Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fish Crossing

Every year, as is our custom as Missionary Servants, I make an annual retreat. A week of silence, prayer, and reflection. I generally take long walks every day, and I see many things. Almost always, one or two images from this week of walking makes such an impression that it continues to bob to the surface of my thoughts the rest of the year.

Here is the moment that won't leave me alone this time around. I am standing on a muddy sidewalk in Pennypack Park, wet from the steady mist, my glasses speckled with water. I am looking down into the palm of my hand at three tiny silver fish. I can feel them wiggling in my hand.

I keep remembering that moment: seeing the fish flipping around on the sidewalk and bending over to pick them up, admiring them, and then tossing them into the creek. There had been flooding rain, and the creek had overflowed, stranding many little fish on the wrong side of the sidewalk as the water subsided. They were just trying to get back where they belonged.

Was this the most important thing God had to show me while I was on retreat? I spent several minutes rescuing fish, then I sat on a nearby park bench to rest. A man walked by and took up the same mission soon after I sat down. There was just something irresistible about the tiny fish struggling to go home.

Meanwhile, back at Trinita, we are in full gear for the Fall, plowing away at a number of labor-intensive projects such as confirmation retreats and other programs. I squirm as I realize how little time I have left to finish my readings for the upcoming Women on Wednesday group, the calls I still need to make, and there is that stack of letters I need to take care of that I almost forgot about. My immediate conclusion, when the image of the little fishes pops unexpectedly to the surface, is that God is reminding me to be attentive to the little unexpected encounters of the day despite my absorption in my latest big projects.

But maybe that is not the reason I keep remembering the moment. Maybe, God wants to remind me of something else. That I am a little fish, struggling in the palm of God's hand. And if my life really does depend on accomplishing the impossible task of swimming across a sidewalk, then don't worry. In some crazy, unexpected way, I am going to get where I need to go.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Green Tomato Pie

Nothing says Fall has arrived like setting up for that first mass in the Lodge for St. George's confirmation retreat. I decided to turn on the heat, which meant closing all the windows. Which meant unblocking them first, since they don't stay open on their own. The Lodge windows, left to their own devices, simply slam shut if you are bold enough (and tall enough) to try to open them. I am sure there's a metaphor there, but I can't be doing all the work here--you can figure it out for yourself, no doubt.

Something else says Fall, at least here at Trinita: stunning fall colors. Yellows and reds and oranges all blowing in the wind, swaying in the breezes. But not this year. This year, we get drab brown instead. Might as well be back home in Louisiana. We have been getting so much rain, the leaves are simply molding and shriveling and dropping despondently to the ground. This is seriously messed up, in my opinion. But there is not a thing we can do about it. Rain, followed by torrential rain, followed by steady drizzle, followed by thundershowers, and so on. The fire pit looks like a pond. We had water coming up out of the ground in our storeroom off the cenacle.

Last week, we had twenty teens here from various Cenacle Family missions. Our annual Be Fire Teen Conference. We hiked into the woods on Saturday night, some of us carrying benches to install at trail's end. It was fascinating. Super humid, so that every breath created fog. Super-saturated, so that depressions became swamps and ditches became babbling brooks. I saw individual droplets of moisture floating in the beam of my headlamp. I saw salamanders tucked in the roots of trees. We clambered over fallen trunks and rocky brooks, finding alternate routes to avoid the worst sections. I laughed to myself, remembering how last year at this time I had packed a fire extinguisher in case our prayer-fire caught the dry leaves on fire.

Yesterday, I surveyed Nancy's garden and realized we could never eat all those tomatoes, even if they do have a chance to get ripe before a freeze finishes them off. I found a recipe and made green tomato pie for supper. Honestly, I did not have much hope for success. I have never made it before. Mama used to make them, but the last time I had any was decades ago. The very concept of green tomato pie is crazy. But when I took my first bite, the flavor flooded my mouth and transported me to my childhood. Success!

Fall is here, wet or dry, colorful or drab, and we just do the work we are given to do, regardless. But now I have a new way to enjoy the fall, no matter what it looks like out there. Green tomatoes have a special, secret beauty all their own.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday So Far

It's pouring rain outside. The first Blanket Time of the week is going to be inside. But it's OK, because it's finally cooler. I think the heat wave is over for the time being.

After morning circle, Christine and I took charge of a screaming toddler who did not want to go to babysitting time in the Lodge. The three of us rode around on the golf cart for awhile, up and down the hill to the pool, making donuts around trees, rode underneath wet laundry hanging behind Cabin 3, picked a green apple from a low branch without even getting out of the golf cart, and so on. Eventually we were able to rejoin the others in the Lodge, who were clearly having a great time.

It's raining less hard. After leaving the boy with the babysitters, I went to BJs to pick up apples, ice cream, peanuts, and more apples. We have been eating tons of apples this summer. Last night, I used an apple slicer to quickly core and slice enough apples for everyone at the Family Gathering to have a slice. It is supposed to represent love and joy. After the meeting, a few moms came up to try out the slicer on the remaining apples. A new toy for the kitchen.

After I got back from BJs it was time for mass in the Lodge. I helped Maria Lauren sing Spanish songs I never heard before. Talk about faking it! But the chorus was about how with love and humility, we can move mountains.

It's only drizzling now. I've rung the bell and the volunteers are hunting down their families and settling down for blanket time. After the service was over in the Lodge, I felt a great weariness. Too many days of not enough sleep, fatigue can come out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks. I took a nap!!! 3o minutes! During lunch. So I ate a peanut butter sandwich when I revived and went up to prepare for movie time.

Blankets on the floor. Lights off. All the sofa cushions scattered around the floor. Finally, I get to sit and watch Toy Story 3. The same toddler who screamed in my arms for the first twenty minutes of peer group was now running around and messing with the guitars after the movie got underway. Fortunately, this time his mom was there to take him in hand. Siena and Christine gave out popcorn and juice boxes to the moviegoers and peace and harmony reigned.

I think it has quit raining. After the movie, I took out crayons and paper to the pavilion for a little extra fun during snack time. At some point I noticed a bad word in very large letters chalked on one of the wood pillars on the pavilion. A souvenir from last week, and how did we fail to notice it sooner? I found a wet rag and cleaned it up.

The volunteers are all well seasoned by now. The kids this week have a lot of parental supervision. It's amazingly calm.

I am thinking about Heidy from Week 1. And Sonia from Week 2. And DiMarco from Week 3. Whether a group is calm or fractious, we take them all here. We try to show them a good time. And we try to reflect God's love, as best we can. I know I have failed in that regard many times. But Monday so far, or the program so far, or my life so far, I think on the whole, all is well.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Week Zero

A few days ago, Cullen asked me if it was Wednesday of Week One. I did not think this question odd. Time flow during the summer program is different from normal time. One day here is like three regular days out in the real world. We live so much life from morning to afternoon to night that it is easy to lose track. So I replied, "Yes, it's Wednesday, but this is Week Zero. We don't start counting the weeks until the first bus arrives."

Well silly me. He meant which week in Christian Prayer, not in the Summer Program! OK, in that sense, yes, it's Week One!

But we are still living in Week Zero now. It's an odd time. Waiting for the first bus of families to arrive. The bus broke down. We were expecting them at 5 PM, but now we expect them at 10:30. And we are out of mode, out of sync, unsure of where to situate ourselves. I sat at the firepit until the air got too chilly, enjoying the eerie quiet. Everything is perfectly ready. Except there are no families. After weeks of preparation, chaos, and even a little stress, to sit at the fire pit in solitude with nothing to do is ... almost unsettling.

Soon enough, it will be over and Week One will begin. Is it some kind of materialistic American compulsion to be constantly on the journey, engaged in some activity at every moment? Maybe that's why this unexpected time feels like we've sailed the ship off the edge of the earth. We're.... we're... not on a schedule right now! We're lost! Adrift in another dimension!

OK, it's not really that bad. But I can see the wisdom of having healthy portions of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. Every moment does not need to have a theme and a color. Ordinary time, the in-between time, Week Zero. It's actually kind of cool.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chili and the Doctrine of the Trinity

Yesterday morning, as I was making pancakes for the eleven girls who spent Friday night with us, people began showing up and unloading amazing amounts of equipment on the Arts and Crafts parking lot. I kept looking out the kitchen window as I flipped pancakes, wishing I could go down and watch them set up booths, decorate them, and start chopping up their meat and veggies.

Our first annual Chili Cook Off was underway! Pretty soon, you could small bacon frying, and other mysterious scents, all the way up the hill at the main house. By noon, all twelve entries were ready for sampling and the public spread out eating, talking, and sipping beer and lemonade. Kids were playing on the playground equipment. Old folks were sitting in the shade enjoying some luscious music. Singer/songwriter John Mayock filled the air with some really great sounds and made the afternoon just perfect. Not to mention blue skies, puffy white clouds, and cool breezes.

Oddly enough, a reporter from the Winsted Journal showed up. He began circulating and asked everyone the same question: "What makes a great chili?" I was advised by Nancy and a few others to be prepared. He was not asking questions about Trinita itself. Soon, he was overcome by the tempting smells and sat down to try some chili, so I parked myself at the same picnic table and introduced myself. Sure enough: "In your opinion, what makes a great chili?"

Ha! "Chili is all about relationship. All the ingredients work together, they have a role to play, but they remain distinct. That's what this whole experience is about. I look around, and I see all these people, many of whom I know, and I think about how we are all connected to each other, we support each other. That's what happens when people come here to Trinita. It's our mission...."

And so on. Today is Trinity Sunday. Across the world, good Church-going Catholics are being actively encouraged by their priests to avoid thinking about the most foundational mystery of Christianity. It is the only mystery, of all the great mysteries of our faith, which is treated like an incomprehensible intellectual puzzle instead of like spiritual food to nourish our souls. The worst homilies of the entire year are given on this Sunday: it's quite a distinctive mark of this great solemnity.

Why? Why can't we savor a delicious mouthful of really good chili and think about the Trinity? Three persons in perfect relationship. No one dominates the other. No hierarchy. No bland homogeneous generic broth. No, the Trinity is spicy and exciting, a food adventure for the soul.

THAT is the image and likeness we are made in! We are made to be in relationship, and we hunger for it when we aren't. If we can own the mystery, we can fill that hunger.

I was not allowed to eat the chili yesterday until after two o'clock. I smelled it, I watched others eating it and listened to the chefs discuss secret ingredients. Finally, I joined with four other judges and, almost ritualistically, we began sampling each of the twelve entries. I savored every mouthful. And I can safely say, I have not had that much fun reflecting on the Trinity in a long time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Drains to Ocean

I am in California. And in a way, so is Trinita. I packed up lesson plans and supplies and skit props for a family retreat based on our 2008 summer program, "The Lord is our Shepherd." So here I am, enjoying the hospitality of Josie Morales in not-so-sunny California. (I never heard of "June Gloom" before. Apparently it's the West Coast's pathway to seasonal affect disorder.)

It is always a privilege for me to spend time with MCA in other geographic areas. I am fascinated by the way the Missionary Cenacle charism is expressed differently in different places. I was especially moved when I saw the two huge canvas banners unfurled at the parish hall where we were gathered this weekend. On one side, our three founders smiling down at us. On the other side, a painting of what was clearly the mission cross at Holy Trinity, Alabama. Almost life-size! Perhaps only half a dozen of the 150 attendees have actually been there, but they all know Holy Trinity and want to go there one day.

I went for a walk in Josie's neighborhood, a quiet suburb in the midst of Los Angeles urban sprawl. The trees and ornamental plants are all so different! And the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood is change of pace from the rather homogenous environment around Trinita. Then a street draincover caught my attention. "No dumping. Drains to Ocean." Cool! I never saw that before! I have seen "Drains to River" before. But Drains to Ocean? I guess that's the ultimate!

And suddenly, I felt like a little water drop, circulating around on my long and convoluted journey to the Ocean. So much life has flowed through Trinita, brought by so many folks for so many years. And I packed up a suitcase with some of that Trinita-stuff and carried it here and let it out. At the MCA Pentecost retreat, everyone got a little training in how to run a family-based program Trinita-style. Trinita's style, however, is just one expression of Cenacle Family "style" of carrying out the Church's mission. And whatever I let out of the suitcase has now got mixed in with the California MCA style.

I don't know what will flow from my work here this weekend. The various little drops of water get mixed together, but ultimately we are all flowing to one destination. Drains to Ocean.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Peaceful Night

There is something about living where you work. It's hard to get out of work mode when it's all around you.

We've had a lot of activity here in recent weeks. More than usual I mean. To start off, we all went to Philadelphia to meet with the staff of the other two retreat centers. We three centers compared notes and shared stories and took counsel on some issues of common concern. It turned out to be fun, to tell the truth.

Then we gave a retreat for the St. Mary Magdalen youth group. That really was fun. The kids and their chaperones have a good community, and it is pretty stress-free. The weather was nice for a change, and we got to have a campfire. Everyone ended up sitting around the campfire talking and laughing for awhile. It was a good time.

Then..... the tag sale! Wow, what a huge amount of work that was! I have to say, I did not do too much of the prep work, but I can vouch for Patricia and Ellen and Vinnie and squadrons of volunteers tromping around for days in advance. Well, I did bake a lot of pumpkin bread for the Trinita Teen bake sale. We had friends come spend the weekend, both as helpers and for a little social time.

And this past week, we had a special lunch for area priests and DREs. Patricia cooked this great chicken parmesan. We had dessert and coffee in Arts and Crafts and slideshows running in the Lodge on laptops. And again, after weeks of gloom and rain, that one day was gorgeous weather.

This weekend I have devoted to preparing materials for a Pentecost retreat I'll be helping with for the MCA in California. So I have been pretty much slaving away, grinding out lesson plans and outlines and so on.

This month, really, looking back on it, I can say, has been crazy busy. Holy cow. And it did not help that it rained almost every day.

But today... At dusk, I went out and sat on the back steps and just soaked up the peace and quiet. Living where I work can be really hard. But today, it just seems cool. Wow, I get to live here, at Trinita! It could not look more beautiful than it does now. It is a peaceful night.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Word Work Two

Another Mission Planning Council meeting tonight. Nancy S ran most of it, because we are going to have a chili cook-off in June. I am trying to picture people strolling around the property eating chili, live music playing, the smell of spices in the air.

Before we got to the fun part of the meeting, I did a review of how our Council fits in our five-year plan. We have a new member, and we're half-way through our five years, so a review was in order.

I pulled out our old newsprint and sprinted through a summary, tossing newsprint into a heap behind me as I went along. Half the people there have just heard all this a month or so ago, and half had not really seen this stuff before. So I was torn between Brevity and Clarity.

I'm n
ot sure who won that battle. But the winning visual was the newsprint of all the changes we've had in the last two and a half years. If you look at all the words, it's not brief. And it is clear that we've seen a lot of change in a short time. Not all of it planned or necessarily what we wanted. But the sight of all those words scribbled on the newsprint seemed to catch everyone's attention. So I guess Clarity won.

Maybe it's my interest in history, but I think it's just as important to look back as it is to look ahead as we carry out our mission here. Or anywhere. All those meetings and agendas and minutes and summaries, and even all that newsprint, it all adds up to something. We gain confidence and focus by keeping in mind that the words we spoke last year, and the years before, have born visible fruit. We said these things, then we did these things, and here is where it has taken us. Now what do we say? And where will it lead us?

Who can know? But, at least, I think at least I can count on a chili cook-off happening in June.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Happy Feast Day

I never thought about it before, but this is a really good time of year to celebrate the Annunciation. I know it's supposed to be nine months before Christmas, but I never thought about the season before. The cusp of Spring.

Spring is always way too late for me since I moved north. Back home, the azaleas and the wisteria are in their last hurrah. Spring weather, flowers, and short sleeves started up weeks ago. Not here. Sometimes, I think I'll never feel the sun on my bare arms again. It's March, April... May??? and still too cold?? What is up with that!

But this year. I never lived through a winter like this one. There is still a pile of snow outside my bedroom window. Much smaller than before, when I literally could not see out my window, but it's the principle of the thing. When are the leaves getting here? I want leaves.

Yesterday, I went to Mercy Center in Madison for spiritual direction. Afterwards, I went and walked on their beach. Wow. The sun was shining, the flowers have started blooming there. I really, really liked it. That's just an hour and a half south of here.

Now I am looking out the window, at the barren lawn and the barren trees and the little piles of snow. And I am thinking.... it is Spring already, believe it or not. Happy Feast Day! Like Mary getting the news from Gabriel, the land is stirring with new life that no can see. Yet.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hope for Salt

"If salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be restored? It is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."

I was sitting in the back row, shivering in wet muddy jeans and a wholly inadequate jacket, wishing I was closer to the fireplace. My back was aching from a previous fall in the ice, and my heavy jacket and gloves were now too soaked and muddy to use. I was very hungry. Father Michael Dolan had braved the icy roads to fill in at the last minute as celebrant for the St. George (Guilford) confirmation retreat mass in our Lodge. Frankly, I was too distracted by my discomfort to pay attention, until he proclaimed these words from the Gospel of Matthew.

Two hours earlier: I had gone to the kitchen to get wine and hosts for mass while supper was being served. I prepared myself a plate to eat after I got back from setting things up in the Lodge. I managed to wolf down the mashed potatoes before I left, thinking I'd be back in a few minutes. But getting to the Lodge was an exciting adventure, and not in a good way. As soon as I finished setting up for mass, instead of going back to eat supper, I set about trying to make the paths to the lodge and cabins safe. My enemy was a freezing mist, and I was in battle mode.

I salted the steps, the walkway, and the basketball court as I had already done twice earlier. But now it was dark, and colder, and slippier, and soon fifty teenagers would be coming through here. Salting doesn't work on a path in the snow, at least not for more than five minutes. Then I remembered the rolls of old carpeting Vinnie had stored in the loft of the big shed. I climbed up there, tossed down several rolls, getting last year's dried mud in my clothes, hair, and mouth in the process. And I was starving. Could I have felt any sorrier for myself?

Yes, I could! Minutes later, I was laying on my back in icy, muddy, salty water. I had slipped trying to lay the first rug down. I learned how to do it better after that. Eventually, I got some of the teen peer ministers to help finish making a carpeted path all the way down the hill. By then, it was almost time for mass. I scrambled for another bucket of salt to re-do the steps and door areas. I had just enough time to change into a dry jacket before mass.

What good is salt that has no flavor? Isn't it interesting that Jesus did not say that tasteless salt is useless! In fact, salt is so useful around here these days, the stores are running out of it, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the taste. It's precisely so that we can trample it underfoot that we need it so badly. As I sat in the back row, in all my bedraggled glory, I realized that Jesus is not willing to discount any kind of service. Jesus will even use salt with no flavor.

These are words of great consolation to anyone who feels diminished or no longer useful. If aging means I can't do some things I used to do, if I lack the skills or training or power to do the glamorous, exciting, successful things I'd like to do, it's not to say I have nothing to contribute. If I had not thrown out salt to be trampled underfoot, we could not have got to the Lodge for mass last night.

If there is hope for salt, how much more is there hope for us!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Snow Update

Southerner that I am, I've noticed I remark often about the snow, both in this blog and out there in real life. So I thought I would leave the subject alone this winter. I think most people don't find it as fascinating as I do.

But I mean, come on, we're breaking records here! I can't resist. Here are a few pictures.

The above is the view from my office window. Note the 2 picnic tables to the right of the walkway. To the far left is the mound of snow blocking my bedroom window.

Above is the sign on Town Hill Road. Actually these pictures were taken a week or so ago. The snow is higher now. We're due for another storm this week. We are very grateful for Vinnie and Bully, who work very hard on snow removal after every storm. And by the way, Vinnie loves the new paved parking lot--plowing is much easier and neater now.

I have a feeling I'll be mentioning snow again before the season is over.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Word Work

We sisters go to a lot of meetings. I mean a lot. Since I became an MSBT, I have probably been to about 21,483 of them, give or take. After that many meetings, some of us might get a little testy about them.

The most dreaded words at any MSBT meeting are: "OK, now we're going to break up into small groups." You just know, the newsprint and the markers are about to come out. And who's going to be the one to record our every remark on the newsprint? And who's going to be the one to get up in front and report what we shared? Not me, I did it last time!

I distinctly remember a two-day gathering where about forty of us were hashing out some new plan for our region. Opinions were many and varied and strongly held. No amount of small-group sharing seemed to help. We probably went through a case of newsprint tablets and a few hundred markers that weekend. It plastered the walls and slumped in corners. The experience made me a believer in whiteboards. Save the trees!

Two years ago, we had one of our brothers, Paul Michalenko ST, come lead us in a two-day meeting to devise a mission plan for Trinita. We were trying to focus on what we needed to work on the most in the next five years. It was actually a great meeting. I saved the newsprint. Really, I did.

We are about half-way through our five years now. We don't even have the same people on staff now that we did then, so it's time to step back and reflect on how we're doing, make some course corrections, etc. I pulled out the newsprint yesterday and spread it around on my office floor as best I could. Wow, look at that. We did some of this stuff! Look--our core mission, neatly in bullet points. All the steps to getting an advisory board started. A list of our dreams, in weighted categories. Seeing the words in their native glory was somehow energizing.

Today I taped it all up on the walls. I am surrounded by words. I even went online to and plugged in some parts of the minutes. My favorite is the word cloud created by our closing remarks. Each one of us had to say a sentence that described how we felt after creating our plan.

Is that not cool? It almost makes me re-think my attitude about meetings. Sometimes we can get a little weary of sitting around and talking, writing it down, then more sitting, more talking. But in fact, words work. These words did work. We did some stuff. Not everything we thought we would, maybe not everything we should have, but we got up from talking, and we worked.

Which brings me to this task, today. Here I am, preparing for another meeting. And I've just discovered something. I'm not afraid of newsprint anymore.