The Least of These

Everyone has heard the story of the sheep and the goats where the phrase “the least of these” is found. That phrase seems pretty self explanatory. You don’t have to ask who is the least of these since there is a whole list of struggles and solutions right in Matthew 25. Hungry, thirsty, homeless. Got it.

Lately I have been reading Scripture in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message: the Bible in Contemporary Language so that words that have become familiar might sound different enough to stand out. Like this for instance, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (emphasis mine)

Overlooked and ignored. Those words take this Scripture out of the realm of the haves and the have nots and put it smack in the middle of every day. The middle school girl hungry for acceptance.  The UPS driver thirsty for kindness. The coal miner working two states away from home. The addict imprisoned by their addiction. The well-dressed woman in the second row, pulpit side at church who hasn’t told anyone she has cancer. Overlooked or ignored.

These everyday people are Jesus’ least of these too. When we overlook them, ignore them we are overlooking and ignoring God in our midst. Too often we identify Jesus’ least of these as people with few or no tangible resources. And that is not a bad thing. But Petersen’s “overlooked and ignored” opens up the door to the world, all the way up to the rich and powerful. And I would dare say that they too are hungry, thirsty, sick and in prison. It just looks different in my eyes. But not the eyes of God.

So who are your “least of these”? Who do you overlook or ignore? Scripture says you are doing it to Jesus.

CROCUS

Outside the front door to our residence hall, a phenomenon happens each year that stirs my spirit. It is the blooming of one particular crocus. It reminds me so much of what living in the mountains of eastern Kentucky is really about overcoming.

What makes it unique is that it is planted right next to the sidewalk of the residence hall beneath a large oak tree in compacted, rocky soil. These are the absolute worst conditions in which to grow a plant. Yet it has returned each of the eight years that I have lived in that building.

It is small. It blooms for maybe a week. It usually only puts out three or four white blooms and then disappears for another year.  And its appearance lightens my spirit.

This year the crocus came on February 10th and it has been more productive than usual, producing at least six blooms so far although it may be at the end of its season-just as we enter Lent.

The crocus reminds me that even when life is hard and conditions are rocky, I can still bloom. It reminds me that being a consistent presence may be exactly what someone else needs to get through a “rocky patch”. And it reminds me that even when something is no longer visible, it still lives.

I hope there is a crocus in your life. And that its short bloom leads you to the eternal God. Sr. Kathy C.

 

Where Am I Supposed to Be?

Discernment. Not a word you hear much, unless you live in a monastery that is. But in truth we do it every day.
Oatmeal or peanut butter toast for breakfast? Pull weeds or clean closets today? Scripture or the Rule for Lectio?

Those are everyday decisions you say, not discernment. Discernment is for “what does God want me to do with my life” things. We are to take everything to God. “Before you begin a good work, pray.” we are told in the Rule. Why is it that we think it is only the big things that we need to take to God? And if I don’t trust God with my breakfast choices, how can I believe I will listen and obey with life decisions-going to college, getting married, joining a religious order.

“But what I want for breakfast is personal preference”, the little voice in my head says. And making a lifelong commitment isn’t!?vows

I am rambling here because I have a friend who is in pain. A few years ago she discerned a life commitment, a call from God, and it doesn’t seem to be working out. And now she is questioning herself and wondering why God has led her down the wrong path. He must be testing her. What is she supposed to be learning from this experience? Discernment is a total in your head thing. For some of us, that is a dangerous place to be.

Our novice, Diantha, is scheduled to go through scrutiny on Mother’s Day. Scrutiny is when community members meet with the applicant and question her about her decision to join our community at a vowed member. It is a scary time. A time of questioning yourself, your call, yes even God. After my scrutiny, when the community agreed that I was ready to take the next step, I remember thinking, “well this is it. I know where I am supposed to be.” And now, four years later, at least once a week I ask myself what was God thinking bringing me to this mountain with these crazy women.

See even though I truly believe this is where God wants me to be, I question not God but my understanding of what I think I hear God saying to me. Which is why taking the small stuff to prayer can be as important as taking the big stuff. You create the habit of listening and trusting God in all the nooks and crannies of your life.

DSCF9465I am praying for my friend as she figures out what to do next. The great news is that she knows deep in her spirit that she is fully loved by God and she prays and listens. And God, well God has her in the palm of His hand.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 “Let’s talk about it” God whispers between the lines.

 

Shadowboxes

This morning I started thinking about shadow boxes. You know, those picture frame type things that are really shelves so you can display three dimensional stuff. My eldest grandson has one in his room with his Lego® people in it. It was fun looking at the assembly of characters he thought was important enough to collect while I stayed in his room over the Christmas holidays.

lego men

But this morning when I thought of it I realized I do that with real people. I sort, display and admire those I deem special but others don’t even make it in the collection or even in the room for that matter.

Why is that? What is it about some people that makes me want to not only ignore them but to not have them around at all? Could it be that they remind me too much of something about myself or a loved one that is difficult to see?

There are some people that just set me off. I don’t want to be around them because they bring out such strong negative emotions in me. I have come to realize that those people, the ones with whom I struggle most, are actually my mirrors. If I am honest with myself, I see that God is showing me negativity in my own actions, reactions or speech that I am blind to.

I’m not very fond of these moments. First, I am embarrassed to be caught and then I am angry that I could even be considered that mean-spirited. Then finally I am humbled that God would love me so much and want me to be aware of the things that are separating me from a life of peace and joy.

So what about you? Shadow box or mirror?

 

PONDERING SPIRITUALITY

Today is a community retreat day. The theme is the Monastic Instinct of Helpfulness. As is my habit, I was sitting in my room reading, meditating and writing in my prayer journal. I write my prayers in the form of a letter to Abba. It is conversational and helps me see the relationship between God and me and also the relationships I have with others—people I pray for, my family, my community and the world.

My letter started out with my definition of helpfulness and then a list of what I think is “helping” and what I think is not. Reading my responses I felt ashamed of my thoughts and asked forgiveness for my “awkward spirituality.” That phrase has not let me go.

When I hear the word awkward, I think of teenagers and how their growth, both physically and emotionally, is often termed awkward. They lack the absolute faith of childhood and the lived experience of adulthood. They neither believe in Santa Claus nor “are” Santa Claus but are somewhere in between.

In my awkward stage of spirituality I lean from “God said it, I believe it, that’s the end of it!” to “Everything is filled with Sacred Presence.” Afraid that letting go of one to grab on to the other will void my contract with God and I will, dare I say it, “Burn in hell.” It seems I swing from absolute to relative and back again just trying to find a comfortable place to land.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe spirituality is supposed to be awkward. Maybe you aren’t supposed to get comfortable. Maybe God keeps turning the spit of my personal barbeque pit to keep me cooking but not burnt. Hmmm changed analogies there, but it fits.

The sun just came out so I think I will go take a walk and be spiritual outside for a while. It seems like I just gave myself permission to be awkward and to give myself a bit more time in which to grow. And I think I need a barbeque sandwich. I love retreat days.

The Fullness of Time

SAM_1755

The Dwelling Place Monastery is located on twenty-five acres of eastern Kentucky hillside. We live in the Appalachian rain forest surrounded by nature. And as so often happens, I forget the gift our home is to us. But not today.

Usually I do my reading and meditating in my room after breakfast but today I decided to spend that time on the back porch. The temperature and the humidity were both low and I realized that even though it is still August, summer is fading fast so I should take advantage of the day.

Looking out, I noticed the hills across the valley from us are not as green as they were even last week. Sap is returning to roots. Leaves are losing chlorophyll and turning, if not brown, less green. Soon they will turn red and yellow and fall to the ground.

SAM_1750

Then my eyes were captured by a falling leaf. The startling thing was this leaf was perfect–green, whole, not diseased or damaged. It just let loose from the twig and drifted to the ground.

“How strange that it would fall before it’s time”, I thought.

“Who said it wasn’t it’s time?” came the unbidden reply.

SAM_1735

To everything there is a season.  We think that a season is so many months or so many years but really seasons are as individual as snowflakes. Careers end, young people die, green leaves fall. Were they cut short? Or did they come to their fullness of time? I have no idea.

I know that I spend time regretting the past or fearing the future instead of being present to what is happening in the moment. But every once in a while I am captured by a falling leaf and find myself in the season of now, in the fullness of my time. And I am blessed.

 

The Wisdom of the Younger

I like to be in charge. I grew up in a single parent home the eldest of four children and I won’t say I was bossy…ok I will say it. As the eldest, I was in charge when my mom wasn’t home and my management style relied a lot on being loud and pushy.

As an adult who found herself the single parent, I was in charge again and things didn’t change much. I guess you could say my family relationship motto is “My way or the highway”.

Now in community I find myself in another type of “family”. When I was a postulant, Sister Judy would say “think of us as a family” whenever I questioned roles, responsibilities or behaviors. “We love each other like family” she would say.

“A dysfunctional family” I would murmur to myself. You see I had decided early on that our community was dysfunctional because they didn’t do things the right way—my way. I found myself constantly challenging the authority of not only the Prioress but the older sisters too. “Why won’t they listen to me?” I moaned to my friends. I was having a hard time being the younger sister. But then I found a way to fix the problem through the Rule of Benedict no less.

Chapter Three of the Rule of St. Benedict is titled, Calling the Community to Counsel and it deals with how the Prioress, the undisputed head of the community, is to make decisions. Benedict says that the Prioress calls the community together and asks their advice. And here is the kicker—“the youngest first”.

So as the newest member of the community, I was duty bound to follow the Rule and show the older sisters how things should be done. Fortunately, we all survived my novice year. Unfortunately, my pride suffered greatly. Who knew that the brilliant ideas I had about this or that had already been tried and discarded? Why older sisters of course because they were the ones who tried them.

After living the Rule for a while now, I have come to understand that what Benedict doesn’t say in the Rule is as important as what he does. I think the unspoken truth of letting the younger go first is that maybe after they have had their say, there might be room in their head for someone else’s opinion.

So now when we are called to Chapter I say my piece and then listen to the other sisters. And try not to plot my takeover. I guess I am still a work in progress. Thanks be to God!

Sister Kathy Curtis (aka KC)

 

Thoughts on Perpetual Profession

It was not my plan to become a nun. I am a Protestant and to us religious life generally means a life spent in mission. I have come to believe that is still the definition of religious life. However what we are at Mt. Tabor is monastic and that is another way of living in mission.

I remember my first visit to Mt Tabor. It was for Thanksgiving dinner and during the meal the conversation turned to the progress of the Sister’s quest to become ecumenical. “That means I could live here” I remember thinking to myself. But then quickly thought, “But God has called me to mission in Maytown.” Isn’t it funny how we don’t see the forest for the trees.

After 5 ½ years of living this life I have come to see that God is continually growing us into holiness. For some that is marriage and a family. For some missionary outposts and service. For some, monastic life. Whatever the format, the goal is the same- – to know and love God.

So God draws me. This time, this place, these people. “For the rest of my life”. Those words hit my  youngest son hard. He always thought I would be moving back to Florida. But he is getting used to the idea. As I was driving my family to the airport to return to Florida I heard him say, “It’s been a heck of a weekend. My mom married God!”

Sister Kathy Curtis

ring

suscipe family

 

Summer Fog

It is 9:30 in the morning here in the mountains but the sun hasn’t come out yet. The fog drifts between the trees and around the buildings reminding me that I don’t really know what is going on “out there”. My vision is limited.

Too often we charge into the day, the project, the relationship without really looking. The assumption is that everything is just as we left it last time so it is OK to put ourselves on automatic pilot and think about what comes next instead of paying attention to what is now.

This spring floods were prevalent in Floyd County. I knew that several roads in the area were damaged but was unprepared for the bump as I drove over a road that had been solid pavement only days before but now had sunk three inches. The really sad thing is that there were warning signs posted as well as the obvious break in the road but I was not there. I was someplace else.

So I am practicing awareness…again. I am trying to really be present to what is going on around and in me. I think to myself, “I am writing a blog post.” And supposedly that will keep me present and open to what God is doing around me now.

I have to confess though. This is a very short post and I have wandered off several times. I am writing a blog post on summer fog but really I am trying to learn how to live in the light of now.

My New Stand on Scheduling Doctor’s Appointments

Winter has been long and cold this year and not very conducive to travel. I say that because I experienced some health issues this year and had to travel to Lexington for treatment. With absolutely no exception we had a winter storm every day I had an appointment. And to top it all off, my surgery was scheduled during an ice storm. Yes, I know the surgery was scheduled BEFORE the Weather Channel decided to name Winter Storm whatever but it still makes me feel targeted. So I have come to a decision, no more doctor appointments, surgeries or procedures until the weather cooperates.

I feel pretty confident in making this decision since the redbuds are blooming and the temps are in the 70’s. But then again, there is blackberry winter to consider. I may have to rethink this position but until then, may the redbuds bloom, the bluebirds sing and the oak trees bud. Spring is here.

 

KC