Sunday, July 25, 2010

On Being Fed: A Reflection on Mass and Mealtime at the Monastery -- with Ms. Marguerite!

It had been a while. A month at least, since I had stepped foot in the Visitation Sister's North Minneapolis Monastery. And goodness how my bones were missing the place! (While I have the privilege of writing and posting blogs for the sisters from my perch in St. Paul, it's not daily that I have the good fortune to spend time on the ground floor with these beloved women. This last month was a special exception, too -- for not being explicitly, physically present with my Northside crew -- as I had been blessedly holed up with my newborn daughter, Ms. Marguerite Marie Kiemde. Suffice it to say, our eventual visit to the Monastery last Tuesday evening was a special, sacred time re-connecting with my dear spiritual sister clan, and introducing Baby Maggie to the nuns.

In reflecting on the experience of taking my new little girl to meet the sisters for the first time, I back up and find myself asking:
What does a visit to the Northside Monastery entail?
What does my daughter glean from such an encounter?
What good energy eeks out and over and upon a child in this environment?
Who does she meet?
What gets discussed?
What does she learn?
How might she be changed?

And it occurs to me:

These are questions I could pose for any woman or man coming to the monastery for the first time!

As I work to compose this reflection, I note that what Maggie Kiemde encounters and is nurtured by, might be similar for those visiting and possibly discerning further alliance or membership with the blessed Salesian order.

On this particular evening, there was an intimate gathering of people for mass and the following dinner meal. Besides the sisters, my husband François, baby Maggie, and myself, we had one other lay visitor and our dear priest. Brendan was an Americorp volunteer, originally hailing from the East Coast, and returning to the monastery for mass and nourishment - having found the Salesian charism a welcome space for him in his Minnesota tenure. As a graduate from a De LaSalle institute, he felt at home in the monastery. I shook his hand and felt instantly like I'd known him for years. (He physically resembled another friend completing his Masters in Divinity out East.) Fr. Jim Radde, our Jesuit presider, as an old friend newly acquainted with my husband, was warm and deeply contemplative as he said mass, inviting us as usual into a spiritual space piercing both my heart and mind. ("What does it mean to really love yourself? How do fear and self-doubt impair our abilities?")

With our daughter Marguerite calm and resting in her baby carrier, I found myself at peace in the Fremont Avenue Monastery living room. In this chapel space, with these women, and in this configuration of blessed humans listening and reflecting together on scripture, I was at home. I took inventory of my bones, my limbs, noted my breathing, and exhaled realizing how much I crave this kind of experience, this community.

Our evening flowed from a mass with communal reflection time and space -- where each was invited to give voice to his or her prayerful thoughts, questions, hopes-- to a dining experience complete with charged, inspiring conversation.

Over a blessed meal at the table in the sisters' dining room, I heard from Sr. Mary Frances about a latest leadership initiative involving Northside community members. I took note as Fr. Radde, S.J. challenged Brendan about his peaceful communication practices as the young man prepares for employment with Pax Christi International in Belgium. I chimed in with my own questions and theoretical and applied knowledge of story-telling when Fr. Jim brought up his passions around restorative justice circles. I smiled as our own circle of stories intersected and overlapped while we enjoyed our pot roast and vegetables. Sister elaborated on the Leadership Initiative. Having come from a recent convening at St. Jane House, she shared some of the goals of the diverse group of participants:

"We are teaching principles of Salesian Leadership and inviting the members to pose their own goals for change. They will create action plans over the course of the next ten months."

Father disclosed his sadness having learned he wouldn't be making a long-planned trip to Uganda, but eeked of hope and enthusiasm around how his study of narrative practices would be persued in local urban classrooms. My daughter slept, my husband smiled and sighed. The sisters fawned over the resting presence of our little girl. I moved back and forth in my mind between Maggie's life here as a child, and an imagined space in proximity to the newly acquainted with Brendan going to Belgium. Oh, where would she be twenty years from now? Where might any of us be? How would we be "living Jesus," as the Vis sisters say?

What a room of people! What an experience of faith and community and love and hope! What a way to be fed!

As I close this reflection out, I'm grateful for the sisters' presence at 16th and Fremont (and 17th and Girard) in North Minneapolis. I'm mindful of how lucky my child is to even sit in the same space with these women, their friends, and to have a mom and dad who find such sustenance in visiting them.

Perhaps Marguerite will be called to be a nun someday? Perhaps she'll follow suit in some way as her namesake, Visitation Sister: St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque? Or maybe, she'll find her way in some fashion as her parents, living Salesian spirituality in their own subtle and intentional manners in the lay world? Regardless, Maggie is blessed, as we all are, to be in any proximity to this sacred monastic space called The Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis.


Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde
Visitation Companion