away a rock;  so, so gradual, we hardly notice…and then it’s gone and nothing happened to mark the moment, and we don’t even remember it was ever there.  How sad…

Time Out

Somewhere between the time I was an elementary school student and now “time out” was invented.  Not  the time out in a basketball or football game, when someone recognizes the need for re-grouping.  The time out I’m talking about is also a break in the action, usually out of desperation, as in “Go to the Time Out Room and think about how you’re acting!” ” or “Sit in the Time Out Chair until you’re ready to behave.”

Taken to the extreme time out can mean one is banished from this place, separated from the tribe.  The principal’s office!  Or worse, suspended!

Classroom settings, particularly those in which adults are hopelessly outnumbered, come to mind.  When neither self-awareness nor  the vocabulary to name  fear, boredom, anxiety, physical discomfort, worry is available, and gentle or not-so-gentle correction doesn’t’ work, time out happens.  I’m aware that sometimes time out is necessary for the sanity and – even safety of the one in charge, the common good, and probably for the one directed to it.   Whatever configuration it takes, it’s not the place to which one wants to be sentenced.

At some point, though, the concept takes on respectability.  It’s called vacation, a mental health day, retreat, quiet time at home.  The space becomes Aruba, the mall, a walk in the woods, a comfortable chair. The difference between then and now is recognition that something is not quite right.

Today most of us can make the connections.  We have names for the negative energies that work on us.  We know when we’re running on empty; It show up in lots of ways:  bumps in our relationships, procrastination, our miserable attitudes toward the task at hand, a sense of dread even before our feet hit the floor.  When we still don’t get it, things like our aches and pains, GI distress, and fatigue do it for us.

Once we have some insight, the vocabulary to describe what we experience, and options for self -care, our challenge is to connect the dots…not always easy in a social construct that still awards coming in early, staying late, and  working weekends, and continues to seduce us no matter how enlightened we think we have become.  The archetype of the noble hero-martyr for the cause is alive and well!

How well do we know, not just in our heads but in our deepest selves, that it doesn’t need to come to this?   When was the last time you called in well?  Turned off your cell phone and spend 15 minutes alone in silence?  Took a walk around the block?  Spent a few hours in a quiet place where they feed you, make sure you’ve got something to read if you want it, and left you alone?  Ran away from home for a day or two?  None of these are luxuries any more than decent nourishment or adequate sleep are.

The last thing any of us needs or wants  is a  boss or a co-worker or a family member or friend telling us we need  time out. And it doesn’t need to come to that.   With a little experimenting most of us can find a workable combination of practice that will, for the most part, keep us in pretty good balance.  It can always be tweaked as needed.

The week before Christmas  I   put myself in one of my favorite time out rooms.  It is a 20×20 room in a small retreat house. About 50 yards east is the dining room, and the chapel is a one minute walk up the path.  I do this once a year or so because if I don’t, my day-to-day concerns and responsibilities start to seem heavier than they really are, and even with 65 years between me and kindergarten I’m still capable of acting out.    I do a lot of sighing, tend to sleep badly, and my favorite phrase becomes “It’s all too much.”  I thought maybe translating it into Latin:  Nimis est!” would make a difference.  It didn’t.

Those who know talk about  a “spiritual practice” that brings  “balance.”   Sometimes I frame it that way;  but usually it’s just about doing what is necessary to arrive at the end of the day having met  people and challenges with grace and humor.  It’s not all that complicated.

As I stand perched on the edge of 2014 my continued hope for myself and all of us is to be deliberate about building time out into the day  the week, the year, so we can trade in “nimis est” for “omnibus bene est.”. All’s well.

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