Lessons from the Garden

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

Riots, rampages. Disorder. Undisciplined behaviors. Right-leaners. Left-leaner…Lacking in control, The perky. The faded. The spent, chins on the ground. Deeply rooted. Weakly committed. The early and the late. The large and small. The tenacious. The stubborn. The overachievers. The strong. The weak. The intruders. The raucous crowds.

The always unpredictable.

Do you think I’ve been describing a political gathering? The state of our cities and institutions? Our nation in the present tense and tension?

No. I’m describing our garden as summer slips away.

It started innocently enough, with a plan.…

Top tier: creeping phlox, some bushes of no particular interest. Second tier down:  Dutch Iris, black-eyed susans. Coneflowers. Daisies. Zinnias. More dutch iris. Everything in its place—though the creeping flox had somehow snuck into the iris below. The bottom layer, larger, curved edges. Back: more perennials not all of which we could name, planted last fall (half-price!): asters, lavender, lobelia, maybe bee balm, anemones? In front of them, a carpet of wave petunias in purple, pink and white.  And no border yet where the daffodils had bloomed.

It was ordered and promising—but there’s a huge difference between planting and its results:

A criss-crossy every which way gangly tangly enthusiastic explosion glorifying God, coming from the front “border” into which we sowed a native-plant mix. We didn’t know exactly what we were getting. They didn’t have names and pictures on the seed packet. And every seed pluckily showed up.

So these later-planted whatever-they-ares, now moving into September in great blooming fervor, have largely brought a meadow into our planned garden. Those bright little petunias crumple, waving goodbye as the meadow drinks their water and blocks the sunlight. The perennials too dry and fade as  they bequeath their dark seedy centers to the breeze and the birds. But so much rejoicing is yet to be as the natives thrive! The the oddest, sloppiest, tallest most enthusiastic sun-drunk array of blossoms and greenery! We can name some: the tall trembling cosmos leaning into the sturdier zinnias, leaning over the parking lot as they twist to gather the sunlight, both such a prize for the bees; other poke-ups  of  small white ones and greenery not yet flowering, the small surprise of orange poppies, the blue bachelor’s buttons, four  kinds of gold and brown varieties growing through each other, (Rudbeckia? Coreopsis?) and the yet-flowering anemone, from garden plan One, peaceful and composed in rose-pink.

If my introductory description had raised in you a vision of today’s fraught human world, you weren’t far off the mark. These worlds intertwine, actually. But all versions of gardens and meadows wherever they are to be found echo that  never-to-be-suppressed song of grace and hope and delight as God gardens the living community of Earth.  If we but stop, look, smell, and listen.

Our sun-smitten blooms bring us a simple but bright harmony in contrast to the shouts and clashes and cries that sound in our world:  a sweet and lilting “consider the lilies” to remind us that the breeze of the Spirit is and will be always moving among us, and with and in Her we are Oh so frightfully contagious.

From the poet GM Hopkins: There lives the dearest freshness deep-down things….for the Holy Ghost o’er the bent world broods/ with warm breath and with ah! Bright wings.

And a prayer from the Mystic and Doctor Teresa of Avila: Teach me Lord to sing of your mercies. Turn my soul into a watered garden, where the flowers dance in the gentle breeze, praying with their beauty.”

Posted in News, Weekly Word

Seeds of Growth and Transformation

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George, OPA

In my last blog, I shared with you my interest in participating in a year-long spiritual development adventure with the Wellstreams program, which started at the end of August.

As a newly minted cohort in this program, the seeds of transformation and enlightenment are already growing.  In our sessions, we have shared personal vignettes of our lives, and reflected on our images of God and what doors we’ve stood before with longing. Some have shared from a place of brokenness that has touched me by their willingness and ability to be vulnerable.

This speaking from a place of brokenness and vulnerability reminds me of a passage from Henri Nouwen, who wrote, “Nobody escapes being wounded.  We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.”  Instead of hiding from our wounds, he invites us to consider “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” and become “wounded healers.”

To serve as a wounded healer, we must be willing to be vulnerable, to be seen and heard as we truly are.  Being vulnerable takes us to a new level of connection and relationship with others. When we are vulnerable, we open up space for others to feel safe in expressing and being their true selves also. It is in this shared space that we nurture each other and come to know and discern God’s presence. Spiritual discernment then is listening to the inner still small voice where the Spirit calls us and reveals to us our loving nature.

The sharing among our group of 15 has been meaningful and deep and the program offers a safe space to explore not only where we are in our relationship with the Divine but also to develop a deeper awareness, appreciation, and understanding of Self.  In this communal atmosphere and circle of trust that we are developing, we are each sharing a personal story of transformation and being invited to hold each other’s story in reverence and non-judgement.

Our stories reveal much about who we are, what experiences have shaped us, maybe even transformed us.  Our stories are intertwined with the lives of others, people who have challenged and encouraged us to grow whether through conflict or harmonious encounters.  Clearly, we do not travel this journey alone, as we know from the book of Genesis that God created us to be in companionship with others and did not want us to walk alone.

For as Palmer J. Palmer writes in his book, A Hidden Wholeness:  The Journey Toward an Undivided Life,  “while solitude is essential to personal integration in which there are places in the landscapes of our lives where no one can accompany us, we are still communal creatures who need each other’s support” and that “we all need other people in whose presence we can speak our soul” and who “invite, amplify, and help us discern the inner teacher’s voice.” While I tend to enjoy solitude and a solitary lifestyle, I am also eager to grow within a community of other seekers and to cultivate friendships that are life-giving.  I trust that this communal experience will be enriching and soul-searching at times.

Knowing ourselves, examining our relationship with God, seeking confirmation and insight from others, and paying attention to our feelings are all part of the discernment process. What is your story?  What is your story of transformation that has brought you to where you are in your life now?  How do you see God’s footprints on the landscape of your life?  Are you ready to explore how God is calling you in community with others? When you’re ready, contact us and we will walk with you in your discernment journey.

Posted in God Calling?, News

From the Niskayuna Times Union, September 8, 2020

The Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna recently received a $142,000 grant from the New York City-based Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.  The Foundation is named in memory of a tireless advocate for immigrants, children and the poor. It provides grants for organizations supporting vulnerable New Yorkers (including the disabled, low income pregnant women, veterans, former inmates) of all faiths or no faith at all.The Dominican Retreat will use the grant to help launch a spiritual sanctuary for seniors, persons with disabilities and 12-step group members. The Capital Region’s elder population, as well as the number of persons living with disabilities, is growing rapidly.

Founded in 1945, the Dominican Retreat & Conference Center (DRCC), has long been known as a place of peace, safety, rest, prayer and renewal, and it is open to all people who seek a deeper relationship with themselves, others and God. It provides a full schedule of prayer rituals, spiritual direction and faith formational events that support all ages.

The Retreat Center staff is hard at work upgrading the audio system, improving handicap access, purchasing the necessary equipment for a quality shift to virtual events, and obtaining a few recliners for seniors to use in bedrooms.  In addition, they can offer scholarship and transportation funding for anyone with limited means.

There is mounting evidence that providing for individual spiritual needs benefits physical and mental health, strengthens coping skills and encourages healthier practices. The launch of our Spiritual Sanctuary has arrived at just the right time when those among us at highest risk of coronavirus need a safe shelter that will protect and soothe the soul and strengthen one’s faith.

Our realization was that regardless of whether it was a program geared toward one of these three populations or not, these groups may have limited access to everything we offer because of lack of transportation, the inability to drive in inclement weather, a fixed income or income that goes primarily to medical expenses. So, the Sanctuary is not a specific room, but an opportunity to grow in thier own faith life without the worry of finances and logistics.  The grant allows us to offer scholarship and transportation assistance so that retreatants can attend programs in person, and to make upgrades within the facility to increase the comfort level particularly for seniors. It also allows us, in our current climate, to grow our virtual capacity so that we are able to extend our spiritual programming to those who are more confined to their homes due to Covid-19 while still offering scholarship possibilities.

For more information please call (518)393-4169 or email dslcny@nybiz.rr.com or visit the website www.dslcny.org.

Sister Sue Zemgulis is the administrator of the Dominican Retreat and Conference  Center

Posted in News

From the Global Sisters Report – September 28, 2020

Sr. Gemma Doll is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace’s leadership team.



Click here to read in the Global Sisters Report.

A town hall for those living or working in Dubuque, Iowa: Ways to hold all life sacred

By Sr. Gemma Doll of the Dominican Sisters of Peace

I rode into the Zooming Nuns on the Bus trip all the way to Des Moines, Iowa. Many of the participants were from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which hosted us. Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell expanded Pope Francis’ call that Catholics hold all life sacred.

In small-group sessions, both Catholics and other faith believers resonated with the idea that every issue is connected. As a pro-life Catholic and a pediatric nurse, I know that to save the life of the unborn, I must care for the health of the pregnant mother and ensure adequate housing as well as access to quality health care, and she must have a healthy diet and not suffer discrimination. Above all, she depends on Mother Earth’s health to provide resources for her and her unborn baby.

We enter political discussions through one door and realize that the house of multi-issues is equally important. That is why I am a multi-issue Catholic voter!

Posted in News

Dominican Sisters of Peace sign on to Letter Seeking Justice for Breonna Taylor

The following Letter to the Editor, co-signed by Kentucky congregations Dominican Sisters of Peace, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Sisters of Loretto/Loretto Community and Ursuline Sisters of Louisville was sent to the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Record, the diocesan magazine.

Dear Editor:

The grand jury announcement on Sept. 23 in the Breonna Taylor case of three counts of wanton endangerment for Officer Brett Hankison and no charges for the other officers involved, has left us with feelings of great sadness and injustice for her family, friends and our entire community. We pray for peace in Louisville and our country at this moment.

We have seen firsthand the deep divide this tragedy has caused in our city and in our nation. Breonna’s death has brought to the surface the history of systemic racism in the United States. We, the elected leadership of religious congregations of women in and around the Louisville area, feel the rage and despair of this moment.

As majority white communities, we recommit to prayer, self-examination, and advocacy. We support the right to peaceful demonstrations. We call for fundamental reform in the way policing is done in the United States and call for legal reform to strip away protections for those who bring violence and death to unarmed black people.

We call for and commit to REAL change to bring REAL peace, the peace that comes when all have enough, when all are treated with respect. Every person is a precious child of God. Breonna Taylor. Say Her Name. She is a precious child of God.


Dominican Sisters of Peace

Sisters of Charity of Nazareth

Sisters of Loretto/Loretto Community

Ursuline Sisters of Louisville

Posted in News