The four plenary speakers addressed various aspects of what theologian Sandra Schneiders identifies as four “clusters” of contemporary ministries rising out of and directly related to the charisms of religious communities. The primary motivation of all four “clusters” is seeking peace based upon justice. Sister Susan Mika of St. Scholastica Monastery in Boerne, TX, is one of those focusing on systemic or structural change as a means to achieve social justice. She cited several examples of what can be accomplished if people work together in a common cause. Her talk, “The Power of our Portfolios in this Global World,” emphasized the importance of Benedictine investors knowing the companies in which they hold investments, attending stockholders’ meetings, and speaking out for—or perhaps against—the policies of those companies, ensuring that they do indeed comply with our values.
Brother Luke Devine of St. Martin’s Abbey, Olympia, WA, spoke on “The Contribution of Buddhist-Christian Dialogue to to Peace.” Brother Luke is but one of the intellectuals—scholars, artists, teachers, researchers and writers—who, from a faith perspective, seek and explore understanding of the mores and culture of our time. He focused on the significance of knowledge of others’ beliefs and practices as a basis for understanding and appreciation.
From a more practical perspective, Sister Colleen Maura McCrane, whose talk “Practicing Presence: Wisdom from the Rule [of St. Benedict] on Finding a Balance in a Digital Age,” emphasized the necessity of “intentionality” in the use of technological tools of communication—e-mail, cell phones, Facebook, etc. Although these cannot —and should not—replace face-to-face communication, technology is not only with us but has benefits as well as dangers and pitfalls. They are tools to be used judiciously and sparingly when necessary, not habitually nor as screens to distance speaker from audience. Because face-to-face communication includes tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language and is immediate, misunderstanding and misinterpretation are less likely and can be cleared up at once. It does not obscure the humanity of the people involved.
Weldon Nisley, pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church, is an Oblate of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. He has served with Christian Peacemaker Teams, is founder of Bridgefolk, a Mennonite Catholic peace group, and is an epitome of those who work directly with the suffering victims of natural disasters and social injustices, particularly wars. As a member of CPT, he was among the first into Iraq as peacemakers at the beginning of the war. Nisley’s talk, “Seeing Jesus, Being Peace,” accompanied by graphic portrayals of the massacre of innocents and their homes, addressed the efforts of his team to befriend the victims of the horror perpetrated upon them. Nisley was seriously injured there and rescued by Iraqis, who, remembering these peacemakers, welcomed them back years later.
In addition to plenary addresses, the Conference included discussion circles where attendees exchanged reactions to the talks, including questions for the speakers; business meetings; of course, praying together the Divine Office, Eucharist, and special dinners. Those attending the ABA prayed Morning Praise together in Queen of Peace Chapel at a later hour than the host community but Evening Prayer and Eucharist together with us.
On Friday evening, we enjoyed an “indoor” picnic together in Rockhurst dining room. On Saturday evening, we St. Scholastica Sisters were invited to join the other ABA members at the closing banquet. The program for the evening comprised the installation of the new officers, an address by outgoing president, Sister Laura Swan, St. Placid Priory, Lacey, WA, and the presentation of the Egregia Award for Dedication to Scholarship Embodying Benedictine Culture to Sister Shawn Carruth, Mount St. Benedict Monastery, Crookston, MN.
The evening closed with a stunning one-woman presentation of Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light, written and performed by Linn Maxwell. The acclaimed mezzo-soprano captivated the audience with her acting and, interspersed throughout the story, memorable vocal rendition of Hildegard’s songs, self-accompanied by various medieval instruments.
On Sunday, after Morning Praise, Eucharist, and brunch, ABA visitors left Duluth singly or in groups, leaving their hosts with a tinge of emptiness and a large dose of satisfaction and pride for a successful Conference under the leadership of Sister Mary Rochefort, St. Scholastica Monastery, Duluth, MN.
—Submitted by Sister Sarah Smedman, OSB