How You Can Be Compassion

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Recently I spoke on a panel about the new book “In Our Own Words.”  Several people asked if I my speech would be available so here it is!

When I was about to be received as a candidate Sister Elaine, my dear friend and mentor, told me to “rock the boat.”  I laughed off this advice at the time, but I think of her words fondly now as I consider the importance of our counter cultural witness as women religious.  We live in the world, but are not of it (in 17:16).  Our world today moves fast, is chaotic, troubled, and yet holds great potential for the future.  This is the world in which we live our vowed life, minister, pray, and love as Jesus loved.  Jesus’ example calls us to follow him in his compassionate stance.  Perhaps we would have wished for something simpler, calmer, easier; but this time is also a gift and as sisters we are impelled to answer the needs of our time.

When I think of the needs of our time I think of our many diverse ministries as women religious, and I think of some of my friends who have been arrested at social justice protests.  I also think of a moment at my community’s chapter when we took some time for personal reflection.  Many of us went outside to the hotel’s patio to enjoy the nice weather as we prayed.  People passed by on the sidewalk and a few stared at us as we sat prayerfully.  A couple of people even stopped to ask what we were doing and who we were because they were so struck by our contemplative sitting.  This prophetic moment was unplanned and unintentional, yet something about our way of being as a religious community answered an unnamed need in the passers-by.

There are many needs which call us in our world today.  Yet, whatever our ministry, compassion is paramount.  We follow Jesus’s example in our expression of compassion.

31284970_1905721572795033_1844834392325750784_oJesus was a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker but these mighty deeds and profound teachings do not over shadow the moments of compassion which punctuated his day.  The stories of  Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, “Peter do you love me”.  These stories are just some of the moments when Jesus was simply present, and his gift of presence was all the healing that was needed.

Being present isn’t that easy, especially with the pace of our world.  In a news cycle that never stops, when tragedy follows tragedy, when our phones are ringing, and our inbox is full it is hard to stop and be fully present to another person.  We all know how hard it is to connect with someone while one, or both, are multi-tasking.  Our world praises this behavior, people put multi-tasking on their resumes, but somehow I don’t think Zacchaeus would have turned his life around if Jesus had been texting a disciple during their encounter.  So, like Jesus, we have to put aside the world’s priorities and do things a little different.

As women religious we make time for community, prayer, and meditation.  These are all lifestyle choices which help us to live contemplatively even in a busy world.  As we minister and live in this contemplative stance we can hold each of our encounters in our inner quiet.  We behold God’s wonderful creations and with God we too can say that they are good (Gn1:31).  We meet all sorts of people in our day: the good, the bad, the ugly…..politicians; and each one is a theotokos carrying the Divine into the world. Holding each encounter in the silence of our hearts and seeing the Divine in the other is one way we  live into the sacramentality of each life in creation.

This call to sacramentality in everyday life reminds me of a prayer I came across during my research for this chapter.  Julie Collins writes that when we encounter a person we can ask God to help us see the true inner-self within them.  This can be a helpful prayer practice for getting to know someone dear, or someone difficult.  Collins suggests asking God for the grace to see with God’s own eyes so we may better know and be with the other.  I connect this to the traditional Hindi greeting, “namasté.”  This greeting, which means ‘the Divine in me recognizes the Divine in you,’ reminds me that God dwells in the inner space of each person, an indeed in all of creation.

Like many people I often struggle to see God in myself.  It is hard for me to recognize the Divine within.   Yet, the more time I spend with God the more God reminds me  that God dwells deeply within me. Learning to go into our inner space and find the Divine within is a life long practice of incorporating our vulnerability.  As women religious vulnerability is an important skill because we must be authentic to ourselves and our community’s charism if we hope to teach the world to be compassionate, but in order to be open and vulnerable we must be in touch with how God sees us.

Steeping ourselves in God’s loving gaze gives us the courage to bring our authentic selves into our lives and ministries.  We can be a living example for others of a compassionate way of life if we know ourselves to be Beloved of God.  Henri Nouwen writes in his book Life of the Beloved that we have each been “seen by God from all eternity and seen as unique, special, precious beings.”  If we spend the time with God to drink this into our heart of hearts then we can carry this reality within ourselves in everything we do, and thus model a culture of loving compassion.

Any one person could go on this journey, in fact God calls all people to know that they are God’s beloved.  However, women religious get to focus more on spiritually than the average person, and we have the incredible gift of our corporate reality.  I don’t mean corporate in the business sense but rather as Sandra Schneiders uses the idea when she identifies women religious as “one organic life form” in her essay Tasks of Those who Choose the Prophetic Lifestyle.  Sandra points our that our shared history, lifestyle choices, and public vows unite us in the world as a prophetic presence.  Together we have a prophetic voice.  We can use this voice to share and model God’s love and compassion to a world in need.

And the world needs compassion, but even more it needs sisters to prove that there is another way to live.  God opens this compassionate life to all but few are taught how to enter into it in today’s society.  We have been given the gifts needed to do this, and as we walk into the future of religious life we can lead the way for so many others.

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Decorating on a Dime

So one of the challenges I have run into in novitiate life is the looming reality of moving.  It sounds crazy I know, just Sunday we officially kicked off our canonical year which will last one year plus one day thanks to the Vatican.  Nonetheless, packing will be a reality all too soon I know and I do not want to have to find an extra suitcase for all of my crafts and decorations.  What is my solution you ask?  Origami!  It’s cheep and recyclable which are both important qualities for the life of a vowed religious.

Homemade bat wreath

Homemade bat wreath

I couldn’t believe that it was October already, and that might have been because I had a summer themed wreath still hanging on my door.  So I ran out to Micheal’s, 40% off coupon in hand, and grabbed some orange ribbon.  I have lots of wreath ideas on my pinterest board so I used those as my inspiration for this Halloween wreath.

I found some twine to hang the wreath with and I simply wrapped a wreath form I had on hand with the orange ribbon.  I used masking tape to secure the ribbon- you could hot glue it but my glue gun didn’t make it to the novitiate.  The yellow and white ribbon were items I had saved from previous purchases.  I created the three tiered ribbon embellishment simply by looping the ribbon back upon it’s self and taping it.  Here are the origami links I used to make the three bats which I also taped to the wreath: top bat, middle bat, bottom bat.  When Halloween is passed I will simply replace the bats with general fall items.

Happy crafting!

Make it happen!

I love to garden. It’s too bad that gardening can be so expensive though. As a community we need to be aware of our budget and consciously live a simple life. My desire to live simply and to create a beautiful garden met the other day in a spur of the moment decision to construct a raised bed from recycled shipping pallets.

Here is what I used:Raised bed construction

  • 2 free shipping pallets
  • 2 corner brackets- left over from an ikea trip
  • nails or screws- and appropriate tools
  • crowbar- this is a must!

Step 1:
Use the crow bar and hammer to carefully remove the boards from the pallets. I recommend gloves and safety glasses for this.
Step 2:
Lay out your raised bed and make sure it forms an even rectangle.
Step 3:
Nail the corners together. If the nails refuse to stay put use corner brackets. I had to consult my architect sister about this and she explained that old weathered boards will not hold nails as well.
Step 4:
Fill with dirt. I got all the free dirt I needed from my local department of public works.

So there it is a lovely raised bed and all I paid for was a few plants. Originally I had wanted to buy some planters and leave it at that but wanting to repurpose something, and save our budget a little, lead me to do something bigger and far more creative.

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Apple Upside Down Cake

I love apples, apple season, and fall in general!  Every fall as far back as I can remember my mom would take my sister and me to the local orchard where we would ride a tractor up to a field of low apple trees.  We would pick bags of apples every fall and Mom would make us the best apple sauce with cinnamon and raisins-which is best eaten warm of course.  This cake reminds me of fall at home when we would have more apples than we would know what to do with.

Ingredients:

Streusel Topping

  1. 1/4 cup pecan halves
  2. 2 tablespoons rolled oats
  3. 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  4. 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  5. 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  6. 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  7. 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  8. 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  9. 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp

Cake

  1. 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  2. 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  3. 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  4. 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  5. 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  6. 4 Granny Smith apples (2 pounds)—peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  7. 2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  8. 3 cups all-purpose flour
  9. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  10. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  11. 1 cup buttermilk
  12. 1/4 cup spiced rum, Calvados, or apple jack
  13. 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  14. 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  15. 3 large eggs

Equipment: parchment paper, baking sheet, skillet, food processor, a medium bowl, mixing spoon, a fork, a 10-inch Bundt pan, a large bowl, cutting board and knife, peeler, measuring cups and spoons, spatula, cooling rack

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. On a parchment paper—lined baking sheet, toast the pecans for about 6minutes. Then add the oats and toast for an additional 6 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the toasted pecans until the nuts are finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the oats, light brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, black pepper and cinnamon. Using a fork, stir in the butter until large clumps form. Spread the streusel on  a baking sheet in a single layer and bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.
  3. Increase the oven temperature to 350°. Generously butter a 10-inch Bundt pan. In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the sugar with the cornstarch, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. Add the apples and toss until the apples are thoroughly coated.
  4. In a large skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the spiced apples and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until they’re almost tender, about 6 minutes. Scrape the apples onto a baking sheet and refrigerate until they are cool, about 15 minutes.
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda and salt. In a measuring cup, mix the buttermilk with the rum and vanilla. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the remaining 2 sticks of butter and 2 cups of sugar with the orange zest at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. At low speed, in 3 alternating additions, beat in the dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture; scrape down the side of the bowl when all ingredients are incorporated to ensure that nothing is stuck to the bottom of the bowl.
  6. Spoon the cooled apples into the bottom of the Bundt pan, spreading them out. Scrape the cake batter over the apples and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake the cake in the center of the oven for about 60-75 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes.
  7. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack, or directly onto serving plate, and scrape any apples stuck to the pan back onto the cake. While the apples are hot, pack the streusel topping over the top of the cake. Let stand until cool, about 1 hour. Slice the cake with a serrated knife and serve.
You can make this and  keep it in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Recipe from: food and wine
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Blackberries and Biscuits

I’ve kept up a college tradition in an effort to keep Advent separate from Christmas, which according to retailers apparently begins in August.  I commemorate the liturgical new year, which is the first Sunday of Advent, by planning a special dinner in which all the dishes must start with the new liturgical year’s letter (that is year A, B, or C).  This being year B everything in my menu had to start with a B:

I made up the blackberry parfait based on something I had once before.  Basically you mix Greek yogurt with honey and ginger to taste and layer it in a glass with sliced blackberries.

Also, I was reading this messy Jesus business and saw a great video reminding people to get back to the true meaning of Christmas.  The point that really struck me is that the money I spend on postage could feed a third world child for a year!  The materialism surrounding Christmas is way out of hand, and I wish it wasn’t about all the presents but rather about the time we spend with each other celebrating the birth of Love!

Pesto

I’m not great with plants but herbs and I get along pretty well.  So what do you do with a ton of herbs?  Pesto, pesto, and more pesto!  I made almond mint pesto, spicy sage pesto, and today I made basil pesto.

My Garden Pesto:

  • 7.5 oz basil (half regular, half lemon), fresh from the garden
  • 1.5 c walnuts
  • 1 head garlic, peeled
  • ½ c evoo
  • Salt
  • 30 grinds fresh pepper
  • 1.5 oz parm, shredded

Just put everything in a food processor and puree!  I froze most of it in ice cube trays to save for the winter, which is a great way to preserve herbs that don’t retain a lot of flavor when dried.

There are plants everywhere!

I don’t have much of a yard, and while I enjoy having plenty of parking space behind my house I still wanted to grow things.  So, what started out as a six compartment herb pot blossomed into what you will see below.  Not to mention my awesome friend Rachel helped me with redoing the front yard which was being eaten alive by 30 year old yew bushes (wish I had a before picture)!

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Herb Garden Green

I just finished painting my kitchen!  It took me all week, and ok maybe the ceiling is a little green too, but it looks great!

My Shade Garden

Nasty Weeds

I wish I had a picture of what the backyard looked like before.  It was awful, take my word fort it.  I had started with a small corner and planted 4 or 5 shade loving plants which was nice however, it’s always good to have friends who are willing to help you out with your little projects.  I just happen to have such a friend who just happens to be a landscaper!  With her help we turned the little strip of land we call the “back yard” into a beautiful shade garden!  It was a ton of work since it’s all clay and was covered with terrible weeds (and I’ve decided that mulch is a pain in the butt).  I couldn’t be happier with the results though, and I improvised a little bird bath using the stones we dug up in the process.

Shade Garden