Thursday, 3 November 2016

October: Cabbage, Clay and a New Novice

October was a busy month, which would explain why we're just able to post about it now, and it ended as it began —with cabbage. A bumper crop of Brassica oleracea, a couple of benefactors willing to lend us crocks and canning supplies and hands, and a lot of patience ("How long do I have to knead it? Seriously?!?!"), and 28 days later we had a pantry (and stomachs) full of homemade sauerkraut. Our prioress, Sr. Marie Tersidis, was away at the General Assembly of the North American Association of Dominican Monasteries and thus missed out on the first round of krauting —so she decided to solo round two, which should be ready any day now. 

In mid-October, we had ongoing formation classes with Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P. of the Western Dominican Province. This was followed by a second round of classes from Chilliwack potter Tom Sproule. A few more test-fires of our locally sourced glazes, and visitors to our monastery should start to see some new additions to the gift shop—mugs, tea bowls, tumblers and yarn bowls, for starters!

Finally, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7), our postulant Bronwyn received the habit of the Order of Preachers and her new name, Sister Marie Thomas of the Divine Word. Sister comes to us from not too far away—born in a port town in northern British Columbia, she grew up in Whistler, the resort town just an hour up the road from us.  Please pray for her as she begins her canonical novitiate!

"No more pictures!" say the novices.
We asked sister why she asked to receive the name Thomas, after St. Thomas Aquinas O.P, and instead of a brief answer, she gave us a discourse:

"My university didn’t have a theology program, but when I was doing my homework for poetry and journalism seminars etc., I’d take my laptop up to the library’s mezzanine floor and sit leaning against the Summa Theologiae. If I didn’t have an excuse to study it in-depth, at least I could pray to absorb it via osmosis! St. Thomas Aquinas became a kind of older brother in thought as well as in faith, someone who I could argue dispute with about ideas like 'To what extent are created things knowable and describable in their essence and in their accidents?' (answer: go read Pieper's "Silence of St. Thomas") or 'If a mosquito bit Jesus while he was walking around Galilee, would that be the same as if a mosquito fell into the Precious Blood at Mass?' or 'Do words have intrinsic meaning connected to the essence of things, or are they merely arbitrary symbols with little relation to the essence of things?' Because, as I learned, such questions don’t count as casual conversation in most social situations (Then again, 'And that will settle the Manichees!' probably doesn’t either. And this one time, in the court of King Louis of France, a certain Dominican friar...).

So, that’s how I first 'met' the Angelic Doctor. But when it came time to submit my list of possible names to the novice mistress, I asked for St. Thomas for three distinct reasons. Firstly, his love for Christ in the Eucharist. We see a tiny sliver of this love in the texts and hymns for Mass and the Office on the feast of Corpus Christi, which he wrote at Pope Urban IV’s request. For St. Thomas, 'The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us' was not an abstract idea, but a real, tangible, beautiful Presence—and the saint’s early biographers say that when he was stuck on an idea or problem, he’d lean his head against the Tabernacle to ask for help. As Dietrich von Balthasar would say, his was a “kniende theology”—a theology that began on his knees in love.

Secondly, St. Thomas was a writer. Best known in our century for his systematic and dogmatic writings (like the Summa Theologiae and Summa contra Gentiles), and not nearly known enough for his Biblical commentaries (he was, after all, a Magister Sacra Pagina –'Master of the Sacred Page'), he was a superb poet (see the aforementioned texts and hymns for Corpus Christi—like Lauda Sion salvatorem, Pange lingua corperis or Panis Angelicus).

Finally, it would be fair to say that St. Thomas was obsessed with truth—or, rather, Truth, who is a person, not a thing. He loved God; he loved study; and he loved to love God by study and to share that love of Truth and the truth of Love with others in whatever way he could. He was so hungry for the truth that he went looking for ways of knowing God in the (then highly controversial) works of Aristotle, and (when asked by a joking friend), said that he’d rather find the (presumably lost) homilies of John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew than be Lord of all of Paris. But this quest for the truth about Truth (aka Christ) was not limited to his (rather formidable) intellect or some sort of eccentric academic quest. He himself wrote that 'to love God is something greater than to know Him' (S II-II Q.27 A.4), and that 'it is better to illuminate than to shine; to share contemplated truths with others than merely to contemplate' (S II-II, Q.188, A.6). In seeking Truth, he sought the truth about himself (humility) and the truth about his neighbour (charity), and spent his life working to transform both in light of the Truth of Christ."

And of course, no matter what else is going on in the kitchen, workshop or life of the community, we continue to pray for you, all those enrolled in our prayers and all the needs of our world—that the peace of Our Lord might especially help those peoples and areas suffering from war, terrorism or natural disaster. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Preaching of Trees

We've been delighted to have Bro. Manuel Merten, OP along with two friends of the Dominican Laity in Düsseldorf, Germany, staying with us these past couple of weeks for a refreshing time of rest and retreatThe following is a thoughtful sermon that we would like to share with you.  It was composed by Bro. Manuel and preached to the community here at Queen of Peace Monastery on 9 September 2016.

Können Sie Deutsch lesen?  Sie können mehr von seinen Predigten in seinem neuen Buch lesen. Der Titel ist Die Macht des Wortes: Wenn Gott in meiner Sprache spricht.

                 -- Sister Elizabeth Marie

Luke 6.39-42
Jesus also told them a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person?  Will not both fall into a pit?  A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye."

When, for example, people talk too enthusiastically about the beauty of trees, presumably they have not been near a tree for a long time.  Trees are great silent beings, and they make us silent when we are near them.  Thomas Merton once said: "No writing on the solitary meditative dimensions of life can say anything that has not already been said better by the wind in the pine trees."

When people talk too enthusiastically about Jesus we need not take it as proof that they know what they are talking about.  They may be talking theories and ideas; all the ingredients may be there, but no spark.  If there is no reticence, no silence between the words, no sense of being in the heart of mystery, then the words might not mean much.

In moments of deep silence, we 'know'; we don't 'know about'.  There is a big difference between these.  'Knowing about' is theoretical knowledge.  That word 'about' is like a wedge between the person and the thing.  We insert it because we don't want to lose ourselves or to give ourselves up; we want to remain in control.

"Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?"  The way to stop judging others is to get rid of this distancing word 'about'.  There is no distance.  The speck in your brother's eye is a chip off the plank that is in your own.  Jesus saw projection long before psychology identified it.  Therefore he exhorts us again and again: Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.


Saturday, 13 August 2016

Happy Golden Jubilee Sr. Mary Bernadette

On July 16, Sr. Mary Bernadette celebrated 50 years of religious life as a nun of the Order of Preachers. Born and raised in California, she originally entered Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park (just outside of San Francisco) in 1961 and made profession on March 7, 1966. After hearing the master of the Order's call for volunteers to help establish and English-speaking Dominican monastery in Canada, she headed north in 2000 and hasn't stopped radiating the love of Christ (and sharing her baking skills) since.

After a joyful Mass celebrated by Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria and a number of local clergy, we retired for further festivities, accompanied by a light luncheon and some communal jocularity. With over 200 of sister's family and friends in attendance, an awesome time was had by all!

Waiting to process in with the Knights of Columbus.
Jubilate Deo!
Renewing her vows in the hands of our prioress, Sr. Marie Tersidis.
Chocolate or vanilla, sister?

Congratulations, Sr. Mary Bernadette, on 50 years of religious life! May God grant you many joyful years more.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Happy Month of the Sacred Heart

June is upon us alreadywhere did May go?

We're not sure, but we know it was busy.

Most sisters' vegetable and flower gardens are underway, and there were a few weeks where it was normal to find seedlings stashed on window ledges, in the corridors, in the basementanyplace with a bit of sun and protection from hungry mice.

These fine looking squash are keeping the library books company.
Some early spring chard in Sr. Elizabeth Marie's well-tended patch.

Prioress Sr. Marie Tersidis discovered amidst the garlic.

Speaking of library, the librarian hit an important milestone this weekover 250 books are catalogued in the computer, complete with LLC numbers and keyword search tags. We're not going to guess at how many are left to go...but does it really matter? Given that this is a Dominican monastery, no one is going to complain about having too many books!

Some of the collection, along with our beautiful library crucifix and the quasi-famous rolling library ladder.

Some swallows found a soffit vent that blew loose in a winter storm, and it now appears that we have some diminutive tenants residing in the roof outside the novitiate wing. They're very tidy, and one can often catch them using the loose vent as a singing perch on sunny afternoons.

Sr. Ann Francis O.P., a professor at a local university, came for a week to teach us a course on St. Thomas Aquinas's treatment of the body and the soul. Thanks to her generosity, our heads and notebooks are now stuffed with concepts like the hylomorphic union of body and soul, the soul as the form of the body, and the distinction between the intellectual and appetitive powers of the soul.  While she was here, a generous benefactor donated crates and crates of beautiful red strawberries, and we had a strawberry hulling party! Many were eaten fresh, but the remainder were frozen to be consumed or turned into jam at a later date.

Finally, with all the nice weather lately, we've been spending a lot of time outside. Some community members have even started swimming in Pilchuk Creek—can you guess who?

As always, the beauty and grandeur of God's creation continue to be a daily inspiration. It's not quite paradisethat's the next valley over—but it is a daily blessing. And, as one postulant would say, it's "Epic!"

Until next time—peace!


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Pottery Workshop with Tom Sproule

A number of us here at the monastery have joined together in the study, and practice, of a living tradition that stretches back some 30,000 years into the captivating Upper Paleolithic shadows of prehistory:  the entrancingly earthy fusion, and trans-cultural phenomenon, of pottery-making and ceramics.   

Helping us navigate this fascinating world of clay, in its contemporary Canadian manifestation, is master potter Tom Sproule, who conducted an awesome three-day pottery workshop for us recently.  Teaming-up with our own master potter-in-residence, Sister Mary Magdalen Coughlin, we were given a thoughtful introduction that gently honed our skills in throwing on the wheel.  It was a privilege to watch and learn from Tom.  We hope to have him back with us for another workshop, in due time. 

                                                                -- Sister Elizabeth Marie

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Thought Goats
This gorgeous goat is courtesy of Roland Tanglao (Creative Commons)
Growing up, a favourite stop on family road trips was a little town named Coombs, located on Vancouver Island. Packed into our Lilliputian red Subaru four-door, and generally afflicted by a combination of road trip agonies (including the middle-seat engine hump, the gradual shellac of gum wrappers to knee and a variety of cries ranging from “You’re my faaaaavourite sister!” to “Coleslaw’s a fascist regime!”), all discord in the back seat was immediately forgotten as we pulled off the Highway 4A and a great cry arose:

            “Goats! I see the goats!” 
             “Goats on a roof, goats on a roof, goats on a roof!”

Yes, there are goats on the roof of the Old Country Market. When Kristian and Solveig Graaten built the market in the 1950s, they decided to include a sod roof—an energy efficient method of construction common (at the time) near Kristian’s original home of Lillehammer, Norway. Once the grass started getting too long, someone had the bright idea of “borrowing” some goats to keep it mowed—and they’ve been there every spring and summer since. They wander around on the roof, munching grass and generally being inordinately fascinating (I lost more than one ice cream cone in my life to being distracted by those goats).
These goats wandered back into my mind recently while studying Evagrius Ponticus’s topic of logismoi. Greek for the word “thoughts”, over the centuries the word has come to mean thoughts and mental distractions that come to lead us away from Christ—quite often at the point where one is trying the hardest to pray! In his Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer, Evagrius divides them into eight general categories of gluttony, impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory and pride, and says that every distracting and disquieting thought can find its roots in one of these categories. Left unchecked, these thoughts wander all over in our mind, chew up the energy we need for prayer and good works and generally distract us from our destination—that is, God.
Thus, I’ve unofficially dubbed the logismoi “the thought goats.” Don’t get me wrong, I love those goats on a roof. But what if, on those childhood goat-and-ice-cream stops, my entire family was so fascinated by those goats that we forgot our destination (Tofino, beaches, camping, the ultimate goodness of S’mores), the basic necessities required to get us there (gas, food, water, bathrooms, sunscreen, endless games of “I’m thinking of an animal”) and perhaps even tried to climb onto the roof to get a closer look at the goats’ wanderings? Consequences could have ranged from annoyance and delay to actual danger and the end of our trip together.
So, too, with the logismoi and trying to follow Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).  The point of this is not to try to stop thinking entirely—that would be absurd. But, as Ecclesiastes says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”—and the monastic schedule makes some of those times really clear! Figuring out ways to use spruce tips in cooking, or pondering a metaphor for a poem, or wondering if it would be better to plant carrots or bok choy in the garden are all valuable uses of the discursive reason—but if I’m munching on them in the middle of Adoration, it’s a pretty good sign that I’m following a thought goat.
So, what to do? In the Praktikos, Evagrius says that “it is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions.” If each distracting thought, good or bad, is a goat, then if I pay attention, it’s like I’m offering the goat grass and inviting it to climb into the car with me and make a nice goat bed and maybe come camping with me too. I’ve never tried to roust a goat from a Subaru four-door, but I imagine that it’s pretty difficult!
I have tried (am trying) to roust out logismoi—and from what I can see from the lives of the Desert Ammas and Abbas, it’s a long fight in which victory consists not in banishing all the logismoi, but in not being disturbed and distracted when they do pop up. Various writers have called this state apatheia, purity of heart, recollection, interior silence or unceasing prayer, and descriptions of how to reach this state are pretty much unlimited.
But for me, I’ve discovered a simple and effective slogan to help me remember what I’m supposed to do: Don’t feed the thought goats!