Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Well, here is what it was like with the family last night. Santa brought together those of us who share my mother's genetic code through fancy outfits made for slumbering. If I attempt to give you the entire story you might be sleeping by the time it is finished. So in brief, it goes something like this: My Mom's name is Darlene and true to stereotypical form there is creative tension between her and my brother-in-law. Those of us related to her have at various times been systematically assigned a number in relation to her primary number, "One." Through this scrutiny we are known as "D-1," "D-2,""D-3," etc. Lucky for us Santa and my brother-in-law have a close connection and we now have matching apparel with a Dr. Seuss theme that replaces "D" with "Thing." I am not sure which is worse...or better...but I know that it was hard to stop laughing for the picture. Thanks Santa for your thoughtfulness!

On to a brighter and more central theme for our time together. We are celebrating today the gift of God irrupting into the world. What a great thing to share! Last night I went to mass with my nephew (that would be Thing 5 in the picture), and it was delightful to share the experience with him. We had a conversation in the car about Jesus being human and divine. These mysteries leave me speechless most days and I am grateful that once again I was invited to think about my faith in Jesus Christ. I then made an attempt to articulate what it means to believe in the birth of someone who is both fully human and fully divine. As I write I am curious how some of you celebrated today and how your faith is influenced by Emmanuel-God with us? So, please write and share.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I am Willing

We are entering the final days of Advent and with Mary have an opportunity to say, "Yes!" to carrying the Incarnate One with us. I only know this because I did the readings. Unfortunately, I was late for Mass this morning and nothing came into focus until Communion. While doing the readings I thought it would have been wise to share "Breath of Heaven" this week. I do wonder as I sit here whether my "Yes" is firm. 

Today, I am feeling a bit disconnected  from the readings. Today, I am not feeling the creative spark to write about this week in Advent. I have asked my self what does it mean to give life to Christ? And, today the only thing I can think about is the joy I received this weekend while in Fond du Lac at the Mother House visiting with some of my sisters. This was the first weekend in months that I have connected with so many CSA and that filled my heart anew. These women encourage me to continue saying, "Yes!" by their presence and commitment. This weekend it was through them that I witnessed the potency of Christ during Advent. And the truth is one of them skunked me in Cribbage and even in her moment (and my reversed boasting) there was something shared.  Connections like this are what it means for me to say "Yes!" to the angel Gabriel.  I won't be so bold as to say, "Bring it on!" Yet, this evening the response is summed up in the song "I am Willing," by Holly Near. Unfortunately, I cannot get a decent download of the song so will save it for another time.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

God Hears Us, Through Us

This weekend brought about an opportunity to spend time with my two sisters in Chicago and we had a blast. It was a time set apart for one another and, I think they would agree, it was a success. While trying to get to a bus yesterday one of the first things I experienced was a man by the name of Ishmael (translated-God will listen/hear) who was seeking some change. The temperatures were frigid and he said if there wasn't change he would take smiles. His eyes were bright and when I looked into them the experience evoked both sadness and joy. He made me want to smile and take a moment to just be present. We chatted for a bit while I remembered what a friend said a couple of weeks ago about a man she met on the streets. Basically, she said she recognized that his job of begging was so much harder than hers. Yesterday her words opened my heart in a very big way. I did not have any cash. So, asked if he would take prayers and a hug. He accepted both. 

These are difficult times. Upon return from Chicago I ran to the store for some items. As I walked in a woman I know greeted me and, throughout our conversation, informed me her husband has been out of full-time employment for nearly a year. In my mind's eye there was this flash of Ishmael and what it was like to be with him yesterday. While shopping I thought of what it might be like to be missing a necessary income in a family. I then thought of some other people I know who are unemployed or underemployed and their struggles. Their is great cruelty in poverty and as economic gaps continue to grow its face becomes more clear. My prayers reach out to those who are struggling to get through these difficult realities. I hope that we-as a living human community-can come together and join Ishmael and others as they seek survival. We need each other in order to share in this moment of time and be assured that indeed, God hears the cry of the poor through the language of our hearts and the action of our hands.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

I love that the days are getting shorter as we move further into this season. Last week there were a few snow flakes in the air. Something about the crispness of Winter coming gives me much excitement. This week I finish the semester for my course work and today was thinking I might attempt to get hooked-up with some Christmas volunteer activity. I thought about ringing the bells for the Salvation Army and might check into it tomorrow. There is something that is pushing me to help others in different ways. My guess is that the last months have been so focused on studying that I need to find a way to get outside of my head and into the reality of other people's needs. This happens with my own teaching, yet I am not spending as much time in the classroom and am missing that connection. Somehow writing this down in the blog might force my hand on following through with my desire to volunteer. And, then again, it might not.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is likely my favorite preparatory song during advent as I reflect on what it means to be in waiting today. Yesterday we (my local community) went to experience A Christmas Carol and while they broke into this very song it echoed through me. I experienced Ebenezer Scrooge while he witnessed his own imprisonment and the shackles that weighed him down seem so apparent. You know last night I had time to think about those shackles and how easily I can see them in others. Then I began to reflect on some of the shackles in my own life and how obvious they might be to others. There is a transparency that we are forced to deal with when in relationships, and unfortunately I think that if we saw ourselves as others do our lives might take a serious change. So, as I was reflecting some of the barbs in my own behaviors began to come to the fore and Scrooge no longer seemed so far away. I then realized that although I can be insensitive, or a jerk, or whatever negative thought comes to mind, there is a core belief that the light will always shine in the darkness. Unlike Scrooge, I know that there is goodness in the world and experience it in so many ways, and this reality has melted my heart over and over again. I hope that all of us recognize the shackles that bind us this season. It is my greater hope that we have the courage and strength to ask for help as we begin to gently remove them from our lives. Blessings as we enter into the second week of Advent!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

No Night of Ease

 Today marks the beginning of Advent and the Gospel reading presents Jesus talking about the need for watchfulness ("May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"-- MK 13:36-37). Tagore captures this sentiment for me. If we are to watch we are awakening in God's love and that can only mean unrest. The qualities of Advent that are most appealing to me are the darkness and the desire to spend these weeks in hibernation. Doesn't that sound like the appeal of winter. The darkness comes over us early, like 4:00 p.m. here in Wisconsin, and the cold air is beginning to be experienced more often, tonight it is 32 degrees outside and the desire to rest is strong. All we need is some logs and a rolling fire to set us up for a Norman Rockwell experience (that is if you have a fire place). These are the days when I want to curl up and just sleep. And then we hear Jesus say that it is time to watch.

Reality check: Sometimes following Jesus can be a real drag. Of course, I am thinking this is the time when we begin to wait for his birth and he is telling us what to do. How does that work? Bossy child is one thing...but the unborn being so demanding, really? I have spent the last weeks daydreaming about what book I want to read after the fall semester ends (something that has nothing to do with my life preferably) and today I am sitting in Liturgy and hear these words about being watchful. Let me tell you this brings about sudden irritation. What I really want to do is hibernate and not be connected with anything productive and being watchful demands that I am ready to be involved if needed.

After the readings and homily there was this adorable little baby that was baptized, wow, what a contrast. We welcomed new life into the Church today which means that for this little guy and his family there is no more waiting. It is so hard to be heated with Jesus when you are celebrating him in the Sacraments. I felt a sudden responsibility for this newborn child whose Mom and Dad do not have the luxury of hibernating for the winter and in reality, neither do I. In this day there were a couple of lessons. First, life continues, even in the darkness. Second, if I am to honor life I have to be watchful. Finally, to wake in God's love is to offer my life throughout all seasons of the year, even Advent. I leave you with a prayer from Rabindranath Tagore.

No Night of Ease

When I awake in Your love, my night of ease
will be ended.

Your sunrise will touch my heart with its
touchstone of fire, and my voyage will begin its
orbit of triumphant suffering.

I shall dare to take up death's challenge and
carry Your voice into the heart of mockery and

I shall bare my breast against the wrongs
hurled at Your children and take the risk of
standing by Your side, where none but You

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Holy Hill Retreat

This weekend I attended an overnight retreat at Holy Hill (I so love that area) ->for those of you who do not know about Holy Hill I am adding the link ( It was one of those situations when I really did not have the time, nor the energy to be away from my own studies. However, something nudged me to go (long story) and I listened. This was my first retreat that was not silent/directed and I was somewhat nervous about it.  Upon arrival, after settling in a bit, we shared in small circles about the word 'present.' Can you believe it? Present, have they been reading along with us this month...totally blew my mind after the past month or so and my concern about this topic?  I felt like a puppy running in circles chasing it's own tale (now, we all know that type of excitement, and in some ways it seems anything but present, and there I was with a little 'woo-hoo' in my heart from the get-go). Of course I did not want others to know my simple animated cheerful state so I sat and chatted rather than exhibit the internal puppy-effect.

The structure of the retreat was set-up through three over-arching themes: 1. Present/Connected, 2. Compassion/Gratitude and 3. Hope/Peace. The sharing was rich and the people were great. We watched the film Of Gods and Men, a must see for those interested in a solid inspirational film. Then, three of us went for a late night stroll down the steep incline that holds the Stations of the Cross. Funny story, as we were walking one member of the group said she would not take such a walk alone at night and the other agreed. I made some comment that about being able to do it alone and that there was nothing to fear out there. Well, wouldn't you know it. Within minutes I heard a noise and grabbed the shoulder of one of my companions in fear. Okay, so maybe I am not so brave. I am adding a song to this post to share some of what I felt this weekend. Have a great Thanksgiving! Blessings, Vicki

Sunday, November 13, 2011


"Though we may not reflect too frequently on the vast infinity that surrounds us, something within us is always aware of it. Such infinity can be anonymous and threatening; it makes us feel inconsequential and tiny. Unknown to us this intensifies our hunger to belong."
John O'Donohue 
Eternal Echoes
There were some things in the news this week that broke my heart and all of this news dealt with people who did not recognize the gift of life in themselves or others. My thought is that they have attempted to numb their hunger and now are being consumed by it. Belonging is a big thing and the hunger to belong is something that I imagine all of us experience at varying levels. The infinity that surrounds us sometimes seems like the only real thing that exists in the world. This can create feelings of isolation and longing. Belonging is a difficult awareness to hold. There are so many ways to belong as family, friend, employee, community member,  student, citizen and human person...and so much more. Yet, even with all of these connections there are times that the sense of infinity creeps in and does become a threat. It is in those moments that we as humans stand on the edge of our existence. The temptation is to reject what we know in our relationship to the other. This can be detrimental and I imagine all of us have done it. And then there are those who are convinced they have no one, no place, or no moment that connects them to the rest of us. These are the extremes of knowing only the infinity and being caught in some nihilistic cycle. Tonight I pray for all of the people who are not aware of their belonging who only experience the vastness of their longing and are losing sight of, or have lost sight of their connections.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

From the Circus to the Moon and the Steady Flow of Life

October flew by and we have arrived at daylight savings time. Just wanted to put down some nuts and bolts type notes about the past month or so. October began with a silver jubilee celebration for one of the sisters in my local community. We celebrated her commitment of 25 years with a Chicago experience of the Universoul Circus. If you look at her picture she is content on the ground...and then she went for the ride of her life. Woohoo....gotta love the elephants. A good time was had by all and we ended the evening with a fantastic meal from Leona's, yum. I would like to give a shout out to all of the people that were involved in this spectacular event. So, happy jubilee Madeline! You provided an opportunity for us to be together for a great time!

Two weeks after that another trip to Chicago was in store (glad I picked up the I-Pass this summer) as I headed to the Adler Planetarium with a former student for another splendid experience. We soaked it all in as we attended the Deep Space Adventure. The first time I experienced the exhibit was on retreat this summer and I was completely moved by the visual stimulation. We walked through the planetarium and as you can see there is a moon exhibit, in the past I have skipped this. Oftentimes I take the wide-eyed X-Files approach to the moon landing. However, this part of the experience was not as Hollywood as I expected it to be. The day was great and much fun was had (while writing this I keep thinking of REM's "Man on the Moon").

This past month has been full and fruitful. Sprinkled throughout October were the realities of the dailiness of it all, community time, family time (with only two members), another birthday party with friends, meetings, etc. Last night I was so excited about turning the clocks back (like a kid a Christmas excited) that I wanted to stay up late. So, when I was ready to collapse I turned everything back and ended up going to bed at 9:30 p.m. Hmmmmm not what I initially had in mind for a late night. Maybe next year.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


For the past week I cannot get the song Heaven by Brett Dennen (featuring Natalie Merchant) out of my head. The third or fourth verse is:

Throw away your myth misconceptions
There ain't no walls around heaven
There are no codes you gotta know to get in
No minutemen or border patrol

Listening to the lyrics offers me a solemn hope that is indescribable, it is likely a combination of the lyrics and the mellowing sound. In times like these we are challenged to find our Gospel conscience regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, immigration, healthcare, education, Wall Street, and ad infinitum. The above verse offers insight into the grace that flows from our Creator as we look in our hearts and decide how to act. The Gospel is a dangerous response to life. It requires that we not allow opportunity for complacency and trepidation. We are to seek conviction in the life of Jesus Christ and through this experience the emancipatory love given to us and then offer that same love to others. Thinking about Heaven does not have to be some lofty enterprise and in the verses of this song right now I am finding a home. It is not a home that is open to my snuggling-up into false security or holds me hostage to my own lack of consideration. No, in the Heaven Dennen describes goodness and change are fostered and all are welcome, something we do not often find here on earth. This song is challenging me to think of my commitment to the Gospels this week and the role that Jesus played in them, as well as what he had to say about Heaven

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Presence That Disturbs

I have learned
to look on nature, not as in the hour
of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
the still sad music of humanity,
nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
to chasten and subdue. And I have felt
a presence that disturbs me with the joy
of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
of something far more deeply interfused,
whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
and the round ocean and the living air,
and the blue sky, and in the mind of humans:
A motion and a spirit that impels
all thinking things, all objects of all thought,
and rolls through all things.

William Wordsworth (1170-1850)
Tintern Abbey” (1798)
Lines 88FF
The above is taken from the book A Presence That Disturbs: A Call to Radical Discipleship, Anthony Gittins, CSSp, and is the foundation for a prayer service and conversation that I am preparing for tonight (if this is published after 12:00 a.m. that is...tomorrow if before). The line that continually returns to my thoughts is "but hearing oftentimes the still sad music of humanity." I can almost feel a heavy melody played out by flutes and cellos as I read this short section. All day I have been thinking of the events in Libya and the news that Ghadafi is dead. I am disturbed by this news. I cannot yet articulate what is disturbing me, there is a depth to this feeling that I have not been able to shake or articulate. The "presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts" is also the presence that disturbs me in this moment of silence. Tonight the people of Libya are in my prayers as they work toward putting the pieces of their lives together. I think part of the sadness is that although the tyrannical leader is gone after much struggle so many people in Libya are left with broken lives. This will be a long, strenuous journey toward greater emancipation. Fortunately, they have one another to hold onto during this time and the hope of "a spirit that impels." The delicate hand that plays the cello through the "sad music of humanity" is indeed playing out the realities faced during such turmoil. In this music we have the opportunity to heed the rest of the piece if we are disturbed enough to lend our lives to the harmony that is needed. Together we may be able to create the beauty that is a necessary accompaniment to such tragedy. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Petaling, Party, Pedaling and Prayer

I will be putting up some pictures of a flower blooming throughout this post. One of the students brought these beautiful plants in for the teachers and after it had a near death experience, due to an unintended desert experience, beautiful flowers began to appear. One day last week I caught the flowering in action, hence the petaling as part of the title.

Today I attended a birthday party for my friend Donna. We had a fantastic time as we played games, munched, joked around and shared a meal...and then played some more. Tonight I am realizing that Donna has been a friend for over half my life. And this group of women that celebrated has been getting together for like 15 years or more. These are the friends that provide a home in the relationships of my life. There is no other way to describe it. There have been times when through distance or busy-ness I have not been able to be with them, and still through these things love persists. It was an evening of gratitude. Happy Birthday Donna!!!!

Upon returning from the birthday party I decided to go to the gym and work-out. This initiative was not something I thought of on my own. It was sparked by the phone call I received a few days ago saying I have not been there in a while and they were wondering what happened (they can track how often you go and this summer I was negligent at best). So yesterday I returned the call and fessed-up to my lack of reasons and committed to working out today (which did not happen this morning as planned....blech). The entire time I was on that spinning bike my hamstrings were letting me know they were not pleased.

The other thing I reflected on while spinning was how prayer and exercise are the first to go when experiencing imbalance or a chaotic cycle in life. Since beginning the doctoral program at the end of August I have struggled to keep on top of my prayer time. I can become so caught up in intellectual pursuit that I forget that I have a spirit and body that need to be nourished as well. So, getting the reminder call from the trainer is an opportunity to remove myself from a state of neglect and move toward greater balance. Another little something to learn it seems (the list is growing).

Good Night!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Troy Davis

"The struggle for justice doesn't end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I'm in good spirits and I'm prayerful and at peace." --Troy Davis

I just checked my email and received the news from Amnesty International that Troy Davis was executed last night for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail. Davis claimed innocence even in his final moments. I offer my prayerful support to both the Davis and MacPhail family.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pondering Rilke

The stories of 9/11/2001 are being shared this week as we memorialize the loss of lives, and the reality of our country being plunged into a decade of uncertainty. Uncertainty, that has always been with us even when we are not aware of its bitter presence. Tonight I offer a poem from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God along with a few images from Ireland. I reflect on the poem and wonder whether I am open to God's transforming presence in the suffering that continues as our we continue to face genocide, war, poverty, racism, sexism, disease and indifference. The suffering that occupies spaces even greater than a date of remembrance, this suffering occupies the empty spaces of our lives and offers the opportunity to reach out toward change, or continue in the foggy state of illusion.

I'm still the one who knelt before you
in monks' robes, wanting to be of use.
You filled him as he called you into being--
a voice from a quiet cell
with the world blowing past.
An you are ever again the wave
sweeping through all things.

That's all there is. Only an ocean
where now and again islands appear.
That's all there is: no harps, no angels.
And the one before whom all things bow
is the one without a voice.

Are you, then, the All? and I the separated one
who tumbles and rages?
Am I not the whole? Am I not all things
when I weep, and you the single one, who hears it?

Listen--don't you hear something?
Aren't there voices other than mine?
Is that a storm? I am one also,
whipping the trees to call to you.

 Are you distracted from hearing me
by some whining little tune?
That's mine as well--hear mine as well;
it's lonely and unheard.

I'm the one who's been asking you--
it hurts to ask--Who are you?
I am orphaned 
each time the sun goes down.
I can feel cast out from everything
and even churches look like prisons.

That's when I want you--
you knower of my emptiness,
you unspeaking partner to my sorrow--
that's when I need you, God, like food.

Maybe you don't know what the nights are like
for people who can't sleep.
They all feel guilty--
the old man, the young woman, the child.
They're driven through the darkness as though condemned,
their pale hands writhing; they're twisted
like a pack of frenzied hounds.

What's past lies still ahead,
and the future is finished.
They see not the faintest glimmer of morning
and listen in vain for the cock's crow.
The night is a huge house
where doors torn open by terrified hands
lead into endless corridors, and there's no way out.

God, every night is like that.
Always there are some awake,
who turn, turn, and do not find you.
Don't you hear them blindly treading the dark?
Don't you hear them crying out
as they go farther and farther down?
Surely you hear them weep; for they are weeping.

 I seek you, because they are passing
right by my door: Whom should I turn to,
if not the one whose darkness
is darker than night, the only one
who keeps vigil with no candle,
and is not afraid--
the deep one, whose being I trust,
for it breaks through the earth into trees,
and rises,
when I bow my head,
faint as a fragrance
from the soil.

 II, 3

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Founders Day

I have been sitting at the computer for quite a while fretting about what to write. Funny thing is that while planning and getting set-up for this blog everything sounded so fun and exciting in my head. Now to shake it out and see if I even have a 'blogging voice' that can be heard beyond my own ears. So, welcome readers and I hope that together we will build a community of query and surprise. Let us begin.

Today CSA celebrates 153 years as a religious community. In 1858 our initial founder (Fr. Caspar Rehrl) attempted to begin a small community of sisters in Wisconsin. This was all based on a vision he had at the tomb of St. Agnes of Rome (afterward he went to the Pope to get permission to start a religious community. Can you imagine having that type of access to the Pope? It's unreal how much has changed during these years!). We have the fortune of having trinity of founders. Second in this relationship is Mother Agnes Hazotte who was elected Major Superior at 17 y/o and in 1870 took many of the sisters up to Fond du Lac to begin the community anew (Basically she was breaking away from Rehrl so that the Sisters could receive proper training in the community and their ministries). Mother Agnes sought help from Fr. Francis Haas, OFM Cap who became the third person and helped CSA become realized through his companionship. We are here today to celebrate as a result of these three examples of hope, commitment and tenacity. And, wow, the community has changed much over the years!

I was able to connect with two other sisters tonight for liturgy and dinner. We had a great time chatting it up and talking about some of the realities of our community today. Afterward I reflected on the many changes that have occurred over the years. Today, we have CSA Associates who are also committed to the mission of the congregation. Associates do not take vows they make a commitment to live out their call from their present lived experience. Okay, okay, okay I am getting excited and beginning to rant. Oh boy, this is a long post. Okay, maybe starting on Founders Day was not the best time. I just blew my goal of brevity. Possibly next time. Blessings!