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Growing up in Cleveland, I eventually discover that our water source is Lake Erie, and a glass of water is referred to as Lake Erie Highball. I now cringe at how that water was purified, if at all.

One summer, at the age of ten, I am invited on my first trip to Florida where we visit beautiful Silver Springs Nature Park. Made up of a group of springs located in the headwaters, coves, and edges of Silver River, it is the largest tributary on the Ocklawaha River. What I recall the most is how unusual it was to look through the water and see the white sandy bottom; it was like viewing it through a glass of clear water. Unfortunately, Lake Erie was as dark as my dad’s home-brew beer; one needed an element of trust to swim in it let alone drink it. A chlorinated swimming pool was the only place I could see bottom.

That was my first vacation away from my family of origin. I felt lost without them. My uncle invited me, and his wife invited her niece. We nieces had never met before this trip. We were both shy and found it awkward being on vacation together. It was a long trip for a timid, insecure ten-year-old. I was completely out of my element, and it didn’t take long for me to get homesick.

One jarring memory stays with me: We stopped at a barbecue restaurant in the South where I was introduced to segregated bathrooms — ‘whites only’ is where I was directed to go. This was my first trek out of Cleveland; segregation was not in my vocabulary. Our schools were integrated, not only with people who were black but with people who immigrated from Europe, such as my Italian, Slovenian, and Bohemian ancestors. When we ordered lunch, I saw a black man in what looked like a cage, slaving over the hot coals. My heart sank because I assumed he was being held captive and doing so against his will. My stomach hurt. I passed on the barbecue sandwich.

kindle white banner cover_for blogAll the same, I did enjoy Silver Springs; in fact, it may have been the only place we all liked. It was a wonderful respite from the adult bickering. I have the picture taken of us on the glass-bottom boat; my uncle wore a big smile and my aunt a set-in-stone frown. We nieces had forlorn faces, and our silk headscarves were tied tightly under our chins.

~Excerpts from Gypsy Journey, pages 161-163 (w/edits)

~In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, read about his famous “I Have a Dream” and a sprinkling of his quotes below.

“I Have a Dream”

In 1963, King and other leaders of the civil rights movement organized a huge march for equal rights in Washington, DC. With a massive crowd of over 200,000 followers, the march was protesting racial discrimination in employment, racial separatism in schools, and they demanded minimum wage for all workers.  It was the largest gathering in Washington, DC’s history, and the site of King’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”

As a result of the march and the speech, the citizens of the nation began to put growing pressure on the presidential administration of John F. Kennedy, encouraging the president to push for civil rights laws to pass through Congress and become recognized on a national level.
Read more at http://biography.yourdictionary.com/articles/martin-luther-king-progress-civil-rights-movement.html#7gG5FzWsgq3ExRcm.99

Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.

Love is the only source capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.

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When the 2nd millennium came to a close and altered the first two digits of my years (from 19 to 20), I recall speculating how much longer I’d live. I was born in 1945, having lived 55 years at this new milestone. The significance of the millennium encouraged me to do something out of the ordinary; for that reason, I helped build a house.

We worked with Habitat for Humanity on a house on Third Street for a lady and her daughter. My job was working on siding and I had to wear a hardhat to protect my head from the roof workers. I still have that hardhat with a scuff on the side from a falling shingle; it reads “I hammered in the millennium.”

The 2nd millennium was a period of time that began on January 1, 1001, and ended on December 31, 2000. It was the second period of one thousand years in the Anno Domini or Common Era, which means we are currently in the 3rd millennium. FullSizeRender (2)

Most young people, including my two grandsons, were born in this period of time.

As for me, I recall thinking my grandparents were ancient, having been born in the 1800s.

But now its my turn to be the grandparent.

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In my current 70-plus years, I can attest to being involved in the community when one can. Volunteering brings forth new friends and a feeling of accomplishment. One is never too old to lend a hand.

Habitat gives us an opportunity which is very difficult to find: to reach out and work side by side with those who never have had a decent home—but work with them on a completely equal basis. It’s not a big-shot, little-shot relationship. It’s a sense of equality.” — former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

The Winter Solstice may be considered one of the worst days of the year thanks in part to its lack of sunlight, but that doesn’t mean we all should sit around and mope. Especially if you were born on the day the sun decides to hide for most of the 24 hours.

On December 21, 2017 the Northern Hemisphere will experience the shortest day of the year. This means the sun won’t be hanging around for long, or barely at all if you live in Alaska. Hey, light up the night with your birthday candles instead.

By Brittany Bennett

If you recall, the previous post announced my marriage to Bud and featured a few wedding photos. My adult children were our supporters, our witnesses, and our photographers. The occasion brought to mind the fact that thirty-three years ago their father died. I hung in there this long to tie the knot with a second wonderful guy.

Joeson Joe, daughters Mary and Trish_cropJoe was born on the Winter Solstice in 1933. So lets light up the night with a birthday candle or two in memory of his life on Earth, my first marriage, and the father of my children. He is forever in our hearts. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

IMG_3143The time was right! We made the decision not to wait any longer. Within a week, Bud and I were married. We did it!

IMG_1095We were married in our home. The day was beautiful after many below freezing days. The sun shined bright!

IMG_1183 (1)It was a very small wedding, due to our urgency to tie the knot! My children, Joe, Trish and Mary, were available to be our witnesses.

CHEERS TO ALL DURING THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

AND MAY PEACE PREVAIL ON EARTH

Fall 2003

Mindfulness

Dedicated or committed – what am I?

Sitting at the edge of the Mighty Mississippi, mesmerized by the ebb and flow of its waves, reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s words of wisdom in his book Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers* – absolutely content and in harmony with nature. Tĥay (nickname for teacher) uses the wave and the water to make his point about a person’s interconnectedness with, and interdependence of one another, as well as our ground of being in our Source of Energy, God. The waves co-exist with cause and effect energy, yet they do not stand alone.

Another level of relationship is between the wave and the water. In Christian tradition there are two levels of relationships: first level is relationship between us and other beings (horizontal theology), which helps us to see and touch what is around us and helps us establish links with them.

Getting in touch with God is symbolized by a vertical line (vertical theology). If we do not succeed in getting in touch with the horizontal dimension, we will not be able to get in touch with the vertical dimension.

There is a relationship between the horizontal and the vertical, an interbeing between the two. If one cannot love humanity, animals and plants, Tĥay doubts that one can love God. The capacity for loving God depends on one’s capacity for loving God’s creation, as Saint Francis of Assisi lived and preached.

Mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha, Tĥay writes, and the Holy Spirit is the energy of God. Both allow us to see more deeply into our interconnectedness with all creation and that we are of the “ground of being, God.” The practice of touching things deeply on the horizontal level gives us the capacity to touch God.

And so, back to the question … what am I? Dedicated or committed?

In my mindful manner, I realize that I am hungry, in need of relieving my bladder, and hard up for a pair of sunglasses. I walk very mindfully/intentionally up the excessive amount of wooden steps to Clare’s Cottage and take care of my needs. I fix a turkey and cheese sandwich and return to my spot on the riverside. Eating mindfully, I look at the sandwich and see in it the turkey that sacrificed its life for our hunger. If I continue eating mindfully, I may become a vegan.

A past conversation with one of the Sisters comes to mind. Her equation of breakfast food and the difference between being dedicated or committed goes like this: an egg means the hen who laid it was dedicated, but the bacon shows that the pig was committed.

So, what are my reasons for being where I am and wrestling with vowed life? Am I dedicated to vowed life or committed to it? One more approach to discernment adds to the mix.

Discernment of religious life

Decision making is developing into a mean tug of war. Although I believe I’m on the right track and I say I’m ready to make a decision, it backfires, pulling the rug out from under me. Sadly, the confidence I relied upon was only temporary. However, due to an open-mind temperament, I should expect variations to slide in. Yet, these setbacks pack a big punch. I’d much rather sew up loose ends and move forward.

I remind myself that discernment is not an individual task; one cannot fly solo and expect to gain wisdom on one’s own. We need others to help us along the way. For instance, how many of us often resonate with an idea spoken out of the blue by a friend or a stranger? Often I feel enlightened by such a concept and wonder why I never thought of it. Others teach us, if we remain open and listen.

Prayer also helps. For several years I was blessed to have a Jesuit priest as my spiritual director. He helped many of us find our way through various means. One of his discernment exercises was to sit alone in an empty church. When settled into silence, pop the question you wish to ask. For example, “You do want me to do this, don’t you?” Again, sit in silence and let your feelings show up. Then pop the opposite question: “You don’t want me to do this, do you?” Sit in silence again and examine your feelings. You and your spiritual director can then discuss the outcome.

A Novice wanting to enter a religious order has several people who serve as spiritual directors. Each Novice is assigned to a Mentoring Circle to help her with the journey. My circle includes both women and men, such as, Sisters, lay people, college administrators, and community staff members. We meet each month when I stay at Clare’s Cottage. Many thoughts and ideas surface from all six of us in the circle. I always come back filled with new possibilities.

On the other hand, a word came up in last night’s Mentoring Circle that shook the ground beneath my feet. A Sister spoke of her decades-old Novitiate experience wherein “self-deprivation” was a big part of her formation. I was rendered speechless. Self-deprivation accompanies other unpleasant words that stir up the dust of my resistance, such as, self-denial, submission, obedience – all fighting words to my heart and ego.

My insecurity as a child grew into anxiety, shyness, and uncertainty, which molded me into a timid, nervous, unresponsive child who swallowed many comments from adults regarding her silence. It took decades for me to feel secure and self-confident. Why would I now want to reverse and re-live the deprivation with which I grew up? That was my immediate reaction. Language is key and capable of influencing us; words make a difference and impact us for better or for worse.

Another Sister gave an offbeat translation of those comfortless words, such as, “chipping away at the sculpture” and “facing the leper” as did Francis. Suddenly, I felt the fire of transformation lift my spirits and received a glimpse of the light of Truth. Words do matter.

Having kept my thoughts and feelings to myself for so many years, I am now capable of letting them out and speaking my truth, thanks to the encouragement and support of the Franciscans.

Endnotes:

*Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

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**Kathleen Warren, Daring to Cross the Threshold: Francis of Assisi Encounters Sultan Malek Al-Kamil

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Compliments of Eileen

Fall 2003

Clare’s Cottage Cordova, Illinois

Did you know that rivers were America’s first transportation highways, and that the Mississippi River was one of its major arteries?  It transported goods long before the towboats and barges of today. The barge era began with the coming of the steamboats in the mid 19th century.*  Indeed, I will ponder and enjoy this river as I reside here a few days each month during my second discernment year in the Novitiate.

The Mighty Mississippi River just keeps rolling along at my preferred clip. During the day, I see occasional speed boats and jet skiers mirroring the bulk speed of our society — fast. A vast majority of our civilization is in a hurry. Perhaps a secret contest is in the mix for those who can walk and talk the fastest, or for those who gab the longest or walk the furthest. If so, I missed the boat.

On the other hand, barges and their towboats huddle along the edges, moving at a speed of five miles an hour. At night, a methodical, full-toned beat of the towboat’s diesel engines, pushing from behind the double row of ten or more barges, is heard long before seen. The barges have little, if any light, in direct contrast to their well-lit towboats that have powerful flood lights used to scan the river’s boundaries. Their slow passage, accompanied by a deep-seated, almost palpable sound of drumming, emulates the atmosphere of a retreat. My thoughts echo my current stance in life — a slowing down, a reflective nature … seeking wisdom.

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Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi**

Saint Clare of Assisi

Clare’s Cottage is owned by the Franciscan Sisters of Clinton, Iowa (just across the river), used as a place of retreat for the Sisters and their families, plus friends and associates of their order, such as myself. The community dubbed it Saint Clare who was one of the first followers of Saint Francis. Inspired by his words, Clare fled her affluent home and joined Francis, establishing her own contemplative religious order. The group became known for its austere and devout lifestyle and for the power of their prayer, which is credited with twice saving Assisi from invaders.

Fear

Be that as it may, tethered to this serene atmosphere is my fear of the dark. Residing alone at Clare Cottage brings forth those terrors. Such trauma accompanied me throughout my childhood. I grew into a very sensitive person as my older brother scared me for fun. I buried these fears inside, withdrawing from family, living alone. Today, when I find myself alone and a bit apprehensive, those feelings rear their heads.

Although this space is peaceful, my fantasy runs the gambit of scary “what-ifs” during the night. I feared most basements as a child, and this one lends a fear of its own. Several of us slept in it once, despite the mildew smell and lack of lighting.  I at once canvased it upon arriving this time, with the hope that facing it would alleviate my restlessness. Instead, such angst generated a dream.

Dream

… stopped in the kitchen at the top of the basement steps and peering down, I observe a bright light deep into the bowels of the boundless space where previously it had been dark … I rivet myself there and call loudly for Sister LaVern to come quickly … I say “WE NEED TO CHECK THIS PLACE OUT NOW!!” … I call several times before she comes … I couldn’t go down without her … once she showed up, we slowly made our way inward … 

The dream was hopeful in that I called for help and was accompanied into the great abyss, and even into the deepest crevice that now glows. The emotions of my reverie moved from fear, to urgency, to apprehension, to astonishment when I “saw the light!” I gain new insights, and perhaps now I’ll have a newfound trust in going “deeper” into myself because I am accompanied by a new strength of luminous energy.

Peace

Once again, I am at peace having faced my fears, and having decided to stay where I am another year.  In sharing this with my counselor, she repeats the word “trauma” often — trauma of being frightened as a child, having no one to tell or who would listen to me. Currently, I am aware of another energy in me — self-assurance.

Future

I continue to teeter-totter on my perception of religious vows. I can almost feel a power holding me back, pulling on my reigns. I’d prefer not having doubts about moving forward because I believe this is my destiny, my call. Still, I must pay attention to these feelings of restraint, bless them, and give them freedom to speak.

On the other hand, gaining this time and space to do interior work is perhaps where God is calling me. I continue to learn to live in the present, to let go of future ambiguity, and to trust in the journey.

Endnotes
* http://greatriverroad.com/all/towboats.htm
**Illustration by Beth Ettensohn

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