Friday, February 17, 2017

Sisters Supporting Sustainability

Praying Mantis overwintering
beneficial insect
We received a grant from National Catholic Sisters week for a project entitled Sisters Supporting Sustainability. Sisters will work with a local ecovillage to enhance sustainability in the neighborhood and region by planting Missouri native plants, enhancing pollinator habitat, increasing soil fertility and augmenting rainwater management.
We will hold a potluck event on March 9 to publicize the project and the involvement of Sisters and ecovillagers. Publicity before and after the event will draw attention to the active involvement of Sisters in life at the margins, and particularly today, our involvement in environmental sustainability projects both local and national.
American Hazelnut
Flowering in February
Little red flowers are female
Long tan part is the male flower
I thought it might be nice to have a few blog posts to highlight different aspects of the gardens and the enhancements that we are making with the assistance of the grant funding. The photos this week focus on some of the work that is already underway and what nature  is doing all around us in mid February. On the right side, I have two photos of some Praying Mantis egg cases that I found around the garden while working on various projects. The Praying Mantis eats lots of other bugs, so it is a sign that there is a lot of life and diversity in the area.
Another species of Praying Mantis
On the right, there is an image of the Hazelnut in bloom. It blooms in later winter, just after the Witch Hazel. It is a native plant that provides habitat for native bugs and birds. And each of those tiny red flowers that gets pollinated will produce a delicious hazelnut in the fall. I'll have to work fast to get them before the squirrels do.

Elderberry starting to leaf out.
Our weather is definitely on the warm side. We have had some very cold days, but most of February has seen above average temperatures. On the one hand, its great because we can start planting veggies. but this is also problematic for a few reasons. First, gardeners all know that our climate is changing. Plants are blooming sooner, plants what we couldn't grow in this zone are now grown here, and other plants that we used to be able to grow are not doing so well. For example, Apples need a certain amount of cold weather. If it gets much warmer, we won't be able to grow them here. And second, we may still see killing frosts after the bushes and trees have bloomed. This could damage the plants and crops.
Wildflower Nursery - each pot is seeded with a different species
Packera obovata - a shade loving ground cover
that stays green all winder
The Elderberry is already beginning to leaf out - it won't bloom for a few months though. And on the right here, you can see the wildflower nursery. The seeds are collected locally, or obtained from a native wildflower nursery. Most native plant seeds fall to the ground in the wild and stay there all winter; they need that period of cold weather to break dormancy. So let's do as nature does and plant them outside in the winter and then get ready for them to pop up in the spring. The chicken wire is to keep the curious squirrels from digging out the pots to see if there might be something yummy hidden at the bottom. 
The Packera obovata stays a lovely green all winter long. It makes a great ground cover for a shady area and in another month, it will send up a flurry of little yellow flowers. 
Wildflower mix seeded
The scruffy area below is seeded with a wildflower mix. Growing a prairie patch from seed is a multi-year process. Last year was spent 'solarizing' this area to remove all the weeds. Most of the wildflower mix was seeded a few weeks ago. There are a few wildflower and all the native grasses that do better if they are seeded a little bit later. This year we are just hoping for some sprouts, and next year, maybe some flowers.
Pruning cut on the pear tree
One of the spring projects is pruning the trees and bushes. Some of this is done for the health of the plant, some is done for aesthetics, some is done to increase fruit production. My brother is a master pruner, so I asked him to come over and prune, and to let me know what he was doing. Things look a lot better now and I learned a lot about how and why to make each cut. Thanks Chris!
The next few shots are a few things that are starting to green up. Ratibida pinnata is a summer coneflower that I planted last year. It just sprouted, but did not flower. It is already up this year, and hopefully, it will flower!!

Then there is Rhubarb - one of the great spring harvests. This comes back every year and slowly spreads. This plant started as a tiny leftover from a plant sale. After a few years, it looks like it is ready to burst out of the ground and we should have a good harvest!

The next few shots are of a low tunnel where I have planted a few spring veggies: turnips, radishes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, chard and various other greens. I'm not a big fan of the brassicas because we get a lot of cabbage worms. Maybe I should do a few though.
Low tunnel for early spring veggies

In any case, I've made this small tunnel about 4'x5'. It is really simple to make - I have done this in the past, but I think it is sturdier that my past efforts. Most of the materials I had around the garden. I also got some floating-row-cover. It helps to retain heat near the plants, it is permeable, so it lets air in and out and lets the sun shine in to the sprouts. I have tried this with plastic, but it is hard to keep it covered in a wind storm. So I'm hoping this will be more successful.
Low tunnel
And finally, we have a photo of the Wild Sweet William peeking through the leaf cover. I've left leaves on the ground around the plants to protect them and to provide habitat for the little critters to overwinter. Many of our native insects need a little leaf and plant debris in order to survive the winter. The plants also appreciate a little protection from the harsher weather. And flower heads provide a natural bird feeder for all our feathered friends.
By spring, a lot of these leaves and debris have broken down. I'll clear them away a little to let the new plants get going, then tuck them under the plants for a layer of mulch that will continue to break down and nourish the flora and fauna.
So that's what's happening now. Stay tuned for more developments over the coming weeks as the time of our potluck approaches.

Wild Sweet William

Friday, February 10, 2017

All You Can Be

I'm a Sister of St. Joseph.
I'm a lawyer.
I live in an ecovillage.
How cool is that?!?!

I often have the opportunity to talk with other sisters from the younger and middle-aged group of sisters. There are not a lot of us, but I love having conversations that help nurture the amazing life among us in this middle-time.
One sister recently reflected that as sisters, we are able to do many things and experience many things. We are able to maximize our potential personally, reaching goals that might not otherwise be possible. We are able to maximize our spiritual potential with a lifetime dedicated to the spiritual journey. And we are able to maximize our potential for service.
Religious life is a gift to those of us living it, when we are able to move in this direction. It is also a gift to the wider community with whom we are able to share our gifts, our wisdom and our service.
So the phrase "be all you can be" has taken on fresh meaning for me as a way to describe religious life. It is not a selfish phrase, but a celebration of God's call and invitation to fullness of life and to sharing the abundance with those we serve.
I am full of gratitude for this wild and wonderful gift that is religious life.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Summer Sisters 2017

Once again this year, I would like to extend the invitation to join in building community with me here in St. Louis, for a period of time during the summer. It can be the experience you seek: Retreat. Sabbath Time. Vacation. R&R. Embodied Commitment to Sustainability. Emersion in an Urban Ecovillage. Nurturing body, spirit, the future of religious life.
We'll have to work around the house schedule which is a little crazy this year - but then when is life not crazy. Let's do what we can.
Here's a link to last year's invitation. If you're interested, drop me a line and we'll talk more.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Convent Crawl - Feb 2017 - StL

We are joining several other communities of religious women in the St. Louis area for a Convent Crawl. A Convent Crawl is an opportunity for single women ages 18 - 40 to visit with Catholic sisters in their houses and convents in mid-February 2017.
• Discover firsthand how sisters’ communities and ministries are making a positive impact in the world today.
• Join sisters for prayer.
• Get to know sisters and ask them questions.
If you think you might be interested, head on over to the event website:
There, you will find more information about the event along with an itinerary, contact information and a registration page.
When a person is discerning religious life, he or she will take time for prayer and for exploring this call that they are experiencing. It is also important to connect with religious communities to discover more about how communities pray, live and work. A good spiritual director is also a great help for discernment.

This particular event can be helpful if someone would like to get to know several religious communities in a short space of time. If someone is going to enter a community, he or she will want to build a more in depth relationship. This is more like 'speed dating'. A chance to meet some great communities and some other discerners. A chance to pray and spend time with others who are living the life you are considering.

So check it out! Pass this on to someone who may be discerning! And by all means pray for those leading and participating in this event.

Friday, December 2, 2016

What Are We Waiting For?

    In my life and in my ministry, I often engage individuals and groups in conversation about their hopes and dreams for moving their lives and their communities forward. "Futuring." "Transition." "Completion." "Transformation." Hoping and dreaming can move us to the space of the ideal.
    • What would my life look like if I was the best I could be?
    • What if I had the courage to step out of my comfort zone?
    • What is our community called to be?
    • What if we accept the truth of where we are, and hear our call in this moment of life?
    • What does it mean to live the Gospel in this time and in this space?
    These questions call me to go deep in my heart and rediscover the source of my call, rediscover the the foundation of my dreams, rediscover Hope with a capital "H". Looking over my life, through the lights and shadows, I can see the nurturing, sustaining presence of God. I could not have imagined I would be where I am in life today, even just 10 years ago, not to mention 20 or 30 years ago. And my life has been blessed.
    God has been with my community as well; perhaps I should say my communities, because I'm part of so many circles of community that support and challenge me.
    Lately, in conversations about hopes and dreams, I have heard within my own heart: what am I waiting for? I have heard from those with whom I gather: what are we waiting for? I am hearing this as a movement of the Spirit seeking to move more powerfully in my life and in the lives of those around us. There are signs of movement, signs of readiness, signs of the Advent of God ready to burst forth in a new Incarnation of life, hope and holiness. To all this I say: Yes! Amen! What are we waiting for?

    Saturday, November 12, 2016

    Deepening Community in the Kitchen

    I just re-read Sarah's post on community from last week. It is a great reminder of all that community has to offer and the challenges it poses. Every new person in community brings the entire community to a new place.
    When we first gather, there is a freshness and a delight in exploring shared values and expectations. We get to know our housemates and we begin to share the big and little things of every day life. We hold each others hopes and dreams, we share our joys and divide our sorrows.
    As time wears on, we discover each others foibles and rough spots. We also discover simple differences in approach to our shared spaces - often the kitchen is a focal point of these differences. We all grew up in a home where things were done in a certain way. Then we've lived in other homes where we continued these practices. And then we meet others who do things differently - often not better or worse, but just differently. In this way, we can disrupt each others' comfort level and these little inconveniences on top of life's other challenges can become much bigger than they need to be. These little things challenge us to live Gospel love. It isn't much to ask to adjust our expectations so that we can all live in relative peace. And at best, it is itself a peace-building practice that can be a prayer for peace in our broader society and in our world.
    As Sisters of St. Joseph the kitchen holds a special place. There is still a kitchen in Le Puy, France that is the site of our first community in 1650. Likely, it was the only room the community had. They prepared meals there, they also shared prayer and conversation there. They had cots that they rolled out to sleep on at night, with the coal and ashes of the fire to keep them warm through the night.
    Even today, a kitchen is the place of warmth, preparation, lingering conversations as we prepare our meals and clean up after them. It is also the place where we can give expression to personal and cultural differences. These differences can be a richness, they can also be a challenge.
    Over time, a community can become comfortable, like an old pair of shoes. You know what to expect, you know how to respond, and how to approach more sensitive topics. A good community is this comfortable place that can also be challenging. It's also important that a community have an openness to new life, to new members.
    After years of living together, we can come to a place where we've negotiated all those tricky kitchen issues. We can settle into a new level of comfort. Then we face new challenges. One the one hand, our community can deepen. We are called to be more open and forgiving of ourselves and of each other. Some little things become bigger things over time, as we face other challenges individually and as a community. The other challenge we can face is that of becoming more insular. We can still open our house to guests, but we have more trouble when they want to move in and disturb our settled routine.
    In religious life, we often invite newer sisters to live in communities that have been together for years. It is a big challenge for the veteran sisters of the community to allow this to shake them out of their comfort zone, to raise again all those tricky kitchen issues that they have long settled. Can we welcome new foods into the kitchen, new spices into the spice rack and a new coffee cup onto the shelf? Can we welcome this as an opportunity for house cleaning, and breathing newness into our settled lives? I am so grateful that over the years, I have found communities that have been able to welcome me, and I in turn have committed to welcoming others to deepen community together in the kitchen.

    Friday, October 7, 2016

    Fleeing from what?

    I've been thinking lately about the phrase in latin: Fuga mundi (flight from the world), and what it might mean.
    Originally, it was used by the mothers and fathers of the desert in reference to the flight from a corrupt and persecuting world to live a more authentic Christian life. To be sure, the persecution was extreme, leading to the martyrdom of many early Christians. It was illegal to refuse to sacrifice to the gods of Rome because of one's belief in Jesus Christ. Some Christians fled to the desert for safety.
    Once the persecution let up, the empire did an about-face and legalized Christianity. At that point many people flocked to join the Christians, and many did so in name only. The ranks of the Church were flush with new Christians, some of whom were unwilling or unable to embrace a true conversion of life. Some Christians wanted to sell all, give to the poor and devote their entire lives to prayer and gospel-living. They chose to leave the mass of unruly new converts to Christians - to flee the world - and try to live more authentically Christian lives.
    This was the historical origin of fuga mundi or flight from the world. Not surprisingly religious life took up this phrase to describe the vocational journey of coming away from society, family, friends into a monastery or religious community. It was a separation from an outside world. Along with that separation came an implicit judgment that monastic life or religious life was superior: a purer and more radical form of Gospel living.
    With the renewal of the Church and of religious life occasioned by the Second Vatican Council, the term fell into dis-use and sometimes it was positively rejected. We should not reject or denigrate "the world", but embrace it as Jesus did, reach out to the world in compassion and share the Gospel.
    The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. (Vatican II: Gaudium et spes)
    I believe this is an important move in the life of the Church: the turn to the world, with the eyes of Jesus. Yet, I think the early Christians were on to something important as well when they thought of flight from the world fuga mundi. It all depends on what you are fleeing from and what you are fleeing for.
    There is much to embrace in a world created by God, loved and redeemed by Christ, our common home that we share with our sisters and brothers in the human community. All this I can embrace with love and compassion.
    Yet there is also a darker side that I would flee, just like my early Christian sisters and brothers who fled persecution and corruption. I would flee from consumerism, from racism, from wanton environmental degradation, from violence, from sexism and from every form of dis-respect and abuse of the poor and vulnerable.
    My flight is not so easy as going to a remote wilderness and absolving myself of responsibility for the ills of 'the world.' My flight requires that I make choices. I am part of this society that perpetuates violence and oppression. I cannot stand by and innocently call others to task. I partake in the ills myself. Every purchase I make, every bit of food I take, every cup of water I drink comes from this society that is both created and loved by God, and deeply compromised in its living. So my fuga mundi calls me to flee every form of violence and injustice, and to call others to the same. My fuga mundi calls me to solidarity with those who suffer from violence and injustice.
    My particular call at this time is to free myself from chocolate and caffeine that is produced by slave labor. And some much of it is. Fair trade costs more - so I will have to consume less. But how can I justify buying cheaply, when my purchase is made on the backs of child laborers and underpaid farm-workers and even people working in slave-labor conditions. I love my chocolate! But not at that price. So this is the world I am choosing to flee now. There are so many other choices I can make: fresh, local and organic foods, reducing travel and energy consumption, reducing use of plastics and non-renewable resources, becoming aware of slave-labor practices in the supply-chains of stores and products and avoiding them.
    I can flee the world without going to the wilderness. But sometimes it is by taking some time physically apart in prayer and reflection that I find the courage to live my flight in the midst of a broken world.