Thanksgiving Comes Full Circle

Gentle Reader: This has been a premature Christmas. Traditionally, decorations begin in this house on the first Sunday in Advent. Certainly NEVER before Thanksgiving. But this year is unusual since my home will be featured in today’s Holiday Home Walk—a fundraising event sponsored by the local Symphony League.

A year in the planning and 7+ weeks in the execution, today is the day and everything is set and staged to its glory. There is a light dusting of first snow on the ground. As I walked around the house dawn was breaking, I stopped to turn on the Christmas music. The first carol was Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel . . . Oh My!

How powerfully the gift of grace overcomes when we least expect it. All together in a swirl it is both Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Blessings Abound

Gentle Reader: The table is set.  Tom is bathing in the sink and will be cooked on the Weber rotisserie grill—regardless of the ambient temperature (yes, the snow shovel is close by). A few things have been prepared in advance like Drunken Cranberry Fruit Conserve (port and rum) and Parmesan Thyme Crackers.

Today’s advance work includes Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Lime Crema, prep for Potato and Parsnip Mash, and Jumbo Mushrooms Stuffed with Dressing. Tomorrow morning it’s Swiss Chard and Chevre Chipotle Spread.  I’m in my glory and Tom will make his debut about 4:30pm.

Most importantly, we will have a family gathering to enjoy the assembled food and each other. We celebrate a life swimming in blessings and friends and family with whom we are united in spirit. We send you our boundless love. This is a time we remember Our Source and loved ones who have taught us how to be thank-full!

Like Sands through the Hourglass, So are . . .

Gentle Reader: Here in North Dakota we have the privilege of four distinct seasons which clearly helps her citizens mark time and the passage of years. Still the days drip, drip, drip through that hourglass and evaporate at an alarming speed. While we attempt to pack our lives full of dreams and aspirations, too often we find ourselves living for some future mystery like, “once I get ____, I’ll be happy/successful/fulfilled.”

Consider the reverse. Living in the past is nothing more than rewinding the DVR and wastes today while watching the re-play. “If only I could do _____ over again.” Mourning the loss of time in squandered lives is also about as productive as shoveling smoke.

Being a 9-year survivor of breast cancer, my concept of time has simplified. The notion that “every day is a gift” is one of the more profound realizations one can absorb and has become my mantra. The recent news about a friend’s serious illness has her cohorts reeling from the shock. I, among them, find myself reflecting again on the intrinsic value of each day as more than just a commodity or something to be managed and plugged into my Outlook program.

In the current issue’s editorial Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, wrote,

“My guess is that whatever we think we’ve lost we never had, that waiting to find it again is as stupid as expecting trout to rise to the same dry fly two days in a row, and that life is best lived between the lost and the found, just this side of hope and on the other side of nostalgia.”

Distilled to its essence, all we have is today.

Weather Report: Cool Days in North Dakota

During cool days in June we ask if summer will ever arrive. During cool days in July we are thankful for a respite from the heat. During cool days in August, we feel fall in the air.

Why Monasteries?

© Published: Assumption Abbey Newsletter, Vol. 38 Issue #2, April 2010
by Bonnie Staiger

We are a culture addicted to both the business and the busy-ness of the day-to-day. In our contemporary and cyber world, we often make rapid-fire choices by hitting the delete button. We start our cars from inside the house and we press pause on the remote control to accommodate life’s interruptions. It’s a shallow world of planned obsolescence and our fickle fingers on the dashboard of life.

Add this to the equation: half of the entire world’s knowledge becomes obsolete every 2 years. We live in danger of losing our sense of history as our attention deficit becomes systematic to our culture and our families become scattered.

Mega-churches are springing up with parking lots the size of wheat fields. Many are the home of, what can be called, the religion du jour. The congregation’s name on the marquee can change as quickly as the last month’s headlines.

While the world is hungry for heroes and true role-models, hopefully, in all this chaos, there are people who search for relevance to understand our place on the planet and want to find a connectedness to the ages. For those willing to stop and listen* to the still, small voice the answer is always here for us.

We don’t have to look very far to find places where this connection is modeled for us—where centuries of history are combined with contemporary life and are field-tested every day: the monasteries. Thomas Merton wrote in his journal after visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani, the community that would become his home, “I had wondered what was holding this country together, what has been keeping the universe from cracking in pieces and falling apart. It is this monastery.”

Are monasteries more relevant than ever? Could it be that they are the ones who have kept the ship on course while we have lost our bearings? Contrast the monks in sync with the rhythm of the centuries, the seasons, and the hours. Their silent movement to the choir stalls to pray the Divine Office speaks to the deepest part of the human soul.

From prayers to paradox, today’s monasteries are also far from any stereotype or sweeping generalities. They are busy places and Assumption Abbey is no different. Like the secular world it is teeming with activity: jobs and responsibilities and deadlines. Some confreres work at home while others work off-campus in nearby towns. Some are assigned posts requiring them to be gone for long periods of time or commute many North Dakota miles. Like most businesses today the Abbey’s work is done by fewer people than needed to easily manage the job.

There are also the basics of managing a busy monastic household of a “very big family” and, of course, their many friends. Their guest facilities host countless groups and workshops throughout the year. Their services and liturgy welcome everyone to pause and join them. As a result, there are groceries to buy, meals to prepare, gardens to tend, planting and harvest, oil changes, appointments to keep and…(pause)…candles to light.

Speaking of guests, one aspect of life at Assumption Abbey is the Benedictine hallmark commitment to hospitality. This obligation has been elevated from the Rule which states “Let all be received as Christ.” The simple act of welcoming strangers is to be in community/communion with the human family.

Not only do they welcome guests at the Abbey, they also welcome new members to their community and they ask us to join them in prayer for new members to share their hospitable and spiritual journey. Once again, the monks demonstrate giving and receiving and a generosity of spirit that we can spend a life-time learning.

But it is “Pray and Work,”** the peace and silence, the rhythm of the Hours that is an ever-present reminder of the need for balance in our lives: the reminder to “press pause,” to reflect, and listen.

*RB Prologue 1: Listen with the ear of your heart.

**RB Chapter 48

My Father’s Hands

© Bonnie Staiger, Published:  Parkinson Foundation Report, Summer 2003

Strong and rough
Fixing cars
Planting trees
Building a cabin

“Hold my hand, Daddy
The curb is high
And I’m afraid of falling.”

Printer’s ink
Under his nails
Never quite clean . . .
No matter the occasion

“Hold my hand, Dad
The world is rough
And I’m afraid of falling.”

Kind and gentle
Showing the way
Caressing my cheek . . .
Never mind his calluses and nicks

“Hold my hand, Bonnie Rae
Getting old is tough
And I’m afraid of falling.”

Shaking and palsied
Wet from drops of drool
Showing the signs of
A lifetime of work . . . now resting

“Hold his hand, God
The way is smooth at last
And no more falling.”

Weather Report: A Silver Lining

Gentle Reader: The past few days I’ve been sad into my bones at the loss of a high school friend. Seems so trite and clichéd to remind you to stay in touch occasionally with old friends. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss this by saying, “I have nothing in common with those people.” But think about it. We spent seven, maybe ten, of our formative years growing up with them. At the very least we have many memories in common and a probably a small town somewhere. Our memories are part of who we are.

So, here’s to Sandee . . . and throwing coins for gas money in the little box taped to the dashboard of your dad’s Nash Rambler station wagon . . . oh yeah, and laughing ‘til we nearly peed our pants.