Welcoming the Children at Our Doorstep

Silence gives consent,” according to St. Sir Thomas More.

I cannot remain silent in the face of evil. I don’t know how anyone can.

This new policy (and it is a NEW policy) of separating families at illegal border crossings is pure evil. Trump, Kelly, Nielsen, and Sessions will be judged one day, but as for me, judgement day is today, and I will not be silent.  I tossed and turned again last night.  My outrage has given way to pure heartbreak and it is difficult to think of anything else.

One doesn’t have to be a witness to or a survivor of Hitler’s Nazi Regime (or any other oppressive regime) to be able to learn from history, or see similar patterns. My two take-aways from my college course “Hitler and Nazism” have stayed with me all these years, “If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes true. And the more absurd the lie, the better.”  And, “Evil is allowed to be committed when good people sit idly by and do nothing.” Trump and his staff are liars and they are committing evil, unthinkable harm.  Trump and Sessions’ “zero-tolerance” policy has little to do with party politics, it is a policy devised by power-hungry, self-serving men bent on creating a dictatorial state.  In a Forbes article from 2013 Jim Powell describes how a democracy can easily, over time degrade into a dictatorship.  He uses the example of Germany in the early 20th C and how “[The Nazis] became the largest political organization in Germany, and by January 30, 1933, with the help of a little blackmail, Hitler emerged as Germany’s chancellor – the head of government. He proceeded to consolidate unlimited power before anybody realized what was happening.”  Sound familiar?

Consider that Powell wrote this article in 2013, long before the 2016 presidential election.  Below is a list of his bullet points at the end of the article which should make any American shudder:

  • Bad economic policies and foreign policies can cause crises that have dangerous political consequences.
  • Politicians commonly demand arbitrary power to deal with a national emergency and restore order, even though underlying problems are commonly caused by bad government policies.
  • In hard times, many people are often willing to go along with and support terrible things that would be unthinkable in good times.
  • Those who dismiss the possibility of a dictatorial regime in America need to consider possible developments that could make our circumstances worse and politically more volatile than they are now – like runaway government spending, soaring taxes, more wars, inflation and economic collapse.
  • Aspiring dictators sometimes give away their intentions by their evident desire to destroy opponents.
  • There’s no reliable way to prevent bad or incompetent people from gaining power.
  • A political system with a separation of powers and checks & balances – like the U.S. Constitution – does make it more difficult for one branch of government to dominate the others.
  • Ultimately, liberty can be protected only if people care enough to fight for it, because everywhere governments push for more power, and they never give it up willingly.

The current policy and crisis at our southern border requires some honest perspective and real action if we are to protect our liberties and provide aid and comfort to those in need.  Fr. James Martin, S.J., editor of America Magazine, has issued an article full of links on ways to help turn our outrage into positive action.  Lots of other civic and faith-based groups are doing the same thing; making it easy for us to make our voices heard and come together to help the most vulnerable, refugee children at our doorstep.

How I wish I could go to the border, or go to Washington D.C., but that’s just not realistically possible.  If you’re like me, instead find a local event that you can make time for.  I just learned of one in Jensen Beach, Treasure Coast Mall entrance on US 1, 11:00am-1:00pm, Saturday, June 30th.

That’s the action part….. Now for some perspective to contemplate on prior to taking action:

At yesterday’s presentation at the Motherhouse in Adrian, Sr. Tarianne, OP read a beautiful poem called “Home” by the Somali-English poet Warsan Shire.  Listen to it and image yourself in a situation where your home is “the mouth of a shark” or where “you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.”

Fr. Richard Rohr’s reflection this morning also needs to be considered:

“Searching for and rediscovering the True Self is the fundamentum, the essential task that will gradually open us to receiving and giving love to God, others, and ourselves, and thus to live truly just lives. Grace builds on nature; it does not avoid or destroy nature. You are created in the image of God from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26-27). This is the basis for God’s justice: Since everyone is made in the image of God, then we need to recognize, honor, and respect the image of God in everyone. No exceptions.”

My prayer is that we may all discover and honor the image of God in ourselves and others, especially the most vulnerable.


Discerning Again: How I’ve Come to Dread “Discernment”

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been otherwise occupied by a number of things. To say the least.

The first semester here at school was extremely busy and the work spilled over into my “free time” all the time. If we volunteers weren’t teaching, grading, or getting lesson plans together, we were busy helping with fundraisers, sitting in meetings, or conducting parent-teacher conferences. All part of teaching, but a little over the top.  So, Christmas break was indeed a welcome break.  And then there was the depression that set in somewhere around Thanksgiving, followed by feelings of regret, stupidity, and the usual self-pity party (I haven’t thrown a party like that in years!).  Then my grandmother died January 19th.  So I went home to mourn with my family, clear my head and do some discerning.

Discernment.  I’ve developed a distinct distaste for that word.  I’m not too crazy about the process, either.  It’s hard work, it takes time, and it requires that I examine my inner self, accept it, and then make choices that will change my life.

In 2008 I entered a period of religious discernment.  It led me to the Adrian Dominicans and, after a year of formation, I became an Associate in November of 2009.  This process was emotional, but in the end I enjoyed the process and learned a lot about myself.  It also helped me to deepen my prayer-life, and in turn, my trust in God’s will for me.  In the fall of 2014 I once again entered a period of discernment.  This time the process was not what I would call enjoyable; in fact it was pretty painful.  In the end I totally uprooted myself and moved to New Mexico to serve the Jicarilla Apache children of Dulce.  The kids are great!  The people, the mountains, the environment, and even the snow are all wonderful, but in the end this mission is not a good fit for me.  It isn’t what I’ve found or experienced here, but what is missing here that has caused me to begin the process of discernment once again.

What’s missing at my current stop are not the material things like a local Starbuck’s, high-speed internet, or the beach.  I am missing time for the things that keep my spirituality healthy like regular mass with a priest and access to the sacraments, time for reflection and contemplation, time for my artwork, time for inspirational reading, time for online & on-pavement activism, and time to spend with my Creator.

Is it possible that the more I go through the process of discernment, the more painful it becomes?  Or is it that my past discernments have been false?  Perhaps I’m simply on a journey that requires a series of stops along the way.

Discernment:  It’s a bitch, and she’s biting my butt again.

Reflections On Peace Day 2014

Last summer I visited the Motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan for the first time. I was there again last month for the annual Justice & Peace Promoters meeting, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and sharing with the other promoters whom I had only seen or heard through our web-ex meetings. I arrived Saturday afternoon just in time for supper. Afterwards I went on one of the nature trails and saw a Blue Heron, a family of ducks and their four little ducklings, and two doe who gracefully pranced by me as I picked some wildflowers. They were about 20 feet away and just about the most peaceful creatures I had ever seen! With the conflicts, wars, violence, and overall un-peacefulness of the world these days, I felt a little guilty at being blessed enough to be in this place. It was a great opportunity to be at rest and at peace with my thoughts in such a beautiful place. I rarely get to relax at home once school starts, so I welcomed the tranquility.

Still, my thoughts in that God-kissed place turned to those who are displaced in Iraq because of their faith or religious sect.  Those who are persecuted for their faith by ISIS or oppressive dictators or regimes. I think of them, and I think of the Palestinians, the people of Ukraine, Syria, Immigrants in the US facing uncertainty & deportation, and those suffering with the fear and loss that comes with Ebola. Where is their opportunity for retreat, peace, and sanctuary? When will they get relief from fear, anxiety, suffering, and death?

On the first day of our meeting we talked a lot about Immigration Reform in the US.  We watched the movie “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” This powerful film “tells the story of a migrant who found himself in the deadly stretch of desert known as ‘the corridor of death’ and shows how one life becomes testimony to the tragic results of the U.S. war on immigration. As the real-life drama unfolds we see this John Doe, denied an identity at his point of death, become a living and breathing human being with an important life story.”  I recommend this film to anyone who works with Immigrants, supports Immigration Reform, and to anyone who thinks of these people as anything less than our brothers and sisters.  There was one man in the film who said basically, “What number of dead is the ‘magic number’ that will make us sit up and take notice?  What number of dead will make us care?”

Day two of our meeting focused on Environmental Justice, War & Peace, and Conflict Zones (specifically Iraq, Gaza, and Ukraine).  Yep.  We crammed a lot in!  So often I get overwhelmed by all the devastation in our world and I’m left feeling numb.  Meetings like this can make me feel hopeless, except it didn’t.  In such a place of peace & hope, I left feeling energized and full of promise.  We made some decisions on actions to take, projects to share, and avenues to pursue in our ongoing work for peace and justice.  I can’t change the world alone, but (cliche as it sounds) together we can make a difference.

With International Day of Peace coming up next Sunday, September 21st, there are lots of opportunities to make a difference and bring a bit of peace & justice into your corner of the world.  Peace One Day is a site full of ideas, resources, and inspiration!   Started in 1999 by Jeremy Gilley Peace One Day strives to raise awareness of International Day of Peace through coalitions, the arts, and education.  If you can, join the thousands of people who will be in NYC for the People’s Climate March.  Oh, how I wish I could be there!  Some Adrian Dominican Sisters will be there with the LCWR.  I will be sending my ribbon along to be part of the “Tree of Life” installation. You might want to do this; there’s still time to mail it!  Just write what you don’t want to lose to climate chaos on a two-foot length of ribbon & include your name, age, & where you’re from.  Of course, one of my favorite Peace Day activities is the Pinwheels for Peace!  I’ll be planting pinwheels in my yard while praying for peace and the success of those marching in NYC.

And in the coming year, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and a bit hopeless, my peace a bit shaken, I’ll reflect again on my mini-retreat in Adrian, and the good we do working for peace and justice.

Peace to everyone!


Have You Written Pope Francis Lately?

Lately I’ve been thinking about some of the “lost arts” like letter writing, sewing, baking, and needlework. Letter writing is an art that is sometimes missed by those over a certain age, and completely unknown to the youth of today.  Do you remember “snail-mail?”  Well, once upon a time I used to be quite good at it (I was stunned when my mother revealed to me that she has saved all of my letters from when I was in college!).

Letter writing truly is an art.  While writing letters to family or friends, you connect in a very tangible, intimate way.  You express yourself slowly and deliberately, and then, once the letter is mailed, you are filled with anticipation, hope, and wonder while your await a reply.  It could be weeks before you receive a response!  Today’s media and technology make us all impatient.  If we don’t receive a reply within 24 hours, we’re ready to “un-friend” a true friend and anyone else who “follows” them!  I imagine the bloggers of today were once excellent letter-writers in a former life, but now our art has been conscripted to our computers, lap-tops, and the internet.  Until now!

Today I stumbled upon a blog post from the Jesuits which shares Fr. Jim Hug’s letter to our dear Pope Francis.  I love it!  I met Fr. Jim just last week, and have had the privilege of hearing him speak and proclaim the Gospel three times in Adrian during this last year.  His delivery is inspiring and stirs the Spirit!  Please read his letter to the Pope.  It will stir your spirit as well, and may even inspire you (as it did me) to reclaim the lost art of letter-writing!  I do wonder how Pope Francis will reply?

I patiently await his reply.

Well, I’m Not at Peace!

Early this week I knew something was off in my world.  My mentor & friend Sr. Helene didn’t answer when I called & didn’t return my call as usual.  I couldn’t stop crying or stop thinking about her Tuesday morning, so I made some calls.  By 10 am I got word that she was unresponsive and not expected to live long.  Well, she held out for the vigil of the Assumption of Mary.  That’s just so like her!  Life & death by Feast Days!

Thankfully she is at peace, but I am not!  I don’t know why this has hit me so hard, but it has & I’m totally out of sorts.  I’ve been dealing a lot with suffering, death, and big changes in the last several years, so maybe I’m just on overload.  Maybe I’m thinking of my own mortality.  Maybe I am just tired of losing friends & family.  Maybe it’s because she is so far away, & I can’t go to her funeral.  Maybe I’m human & I just hurt.

My mother once told me, “Your relationship with your father hasn’t ended just because he died.  It’s just changed.”  I believe that.  Every time I cut up fruits & vegetables in my hands instead of on the cutting board, I hear my dad yelling at me to stop, & I yell back “I know!  I know!  I’m fine!  Stop worrying, I’m not gonna cut myself!”  Twelve years later I still say goodnight to him before I turn out the lights.

I had a special bond with Sr. Helene & I don’t think I’ll ever have that again with anyone else.  Special relationships are a blessing, and I will miss her deeply.  When I begin to truly let go & begin the healing process I will be back to blogging about peace & justice for people, plants, animals, & the world.  For now, I need some time to be sad, a little selfish, mournful, and a bit contemplative.  I think St. Dominic would grant me that dispensation.

Retreat to a Joyful Hilltop, Part II

The reason for my visit to the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse was two-fold:  Visit with Sr. Helene (my mentor), and attend the conference on “Dimensions of Earth-Keeping: The Biblical, Legal, & Practical.”  The annual Associates Retreat is going on right now, and I was planning on attending that, but I’m a practical person.  If I have to save money for 8 months to fly somewhere for less than a week, I want to get the most out of my trip.  So, back in February when I spieled the “All School Garden” idea to my principal & got approval for this huge project, AND saw this conference on Earth-Keeping being offered at the Weber Center, it was a “no-brainer” that I should attend.  I decided to go up a day before the conference and stay two days after so I could really enjoy all the beauty & serenity that this place has to offer.  Also, I really wanted to spend some quality time with Sr. Helene!

Now, I bring 30 years of gardening experience & a life-long love & respect for the natural world to a retreat like this one on Earth-Keeping, so you know I was in my element!  A room full of Dominicans talking about our faith, our call to care for the Earth (biblical & legal), and how to save it from destruction (again the legal & also the practical).  Yep.  I totally loved this trip on many levels.

Sr. Pat Bensen, OP began by debunking the overly misinterpreted & misunderstood passage in the Book of Genesis (Gen 1:26-30).  The idea that we humans have “dominion” over the Earth & all it’s creatures has made humans think & act as if we are at the top of a pyramid structure and that all the Earth is a kind of resource for us to consume.  A better, more balanced understanding is that we are ALL created in God’s image, and we (humans) are in harmony with creation (& God) when we understand that we are just one of many species within a circular structure, not a pyramid.  From the very beginning of Sr. Pat’s talk my thoughts turned to Indigenous Peoples and all that we (those of us with a Western Colonialist mentality) could learn from these beautiful cultures, and all that we have tried to destroy out of (again) our misunderstanding & arrogance.

On Saturday Sr. Pat Siemen, OP presented the “legal” implications of working for “Nature’s Rights.”  She teaches & works at the Center for Earth Jurisprudence in Orlando, Florida (the direct link to the Center was down at the time of this posting, but should be up again soon; the above link explains the Center’s mission).  Sr. Pat talked about how we need to change our worldview from an “ego-human-centered” one (the pyramid) to a more balanced “nature-centered” view (the circle).  She said something that makes perfect sense to me, “We can’t have legal change until we have cultural & spiritual change.”  We need to change our worldview before it is too late, and, according to a 1992 report put out by about 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, it already is.  Laws that protect & affirm Nature’s Rights will never become a reality until we experience a deep desire to change our understanding of our connection to creation.

After we were thoroughly depressed by the apparent lack of laws on the books to protect Nature’s Rights, and our rapid demise as a species, Sr. Mary Ellen Leciejewski offered a ray of hope!  Her presentation focused on what she & her staff at Dignity Health Hospital in Santa Cruz, California have done to lower their waste, reduce their carbon footprint, and educate patients and staff about some of these important environmental issues.  They even have a garden!  You know Sr. Mary Ellen & I talked about that one!  So, there are solutions out there, but we really need to wake up & smell the toxic waste.

After the conference I went in search of the 60′ wide Labyrinth & walked that, meditating & digesting all I had learned during the conference.  Along the edge of the woods around the Labyrinth I spied something I haven’t enjoyed in almost 10 years:  Wild Blackberries!  I gobbled-up some as I picked a handful to be added to my yogurt at breakfast in the morning.  Yum!

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Dinner was followed by a visit with Sr. Helene and then a tour of the vegetable gardens with Sr. Mary (who was also visiting with Sr. Helene).  What an impressive site of raised beds & huge tomatoes!  I wish everyone could get as excited as I do about growing & preparing your own food.  I think it really is a starting point to changing our worldview.

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More about my trip & how I had dinner with “Dominican Rock-stars” later!

Retreat to a Joyful Hilltop in Adrian, Part I

As some of you know I am an Associate of the Adrian Dominican Sisters in Adrian, Michigan.  They started Barry University (Miami, Florida) as well as the school where I teach in Florida, St. Anastasia’s.  My mentor, Sr. Helene Dompierre was at St. A’s for almost 40 years, but a little more than 2 years ago she got very sick and went back to the Motherhouse in Adrian.  We both thought we had said goodbye for the last time when I saw her off at the airport, but last week we enjoyed yet more quality time together, and this time it was in the best place ever:  The Motherhouse in Michigan!  What a place!  What a good trip!  What a wonderful time with such a special, holy woman of God!

Sr. Mary Louise picked me up at the airport & upon arrival at the Motherhouse gave me the “driving tour” of the campus.  Such a pretty location among the farms & corn fields, with the fair grounds just over the ridge on the other side of Siena Heights Drive.  She dropped me off at the Weber Center & I checked into room 318, a corner room overlooking the back of the INAI studio (formerly the laundry room!).  Each morning sunlight poured into my room & woke me up, sometimes before my alarm sounded.Image

So!  After unpacking I took a walk & soon became the new favorite snack-food of Michigan’s version of mosquitos!  Traveling Tip:  When a brochure tells you where to find the “OFF!” spray by the back door, you can be sure these bugs have 2″ fangs!!!!  I’m used to mosquitos, but these things must have been genetically modified by some of Monsanto’s GMO corn in the fields around the county!

downsized_0720132019aMy walk took me to the cemetery, past the greenhouse, and two of several gardens I would later visit with Sr. Mary.  Some of the sisters make jokes about how the residencies are set-up in relation to the cemetery; the closer you live to the cemetery, the closer you are to death.  Rather morbid, but everyone seems to chuckle about it.  These sisters have an amazingly healthy outlook on life and death!  As for the cemetery, it is a beautiful space!  Who wouldn’t want to be buried here?
downsized_0720132025On June 29th of this year we lost another “holy woman of God” (I met more of them on my trip), Sr. Paul Emelia Brown, OP.  After a month-long battle of trying to recover from injuries sustained in a car accident she passed away.  She was Sr. Helene’s “room mate” for 25 years in Florida, and a beloved member of our Mission Group.  She was cremated & then buried in Adrian just a few days before I arrived.  I found where she is, in the center of one of the far circles (her stone isn’t made yet).  I prayed her favorite prayer, the Memorare.

downsized_0720132019 The cemetery is made up of large concentric circles which are added to each year and go back to the beginnings of the congregation/community when the first Dominican sisters arrived from New York in the late 19th Century.  The site is so peaceful and beautiful; I saw three deer run by at the lower edge where the woods begin.

Wonder & awe!  It was sunset; time to go.

[More about my trip & my experiences in “Part II!”]