Music of Sabbatical

Storytelling was my intended theme for the 14-week sabbatical but, not surprising since so many stories are put to music, music became a secondary theme. I knew that Ireland would have amazing music, and for the record I was not disappointed. Atlantic Notes in Westport, Trad on the Prom (outside of Galway), and the RTE National Symphony at the Galway International Arts Festival were all amazing. The music on the streets was also fun and pretty good in some instances. But the music did not stop when I boarded the plane at the Shannon Airport.

At the Monastery of St. Gertrude’s in Cottonwood, Idaho my heart was filled by chanting the psalms with the sisters and other guests. On the Feast of the Assumption I was introduced to another setting of Mary’s Magnificat.

On Prince Edward Island I loved the Celtic, Scottish, Acadian, and Canadian melodies. I smile to myself when I remember that I heard “Galway Girl” on two islands in one summer (yes, I know this is actually something of a pop song now). But the real gift of music on P.E.I. was discovering that I share a love for Broadway Musicals with my goddaughter. And we will always remember that we saw “Anne and Gilbert,” the musical, together. It has some catchy tunes, especially “Your Island Through and Through.”  And I still love that this Idahoan got to hear a song about potatoes on P.E.I.

Then I went back to my hometown of Custer, South Dakota and got to have a beer with my sixth grade teacher at the Custer Beacon, a new music venue. I was reminded of what a blessing it was to grow up in Custer, a place whose natural beauty drew gifted instructors who stayed. More significant was how many of our teachers lived lives of multiplicity. Some of our teachers spent summers working or volunteering for the park service or forest service. Some worked in the hospitality industry in the summer, yes for extra cash but their experiences filtered into our classrooms nonetheless. And every summer I watched my sixth grade teacher (banjo), the high school band teacher (drums), one of my mom’s Chamber of Commerce board presidents (fiddle), and a cast of other musicians play bluegrass in the Mountain Music Show. I think witnessing our teachers’ multiple gifts and interests gave me and my classmates freedom to live our own lives of multiplicity. I can be a pastor, daughter, movie reviewer, reader, wilderness explorer, singer, and chef. And that multiplicity will be good for me and for whatever community I am living in.

Music also founds its way into my sabbatical through three films I saw this summer. “Rocketman” does a masterful job telling the story of Elton John. Sometimes flashbacks irritate me but they were used so effectively in this film. “Wild Rose” is a fictional story about a Glasgow, Scotland single mom who wants to be a country music star in Nashville. This film’s turns surprised and delighted me and I loved the mother-daughter relationship. “Yesterday” is about a struggling musician who wakes up from a bicycle crash to discover that only he remembers who the Beatles are.

If you have been watching the Ken Burns documentary Country Music, as I have these past two weeks, I wonder what you think music brings to your life and your community. Burns took us on a long and sometimes complicated journey. I do not know what my big take-away is yet, except that I thoroughly enjoyed watching and learning and pondering and I say thanks to Burns for giving us another masterpiece. It will be fun to hear what other people thought and heard as they watched. I will be on the prowl for more music from various genres to feed my soul this coming year.

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Southern Black Hills

I spent the last two weeks recovering from a cold, taking my mom to her second cataract surgery, helping pack up the house as my parents prepare for the next chapter (AZ this winter and we are not sure about next summer), catching up with family and friends, and exploring the beauty of the Southern Black Hills.

View from the house I grew up in

I spent a wonderful day with family friend Pastor Larry Peterson. He ran the retreat center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for almost twenty years and is now in the midst of getting the Woyatan Retreat Center up and running in Rapid City.


Construction of Woyotan Retreat Center

Larry and I met for coffee at Calamity Jane in downtown Custer and had a great conversation about Lakota spirituality, linking Biblical stories to daily life in various cultures, books, silence, hospitality, community, and empathy. Then we went up to Crazy Horse Memorial. I had not made a proper trip there since I was in high school and if the mountain has not changed much, the museum certainly has, and all for the better. It is a first-rate Indian Museum. I still think every United States citizen needs to visit the American Indian Boarding School Stories exhibit at Phoenix’s Heard Museum but Crazy Horse has an incredible collection of artifacts and the curator is doing a beautiful job.

Larry and my dad catching up

Larry and I got together on the day after I celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of my ordination. It was fitting because Larry, then serving on the synod’s candidacy committee, did my initial entrance interview for ordination and was part of the clergy group present for my ordination at Custer Lutheran Fellowship, see photo below. During my second week in Custer I had coffee with Chuck Hazlett, who served as pastor of Custer Lutheran Fellowship while I was growing up and who sang at my ordination. The welcome statement Chuck wrote in the 1980s (remember that if you follow the link to read it–the 1980s!) had a big impact on our congregation, me, and the way I think about ministry today. He and his wife Kaona retired to Custer a while back.

My sister-in-law Peggy and I decided to go for a hike this past Tuesday. We drove out to Sylvan Lake and had the intention of going up Trail 9 until we could get a good view. But we were both feeling good and it was a perfect day. We made it all the way up Black Elk Peak (the highest point in South Dakota).


I was able to hang out with my sixth grade classroom teacher Hank Fridell at The Custer Beacon one evening, meet a variety of my parents’ newer (last ten years) friends, and meet up with one of my best friends from junior high and high school, Mary Lappe.

Something I did not plan on was that two of my favorite cousins, Heidi and Sharman, were staying with their husbands at the old homestead home, just down the hill from my parents’ home. The three of us and my mom headed to Hot Springs to check out Moccasin Springs. It was an incredibly relaxing morning soaking in those beautiful pools and watching dragonflies chase each other.

The next evening, the who family went to dinner at Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City.

Heidi’s husband Tom, cousin Sharman, my brother Steve

My mom and I did a lot of work–packing boxes, shipping boxes, moving bins into storage, recycling electronics, delivering donations. One of my tough but joyful tasks was choosing which books from my parents’ shelves I wanted to ship to Nampa.

Wall/shelves on the lower level (just a sampling of the the Jerry/Linde library)

But Mom and I also did some re-creating. In keeping with my intentional sabbatical theme of storytelling and what has become an unanticipated but delightful secondary theme of music, we took in three of the first four segments of Ken Burns’ new documentary Country Music. We soaked at Moccasin Springs. We went on a full-moon nature walk at Custer State Park with 250 other people, not an intimate event.

We ate an incredible breakfast at Skogen Kitchen (Custer) and then rode the 1880 Train Wine Express from Hill City to Keystone and back.

It was a rich and full two weeks. In August I spent three weeks with the Benedictine Sisters of the Monastery at St. Gertrude’s in Idaho. Benedictines strive for life at the monastery to be a blend of prayer, work, and play. I feel like that blend was truly what I experienced in my hometown and for that I am incredibly thankful.

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Adventures on P.E.I.

In her Anne of Green Gables books, Lucy Montgomery makes many references to the Presbyterian church and its ministers, so on our first morning on Prince Edward Island, P.E.I., we worshiped at St. James Presbyterian Church.

Jennifer has a veterinarian colleague who teaches at the local veterinarian school on P.E.I. and he had his wife hosted us for Sunday lunch. They gave us great tips about what to see on the island and gave us some history as well. After lunch, we parked the car at our cottage in Charlottetown and headed to the waterfront and then to the theater.

Not “Hamilton” but we all enjoyed “Anne and Gilbert,” based on Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island.

Day two included Anne of Green Gables sites, the beach, and more music.

Lovers’ Lane

Many translations of Anne of Green Gables

Headed to the beach.

We then drove over to this amazing boardwalk, part of the Greenwich Dunes Trail.

At one of the Anne sites I saw a little poster for a Ceilidh (pronounced Kailey) at a hall not far from Charlottetown. The musicianship was fabulous.

Day three was lighthouses, Montague, and the Ross Family (singing and dancing).

On Wednesday I delivered people to the airport, went shopping, and then attended an amazing performance called Atlantic Blue at The Mack. PEI singer Tara MacLean put this show together, introducing the audience to Canadian East Coast legends  like Gene MacLellan, Gordie Sampson, Sarah MacLachlan, Stan Rogers, The Rankin Family, and Rita MacNeil.

I love how several of the performances were preceded by recognizing the First Nations (Native American) Tribe who had lived there long ago. I asked someone at The Mack about this and she said it was a local movement among the arts community.

I knew that there would be Irish and Scottish melodies but had forgotten, until I really started reading the maps, how much of the Eastern provinces were part of Acadia, French colony. The English pushed these Acadians off the land and many ended up in New Orleans.

I am so thankful I included a trip with Jennifer and Celia in my sabbatical. It is great to go to someone’s home and see them in their normal environment but it is equally as valuable to go somewhere altogether new and experience that place together. We all loved the beauty of the landscape, the delicious food, and the wonderful music.

One song which was sung at both the Ceilidh and Atlantic Blue was Stompin’ Tom Connors  “Bud the Spud,” in which Connors pays tribute to the many potatoes grown on P.E.I., it’s a song my Idaho readers will especially enjoy. Check it out on YouTube.


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Encounters at the Monastery

Sister Bernadette greeted me upon my arrival at the Spirit Center and made me feel so welcome. During the end of my time at the monastary, she and Sister Corrine spent about an hour with me, telling me about working in the Boise Catholic Diocese Christian Education Office in the years after Vatican II. It was fun to hear them tell stories about that exciting time.

Sister Lillian served as primary host for me and all of the other guests at the Spirit Center. She took me down to the Clearwater River one afternoon (below left). One evening, she took me and Sister Celine (lower right) to view Hells Canyon. Sister Celine was staying at the Center for an entire month, a gift from her monastic community in Norfolk, NE for her jubilee, and also a gift for me.

Hells Canyon at dusk

Sister Carlotta took me on a long hike up the hill, bushwhacking around the backside (where we tried to find old deer and cow trails), finally to the pond, and home.

After the hike







I already blogged about encountering Laurie, another pastor on sabbatical this summer.

The Monastery of St Gertrude’s has an active artist in residence program. Early on in my time I went to the evening presentation of a Boise State University undergrad art student who had been artist in residence for two weeks. I liked her oil paintings but what I loved where her photos of the Milky Way, taken on the highway in front of the monastery late at night.

Artist Cindy Steiler came up for a silent retreat but will probably be back as an artist in residence. She was artist in residence at the James Castle House in Boise this summer. We had some great conversations about art, the Catholic Church, and places of healing of rest.

Shortly after I arrived, two artists, both writers and both staying for about a month, began their residencies. What a gift to be there with Dana Stevens from Brooklyn and Heather King from Los Angeles.

Dana and me on top of the hill at sunset

Me, Dana, Heather in the dining room

The land itself became a character at the monastery. I never got tired of these views.


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Silence Helps

We had a sabbath of silence at the Monastery of St Gertrude’s Aug. 24-25. I experienced a great deal of silence during my time here and I cherished it.

Silence helps me hear the deer in the woods before she bounds off, flashing her white tail.

During morning prayer, silence helps me ponder the psalmist’s words and make them my own.

During our noon meal, silence helped me savor every bit of deliciousness in our peach cobbler.

On a blustery afternoon, silence helps me pretend that the wind in the trees is a river.

Moments of silence during the Lord’s Supper help me experience wonder.

In the silence I remember to listen.

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Psalms, Benedict, Sisters

The amazing sisters of St Gertrude’s deserve a beautifully written article. This blog post will be longer than others I have written this summer, perhaps only semi-coherent, but hopefully readable. Now that I have lowered your expectations, let me begin.

Anger, violence, sadness, praise, awe, images of creation, fear, hope, regret, calls for justice, gratitude, remembrance–that sums up the contents of the Psalms we pray through reading and singing during morning and evening prayer at St Gertrude’s and, I assume, every monastic community that uses some adaptation of Benedict’s psalter. It is not formatted numerically but thematically–he really did a brilliant job. Here, we read or sing three psalms at morning and evening prayer. Every prayer service also includes a canticle from scripture, read or sung. In the morning we have a reading from the Rule of Benedict. The sister in charge of leading prayer for the week also reads either the assigned scripture reading or chooses something of her own interest. My first few days here we heard portions of an article from Catholic News Service by Sister Gallares, Sowers of Prophetic Hope for the Planet: A Biblical Perspective. “Wow!” I thought to myself. “This is going to be a great three-weeks.”

Lest you begin to wonder if Benedict was stuck in the Old Testament, nothing could be further from the truth. Morning prayer ends with the Canticle of Zechariah and evening prayer ends with the Canticle of Mary. And we celebrate the Lord’s Supper nearly everyday! At 11:30 am we celebrate Eucharist everyday but Tuesday and Saturday. On those two days we substitute Midday Praise, which is the service that helps us tackle the lengthy Psalm 119. Although on Sundays our gospel comes from Luke, our weekday gospel text is from Matthew. St Gertrude’s follows the three-year lectionary for Sunday readings and the two-year lectionary for weekdays. Our Old Testament weekday lessons are semi-continuous as we were in Deuteronomy when I arrived and now we are in Ruth.

Excursus: We also get to recognize saints who have gone before us. I was particularly excited for Aug. 20, St Bernard of Clairvaux, because after a horrible experience in Dr Bernard McGinn’s History of Christian Thought II course, I took him again for a great seminar and ended up writing a paper on Bernard of Clairvaux. During evening prayer and at the noon meal we also recognize sisters and oblates–birthdays, anniversaries of vows, and anniversaries of deaths.

And so, what is the effect of praying through scripture multiple times a day? These sisters know the old old story of our faith, that is to be sure. Their lives, both at the monastery and out in their previous work places, to me seem to reveal a particular hermeneutic (way of interpreting scripture). I asked the priest, a Benedictine himself from the monastery in Jerome,  Idaho if there is such a thing as a Benedictine hermeneutic. He was not sure. The monasteries I know about–St Gertrude’s, Holy Wisdom in Madison, WI (both of my parents have been there and still receive their publication), and St. Benedict’s in St Joseph, MN (which I visited on a college field trip)–all have similar commitments to peacemaking, serving the marginalized, and working towards church unity.

The longer I have stayed here, it has become obvious that the hermeneutic they share is St Benedict’s Rule, even the more traditional monasteries. Benedict’s rule was all about living together in community. Reading through its summary called to my mind Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (encouraged preparatory reading for my first summer working at Camp Christian in Montana).

In her book, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister’s writes ” The difficulty with understanding Benedictine spirituality comes in reading some sections of the rule without reading the entire document. The fact is that Benedictine spirituality is not based in dualism, in the notion that things fo the world are bad for us and things of the spirit are good. We are not to pray too long but we are to pray always. Self-discipline is a given, but wine and food and the creature comforts fo a bed with bedding are also considered necessary. The rule is for everyone, including the abbot or prioress, and yet everyone is a potential exception to it.”

When I have thought about Benedictines, I always thought about hospitality. In her commentary on Chapter 66: The Porter [doorkeeper] of the Monastery, Chittister writes, “If there is any chapter in the rule that demonstrates Benedictine openness to life and, at the same time, models a manner of living int he midst of society without being consumed by it, this is surely the one. Guests are welcomed enthusiastically in Benedictine spirituality but, at the same time, life is not to be frittered away on work, on social life, on the public bustle of the day. The community is to stay as self-contained as possible so that centered in the monastery they stay centered in their hearts. More, this balance between public and private, between openness and centeredness on interior growth is to be remembered and rehearsed over and over again: ‘We wish this rule to be read often,’ the rule says plaintively so that the monastic never forgets that the role of committed Christians is always to grow richer themselves so that they can give richly to others.” The woman can write!

I was thinking deeply, on my drive up two weeks ago, about how various monastic orders have different charisms or emphases. I served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) in Syracuse, New York between college and graduate school and learned a bit about that order, founded by St Ignatius. The four tenets of the JVC are Social Justice, Community, Simple Lifestyle and Spirituality. (See, it should not surprise anyone that I ended up spending three weeks in a monastic community.) The museum at St Gertrude’s has an excellent display explaining the similarities and differences between different orders:


I do believe that the Benedictine emphasis on praying through the psalms and lectionary readings would do us all well. We cannot share the Gospel of Jesus Christ if we do not know and love the Gospel ourselves. We cannot tell a story we do now know. And one way to learn it is to read it again and again at different stages of life while we are in different stages of faith.

However, I do not think we all need to cloister ourselves off; live in isolation. Jesus himself tried to get away from the crowds but he was never cloistered. Times of rest and renewal are incredibly valuable, writes the pastor in the middle of her sabbatical. The sisters who founded St Gertrude’s came from Switzerland and intended to be cloistered but it never happened. “We had to make a living!” one sister responded to me at dinner when I asked if they had ever been cloistered at St Gertrude’s. (The following photos are also from the monastery’s museum).

Then 43 years ago, the summer I was born, something tremendous happened and I think the ripples are still felt today. The spirit of this place can be traced back to how they received what came out of Vatican II.

And still, the sisters here today are not isolated. These sisters open their doors to visitors every day of the week for worship, retreats, and hosted events. Over 30,000 people come through this place in a single year I was told. There are over 80 oblates (lay members) affiliated with St Gertrude’s. The sisters here are living out their mission faithfully: “Eager to welcome God’s transforming power in ourselves and our world, we seek God together through monastic profession and respond with our core values: Healing Hospitality, Grateful Simplicity, Creative Peacemaking.”

I return to the reading of the psalms, day in and day out, without getting to skip any. What does that do to a community, when you all know that you are not just praying the prayers written so long ago, not just praying the prayers passed down from generation to generation? These are, after all, our prayers too.

I will close with this reflection on praying the psalms by Benedictine Oblate Kathleen Norris, from her book The Cloister Walk, “But to the modern reader the psalms can seem impenetrable: how in the world can we read, let alone pray, these angry and often violent poems from the ancient warrior culture? At a glance they seem overwhelmingly patriarchal, ill-tempered, moralistic, vengeful, and often seem to reflect precisely what is wrong with our world. And that’s the point, or part of it. As one reads the psalms every day, it becomes clear that the world they depict is not really so different from our own; the fourth-century monk Athanasius wrote that the psalms ‘become like a mirror to the person singing them,’ and this is as true now as when he wrote it. The psalms remind us that the way we judge each other, with harsh words and acts of vengeance, constitutes injustice, and they remind us that it is the powerless in society who are overwhelmed when injustice becomes institutionalized.”






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Time at the Monastery

I am so glad I decided on three weeks at the Monastery of St. Gertrude. I have been here almost a week and I feel like I am just settling in.

Crazy coincidence, when I arrived, another woman pastor, also on sabbatical with a Lilly grant, was staying down the hall. Laurie and I have several friends in common, she is going to Ireland later in her sabbatical, and both of our dads are age 92.


The Spirit Center, where I am staying, is quiet. I have been doing academic reading in the afternoons (the center has its own library) and fiction in the evenings. In the mornings I walk the grounds, including the big hill (with great views of the Palouse) behind the monastery. There is a beautiful, in my opinion, structure to the day. Generally we are in the chapel for prayer at 8:30am, 11:30 am, and 5pm. I cannot emphasize this enough–I love praying through the psalter. I love the moments left for silence. I love praying scripture aloud as a community several times a day. I do not know what all of this means for life in Nampa but my spiritual director assures me I do not need to have that figured out right now. I can just enjoy the time here.

Today is the Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary so Eucharist was especially festive and we had an actual feast in the dining hall.

Today also happens to be the middle of the Idaho County Fair so the two artists-in-residence (an important piece of life at the monastery which I will blog more about later) and I went into Cottonwood to take in the fair and go to the local coffee shop, which pays tribute to the sisters at St. Gertrude.

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