This complicated, imperfect world: a poem

child-Fall-leaves-path
Photo courtesy of Michael Krueger

 

 

This is a complicated world,

           but not for the sake of trying.

How do we respond?  What is it that I have done?

           Have I tried to lay in the long grass,

           to wake early and see my breath?

When did I last wait to hear,

Not answer, not voice, but a bird,

           the woodpecker’s sharp tap outside the bedroom window.

I don’t remember when I last walked in the rain

           to look up and see the downpour.

Am I afraid of getting wet, of tracking mud?

How quickly I forget my coat, a pair of boots

           Do I even remember where in the closet they are stored?

I must go out this next time.

I must remember that it is expected of me

           to not remain dry

           to track mud onto the floor boards.

It is expected that I do not remain a stoic philosopher forever.

Good reflection never came from sitting at the altar.

Unless I propose to be a monk,

           but even the monk must laugh

           and he does look up into the rain.

This is a complicated world

           but made less so because I am not a monk

           however much I would like to be.

And although not a religious

           I will still pray.

Perhaps I will even pray tonight.

Perhaps my words will carry hints of the sacred.

It is a sacred found in the ordinary;

           Alive and riveted by this complicated, imperfect world.

           Alive and riveted by this complicated, imperfect life.

And my feet have been introduced to mud,

           my hair drips rain.

Maybe I shall yet live

           or at the very least I will try.

 

About the Rabble Rouser

Michael KruegerMichael-Krueger

Michael Krueger first met Sister Julia in La Crosse, Wisconsin, as an undergraduate student at Viterbo University and dishwasher at St. Rose Convent. She was the only sister who didn’t leave a generous tip. (All joking aside, the one and only tip he actually received was the priceless call to FSPA affiliation in 2009). He credits that “top-notch Franciscan education” for putting him on a path to La Crosse’s Place of Grace Catholic Worker House (where he lived for two-and-a-half years), SOA peace vigils, work with developmentally disabled adults (inspired by Jean Vanier and L’Arche), commitment to social justice and a chance dinner with Roy Bourgeois. He currently lives near Madison with his wife and young daughter, and recently joined efforts to begin a Catholic Worker community there.

Franciscan Bookshelf: A Simplified Life: A Contemporary Hermit’s Experience of Solitude and Silence

By day, guest blogger K.P.—a good friend of Sister Julia’s—reads, writes, and has conversations about literature for a living. By night, she devours theology, sits silently with God, and pursues her calling as a lay order Franciscan through affiliation with FSPA. Each month she will share a favorite selection from her “Franciscan Bookshelf.”

For 25 years, Verena Schiller spent a life cultivated from quiet at the edge of the world. She lived alone in a weather-beaten shed on the precipitous edge of Llŷn Peninsula in Wales, battling both the elements and overpowering roar of her own silence. A member of the Anglican Community of the Holy Name and a consecrated sister, she shares her story in A Simplified Life, a book that rewards its reader for the slow turning of every page with a deeply felt sense of the holy struggle of solitude.

Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/Simplified-Life-Contemporary-Experience-Solitude/dp/1848250258
Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/Simplified-Life-Contemporary-Experience-Solitude/dp/1848250258

In prose that is as difficult and as raw as her salt-grimed cove, Schiller nudges her reader towards gentle insights about the interconnectedness of our inner and outer landscapes. The book winds together three complementary narratives: the rich spiritual history of the peninsula itself, overlooking Bardsey Island; the natural history of Schiller’s new habitat; her discovery of companion plants, animals, and tides; and the personal history of her journey from consecrated sister to solitary hermit. For readers interested in the ecological obligations of the Christian, the possibilities of practiced silence, or the structure of a life that is voluntarily secluded and driven by prayer and survival, Schiller’s story will be achingly beautiful, meditative in its rhythms and depths.

Two words that have drawn me, slowly but surely, onto my Franciscan path are the following—simplicity and solitude—and Schiller delivers a thought-provoking account of both. Silence … what a bonus that would be! But sadly, I think even at the edge of the world, I’d be pouring forth in conversation with the wildflowers, the gulls and the seaweed—as Schiller occasionally finds herself doing, actually.

This is not a journey white-washed for those (like me) who occasionally luxuriate in the idea of becoming a hermit: Schiller’s story makes clear that this is a life of struggle, but also of incredible purpose and beauty. I left these pages feeling extremely grateful for the sacrifice of these sisters and brothers whose quiet prayers animate the abandoned corners of our world.

As the insects, like the swans: Living the vow of obedience with a free spirit

I am in the woods on Mount Subasio above Assisi, Italy, at a sacred place of prayer called La Carceri. It’s July 20, 2014. I am on a pilgrimage, thrilled to be praying in this holy place where St. Francis and the early friars spent much time in contemplation.

I too am in contemplation on this holy ground. I am pondering what I just heard preached during the Mass, where our Franciscan pilgrimage group gathered around a stone altar underneath some tall trees.

Rays of Light through Tall Trees, La Carceri, Italy. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Rays of Light through Tall Trees, La Carceri, Italy. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

I was reminded that the path to holiness is a journey of struggle. Even though we’re living a religious life, we’re just as human as everyone else. And, when we’re real with ourselves, we can admit that much of our life is spent wrestling with the reality of our own frailty, our own sinfulness. St. Francis spent more than 200 days in hermitage each year, even while admitting that…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report.  Continue reading here.

Silence: sacred and dangerous

Those who spare their words are truly knowledgeable,

and those who are discreet are intelligent.

Even fools, keeping silent, are considered wise;

if they keep their lips closed, intelligent.

– Proverbs 17:27-28

I am no stranger to silence. In fact, I love it and have often chose to lean into it.

Silence is powerful and sacred. I savor silent, comfortable moments shared with my loved ones. Especially when I am praying.

Silence is rich with meaning and Truth. God often uses beauty to communicate with us when we tune in and really pay attention.

It is hard to listen to God in moments like these if I am occupied with my technological toys or filling gaps with chatter.

"old olive tree in Assisi" by Julia Walsh FSPA
Old Olive Tree in Assisi by Julia Walsh, FSPA
"flower through stone" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Flower Through Stone by Julia Walsh, FSPA
"Inside San Damiano" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Inside San Damiano by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Yes, much is revealed to us in silence.

The thing is, it is such a powerful force; it can be constructive and destructive.

Despite its sacredness, there are times when we must absolutely not let silence have the last word. Indeed, in the wrong time and place, silence can be very dangerous.

Sometimes the Gospel calls us to end silence. We must use the power of our voice to protect the oppressed, to advocate for justice, to love our neighbors.

This video recently served as a powerful reflection for me on just that:

What role might silence play in your life today? How is God calling you to enter into silence?

And, how is God calling you to end the silence and use your voice for God’s glory?

heart adventures

The last time I wrote, I mentioned I was open to going on summer adventures.  I wrote this in metaphorical language and I prayed that God would bless all of us in our deep exploring.

God is bigger than metaphor.  Living the Gospel is always a great adventure.

I have been blessed, indeed. My summer is half way over and I have been enriched and enlightened by a lot of great activity: studying theology at Catholic Theological Union, my community’s assembly, fun with sisters, family and friends, travel, writing and sharing poetry and participating in a young nun gathering in California.

I have also been doing some listening.  In my adventures, music is often my companion. This song, especially, has been speaking to me:

Much of my life is about prayer and contemplation, this is the main activity I am about as a Franciscan sister.  Right now, I am thankful for the time and space to seep up God’s sacred presence all over the place, even in my adventurous travels and fun.

"bay bridge" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA (I got to see this on one of my recent adventures.)
“bay bridge” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
(I got to see this on one of my recent adventures.)

No matter where I am, I try to be still and open, to really lean and listen to God’s stirring in my heart- because that’s a greater adventure than exploring a city or a giant forest.

When I am open, I get to experience “kingdom come.”

When I am awake, I am energized by God who is like a “burning ring of fire.”

I believe, God is calling each of us to greater growth, wisdom, development.  It’s the love of God that enlivens and energizes us.  With God, we keep evolving.   God’s power is deep within us, God’s ways are written on our hearts.

This is ancient stuff.

Moses said to the people:
“If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God,
and keep his commandments and statutes
that are written in this book of the law,
when you return to the LORD, your God,
with all your heart and all your soul.
“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”    – Deuteronomy 30: 10-14

Yes, God is moving us into new ways, into an exciting new Gospel-centered future.  Are we open? We must be open to really carry it out! God help us, Amen!

Pesty Questions

I love how I can be barefooted most of the time during the summer. I love this time of year.  Walking around barefooted has an effect. I am grounded again.  Grounded means that I get reconnected with God, myself, the earth, and people I love.  While that happens, I am restored.

But, I am not able to settle.  Nope, it doesn’t take long until little Gospel-living questions become exposed like insects.  They land and tickle my skin, they buzz in my ears, sometimes they land in my mouth; bratty little bugs!  I could swat them out if I wanted, I could ignore them, or run away.  Naw, instead I am trying to let these questions have a life of their own.

Here they come, those wild creatures: can I live more simply? Can I be stripped of privilege? Am I really sharing the love of Christ?  Is it obvious I am a Christian by the choices I make?  What is God calling me to do today so that I grow? Am I happy?  Is this the life I want to live? Am I living like Jesus?

I’m not sure. I am praying for guidance on all that stuff right now. I am also learning to befriend these questions. It might be a bit like playing with my Bug Bottle when I was a girl.  I would capture creatures from the wild, put them into a container, observe their life and learn all I could.  A lot of discovery can happen when we sit still and pay attention to things that squirm or bother.

Catalog #9981: Bug-Book-&-Bottle (click to close)
Photo credit: http://www.bioquip.com/html/view_prodpics.asp?CatalogNum=9981

There’s one little question that seems to stick out in the swarm: How can my attempts at Gospel living bring me closer to the types of people who Jesus was most scrutinized for hanging out with?

Again, I feel a bit stumped. But, this little video inspired me to remember I must cross lines, even poverty lines. It’s sort of like going on an adventure; heading off to explore the woods like a kid.

Wow, I wonder what I’ll get to see during these summer adventures!  May God bless all of us in our deep exploring, Amen!

shells meditation

Sometimes

I feel small and insignificant

like one of many tiny seashells

on an expansive shore.

“fragile” by Julia Walsh FSPA

I don’t understand the science of seashells.

 I wonder how they grow;

is it like me,

from the inside out?

An inner transformation for the greater good?

I can crack and crumble

and become a fleck of tiny sand.

But I am awakened for the sake of mission!

Yes, I can crack and crumble.

Or, I can sparkle and be strong ground for new life growing.

Or, I can offer a home of shelter for a creature in need.

Or, I can go back to the waves of the sea

and see where the mystery

of God’s love

might carry me.

By God’s grace

I am one of many,

but I am free!

still in God’s presence

Today marks 134 years of Perpetual Adoration in my community’s chapel.

I am honored and amazed that I have had a small part in upholding this sacred tradition.  In the past year, I was also thrilled to play a role in the development of this book:

I will never understand how Christ is present in the Eucharist. I don’t really want to understand. Mystery and wonder seem to increase my faith, somehow.

What I know, though, is that Christ is present.  I experience a hushing presence of God in our adoration chapel that causes me to be still and pray.  It’s awesome and powerful.

I love God. And, I love the opportunity that adoration provides to uphold the ancient God-given order:

Be still and know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations,

exalted on the earth.   Psalm 46:11

Thanks and Glory be to God! Amen! Amen!

surrendering

Lately my spirit has been contemplating what it really means to be poor and surrender all. If I admit that nothing at all is mine, and truly everything is God’s, then what will become of me?  If I give up my possessions and follow Jesus, certainly my life shall be transformed. But, what if I also give up my dreams, desires, hopes, pride, ideas, time, preferences, feelings and thoughts?  Nothing at all is mine, all is gift that is temporary and belongs to God. I am asked to pass the gift.

Maybe the the surrendering will  transform me.  Can I stop clinging from the outcomes that I desire too?  Can I truly be open and trust? Will I let Love lead the way?