the ice drifted out fish, otter, loons released lake ripples broadly green gradually overcomes brown building up diversity's wisdom awoke, rising, bold every budding leaf shows how justice demands change love is feeding others love is breakfast on the beach love is going out the boat moves over horizons, maps, mystery the plain of blue water the egg cracks open baby robin sings a song yes to this new life love is giving love. open. community. love frees all to be
I nearly skipped the liturgy. I almost didn’t head out into the cold night.
After two full and exhausting days at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I wasn’t sure if I had any energy to interact with another person, especially any of my literary heroes.
Yet, I made my way through the slushy streets and into a dimly lit restaurant, with a copy of Presence clenched under my stiff arm. I found a seat, snug between strangers, tucked tight into rows of chairs facing a simple microphone and small table.
Others stood on the edges of the room, sipping wine and eating hors d’oeuvres. I looked around the space, and felt too shy to offer my customary grins and waves to any face I recognized, because my body was tight with the feeling that…
our bodies make lines
and our hearts beat
make us more honest in
prepare us, Mystery,
for an eternity
with you, true Love
create in us clean hearts
draw us closer–
Love, we are yours
You are our heartbeat
You are our way
help us fast, pray
lines of ash pressed into
our faces, worn with love
the lines of time move
forward; we embrace
death comes for us all
our graves are ahead
dust. ash. dust. ash
our bodies make lines
and our hearts beat
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The two narratives
when the waters churn
and the fears rise,
when the winds blow
and doubts intensify,
when the flames destroy
and homes burn to ash.
Every surrender surfaces
acts of courage and love.
Community is formed
around the cross of loss.
When suffering blinds us from
“trust in God” it is OK to scream
or cry or wonder if we’re being
ignored by the God of love,
to acknowledge the ache
of possible abandonment.
And in the still of the storm,
the heroes and the victims,
who are helpers and hurting
(all of us wear both badges)
make known the power of God’s
presence and the might of love.
This is our story of salvation,
this is the story of Incarnational
transformation. Although we are
frozen in fear, we arise to schlep
out junk. We splurge no more so
we can contribute more cash.
We grip arms as one
steadily moving forward
toward Sunday’s true joy.
Yes, by “love one another”
God remains real
in the midst of disaster.
Last summer my partner and I spent a month in Ireland. Below is a reflection I wrote after climbing Croagh Patrick, an ancient pilgrimage site where St. Patrick was said to have fasted for 40 days in the 5th century.
Up the holy mountain. Following a stream of stones and prayers into the mist. The fern-green embrace holds my pilgrimage. With each step it becomes clear that this mountain has known me from the beginning of time. It cradles the infinite. It holds in its heart specks of stars and primordial clay. It vibrates with the energy of the cosmos.
The final ascent is terrifying. An almost vertical climb on slate slippery stones. My heart drives blood through my body, into my shaky knees, through my ears. I hear its deep, booming pulse. It feels good to stretch, to breath, to move, to burn.
At last the slope begins to curve toward the summit and I see his bed, adorned with rosaries from around the world. A space held sacred for a millennium.
Nearby, the tiny mountain church, where I had hoped to take shelter from the cold and rain, is locked. For a while, I stand under a church eave eating a banana. I get ready to leave and walk around the building.
As I turn the corner, three old Irish men are standing at the church door. One of them has a key. (His daughter was married at the church last year and the priest forgot to ask for the key back.) He flings the doors open. I ask if I can join, and the four of us walk in.
It’s warm and dark and safe in the church. A statue of Patrick stands behind the tabernacle next to Christ on the cross. The fellas walk past the kneelers, up to the simple altar.
They ask me to take their picture with the Saint and the Son of God. I do. Then one them takes out a flask and four small metal cups. He pours the whiskey into the cups on the altar.
He looks to his friends, “Boys, this one’s for Damien.”
He slides me a glass, “Fer the photographer.”
We throw back the whiskey. The warm spreads down my cold body. They ask if I want another. They say if I have a couple more, I could fly down the mountain.
I thank God that the Church, in that moment, was stripped down to what it was meant to be. A place for ordinary people to share life, to create sacrament, to claim as our own. I thank God for the sanctity of complete strangers. I thank God for the Eucharist in a shot of whiskey on the Holy Mountain.
About the Rabble Rouser:
Joe Kruse, a friend of Sister Julia through the La Crosse, Wisconsin, community, is one of the founders of the Minneapolis Catholic Worker community in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up around Catholic Workers at the Place of Grace Catholic Worker community his parents helped start in La Crosse. Now he spends most of his time working at Rye House, one of the Minneapolis Catholic Worker hospitality houses. He also has invested a lot of time and energy into anti-frac sand organizing, leading discussions and workshops about structural racism and white privilege, and activism around racial and economic justice in Minneapolis.
i’d like a compass
with you at the north
and my sisters in the west
i’ll keep it in my pocket
and take it out for direction
when i can’t remember
the skin i’m in or
the rhythm of my own song
to the south are the mountains,
pink rhododendrons and sweet tea
east is where the sun rises
and the Christ-light
finds me always
on the way home
About the Rabble Rouser:
Sister Sarah Hennessy is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She grew up in North Carolina as an active Quaker and became a Catholic in 2000. For her, Jesus’ messy business includes falling in love with Christ AND with the People of God! Her heart is on fire for the Hispanic community, poetry, playing guitar and accompanying people through birth, death and the living that comes in between. She currently ministers as the perpetual adoration coordinator at St. Rose Convent, as a Mary of the Angels Chapel tour guide, and a volunteer at Franciscan Hospitality House.
Here we are!
The Lenten journey is ending and it is time to emerge from the desert and enter into the Paschal mystery.
Holy Week has arrived! Here’s a quick background on these sacred days in the Church year:
For your prayer and mediation this week, I’d like to share with you a couple of poems written by a fellow Franciscan and my friend, Br. David Hirt:
(For Monday of Holy Week)
You came into our life on feet
like dusty heartbeats, beating bare,
your human heart out-pouring love
and life for one whom even death
itself could not keep back from you.
And I have nothing worth your gift;
incomp’rable, to place into
your hands but my most costly thing;
a poor excuse compared with All.
This earthen vessel, feminine,
I break before your dusty feet
and pour its oil, perfumed and rich,
to cleanse the dust from calloused toes
and wipe them, intimate, with hair
that just a spouse should see and fear
I intimate your death. This gift,
this chrism meant for you alone
lifts up its heady scent and fills
this house like prayer, confirming dust
with sanctity and all because
you came into my life on feet
like dusty heartbeats beating bare.
(A Poem for Holy Thursday)
And everything is upside down,
like faces mirrored in a bowl:
an earthen vessel, roughly formed,
that’s full of water while the one
who once was robed, incomp’rable,
in light removes his outer robe
to tie a tow’l, a servant’s garb,
around his waist and stoops to wash
his foll’wer’s feet of traces from
the dusty Roman roads they’ve walked.
Yes everything is upside down
for whom in all this world would like
to think that him whose praise we sang,
“Hosanna to King David’s son,”
should stoop to take a servant’s part.
Oh we would rather he should reign
on high with us at his right hand.
But Servant Lord, incomp’rable,
you call us to remove our pride,
an outer robe, and stoop to wash
all others’ feet: humility,
and thrust down deep our dusty feet —
to take the love you offer us —
into the bowl reflecting you.
Read the rest of Friar David’s poems for Holy Week here.
Holy One, Open me to your mystery during these sacred days. Change me and renew me, so I may enter into the Easter season prepared to celebrate and proclaim your Good News with my life. Amen.
An old building in disrepair, collapsing toward the ground.
A rusting, defective car, stuck in layers of mud.
The sight of the simplest crack in a sidewalk can still my body, stun my soul.
The colors and textures of a simple, broken branch can inspire poetry.
It may be a bit bizarre, but brokenness really can become a gallery art piece to me.
I am in awe of the beauty of brokenness because I relate to the ordinary being an un-mended mess—a mix of decay and transformation. The objects all around me feel familiar because I have been broken and mended, again and again.
I love this poem about brokenness.
This Psalm also speaks to me, deeply:
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, LORD, God of truth.
Be gracious to me, LORD, for I am in distress;
affliction is wearing down my eyes,
my throat and my insides.
My life is worn out by sorrow,
and my years by sighing.
My strength fails in my affliction;
my bones are wearing down.
Be strong and take heart,
all who hope in the LORD.
I am forgotten, out of mind like the dead;
I am like a worn-out tool.
I hear the whispers of the crowd;
terrors are all around me.
But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your mercy.
Oftentimes, it seems that brokenness is what helps me to become most in touch with my humanity; I know that this part of my nature doesn’t make me unique. In service and contemplation, I have touched physical and mental wounds in myself and others. I have heard people pour forth the worse of spiritual sorrow, anguish and misery. At times, my own doubts and struggles have been so intense that I felt incapable of doing anything but collapsing, quitting. Don’t we all feel dysfunctional, inoperable and crumbled in certain circumstances, in one way or another?
It seems to me that the season of Lent has much to do with this brokenness. As Holy Week nears and we enter into the most sacred days of the Church year, let us check in. What has happened in our hearts and in our lives as a result of our fasting, praying and penance in the desert? How have these desert days helped us to recognize where we are in need of mending, healing and reconciliation in our lives? How have our eyes been opened to the truth of our interdependence, of how we are made for community, for Christ, for others? How have we been transformed and changed? And what scars can we now bear more courageously?
A few weeks ago, I presented a program at the spirituality center where I minister about this passion of mine, the beauty of brokenness. After shared contemplation, we attempted to convey our reflections through the Japanese craft of kintsugi, which repairs objects with gold in order to highlight and honor the history of the object: the beauty of the cracks.
Here is where I learned about how to experience kintsugi, without becoming an apprentice in Japan.
During the workshop, we considered how we all might be like broken cups within God’s hands as we tried to piece them together—a complex, layered puzzle. Another poem, “The Perfect Cup” by Joyce Rupp, helped foster this reflection.
Honestly, I found it challenging to try kintsugi. My fingers became sticky, gold-spattered messes. I even cut my fingers a little on the broken cup I tried to repair. In the end, though, I really liked what I held in my hands.
In fact, I have decided that what I created is a perfect vessel for light, a beautiful place to burn candles within.
Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” includes the lyrics “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” My experience trying kintsugi and reflecting on my likeness to a broken cup in God’s hands caused a spin on Cohen’s wisdom to emerge.
I believe we all are broken so that God’s light can shine out through our cracks.
By God’s grace, let us be strengthened and transformed so we can see the beauty of our brokenness. With the arrival of Holy Week around the corner, may we be ready for God’s light to beam brightly from us all. May the resurrection energy shine through our cracks, so we can help illumine dimness near and far. Amen!
Most days, our schedules are clogged
with avoidance: We’d rather ignore
the inevitable smudge of human decay.
This morning though, Ash Wednesday,
we step into lines and confront
the truth of pain.
We allow strangers to mark us
with a message of paradox.
Remember, you are dust. To dust you will return.
Flecks of once joyous palms, now black grime
Color the firm skin of the young,
Fall into the creased skin of the old.
Repent and believe in the Gospel.
In somber silence we gaze at faces
that will all end up in the grave.
A unity emerges with fresh freedom.
Life after death.
Off to meetings, appointments, repentance or avoidance—
yet some will wear their marks with pride.
We all are moving in the same direction.
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 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.