Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Prayer: A Different Kind of Work

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have come and gone; now we celebrate Christmas season. Some of us keep our trees lit while others take the tree down and pack the lights and ornaments away until next year. But what of the Christ Child? Did we see when he came into our lives this year? Do we still hear his cry?

Our Urban Abbey is a place where I still hear the baby Jesus’ cry. I sit in wonder. I view, pray, listen, and change. I live in a world of work, of doing. I (perhaps too often) only think I am successful when I am busy, moving, working…

This year I saw different kind of work, the work of prayer. I, along with several other Urban Abbey members viewed the BBC film The Monastery, based on life in Worth Abbey in the United Kingdom. During our Thanksgiving travels, Patty and I spent a night in the guesthouse at Saint Mary’s Monastery in Petersham, Massachusetts. Last night I finally watched Into Great Silence, a movie about the Grande Chartreuse, which, according to the movie web site, “is considered one of the world’s most ascetic monasteries”. All three of these experiences revolve around groups of people who have chosen prayer as their life’s work. While I strive to fit prayer in as I perform my many chores, these folks strive to fit their chores into a life of prayer. What strikes me most is not how little prayer I fit in, but how wonderful it is to find communities where the work IS prayer. These are deep resources in our world, reminding me to take time to sit and listen, to kneel and pray…

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Prayer

Dear Abbey Members and Friends: I thought you might find some insights in the Advent Prayer by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. Shalom, George
Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

O Coming One,
give me a steadfast spirit
to wait for you with grace.

Give me patience to listen
for your breathing
in the breath of your people.

Give me courage to trust
your continually blossoming presence
even in the unseeing darkness.

Give me wisdom to see
your manger in rough places,
your star in dark nights.

Give me gentleness
to receive you as a child
amidst the shouting of kings and warriors.

O Blossoming One, you are the love
with which I wait tenderly
for the coming of your love.

O Holy Child, come to me
that I may fall in love with you,
and become wholly yours,
in faith, in love, in steadfast hope.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alice Dancing Under the Gallows

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

Norma shared the item below about forgiveness. I thought you also would find it useful.

This is a wonderful example of one of the Gifts of Christmas we explored from Brother Curtis’ book, Unwrapping the Gifts: the Twelve Days of Christmas. As we prepare for Christmas, letting go of old hurts and forgiving ourselves and those who we have issues with can free us to really experience the joys of Christmas and prepare to receive the Christ child.

Shalom, George

On Wed, Dec 8, 2010 at 3:30 PM, Norma wrote:

George, this reminded me of last Sunday's Gifts of Christmas meditation. If this woman forgives, how can we not, I asked myself.

Norma K...

Alice Dancing Under the Gallows

The trailer:
The book and documentary:
Everything is a Present
“Life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything is a present.“
~ Alice Sommer Herz

Alice “Gigi” Sommer Herz is thought of with affection by hundreds of thousands of people in the world as both a sage and a saint. Her wisdom is evident in almost everything that she says. Her saintliness is seen in her almost unique tolerance and her compassion. She has the true gift of forgiveness. At 106, she is the second oldest person in London, lives entirely alone in a small flat and practices the piano for two and a half hours every day.

She was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for two years with her six-year-old son and remembers her inability to feed her child and to answer his questions, as an indescribable nightmare. She remembers also playing more than 100 concerts in the camp and likens the experience, both for the performers and for the listeners, to being close to the divine. She is in no doubt that music saved her sanity as well as her life and the lives of hundreds of others.

She elaborates on this theme in this new film.

She has suffered experiences which no human being should have to endure, including the deaths of both her mother and her husband at the hands of the Nazis and yet she speaks about her experiences with a simplicity and a quiet grace that win the hearts of all who discover her.

She says that she has never hated and never will, in spite of all that has happened and in spite of growing up in Prague in the midst of three warring cultures, Czech, German and Jewish.

She does not even hate the Nazis who put her in the concentration camp because she sees very deep and she knows that hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated.

At 104 she published a book about her life and experiences. That is to say, two writers in Hamburg compiled a book from hundreds of conversations with her over nearly 3 years.

That book,A Garden of Eden in Hell, rapidly became a best-seller and has already, within two years, been published in seven languages.

Gigi Sommer is also the heroine of our multi-prize-winning film, We Want the Light, which has been shown on television and won her a following in many parts of the world.

I am in no doubt that Gigi Sommer was the source of all those prizes. That is not false modesty. I am not denying the skill and hard work that I and my colleagues put into the making of the film but the inner strength, the element that raised it so high came, in my view, from our 98 year old star.

We have made a 48 minute tribute to her which consists almost entirely of material which has never before been seen on television, anywhere.

In our film she speaks in her quiet and appealing way, even when she is describing shocking events and she plays Schubert, Smetana and Beethoven in a style which the world has long forgotten. It is the style of Artur Schnabel, who was one of her teachers: a style redolent of a happier and more confident time in music making and one which many will find heartwarming.

And so the film is an historical document which bears witness both factually and musically.

As she approached her hundred and sixth birthday in November of 2009, she said to me, "Old age is an illness. I am not myself. The body cannot resist as it did in the past. I think I am in my last days but it doesn't matter because I have had such a beautiful life."

That statement, so typical of Gigi Sommer, so penetrating and so touching, prompted us to make this new film in celebration of her 106th birthday and her extraordinary, wonderful life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Helping One Another

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

I started my new job with the Navy this week and it has been a whirlwind of emotions for me. I am excited at the opportunity to be back in the workforce and serve our country again. I am a bit sad as well. I thoroughly enjoyed being home and having the opportunity to be with Penny on a more extended basis. The ramp up to being productive in my new job is a bit like ‘drinking from a fire hose’…and a cause for worry of will I be up to the task.

Through all this, I realize how blessed I am. I have been surrounded by a loving wife who has encouraged and believes in me; I have been encouraged and supported by many of you, both by your prayers and by your presence. I am also blessed in my new work place by a supervisor and his deputy who have taken a great deal of time to help me get my bearings. This is to me a most wonderful example of a community caring for its members. Certainly in this Advent season of preparation we are called to look out for one another. The Christmas season is a great joy for most of us; but, for some, it can be a time of great sadness. Just as those who surrounded me kept their eyes (both physical and spiritual) on me and how I was doing. I believe we as a Community are called to be more vigilant of those around us. We need to offer our presence and be their spiritual anchor.

How can we be more vigilant an caring of others? I invite your thoughts and suggestions.

Shalom and many Christmas blessings, George

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Pause that Refreshes

Monday, December 6 -
Begin your Advent journey with this evening pilgrimage of spiritual refreshment and community.

Monday, December 6

The Labyrinth Will Be Open for Walking 5:30-7:30 PM

Taize Service ~ 7:30 – 8:15 PM

Light Refreshments will be provided

You may arrive or depart at any point in the evening, as you desire.

"Lord, as we once again feel the pressure to keep pace with an increasingly hurried world, let us pause today to remember your constant presence in our lives. You have called us to be a people who rise above the frantic nature of our surroundings. Let us reflect the peace of your Spirit today. Amen."

[posted for Norma by George]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Praying While Working

From the portion of the Rule of Benedict appointed for April 1, August 1, December 1:
Chapter 50: On Sisters Who are Working Far From the Oratory or Are on a Journey

Those sisters who are working at a great distance and cannot get to the oratory at the proper time -- the Abbess judging that such is the case -- shall perform the Work of God in the place where they are working, bending their knees in reverence before God.

Likewise those who have been sent on a journey shall not let the appointed Hours pass by, but shall say the Office by themselves as well as they can and not neglect to render the task of their service.

Is my work "far from the oratory"? I think so. And as a member of the Urban Abbey I am called to pray regularly, specifically, we are called to "Pray daily, guided by the Book of Common Prayer or another Christian format, and worship regularly in community". But here is a reminder to keep at it, which is really the best we can do.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Want To PrayThe Hours? Try Outlook!

Dear Urban Abbey, Loretta Goodwin joined us this passed weekend for our annual retreat and blessed us by incorporating beautiful poetry into the morning prayer service she led. We were fascinated by her explanation of her modern means for keeping the hours and we asked her to share her experience with you. Given the poetry she read we highly recommend the book Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day. We can all benefit from a rhythmic practice of keeping the hours.  Much thanks to Loretta for enhancing our understanding of how we can keep the hours.--

I attended the Urban Abbey retreat at Shrine Mont this past weekend, and it was wonderful to be welcomed as a guest into this community. The program for the weekend focused on watching a BBC production called "The Monastery"- available on YouTube, and well worth the watching, and follow-up discussion.  The program invited us to think about what relevance the Benedictine Rules of living have for today's world, and as we watched 5 ordinary men enter and live with a community of monks at Worth Abbey in England for 40 days and 40 nights, our thinking was challenged regarding what it meant to live in community, and how the rules promoted spiritual development and growth.  

During one of the follow-up discussions we engaged in, as we tackled the tough questions of how it was possible to incorporate the Rule into our daily lives, I shared what I try and do on a daily basis.  It's not about following all the Rules, and it's not always fool-proof, but it is a start towards pausing throughout the day, and reminding myself of God's presence.  Based on the recommendation of a friend, a while ago I read Macrina Wiederkehr's book, Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day.  Rather than focus on the historical text of the hours, this book provides one with poetic reflection material on the spirit of the hours.  Faced with many options to read at the seven sacred pauses (Matins, Morning Prayer, Third Hour of the Day, Sixth Hour, Ninth Hour, Evensong, Compline), I have chosen a few texts that have special meaning for me, that resonate deeply with something I have felt, or experienced.  I have then entered these texts into my Outlook calendar, at 7am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 7pm, and 9pm, which causes me to receive automatic alerts at specified times during the day (and let me be clear - I am focused on Morning Prayer through Compline!  Engaging in Matins? I'm not there yet).   

Thus I begin my day with a text from the awakening hour, "Set the clock of your heart for dawn's arrival. Taste the joy of being awake," followed by one of Macrina's sacred songs that reminds me to "breathe in the rays of dawn, raise high the chalice of your life."  I also love reading Mary Oliver's poem, The Summer Day, at the start of each day, and will soon explore acquiring another poem I just learned about while attending the Sunday morning service with St. Anne's at Shrine Mont, by John O'Donahue, called The Morning Blessings.  

As the day progresses, my calendar alerts me to the passing of the  hours, and provides the appropriate text. Admittedly, sometimes, due to work, I can't  take a few moments to silently contemplate and reflect, and listen for God's word, but the mere reminder serves to alert me to God's presence throughout the day.  I invite you to try it out!

Loretta Goodwin

Friday, November 5, 2010

Urban Abbey Retreat

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

This weekend is the annual Urban Abbey winter retreat at Shrine Mont. One of our members asked for the schedule of events so that those who were not able to attend could pray for those on retreat. The schedule is below. We invite you all to pray for those on retreat. They ask us to pray specifically for the following three things...
1) Safety for all participants while traveling and while there.
2) That we, as a community, will grow in our understanding and desire
to be a community that offers Christ in this world.
3) That God's presence will be experienced throughout the weekend,
both for those at Shrinemont and the part of our community who will
not be able to join us.

“Living in Community” Urban Abbey Retreat
Shrine Mont, Nov. 5 – 7, 2010
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." (Phil. 2-1-2)
Friday, Nov 5
7:00 p.m. Boardroom, Virginia House: Introductions/Gathering Activity
7:15 – 7:30 p.m. Overview of “The Monastery”
7:30 – 8:30 p.m. “The Monastery,” Part I
8:45 – 9:30 p.m. Portlock: Small Group Discussions
9:30 p.m. Compline
Saturday, Nov 6
7:30 a.m. Portlock: Morning Prayer
9:00 – 9:45 a.m. Boardroom, Virginia House: Lectio Divina
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. “The Monastery,” Part II
11:15 a.m. – Noon Portlock: Small Group Discussions
5:00 p.m. Portlock: Porching
6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Boardroom, Virginia House: “The Monastery,” Part III
7:45 – 8:30 p.m. Portlock: Small Group Discussions
8:45 p.m. Campfire, with Taizé & S’Mores
Sunday, Nov 7
9:00 a.m. Cathedral Shrine – worship with St. Anne’s of Reston
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Portlock: “Living in Community”
11:30 a.m. Closing Prayer
Depart in Peace

[posted for Laurie & Angela by George]

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Voting and Praying

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends: Below is today’s meditation from Steve Garnaas-Holmes. I did vote yesterday, but I was struck by the wonderful images of prayer and its power. The part that resonated most with me is in the middle of his reflection, “When you pray you yourself change—which changes the world.” For me this is an excellent reminder as I am with other people that the only person I can hope to change is me…and that I need to respect others where they are in their lives and walk with God.

What are your thoughts on Pastor Steve’s meditation? Shalom and many blessings, George

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you

Yesterday your vote went into a pile, became a number, and got added up and compared to another pile. And then it disappeared. It's over. But when you pray your prayer goes into God, and is treasured forever.

When you vote, you are trying to influence an outcome. When you pray you let go of outcomes and become open to God's inflowing grace.

When you vote, you try to get someone or something else to change. When you pray you yourself change—which changes the world.

When you vote and lose, nothing comes of it. You lost. When you pray for something that has not come yet, as when you pray for peace, or justice for the poor, your prayer vibrates in harmony with the delight of God, which is the energy of the world, and transforms the world.

Your vote may or may not have an effect but your prayer always has an effect. You are a nerve cell of God. When you pray you deepen the world's awareness.

It was good that you voted yesterday. Now pray, and exercise some real power.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints Day

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends: Following is a reflection on All Saints Day by Rev Steve Garnaas-Holmes. I found this a really wonderful and affirming meditation…I felt compelled to share this with you.

I plan to spend some more quiet time letting God speak to me through this meditation. I think this meditation would lent itself well to using a Lectio Divina type approach.

Shalom and many blessings, George

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

You are God's holy saint,
chosen and blessed,
given sacred gifts,
invested with divine powers.
You were born to radiate the glory of God,
to fulfill God's deepest desires,
to complete God's delight.
You are given an extraordinary heart
for love, if only you discover it.
All that you do
has hidden in it this holy purpose,
this infinite potential.

You are not unusual among saints,
neither more nor less sanctified than any of them.
They are all people who have lives,
who wake up and make choices,
who do chores and forget things
and do not understand their place
in the splendor of the heavens.
This is not an excuse.

You were born to be holy.
This is not a burden,
not a duty, a command or an obligation,
not a threat or a trap.
It is a gift.
Let it be a wonder,
a mystery to ponder,
so that in your hands
it becomes a gift,
and you join the great choir
singing the magnificence of this life
and the One who gives it.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Saints Day Taize Service

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends: A reminder -- Saint George's will hold a Taizé worship service on Monday, November 1, at 7:30 PM. This contemplative service will last around 45 minutes, and will include prayer, meditative singing, lighting of candles, and silence for meditation. This continues our series of First Mondays Taizé worship services.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prayers on a Busy Day

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"
Today is a busy day and as I was about to run out of the house one of my meditation's reminded me I can pray the "Jesus Prayer". Followed perhaps by saying it again later today at some time when life slowed down a little, say at a traffic light or when waiting in line.

Then I remembered:

"Father, Thank You"

I often say this prayer when I something is going on and I don't know what to say, perhaps when the day all of a sudden gets very difficult. I can pause, inhale saying "Father" (or "God" or "Jesus") and exhale saying "Thank You". A complete prayer - Acknowledging God streaming into me as the air enters my lungs, expressing my thanks for God's work in my life as I exhale...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Civil Incivility

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

Penny & I are in Texas visiting her mom who has Alzheimer’s. One of the spiritual disciplines I have is to listen to the “Speaking of Faith” [now called “Being] podcasts distributed through NPR. This morning as I was exercising, I was listening to the most recent podcast of an interview with Richard Mouw on “Restoring Political Civility”. This really spoke to me today not just in the narrow confines of the political arena, but in my life as a Christian and Urban Abbey member.

Richard’s phrase “civil incivility” in my mind really boils down to a call for listening…deep listening. I certainly find that in the charged issues that confront me – same sex marriage, racial hatred, terrorist attacks on the innocent – it is so easy to demonize all those on the other side of those issues. As I look at the country’s current political arena, I see a growing polarization between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats. If I take all these issues, I find that I have a tendency toward incivility – holding my beliefs so strongly that I can’t listen to another point of view.

I, and I believe, we the Urban Abbey Community are called to model what Richard would call a more civil approach to those with differing opinions. As a community we need to find ways to navigate disagreement while modeling gentleness and civility. Taking the time to really listen to another is one of the answers for me. When we listen and hear what another is saying we can find areas of common ground that can allow us to move forward.

I invite you to download the interview at the following url: I also ask you to share your thoughts with the community on how we can be models of healing in our larger Church and Christian community.

Shalom and many blessings, George

Friday, October 15, 2010

Psalm from a Chilean Mine

Dear Abbey Members and Friends: I think the following is a wonderful thanksgiving prayer for the rescue of the miners. I want to share it with you. Shalom, George

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

God of grace, I praise you!
Let me never take you for granted!
My very being is your doing,
and my life is a testimony to you.
For I was buried deep
and you brought me up.
I was in darkness
and you gave me light.
I was in a narrow place
and you have brought me out
to a spacious and open-armed land,
to people who love me.

Cut off, I thought I was alone,
but you were with me:
you accompanied me in my helplessness;
you sat with me in my solitude.
In the dark, I could not see
anyone to rescue me.
But there were those who prayed for me,
who labored for my well-being.

How soon will I forget
that you are my life?
How quiet will I be
about your grace?
How afraid will I be of the dark,
how despairing in my difficulties?

Holy One, you are my gladness;
you are my confidence.
In my tightest spots I will trust you,
and count on your unfailing grace.
When most alone I will rely on you,
and your loving presence.
O God of Presence, you are my life.
I thank you with all of my living.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dear all,

As this week passes and it is my turn to reflect on our community again, I can’t help but think of the passing of one of our members, Nancy McCracken. I am sure there were several members of our community who knew her better than me and can share many stories, both funny and rich that reflect the great gift she was to not only St. Georges’ but also Arlington as a whole.
When I think of Nancy the word ‘service’ comes to mind. I found her always willing to do what was asked. I remember her in the early days of the Abbey really struggling with the idea of being contemplative. We had more than one discussion about it. I don’t know that she ever was comfortable with the silence, and truth be told she often fell asleep during the quiet times in the Abbey life. Although I don’t believe she ever grew comfortable with the “contemplative approach” to spirituality, she was in fact a deeply spiritual person in her practical, service oriented way. She definitely wanted to be a member of our budding spiritual community. It was “community” that was the life-blood of her relationship to God. In the book Community and Growth, Jean Vanier founder of L’Arche Communities, describes a variety of gifts that people bring to a community. This one described Nancy for me.

"The gift of availability
Availability for service is one of the most marvelous gifts that we can find in community. People who have this gift trust those in authority and the community itself and take on whatever is asked of them. ….
But it is marvelous for a community to have among its members people with this child-like spirit, who are ready to take on whatever is asked of them. They have confidence that it would not be asked if they were not capable of doing it, by the grace of the spirit.
The gift of availability can be transmitted from one person to another, like a fire of love. It brings a community to life.”

I would love to hear from the Abbey members that knew her well. Please share with us how she touched your life or St. George’s. Let's use this blog as means to honor her presence and her passing in our community.

[posted for Angela by George]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Don't forget me....

As I have shared before, I regularly follow Brother Jerome Leo's reflections upon the portion of the Rule of Benedict. Yesterday the appointed portion from the Rule was about "silence" and humility. I am not in a position to keep silent during my day, though more humility is likely a great idea. The reflection, however contained this gem:

"All too often we speak only to remind the universe around us, which has carelessly forgotten for a second that we are its center, of a whole bevy of falsehoods: I am the cutest, smartest, or wittiest, I have the solution to all of this. What folly on the part of the entire cosmos to forget our importance! Better speak to clear the matter up..."

Now, here is something I can latch on to! I love to talk about my favorite subject: Me! Luckily I have two friends at work blessed with the same trait - it is wonderful how often we remind each other of our "humility" by saying something along the lines of "that was a great story, but it couldn't have been true, only I can do something that wonderful" (or horrible or stupid or forgetful). Great to have a wonderful group of friends, but even better to be reminded that next time I can simply listen and care.

If you wish, here is the whole entry, which also has another wonderful nugget attributed to one of the Desert Fathers about how monks spend the day...

February 6, June 7, October 7
Chapter 7: On Humility

The ninth degree of humility is that a monk restrain his tongue and keep silence, not speaking until he is questioned. For the Scripture shows that "in much speaking there is no escape from sin" (Prov. 10:19) and that "the talkative man is not stable on the earth" (Ps. 139:12).


OK, if you are a parent, you cannot speak to your children only when they question you. The therapy bills in later years would be astronomical. There are many situations in a Benedictine life lived in the world, among non-monastics, where this has to be altered, but its kernel of truth must be discovered and maintained.

WHY do we talk needlessly? Quite often it is nothing more than a trick to change the reality around us. We are bored, or we feel we are not getting enough attention or we think the mood too heavy, so we speak to change whatever annoys us at the moment. I should know. I am infamous for creating my own entertainment when things seem dull to me. That's not always a great idea...

Some tough moments, some difficult stuff are meant to be endured. They are part of our necessary learning and growth. Ever notice how we assess a child's maturity by its ability to be quiet and non- fidgety in surroundings (like Church!) that do not spoon feed its attention span? Well, the same is true of us at every stage. We do ourselves harm if we defuse every single tense moment with a word or two. We cheat ourselves.

All too often we speak only to remind the universe around us, which has carelessly forgotten for a second that we are its center, of a whole bevy of falsehoods: I am the cutest, smartest, or wittiest, I have the solution to all of this. What folly on the part of the entire cosmos to forget our importance! Better speak to clear the matter up...

Those who know me are thinking: "HE wrote THIS?!?" Yes, alas, I am guilty of all I wrote. Three times a year the Holy Rule reminds me of that and each time I am aware that I need to work on it. Thanks be to God, the Rule IS read three times a year: usually by the time the next reading comes up, my interest has flagged and I have to start over. As for the part about the talkative not being "stable on the earth," well, there have been times in the last 17 years when God had to nail my feet to the floor to keep me faithful and I am not dead yet... I have not always been His most willing pupil, but oh, is He ever patient! And infinitely merciful!

But, as one Desert Father said, that's what we do all day in monasteries: "We fall down and we get up."

Love and prayers,
Jerome, OSB
Petersham, MA

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Weary Prayer

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

Gentle One,

I am battered.
I am tired.
Something in me deep is weary.
Hold me.

I'm tired of swinging this oar
against the ceaseless waves
against these strong arms
that pound me drown me
pushing against what pushes against
keeping up defending
getting everything done.—
Don't make me have to survive.
Relieve me.

Take this uniform, this costume,
this suit of adequacy. Take it away.
Take this life, another's invention,
this skin I hardly fit into.
Strip me of all that,
till there is only myself,
naked and helpless and beloved
lying in your hand.

Let me be you, asleep in the boat;
let the storm go on on its own.

In the back of the boat,
hold me, rocking, rocking,
maybe even sing a little.
Let me lie here and listen.

Myself, I'll lie here and listen.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First Monday Taize Service

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

This coming Monday, October 4, the feast day of St. Francis, patron of animals and creation, at 7:30 PM, St. George's is initiating the first of a three-part program on the first Mondays of October, November, and December with a Taize service. The November service will commemorate All Saints Day; the December service, St. Nicholas. If you can, please plan to attend this 45 minute service.

If you have attended any of St. George's occasional Taize services in recent years, you know this will be a beautiful and deeply moving experience. If you haven't attended a Taize service in the past, come to experience this beautiful expression of worship.

I hope you have noted the banner and lawn signs announcing the service.

I want especially to thank our Director of Music, Ben Keseley who has done so much -- gone the extra mile and then some -- to bring us an exceptionally beautiful service. Our presence will be a wonderful expression of the support of our Worship Committee for bringing to our church family a breadth of worship opportunities.

Norma K... (posted by George for Norma)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Living in Community

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

At our recent Community meeting, we focused on one element of our Abbey Community – the Listening Groups. In our Listening Groups, we develop bonds and get to know the group members more intimately than we do with the majority of our community. Familiarity breeds love and trust; but, it also allows us to see faults and foibles that may get ‘under our skin’.

Father Talafous’ meditation (below) of a few days ago really struck home to me in the context of living in community…especially one that is non-residential. I am finding that as I grow older, my patience with people who don’t act or think as I do gets very thin. Some of you who think you know me well may find that inconsistent with what you see on the exterior. I’m not exactly sure why, but at my most authentic core, I get extremely frustrated with “fools” – people who don’t act like I expect or have differing opinions. I’ve developed this shell that seems sweet, but masks a heart that is not so sweet and nourishes grudges. At these times, it takes every effort of will to keep my tongue and mind in check. Even though I may not lash out verbally at someone, I am not really building Community if I cannot genuinely erase vengeful feelings. I cannot build Community if I cannot authentically share my inner core. The task for me is to find the courage and the ways to share the hurts or off-putting quirks with the other in a manner that is loving, recognizes the Christ within that person, and invites dialog. The answer for me and my prayer is to put my trust in God, continue to work at giving my will/ego to Christ, and be open to His healing presence. To borrow from our Urban Abbey Collect, “As I cannot in my own strength do this or even with hope of success attempt it, I ask these things, O Creator, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord together with the Spirit. Amen.”

How do you handle disagreements in Community? I invite your thoughts and comments.

Shalom and Many Blessings, George

“After hearing so much in Scripture about forgiveness and mercy we might ask ourselves what the fuss is all about. Don't I forgive? Someone harms me or seriously irritates me and I forgive them, don't I? There is a danger that we take all this too superficially; that we overestimate how easy it is. Just to form the syllables, "I forgive," is physically easy, but genuinely to erase from our hearts vengeful feelings about the other is not easy. It might take time; emotions do not change as swiftly as the mouth can pronounce the words. It is more honest to recognize that we want to forgive someone but can't do it yet. The frequent admonitions to forgive, to have mercy are there perhaps because it does take us a long time to develop a habit of genuine forgiveness. It takes a long time to develop a heart which does not nourish grudges and look for chances to get even, if only with a nasty word. Part of the following of Jesus is imitating His forgiveness. A daily prayer for a gentle, contrite, humble heart is never untimely.” --Fr. Don Talafous, OSB

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Taste and See

Dear Urban Abbey Members, a few days ago my mediation book, God Calling, had the following meditation.

"Taste and See"

"O taste and see that the Lord is good"
Psalm 34:8

"He is good. Trust in Him. Know that all is well. Say 'God is good. God is good.' Just leave in His Hands the present and the future, knowing only that he is good. He can bring order out of chaos, good out of evil, peace out of turmoil. God is good.
I and My father are One. One in desire to do good. For God to do good to His children is for Him to share His goodness with them. God is good, anxious to share His goodness, and good things with you, and He will do this. Trust and be not afraid."

I love that song, and even more since we discerned that God calls us at St. George's to feed his people. But to be honest, I don't always feel God's goodness in the turmoil as I look around? I see friends on the pathway for a divorce. Other's fighting for their life against cancer. Others struggling financially. And that doesn't include all the global issues that upset me like corporate greed that is destroying our environment and our political values. The unjust wars, the devastation from manmade and natural disasters in countries with far fewer resources than our own. I do cry out in my soul, "where is the goodness that you promised? Where is the order in the chaos?" And you know, I don't get a flash of instant answer or I am not overwhelmed by peace.

This particular meditation has been on my mind for several days, and I knew I wanted to write about it because I love the image the song writer captured for us so beautifully, "taste and see God's goodness". But as I have been sitting with this piece, I realized I was missing a major point of this meditation. If it is my heart's deepest desire to experience the goodness, I have to trust. I have to leave all these worries and prayers in his hands. It is one thing to say that, another to do it. I mean really leave the present and the future in his hands, "knowing only that he is good". That means I have to leave my ego behind. I have to give up my false sense of control on my world. I have to step out without seeing and tasting and act as if goodness "is". I even have to give up the picture in my head of what I think goodness looks like. That is a practice I have not mastered yet. But if I can do that, truly trust and give up control, I start to "taste and see." Sometimes I taste and see in tiny ways like hearing my daughter read the book "The Runaway Tortilla" and appreciating the fact she can read and goes to a great school and has a phenomenal amount of resources to help her learn and grow. Like literally walking by my fruit bowl and initially smelling and then devouring wonderful candy sweet white peaches. Like being a part of the Urban Abbey where I know others love and care for me. Sometimes I see God's goodness in big things like one day several months ago when I didn't know how we were going to pay our next mortgage and in desperation I asked God "for a break". Two days later a package with an offer to refinance arrived on our doorstep from our mortgage company. God is good.

I can't make the bad go away for my friends and the world, but I can hold up and name God's goodness if I am open enough to taste and see it. Maybe that is a gift we can all do for each other. Where do you taste and see God's goodness? I would love to see a running blog of God goodness in the world. Take a moment and hit the reply button and write where you "taste and see" God's goodness. I think it will help all of us grow in trust.


P.S. By the way, the Leadership Council has been sharing with you things that have touched us in our own spiritual journeys, but our hope is everyone in the Abbey will feel free to offer stories and learnings from your journey. We can all grow from sharing. Feel free to post as you desire.

[posted by George for Angela]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

People First, Things Later

Today, as I was reading Brother Jerome's reflection on the portion of the Rule of Benedict (of which I have commented other times), and worrying about two contractors arriving today to work in my house and yard, and the many things of being a homeowner, I was struck by the following:

"That third principle, enunciated here, is 'people first, things later; don't sweat the small stuff and things are ALWAYS small stuff by comparison to souls.'"

What a great reminder: It is not the checkbooks, mortgages, contractors, dirt and all the related hustle and bustle, but the people living in our house, the people we work with, the people we meet today, that are important. As I finished breakfast I gave thanks to our Lord for the new day, and for all the people I hold dear.

What regular habits of reading and meditation have you found to remind you of what is really important? How have these helped you today?


(In case you are interested I am attaching the mailing from Brother Jerome here)
Brother Jerome Leo's posting for September 15th

January 15, May 16, September 15
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Above all let her not neglect or undervalue
the welfare of the souls committed to her,
in a greater concern for fleeting, earthly, perishable things;
but let her always bear in mind
that she has undertaken the government of souls
and that she will have to give an account of them.
And if she be tempted to allege a lack of earthly means,
let her remember what is written:
"First seek the kingdom of God and His justice,
and all these things shall be given you besides" (Ps. 33:10).
And again:
"Nothing is wanting to those who fear Him."
Let her know, then,
that she who has undertaken the government of souls
must prepare herself to render an account of them.
Whatever number of sisters she knows she has under her care,
she may be sure beyond doubt that on Judgment Day
she will have to give the Lord an account of all these souls,
as well as of her own soul.
Thus the constant apprehension
about her coming examination as shepherd (Ezech. 34)
concerning the sheep entrusted to her,
and her anxiety over the account that must be given for others,
make her careful of her own record.
And while by her admonitions she is helping others to amend,
she herself is cleansed of her faults.


There are two beautiful lessons for us non-abbatial types in this
chapter. The first is a Benedictine view of material goods and the
second consoles us that teaching will hopefully also teach the

The Benedictine view of property is neither complete nor correct
without the principle invoked here. Yes, later on we hear that all
the goods of the monastery must be regarded as if they were sacred
vessels of the altar (and that includes our planet, folks!) We also
hear a lot of attentive prescriptions about poverty and ownership.
Either of these made dogma without the third principle will spell
trouble. That third principle, enunciated here, is "people first,
things later; don't sweat the small stuff and things are ALWAYS small
stuff by comparison to souls."

This adds a perfect balance to Benedictine theology of creation. Ours
is the organic permaculture of souls and bodies and the planet which
nourishes both. I would be the first to sadly admit that, both
corporately and individually, we have a LONG way to go before
realizing this perfect theology, even partially.

Nevertheless, it is there and it is our ideal. The Reign of God is of
necessity our only imperative for preserving all we can. We do so
because all things were created to further and serve that Divine
purpose: the salvation of all, willed by God and the towering human
dignity of each which is won by the creative act of God and the
saving act of Jesus' death for all.

Ecology stripped of true Christian personalism is as hopelessly
pathetic as a rampant materialism that sees every created thing only
in terms of exploitation for profit. It often piques me to see news
stories of people rushing to the beach in crowds to save beached
whales, when many of those so touched seem not to care at all
about the homeless who die on our streets every day. I'm no enemy of
whales, but caring for humans must come first. It is not an either/or
question, it must be the Zen mind of both.

One is not complete without the other. Loving life and living things
really is a seamless garment. Nothing less than the whole will do! We
care for and nurture things because they care for and nurture an intricate
web of which we are the prominent part. Caring for human life and
trashing the environment is a mistaken joke. But so is caring for the
environment while figuring human beings are pretty much on their own!

We must never support the lie that humanity is free to waste and
plunder, but we must never forget, either, that humanity, warts and
all, is undeniably the crown and apex and zenith of the Reign of God.
The feeling, loving heart of a right-minded ecology can only be found
in a right-minded love of humanity. Every divorce of these two is

A good Benedictine will go to careful lengths to avoid damaging or
breaking things, but will treat it lightly if someone else
does by accident: "Oh, that's no big deal. I'll tend to it later."
or "This I can replace, YOU I cannot. Don`t worry about it." See what
I mean? We must be personally very careful of things, but we must
never make others feel small, and least of all in the name of
temporal goods.

The other gem buried here is learning from teaching. Anyone who has
ever taught 5th grade science will tell you that it will teach you
more than the average person at a party knows about the topic.
(Unless the party is given at Massachusetts Institute of Technology!)
It will remind you of a great deal of basic information that you have
long forgotten. Teaching, ideally, keeps one up to date on a subject.
If teaching alone doesn't do that, the questions of the students
usually will!

Teaching, however, is nothing more than a lofty form of doing right.
Doing right by the created world around us will teach us in ways we
never dreamed possible. Hopefully, it will be the same with any of us
who are helping others on the road to spiritual growth. We will learn
by teaching, by doing, by helping. Hopefully, we will also be taught-
and maybe sometimes shamed- by our own words and deeds!

Love and prayers,
Jerome, OSB
Petersham, MA

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Encourage One Another

Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

Following is a reflection by Fr. Don Talafous of St John’s Abbey from a couple of weeks ago.

“Conceivably there are some exceptional individuals, perhaps only inexperienced and too protected, who feel that encouragement is unnecessary. But most of us need it daily. And, fortunately, we often get it from husband or wife, family, friends. That can all change, of course, with the loss of one of these stalwart supports in our life. "Encourage one another while it is still 'today'," Hebrews says (3:12-13). It's unlikely that anyone of us will ever feel that we've had too much encouragement. (It's close to love and compliments; do we ever get enough?) God encourages us through the example of others, through their words, gestures, calls, visits, letters, their taking the time to gauge our feelings. And, more wordlessly, through their example of love, faith, confidence, even joy. Keeping a high and even cheerful confidence in the Lord is helped by like-minded friends, fellow parishioners, associates. God knows there are enough sad people in our world who do not have this confidence. Showing this confidence and joy ourselves is a gift we can give the world.”

For me there has been a lot of sadness in my life lately – death of a good friend, illness of others, loss of employment, unrest and conflict in our families, uncertainty in the world around us. So, the meditation is a reminder of the blessings around me. Our Abbey Community does have people who encourage one another, pray for one another, and try to lessen the burdens of those in distress...and I have been a recipient of that encouragement.

The challenge for me this day is remember that there is a God who loves me intensely and there are people in our Community who reflect that love on me. With that knowledge, I can take on a more optimistic and joyful view of the world. With God’s help and the Community’s support, I can be one of those who encourages and is there to support others in their journey. The wonder of our God is that God loves each of us as a first born. We are all called to reflect that love in our dealings with others. Can we answer that call to be beacons of encouragement in our world?

Shalom and many blessings, George

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Monestary

Dear Community Members,

I apologize for my tardiness in getting out this week's reflection. But this morning I have been blessed by a reality TV Show. I know that is surprising. But yesterday I was contacted by a Priest who asked to learn more about the Urban Abbey because he would like to consider offering such a group to his community in Indiana. In our e-mail exchange he recommended viewing the show, entitled "The Monastery". BBC asked 6 men to live in a Benedictine Monastery for 40 days and 40 nights. I thought I would quickly sample a couple of episodes this morning and move on with my day. But instead, I have watched the first five episodes and have been incredibly blessed, challenged, and inspired by what I have seen. I think each of these episodes have lessons for each one of us. It offers the teaching of Benedict in a medium we can, fortunately or unfortunately relate to, TV. I cannot wait until I have time again to savor these shows. Please take a moment to follow this link to begin your own journey along with these men--

Blessings on your journey,

(posted for Angela by George)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Journeys, Vacations and Umbrellas

From the portion of the Rule of Benedict commonly read on April 25, August 25 and December 25:
Chapter 67: On Brethren Who Are Sent on a Journey

Let the brethren who are sent on a journey commend themselves to the prayers of all the brethren and of the Abbot; and always at the last prayer of the Work of God let a commemoration be made of all absent brethren.

When brethren return from a journey, at the end of each canonical Hour of the Work of God on the day they return, let them lie prostrate on the floor of the oratory and beg the prayers of all on account of any faults that may have surprised them on the road, through the seeing or hearing of something evil, or through idle talk. And let no one presume to tell another whatever he may have seen or heard outside of the monastery, because this causes very great harm. But if anyone presumes to do so, let him undergo the punishment of the Rule. And let him be punished likewise who would presume to leave the enclosure of the monastery and go anywhere or do anything, however small, without an order from the Abbot.

Among the several nuggets presented by Brother Jerome Leo in his reflection on this portion of the Rule of Benedict, are these words:

"Rare is the person who can manage to stay employed without at least a slightly different persona at work... Secular society has enlarged upon this tendency to its own ends. Because the tendency is so deeply rooted in us, we may fail to see its dangers when carried to extremes. Thanks to a society often glaringly unassisted by revelation, we have the unhappy concept of different umbrellas, different sets of ethics to cover different areas of life...

"The message of the Holy Rule and of the Gospel is that there is one umbrella, period... One heart, one umbrella, one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

Two things strike me:
  • This is a significant portion of our Baptismal service and commitment: "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism", and
  • How tempting it is for me to try and create new boxes when confronted with new situations and experiences

While detailed instructions for Monastic life may be far removed from our everyday life, perhaps the real gem of this is how our Lord God provides an umbrella for us to sit under during our lives, both during the storms and troubles we each find, and during the bright sunshine of the wonderful parts of our lives.

May we all remember this during our work, our play, our vacations and our vocations...

God be with you,
(If you are interested in receiving a portion of the Rule of Benedict, with prayer requests and Brother Jerome's reflection, please visit for more information.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Listening Generously

Dear Urban Abbey Members & Friends:

Yesterday, I listened to a Speaking of Faith podcast on “Listening Generously” with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. She spoke from her work as a patient (Chrome’s disease) and in treating cancer patients. Her main thesis was on the difference between curing and healing in the medical profession. Curing is working on the physical malady that is besetting a person and getting rid of it. Healing is much more holistic and involves treating the physical illness but also being present to help a person with the spiritual/emotional dimension of an illness.

Listening generously, paying attention to the entire person –physical, emotional, and spiritual -- enables the medical practitioner not only to give a more complete treatment to the person, but also can provide healing to the practitioner. The medical practitioner often feels loss as well as the patients the doctor treats. The doctors treat people who in a number of cases can’t be cured; they feel a loss in not being able to help all their patients. The patient certainly feels a loss in terms of their illness and how that constrains their life. Listening Generously allows the doctor to hear the patient’s “story” – their fears, concerns, worry. It allows the patient not only to tell their story, but, in telling their story, to give the doctor a way to truly help and be validated.

I believe Listening Generously is one of our callings as Abbey members. As a way to understand Listening Generously, Dr. Remen asks her medical students to describe a situation where they experienced a loss. Once they have had a chance to recapture that experience, she asks them to think of who it was that helped them and how that person helped them, and what people did that wasn’t helpful.

Here is my "story". I just lost my job due to company downsizing. That is not only a terrific shock to one’s ego, but also calls into question one’s self-worth and ability. One of the people who helped me the most was a colleague who came into my office and told me how sorry he was that I was being let go…and there was powerful emotion in his voice. A few days later, he and his wife took Penny and me out for dinner just to be with us and let us know we mattered. His quiet presence, not trying to offer solutions or platitudes but just listening to my “story”, was so comforting and healing that I find it hard to put into words.

That example of Listening Generously, I believe is what we are called to do both in our Community and in the larger community. I certainly feel a ‘calling’ now to Listen Generously to others. So, I invite you this day or this week to work with Dr. Remen’s two questions: recount a time where you experienced a loss; then, think of what people did that helped you and what they did that was not helpful. I believe this exercise will allow us to understand how to Listen Generously.

I invite you to participate in a discussion of Listening Generously. Please use our Abbey blog site to give the Community your thoughts and reactions so we can all be enriched.

Shalom and blessings, George

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Good Spirit

Dear Urban Abbey,

At Denise's funeral one the passages that was read during the service was from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72. For me it help me to understand what motivated Denise's loving presence on this earth and I felt like it was a good summary of what we should all strive for. The beautiful part is the initial point in the passage is that you do not have to do it alone! "The Good Spirit" is here to help us be the most loving community we can be.

"CHAPTER 72: The good spirit which should inspire monastic life

It is easy to recognize the bitter spirit of wickedness which creates a barrier to God's grace and opens the way to the evil of hell. But equally there is a good spirit which frees us from evil ways and brings us closer to God and eternal life. It is this latter spirit that all who follow the monastic way of life should strive to cultivate, spurred on by fervent love. By following this path they try to be first to show respect to one another with the greatest patience in tolerating weaknesses of body or character. They should even be ready to outdo each other in mutual obedience so that no one in the monastery aims at personal advantage but is rather concerned for the good of others. Thus the pure love of one another as of one family should be their ideal. As for God they should have a profound and loving reverence for him. They should love their abbot or abbess with sincere and unassuming affection. They should value nothing whatever above Christ himself and may he bring us all together to eternal life."

I know from Denise's model what it looks like to show respect to one another with the greatest patience in tolerating weaknesses of body or character. Certainly the Sisters at Bristow have lived out this rule completely as they offer their forgiveness, prayers and love to the young man who took so much from them. What would it look like or feel like in the Urban Abbey if we strove for this ideal? Are we inspired by the Good Spirit? Do we love each other with pure love as one family? I would love to hear your reflective and prayerful responses.

In pure love, Angela

[Posted by George for Angela]

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Leaves, Prayers, Death and Life

How can we make sense of death, especially a particular and tragic death such as Sister Denise's death in an automobile accident this past Sunday (Aug 1, 2010)?

Perhaps we can't. Or more accurately we don't see how we can in this, our current earthly life.

Last night, as I considered what and how to write the Urban Abbey blog entry for this week, reading news reports and my friends remembrances about Sister Denise, my mind went back to early 1986 and the book The Fall Of Freddie The Leaf By Leo Buscaglia. My father was dying from cancer and my wife and I pondered how to explain what was happening to our children, one in kindergarten, the other not even in pre-school yet. A friend gave us this book. It became a favorite of mine.

Freddie the Leaf fell from the tree to the ground in late autumn, after a full spring and summer of life. While many leaves do make it through all three seasons, falling when expected in autumn, others are torn from trees, shredded, and lost forever during horrible storms that reverberate through the forest and all surrounding hills. Such is how Sister Denise's death makes me feel. Her death, the injuries of two fellow sisters of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia and the resulting holes in that community, as well as other surrounding communities remind me of the open, glaring, spaces after a storm sweeps through an area.

But remember how God uses these openings in our forests: Soon new growth springs to life, new shoots rise to meet the sun, animals, birds, lichens and moss all grow, as God intended.

Our community, formal, informal, religious, political and others are all using this moment. Debate rages regarding appropriate application of laws, what is true forgiveness, what changes (if any) we can make. Behind this remains God's call to seek forgiveness and to forgive. To cherish and treasure those among us and to celebrate the Resurrection.

Watch the news and engage in the debate, don't run from sadness and anger. Hold all before God. And if we can't think of where to start, perhaps the Prayer of St. Francis can be our springboard:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
 where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

God's Blessing

Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

I found the poem below on the Unfolding Light web site [] by Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

Dear Beloved, God will bless you all through your life,
Love’s own gentle hand caress you, all through your life.
You are made by God’s designing, with the holy Presence shining.
Grace will be your silver lining all through your life.

Journey hand in hand with Jesus all through your life.
Walk with him who heals and frees us all through your life.
Like him may you be forgiving, generous and freely giving.
Risen, new, receive your living, all through your life.

May the Holy Spirit lead you all through your life,
guide, protect, renew and feed you all through your life.
In the light of our redeeming, with divine compassion gleaming,
be a light for others, beaming all through your life.
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes

This poem speaks to me and reminds me that God is ever present in my life, and is all loving. As I have been reflecting on it, this poem speaks to me of all it is that we in our Urban Abbey are called to be and do. In praying daily, we are called to remind ourselves each day the we are God’s beloved. In “journeying hand in hand with Jesus” (service), we are called to be part of Community reconciling ourselves and others, giving generously of the blessings we have received. In our study of Scripture and other Holy (God-inspired) words, we find the Spirit, and are fed and renewed. As we show fellowship and welcome in our daily walk, we can be a light for others giving them hope when that is needed, a listening ear when that is needed, being present for that other when that is needed.

I invite you to spend some time with this poem today or this week in Lectio-style reflection. Let the poem wash over you and see what speaks to you today. I invite you to share with the rest of the Community what comes to you in your meditation.

Shalom and many blessings, George

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Way of Praise

Good morning Abbey Members,

Today is the middle of the week in the middle of a busy summer schedule. With working two jobs, weekend trips, my daughter in camps, weekly lessons and guests coming and going throughout the summer, I have to admit I am tired. Also we just discovered my daughter has an allergy to the sun! Who knew that existed? But apparently this is common among Native Americans in North, Central and South America. (My daughter is adopted from Guatemala.) I laid in bed for while this morning and wondered what next? I felt overwhelmed. I eventually got up and begin my morning routine which includes reading a passage from "God Calling" a wonderful meditation book written by two anonymous listeners as they call themselves. We do not know a lot about their lives but we do know they were poor and had health issues and struggled greatly during the 1930's. They decided to come together to pray and try and listen for God. The writing that came from their listening is powerful and authentic. Time and time again I come to the daily reading and find just the perfect response to my daily worries and struggles. Today is no different. Let me share with you today's reading.

The Way of Praise

"I am teaching you both My Way of removing mountains. The way to remove mountains is the way of Praise. When a trouble comes think of all you have to be thankful for. Praise, Praise, Praise. Say "Thank You" all the time. This is the remover of mountains, your thankful hearts of praise."

I have so much to be thankful for! I live in a beautiful home, in a safe a community, with family and wonderful friends in a time of peace. The great majority of my busy-ness is created by our tremendous abundance and our ability to travel and make choices to do a huge variety of things in our life like travel and taking lessons. These small things that wear me out are totally unaccessible to the great majority of the people on this planet. I am humbled and grateful. I praise God this morning that my mountains are truly only mole-hills. I am grateful I have access to doctors, medicine and the internet to help manage my daughters sun allergy. I am grateful to be a part of a spiritual community that supports my growth and grounds me in what is most important. Thank you for being a part of my community.

Praise God!

(Yes - Seton posted this, but the text is all Angela's)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

God, Work and Blessings

In my daily prayers and meditations I read a portion of the Rule of Benedict, usually with reflections or comments by a Benedictine Sister or Brother. Currently I am following reflections from Brother Jerome Leo of St. Mary's Monastery in Petersham Massachusetts. (You can find further information about the reflections at

As I read today's section of the Rule of Benedict and Brother Jerome's reflection I am struck by how appropriate and important this is in my life! As I read his reflection I asked myself "How often do I ask God for his Blessing before I start work?" Do I remember to say "Thank You" to God after a meeting that did not go quite the way I expected? Did I remember to ask for God's Blessing before starting to write this Blog entry?

The answers are between God and me, of course, but I will admit that quite often I do fail to ask for Blessings. That, however, doesn't stop from trying.

A Challenge:
Are there tools you have found helpful in remembering to ask for God's Blessing? If you spend time regularly (whether daily or otherwise) have you found something helpful you could share?

Don't hesitate, use the "comment" feature of the blog and share your thoughts with others! (If you have a private question please don't use the Comment feature, use the email tool instead. Comments will be seen by all readers of the blog.)

Now, here is Brother Jerome's posting for today, July 14, 2010:

From the Rule of St. Benedict, the portion read on March 14, July 14, November 13
Chapter 35: On the Weekly Servers in the Kitchen
An hour before the meal let the weekly servers each receive a drink and some bread over and above the appointed allowance, in order that at the meal time they may serve their brethren without murmuring and without excessive fatigue. On solemn days, however, let them wait until after Mass.

Immediately after the Morning Office on Sunday, the incoming and outgoing servers shall prostrate themselves before all the brethren in the oratory and ask their prayers. Let the server who is ending his week say this verse: "Blessed are You, O Lord God, who have helped me and consoled me." When this has been said three times and the outgoing server has received his blessing, then let the incoming server follow and say, "Incline unto my aid, O God; O Lord, make haste to help me." Let this also be repeated three times by all, and having received his blessing let him enter his service.


Blessing readers and servers may strike the modern reader as a bit silly: a CEREMONY of blessing to do a no-brainer like that for a week? Ah, well there's the rub. Ancient monastics (and many Eastern Orthodox monastics even in our own day,) did NOTHING without a blessing from their elder. This results in all kinds of blessings for things we would take for granted. When the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne went as a group to the guillotine in the French Revolution, at least one of the nuns approached the Prioress and asked; "Permission to die, Mother?" The Prioress blessed her to die.

Getting a blessing, asking God's help for even seemingly trivial matters is a powerful reminder of our own weakness. It is a statement that we can do nothing without Him, that we truly are nothing that He has not given. There is a great humility in asking anyone for help. In this instance, however, humility is richest truth: we need God's help for everything. We do things only because He enables us, whether we asked Him for help or not. Our very lives would not exist without Him.

We still bless readers and servers. Short ceremony, same every week. We all pray together for whomever is serving us. Since we are small (only 7,) the Superior is often reader or server. When that happens, he kneels like anyone else and the senior monk blesses him. It's a little family ritual.

But what is its message for families in the world? For single Oblates living alone? The message is that there are no tasks to insignificant to bless with prayer. St. Benedict has earlier encouraged us to begin every good work with prayer, but maybe we have forgotten. Because the monastic is MINDFUL, careful, attuned to life, nothing is unimportant, nothing should be done "on automatic pilot." There is that healthy level of mistrust of self that will ask for Divine assistance in any endeavor. "Bless, Lord, yet another diaper." "Bless, Lord, emptying the trash." "Bless, Lord, management meeting!!"

Making dinner or washing the dishes? Take a quiet moment in the midst of either to say "Help!" and "Thanks!" Two simple, one word prayers. No matter how chaotic your household, everyone will find time for at least that. God knows the details, knows your heart and can readily fill in the blanks! We may think God needs essay-length prayers, but He doesn't. He may enjoy hearing from us, but trust me, we NEVER tell Him anything that's news to Him.

Of course, there is another side to simple things like serving table, picking up pins and the like. No one could have done anything without God's help, but ah, if one does them out of love and care! Bingo! Double coupons, so to speak! If that pin got carefully picked up because of a barefoot and running child, or a beloved pet who is prone to "tasting" whatever she can find on the floor, simplicity becomes a very much greater matter, indeed. Now it is very close to the heart of God, and that is a wonderful place to be.

Love and prayers,
Jerome, OSB
Petersham, MA

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Silence & Listening

Dear Abbey Members and Friends,

You may recall that Angela, Seton, and I posted daily meditations on the Abbey Blog spot and on the Abbey YahooGroups listserve during Holy Week. We received positive feedback on that. In discussion at our last team meeting, we decided to begin a weekly posting on Wednesdays, rotating among the three of us. Our hope is that the meditations, or thoughts, we provide will be a springboard for an electronic discussion and an opportunity for all of us to grow spiritually. So we invite you to respond with your thoughts, feelings, suggestions...

If any of you who are in our physical or virtual Abbey Communities wish to share in our weekly posting rota, please let one of the three of us know. We welcome your participation.

With that prelude, let me give you my thoughts for this week.

I visited the St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, KS, web site and read a posting by their Abbot, Barnabas Senecal, reflecting on the life of one of their long-time monks, Brother Martin Burkhard, who recently died.
Following are a couple of excerpts that spoke to me,
“Brother Martin knew silence. Not only the silence that settles around a person who loses his hearing, but the silence of being alone, the silence of choice when one is listening well to another, the silence of one at prayer, the silence of sharing a moment of sadness with another, the silence of an artist who knows that inspiration comes from within, in response to beauty and possible beauty around him, and the silence of acceptance.”
“Brother Martin knew the silence of acceptance, giving rise to an ability to live with what is, not to be anxious about many things, to accept what he could not change. He allowed this to be a positive, to be a realist. He would complain, and he could say his disagreement, but that never took away what one confrere called ‘his sweetness.’”

WOW, to me this is a very powerful reminder of what it means to be in relation with God and one another. Brother Martin’s life exemplified what, I believe, we are called by God to be. To take time and really listen well to one another is one of the greatest gifts we can give. For me, this is one of the hardest things to do. My life and perhaps yours as well seem to be filled with so many worthwhile things that need to be done. In the midst of all these activities, it is difficult to slow my mind enough to be present and listen when a colleague, a friend, a spouse needs some of that time to be listened to. How hard it is in a meeting or conference when ‘gut issues’ are being discussed to REALLY take the time to listen to the speaker and not focus on our response. In our Listening Groups, it takes an effort of will to listen to what God has for us to say to another rather than the easy path of giving our own guidance or judgement. We all crave to be listened to – to be able to tell our ‘story’ to another and have that other be present for us in a non-judgmental way. When we can do this, we truly are walking in Christ’s steps. I’m successful occasionally; but, more often than not, I fail to be fully present for another. My challenge is to not give up hope, but to ‘pick myself up’ and try harder the next time. The good news is that there is great support and encouragement in our Community. I pray that we can come to the end of our days and, like Brother Martin, say that we too knew the silence of being.

Shalom and blessings, George

Monday, June 7, 2010

UA Community Meeting June 19

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends,

This is a ‘Save the Date” reminder for our Urban Abbey Community meeting on Saturday, June 19. We’ll meet at St. George’s from 9:30 am to about 3:30 pm. We plan to use the “hours” – Terce, Sext, and None – to frame the day. Our general topic will be on caring for one another in community. There will be community discussion time as well as spiritual exercise and fellowship time.

Seton has agreed to organize lunch and refreshments; so, expect a note from him in the next week or so with more specifics. We hope that you all will be able to join us for the day. Please feel free to invite friend who you think might be interested in the Abbey.

We’ll have more information near the end of the week or early next week.

Shalom, George

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Meditation - Maundy Thursday 2010

Meditation - Maundy Thursday 2010

Thursday Apr 01, 2010

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another
John 13:34 (NRSV)

Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you;*
    Hide not your face from me in the day of my trouble.

Incline your ear to me;*
    when I call, make hast to answer me
Psalm 102:1-3 (BCP)

If I take Jesus' call to love one another just as He loved me I do need to pray, and trust that God hears me. I am far from being able to love the other just as God loved all the others while here on earth.

Love one another? Easy when it is my neighbor or family and they treat me well. Not so easy when I don't them. Or when I disagree with them. Do I love them when they make a mess, or when they haven't had a bath or shower in days (or weeks) and need my help?

Jesus showed love for others in many ways during his last night with us on earth. He knew Judas would betray him. He knew Peter would deny him. He washed their feet knowing all this. He prayed knowing they would fall asleep as he was praying. And Jesus loved all of them. We find out how much he loved all of them, and us tomorrow.

But today, come, sit and pray with Jesus. Pray that we may love one another, both those we know and those we don't. And pray that most of all we keep loving all the others, even the others we recoil from, or simply forget...

Reading Can Be Prayer...

Prayer can take the form of reading and reflecting. I include two passages for your reading and reflection, should you wish.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (NRSV)

Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

The New Commandment

 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Psalm 102 (BCP)


1       Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you; *

     hide not your face from me in the day of my trouble.


2       Incline your ear to me; *

     when I call, make haste to answer me,


3       For my days drift away like smoke, *

     and my bones are hot as burning coals.


4       My heart is smitten like grass and withered, *

     so that I forget to eat my bread.


5       Because of the voice of my groaning *

     I am but skin and bones.


6       I have become like a vulture in the wilderness, *

     like an owl among the ruins.


7       I lie awake and groan; *

     I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house‑top.


8       My enemies revile me all day long, *

     and those who scoff at me have taken an oath against me.


9       For I have eaten ashes for bread *

     and mingled my drink with weeping.


10     Because of your indignation and wrath *

     you have lifted me up and thrown me away.


11     My days pass away like a shadow, *

     and I wither like the grass.


12     But you, O Lord, endure for ever, *

     and your Name from age to age.

13     You will arise and have compassion on Zion,

         for it is time to have mercy upon her; *

     indeed, the appointed time has come.


14     For your servants love her very rubble, *

     and are moved to pity even for her dust.


15     The nations shall fear your Name, O Lord, *

     and all the kings of the earth your glory.


16     For the Lord will build up Zion, *

     and his glory will appear.


17     He will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless; *

     he will not despise their plea.


18     Let this be written for a future generation, *

     so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord.


19     For the Lord looked down from his holy place on high; *

     from the heavens he beheld the earth;


20     That he might hear the groan of the captive *

     and set free those condemned to die;


21     That they may declare in Zion the Name of the Lord, *

     and his praise in Jerusalem;


22     When the peoples are gathered together, *

     and the kingdoms also, to serve the Lord.


23     He has brought down my strength before my time; *

     he has shortened the number of my days;


24     And I said, “O my God,

        do not take me away in the midst of my days; *

     your years endure throughout all generations.


25     In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations

         of the earth, *

     and the heavens are the work of your hands;

26     They shall perish, but you will endure;

         they all shall wear out like a garment; *

     as clothing you will change them,

     and they shall be changed;


27     But you are always the same, *

     and your years will never end.


28     The children of your servants shall continue, *

     and their offspring shall stand fast in your sight.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Dear Abbey Members and Friends: Some thoughts for Tuesday in Holy Week…

A portion of Mark’s Gospel reading for today follows: Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’

We know by what authority Jesus is doing the marvelous things that have led to this moment. His authority is from and shared with the Father. We share in that authority as believers in Jesus. We have spent the days of Lent so far attempting to mold our wills more towards God’s and less toward our own. Some have been much more focused and diligent in their preparation. Others, perhaps like me, have tried but have been sidetracked by work, children, grandchildren, etc. But we all can have confidence in our God that we have His authority behind all our endeavors. I believe it is critical that we acknowledge God as our source and strength to be able to tap into this authority. Second, I believe it is important to want (or have the intention) to align ourselves with God’s will. Having done these two things on our part, God opens a floodgate of grace and love to each one of us.

Spending these last few days before Easter to focus on God’s will and His authority in our lives will enable us to be more deeply joys as we receive once again the Easter news that Christ is risen and brought new life to us all.

Shalom and many blessings, George

Monday, March 29, 2010

Our Sacrifice - A Meditation for Monday In Holy Week 2010

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17 (NRSV)

During Lent and now during Holy Week we walk with Jesus, remembering his forty days of temptation. Yesterday we read of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, followed by arrest, interrogation, torture and crucifixion. We heard about every day people in extraordinary times and situations. Some failed when God called, some responded above and beyond expectation, and many, many more didn't even realize God was calling. All were human, all were imperfect... Just like you and me.

So if we are just as human, just as broken (and, yes, just as saved) what are we to do? We offer a sacrifice, just as the psalmist says: the sacrifice of our broken spirit. Our broken and contrite hearts are not despised. No. They are taken by God and mended, made whole, forgiven!

This Holy Week take your heart, your broken spirit and hold it, ready it, bring it to God. And on Easter Sunday bring yourself, and your heart, mends, tears, and all the rest of it, to celebrate Christ's resurrection!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Community Meeting

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends,

I want to remind you of our Urban Abbey Community meeting on Saturday, March 20, from 10 am - 3 pm. This will be an important meeting in the life of our Community as we'll elect a Leadership Council and work on some of the issues raised at our January meeting. We on the Transition Team will be working on the agenda for the meting in the next few weeks, but welcome your thoughts and ideas as well.

The purpose of this note is to ask each of you in the Abbey to spend some time in quiet reflection about how you are called to serve the Abbey Community and whether you are called to be part of the Leadership Council. As a reminder, there was a consensus in the Community that we should have a 3-person Leadership Council and that each member would serve a 2-year term, with a member rotating off every 8 months to ensure some continuity.

I also ask each of the Listening Groups to spend some time during their March meetings addressing service in Community and the call for leadership. If during this reflection time you feel called to a leadership role, please let one of us on the Transition Team know. If you feel that God is calling you to raise up another Abbey member to a leadership role, please first consult with that person. Then, with that person's blessing, let one of us on the Transition Team know.

I envision our leadership selection process will be similar to that which we've used to call an Abbot/Abbess in the past. It will be steeped in silence, allow for time to discern as a Community, and require consensus by all Abbey members present.

We look forward to seeing all of you on Saturday, March 20. Please RSVP to Laurie Lewis [] so we can plan for adequate supplies and refreshment.

Shalom and many blessings,

Your Transition Team -- Angela, Laurie, and George

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SEville Allen

Dear Abbey Members and friends,

I just saw a notice that a long time St. Georgian and one of our founding Abbey members, Seville Allen, passed away this afternoon. I will miss her. Penny & I met Seville when we first came to St. George's. She always impressed me with her fierce independence, her love of life, her compassion, and her spirituality. seville was a very private person..and only let a very few into her intimate circles. We served together as Stephen Leaders for a number of years when St. George's had an active Stephen Ministry program. Seville took on the task of assigning Stephen Ministers when someone in need called. Seville had a wonderful insight into people and helped match he most appropriate Stephen Minister to the person in need. Seville was active in our Abbey, though mostly behind the scenes. She was one of the motive forces in the Abbey's Intercessory Prayer Group (IPG) and served as the focal point for those needing prayer. I had the pleasure of being in an Abbey Listening Group with Seville and experienced first hand her rich spiritual insights and reaffirming words and presence.

I saw a poem from Weavings this evening that sums up some of my feelings and thought I'd share it with you:

Winter Sunset by Jennifer Lynn Woodruff

The Sky is blue and rose tonight
the clouds paint trails across the sun
the dark comes swiftly down the road
and all the day is left undone.

These are the colors that I claimed
the blue for darkness, pain, and loss
the rose for joys as yet unborn
and blossoming at countless cost.

These are the choices we make
here in the shadow of the night
to know our ambiguity
and yet live into the light.

Not knowing when the light will come
nor what will blossom from the pain
of roads that cannot be gone down
and days that will not come again.

Shalom, Seville, one of God's saints called home.

George DeFilippi