June 21, 2022
Celebrating 3 years in Erie – Katie Gordon update
By: Katie Gordon, Former Program Manager at Kaufman Institute
Many of you will remember Katie Gordon, who joined Kaufman Interfaith Institute as program manager following her graduation from Alma College in 2013. In 2017 she went to Harvard Divinity School where she received her Master of Theological Studies in 2019. We invited her to share her current activity in the Interfaith Insight that follows.
As I write this on June 2, 2022, I am marking three years since I first moved into a monastic community in Erie, PA, with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. In the summer of 2019, I lived at the monastery, and we had many beautiful nights like the one pictured above – with bonfires, friends, and sunsets on Lake Erie. Between the village-like community, natural beauty of this Great Lake, and the spirit-centered rhythm of our days and weeks, this way of life captured my heart and imagination. I’m grateful to still be here, living alongside sisters, oblates (lay associates) and seekers (like me) – all passionate about living lives of compassion, curiosity, and community.
The more I deepen in this tradition, the stronger my conviction grows that the Benedictine monastic way of life has something essential to offer our times. Joan Chittister, a sister in this community and a renowned writer, put it this way in her book, The Monastery of the Heart:
Today, in this time of cataclysmic social upheavals, of global transitions, of technological breakthroughs of unimagined proportions, we must [walk another way]. Old patterns are breaking down; individuals, families, and small groups everywhere … are seeking to shape new ways of living for themselves in the shell of the old.
As a seeker myself with many “spiritual but not religious” and secular friends, I can vouch for this profound longing to walk another way, especially in younger people today. We are increasingly losing trust in systems and institutions, and craving — even co-creating — new ways of being, living, and doing good work together.
In both the stories of ancient monastics and in contemporary society, we are all being invited to see the wisdom in “living otherwise” –– of “walking out and walking on.” It is happening across religious and social systems: People are increasingly opting out, walking away, and divesting their time and resources … and this exodus has the possibility of leading to renewal in our ways of life. The monastic traditions are some of the lineages that hold roadmaps for what it can look like.
Everything I have heard from spiritual leaders across traditions confirms that this shift in religious life is happening everywhere. Our traditions are not isolated from one another or the contexts we exist within; we are all being called to consider how these times are transforming our traditions.
As this profound shift unfolds, I have been inspired by an article by Prior Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., a Catholic priest, musician and author, titled Community as an Ecosystem and Energy. He wrote:
“...one could see a community either as a fortress or as an ecosystem. A fortress is an institution, built on a high, dry place, made of brick and mortar, unchanging. An ecosystem, on the other hand, like wetlands, sees the community as an organic organism that is supple, adaptive, ever-evolving.”
In this, Prior Cyprian invites us to consider our communities and traditions as dynamic ecosystems, in conversation and changing with the world around us. The increasingly complex times we live in necessitate we view our own traditions and communities as complex and evolving as well. Our monastic tradition is well resourced for this with conversatio at the heart of the pathway: a commitment to conversion of life, to changing and growing, each and every day. What changes are your communities or traditions called to embrace, and what spiritual resources exist to support you in the dynamic unfolding into the future?
Katie also wrote on this topic for Interfaith America recently: How ‘Nones’ are Building Spaces with Creativity and Vision
Follow her work via Nuns & Nones, Monasteries of the Heart, the Formation Project, and Being Benedictine.
Feel free to reach out to Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunset on Lake Erie -- Summer 2022
Recommended Reading: Valarie Kaur on grieving together
During each heartbreaking mass shooting in these last several weeks, I’ve turned to the same book: Valarie Kaur’s See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. There’s so much wisdom in this book on how to move through these ongoing and accumulating crises, and in particular I was drawn to her wisdom on how grieving together leads to us fighting for one another. One powerful excerpt reads:
"What does it look like for a nation to grieve together? I am not talking about routine rituals of grief—singing the national anthem, lowering the flag, firing rifles into the air, or the stilted offerings of ‘thoughts and prayers.’ I am talking about sitting with pain together, modeling how to do that in public view, reflecting quietly on our deepest values, and mourning the dead, all of the dead. It requires acknowledging the ways historically oppressed people continue to suffer—and the ways people with good intentions continue to benefit from that suffering. It requires witnessing the pain of trauma without trying to control or colonize or minimize it—then listening and continuing to listen. Soothing words are not enough, not when trauma has traversed centuries. But if we are present to pain—if we sit together in the rooms of the heart, curtains drawn, and grieve together—we can begin to ask: How do we fight for one another?
America’s greatest social movements—for civil rights, immigrants’ rights, women’s rights, union organizing, queer and trans rights, farmworkers’ rights, indigenous sovereignty, and black lives—were rooted in the solidarity that came from shared grieving. First people grieved together. Then they organized together. Often, they sang and celebrated together. ‘We sang our grief to clean the air of turbulent spirits,’ writes poet Joy Harjo. This is not the dominant narrative of American history, but, if you look closely, you can see many stories of solidarity. In response to great violence or injustice, there are people who rush to bury the dead, cut down the lynching noose, or attend the memorials to say: Not in my name. When people who have no obvious reason to love each other come together to grieve, they can give birth to new relationships, even revolutions.”