Oct 7 2016

Friday Florilegium

Day 7 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.


When I visit the Trappist monasteries near Dubuque or the Sisters of the Love of God in Oxford, England, I’m taken aback each time by the grill between the guest area in the chapel and the monastic area. The boundary seems unwelcoming. However, I realize that the grill is a reminder that boundaries nurture their life together.

I love the times when the grill is opened and I am welcomed in–at Compline at New Melleray, at Monday night Mass at Our Lady of Mississippi convent, and at meals with the Oxford sisters. It makes it all the more special.

For life in the Contemplative Cottage to flourish, boundaries are necessary to cultivate sanctuary.

A quote that captures this so beautifully is from Elizabeth Goudge, The Middle Window.* Goudge describes a conversation about the boundaries necessary for beauty to flourish:

“That’s the monastic ideal,” said Judy, “and I’ve always thought it rather selfish—a creeping away from life.”

“Then you have misunderstood it,” Ian said. “The monastic ideal is a core of sanity in a loathsome world, a core of sanity that spreads. Again and again men [and women] have gone into solitude to create beauty, and the beauty, created, has revolutionized a whole country.”

Judy was still unconvinced. “But if nothing can get through the mountains to contaminate your Utopia, how can the beauty you create get out into the world?”

“If you light a bonfire in a sheltered valley the protection makes such a huge blaze of it that those outside see the whole sky lit up.”

Often, I hear monasticism and monastic communities critiqued for “leaving the world behind.” While there are examples of this perspective, there is a much more prevalent life-giving monasticism that offers men and women in the communities a boundaried space to deepen their love of God and their calling to a particular way of life. Historically, many monasteries became centers of learning, the arts, and culture.

In our own time, the Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos created a world-wide musical phenomenon by recording an album of Gregorian Chant. Chant sold over 1 million albums in 1994– its first year. In 2004, the oldest Cistercian monastery Stift Heiligenkreuz, a continuous monastery since the 12th century, released a chant album and has enjoyed a similar popularity. The highly acclaimed documentary, Into Great Silence, gave its viewers over 2 hours of nearly silent video, showing the simple daily lives of Carthusian monks in the Grand Chartreuse monastery.


My professor-monk at St John’s, Fr. Columba, often commented that the boundaries of the horarium and the monastic enclosure allowed for monks to focus on the arts, giving them time and space to grow from amateur to expert over the years. He also talked about how even the monastic boundaries were challenged by workaholism, the 24/7 culture, and pervasive connectivity. It required discipline and vision to maintain the life-giving boundaries.

Monastic communities model what it means to prioritize a vocation and make the choices necessary to see it flourish. And I learned from them that protected sanctuary space is just as necessary for people outside the monastery. Whether a person is called to marriage and family, singleness connected to community, life in a religious community, or other integrations of family, work, and community, each calling has it’s own need for boundaries to flourish.

What are life-giving boundaries that help you flourish in your vocation, art, discipleship, work, or relationships?

Friday Florilegium 1

When medieval monks copied texts, there were often left over scraps of vellum available for the monks to record quotes from scripture or other texts on which they wanted to meditate personally.  These scraps were often bound together into a florilegium, Latin from flos (flowers), legere (to gather): a bouquet of literary flowers.

*Disclaimer: While I love Elizabeth Goudge’s later books, The Middle Window is a earlier effort, uneven in story and writing. If you are interested in reading a beautiful book by her, start with The Scent of Water.




Mar 24 2013

A Prayer Booklet for Holy Week

With Palm Sunday, we enter into the Passion week, a Holy Week, remembering the Lord’s final days and building in anticipation toward the Resurrection.

For the world, this is much like any other week, and paradoxically, for ministers and others working in Christian contexts, it can be a week with little time for prayer and reflection.

To counter-act what feels like a break-neck race to Easter, I long to pause and rest in ‘unforced rhythms of grace’; to walk with Jesus through these days and let his Spirit transform my DNA; to practice a new way of thinking by remembering my small story in the midst The Story; to be patient on the hard days before the Glory, even as I learn to be patient in the whole of an often Holy Saturday life.

We live in death. We see it all around.

We live in-between. We are residents of  the Now but Not yet of the coming Kingdom. We live in that moment of baptism, under the water, the moment between death and resurrection.

Yet we also live resurrected in promise and hope, taking in that wonderful first gasp of earthly air as we rise from the baptismal water. One day we will take in that full sweet heavenly breath as we rise with Jesus.

I’m a rushing wind through life right now, a whirlwind of activity blowing through, a Tasmanian Devil of the old cartoons, and I’m not remembering to breathe earth’s air, and even less of heaven.

Last night at 3am, I woke to blessed silence and lit a candle and made some tea and journalled the Spirit’s prayer in me: Your life is wonderful–two awesome jobs and a wonderful community–but it is not sustainable. Pray and reflect, but use your night hours to sleep and learn to pause during the day. 

Let Me be the wind and you breathe Me.

I’ve read enough books on prayer and gotten myself into this kind of pickle too many times to know that pausing in the midst of being a one-woman tornado of activity is easier said than done.

But I also know that our rich prayer tradition offers centuries of helps for just such a situation.

One way to pause, to mark the days and hours of Holy Week, or any week, is to join with the wider Church in the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours. For centuries, the Office was the prayer of  Benedictine monks and sisters, but then the Office moved into the lives of laypeople.

This week I will take a couple moments to pause and pray the Hours. Would you join me?

Here is a simple Liturgy of the Hours  for Morning, Noon, and Compline prayer, starting with Palm Sunday evening.  It offers a pattern based on the full Liturgy of the Hours, some simple chants, and scripture passages from The Message translation of the Bible.

I invite you to mark this week with me as different from the world’s calendar, to enter into the Now, but Not Yet, to pause and rest, and breathe in the wind of the Spirit as we are caught up in our Savior’s story.


If you want to print the PDF, select the file and choose booklet settings on your printer. It should print two pages horizontally on  8.5 x 11 paper in the proper order so you can fold and staple it. Or enjoy it as a digital prayer book on your phone or tablet.


Jan 28 2011

Florilegium, Latin, “a gathering of flowers”


I just finished rereading a fascinating book by a monastic historian and classically-trained scholar, Jean LeClerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.  He details the educational system and literary culture of 9th-12th century monasticism, which deeply influenced Christian life and education during that time.


Back in the day, as in 10 centuries ago and earlier, monks wrote on sanded-smooth animal vellum, painstakingly copying and illuminating manuscripts.  This page will give you an idea of the process. For a modern example, the breath-taking St John’s Bible is being crafted using the techniques of the medieval scriptoriums.  Below is an illustration of St Mark from the Lindesfarne Gospels (7th-8th C).


Writing was a mentally and physically demanding process, and that was in addition to the actual composition of the prose.  The monks didn’t just copy religious or specifically Christian texts either. To the monasteries we owe the continuity of historical records, as well as the preservation of Greek and Latin literature and philosophical texts. Why? The monks were educated through these texts, they found them beautifully written and believed many were inspiring for living life well–a truly classical education, enjoyed and used in the love of God.

While copying manuscripts required time and expense, there were often left over scraps of vellum available for the monks to copy down quotes from scripture or other texts on which they wanted to meditate personally.  These scraps were often bound together into a florilegium, Latin from flos (flowers), legere (to gather).

A bouquet of literary flowers. The monks were such romantics.

Florilegium--Rothschild Canticles 14th C

We have examples of these quote collections which helps historians know what people were reading and who were the well-loved authors of that day. Above is a 14th century florilegium called the Rothschild Canticles.

Each Friday, I’m going to offer a digital florilegium of a few quotes from books I’m reading.  These texts could be from scripture, contemporary and historical authors, dissertation reading on prayer and education, or just some random yummy-quote-goodness!


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