Writing From the Center

Writing From the Center

One of the upsides of COVID is figuring out workarounds. People are getting versatile using online platforms to meet, party, build and sustain relationships. But the itch to be in each other’s presence is strong. There is something about physicality that makes it an irreplaceable variable. Last spring when I was asked to suggest topics for the Benedictine Center’s program year, I was primed to break out of social distancing and proposed a session in the open air. On a so-so weather day, September 19, nine writers joined me on the patio at the Silverwood Nature Park in New Brighton. Our purpose was to let that beautiful setting open the flood gates of creativity and let images words raise us into the crisp fall air. And it happened.

It is my pleasure to bring you the results of that morning with the writers’ permission. The writers took on two activities. The first was just to walk wherever they chose in the park and “pay attention.” Their eyes were their masters, drawing to what they needed to see at that moment. They shared their “vision” with a partner who then used it to seed the piece below. The second activity involved a second walk but this time with a magnifying glass. Their assignment was to find something interesting and to look at in under the glass. It is a practice taken from Esther de Waal who said that we often miss universes of wonder in the microscopic.

These simple activities are important spiritual practices for writers and nonwriters alike. Someone recently told me about “awe walks.” The concept is simple and quite Benedictine: walk alert to what you are seeing and take notice – even if you follow the same route. Ask yourself, “What is there to see today? What might I see?” Stress experts are a studying this process and finding it has significant impact on individuals’ moods. The work of my talented colleagues September 19 bear witness to that for their observations perfected the day for me.


Ann Bechtell

This Time of Year

Fall. Is it just a season of death? My eyes say it is. It isn't a quiet season, though. Migrating birds announce their intentions. Saying goodbye: "Goodbye until next year. Thanks for the summer. We have a monumental task in front of us, and we will run into people with guns. We take life as it comes."

We take life as it comes.

Cicadas, crickets, chipmunks, squirrels, crows, jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, cardinals, hawks, owls, turkeys. All move about vocal and excited. Working hard to eat enough to see them through what is coming.

They know. They take life as it comes.

The tinges of red, yellow, orange in the trees and plants. Falling acorns and whirligigs; seeds everywhere. So it is also a season of new life. There is a promise that comes with fall. There is hope.

The plants know. They give life as it comes.

Quiet Things

It is good to look closely, carefully at a quiet thing. When viewed from far away or just given a glance, we rush to judgement and usually error. Or simply dismiss it. We tend to more carefully focus on that which is loud or splashy. That which catches the senses in some way.

With a magnifying glass, I have been observing prairie plants, especially their seed designs, shapes, colors, displays. So humble. So quiet. They don't turn away when I look. Neither do they insist "Look at me."

They are wonderful companions with whom to commune. Completely giving yet undemanding in return. The summer long, they have internally, secretly gone about your purpose.

Thank you for the time. Thank you for your work. You give life to the world. I am blessed.


Kathy Fleming

Mindful Walking

We know this place, this moment
We are aware of all we see and hear
Standing here among old oak trees we inhale our surroundings
And are drawn away, easily slipping to past places following the familiar sounds.
The rumble of a train, crows overhead, insects in the grasses,
city sounds
All remind us of earth we have walked before,
Connected past to present we return to stand here in wonder of this crisp fall morning.


Mindful Walking...Under The Magnifier

Just a black piece of bark lying in the stones
With acorns and a tiny oak leaf calling me to notice.
This black scrap is the least interesting piece in this little grouping
But under my magnifier there is green on the black and a grainy surface.
Moss is growing on this small piece of black bark
Moss shows us North and guide our way,
But it is dislodged from its place on the tree.
It's been severed from its home.
We don't know which way to go.


Bernadette Janisch

What Do You Hear?

When the eagle flies, does it hear the music below: the laughter of children, the chirping of small birds, the murmur of bikes, the wind through the trees? Or does the splash of a fish in a pond or the scurrying of a small animal block out all other sounds?


Memories Magnified

Cleaning out my parents’ apartment, finding magnifying glasses in every room. Saving them, not sure why, until a decade later putting them by every chair and wishing we had more.

Visiting the Russian Museum, straining to read the didactics and see the stitching of Ukrainian clothing, a fellow OLLI shows me her magnifying app on her phone.
Receiving an unexpected gift of a small magnifying glass and discovering the tiny veins in oak leaves.


Laurice Anderson

The red oak leaf holds onto the twig
Tightly, it hangs onto the last vestige of Summer,
Wanting to stay alive - a little bit longer,
Grasping tenaciously onto life for as long as possible.

Leaf - numerous veins
One central
Many small
When alive, carrying vital nutrients to the tips,
The ends of its earth

Infestations - two types
Black dots, nine of them, only on the veins
White cluster, five small circles on the leaf
Deadening growth.

Leaf - oak - dry,
Host for others,
Shade in Summer,
Detritus in Fall,
End of season.


Victoria Fritz

White Oak and Acorn
Tenuously attached
A quick snap separates
The fractalled cap

Striated to a piercing point
This quail egg sized
Beginning of a new tree

Most will never
“From a tiny acorn a mighty oak be”
And yet there is our promise

The possibility that
With the right conditions
We could be a glorious thing

To return to a place

To return to a home of

After years of

Layering what is
On top

With the memories of
What was
The prairie plantings

Covering the dormitories of

The waves at the beaches

Memories of life

Now, a bucolic stroll on
Planned paths

The joyful noises of youth

Women in bible study

Grandparents tickling the following

And the Oak Tree still
The same

Holding the lives of those now past
Offering shade to those yet to come



Donna Elftmann

Death in the diversity and the beauty born of dying seed.
Beauty In Death To New Life And Diversity?
To me death is ugly.
Whatever was attractive
in the living ceased at death.
No more smile
No tear of gratitude
No loving hand.
Robyn saw the “death” of Autumn
and found it beautiful
in the diversity.
Realizing the seed must DIE
to come to life anew
perpetuating more diversity,
more unique beauty.
I must let this season
in me die to beauty.
Micro Fall
Tiny little seeds barely
visible to the naked eye
reflecting the colors
of the rainbow
when magnified to
larger than life.
More like the beauty
God sees in me.
He planted the seed
and watched it develop.
May He reveal more
and more to me what
He sees beyond the
naked eye.
Help me to pause to
consider the beauty
of another buried beneath
the fears and distancing,
meant to protect us both.
Distanced and isolated
we feel rejected and alone.
Yet, our beautiful seeds
are hanging loosely
waiting to be enjoyed
and revealed to those
who would take a deeper look.


Sharon Helps


Eyes be my teacher
You have reminded me -
memories of braided grasses.
You have delighted me
with purple flowers.
Eyes you also opened my ears
joy-filled children
hum of planes
choirs of birds.
Eyes and Ears joined through a poem
to please me and teach me.
mountains sway
seas dance
rivers waltz
oceans drum .
Eyes and Ears ....my teachers.
....(. reflections on partners viewings)


Under the Microscope

So many colors-subtle colors - patterns -
tiny-interlocking....everything in order.
Who determined the number of segments?
Who lined them up?
Who made sure they stayed together?
Who decided how long to develop the shape?
How did it know to make rows?
To overlap?
To join forces for strength?
To be a covering-a protection-a purpose-a designed purpose?
A reason for the pattern?
To delight?
has a plan
a design
a reason
has answers.

Take time to listen, see, hear.
He speaks through everything.


Robyn Halverson

Birch Trees

Leaves of yellow cascading down a hill,

Dancing with life,

Splashing joy,

Nourishing my soul,

Shouting I AM !

Milkwood Seed

You are such a wonder,
little milkweed seed!

I want you to be mine.

Your feathery fronds,
whitest of white,
softest of soft,
feel soothing on my skin.

I want you to be mine.

Your earthy, ethereal beauty
is a pleasure to my eye.

I want you to be mine.

You dance to the slightest breath of wind.

I want you to be mine.

Then suddenly, as I reach to claim you
Poof! you are gone.


Kiely Todd Roska

Scenes From A Day

Morning: I watched a video about milkweed, filmed on a phone by the elementary school science teacher. Milkwood is a food and a home for monarch caterpillars, she said. As they practice resurrection.

Afternoon: My six-year-old daughter has been reading about polar bears and climate in her National Geographic Kids books, checked out and digested religiously from the library. During lunch, she asked me about how oil gets out of the ground and what happens when it spills. Despite my limited knowledge, I did my best to answer her questions. Suddenly, my child was overcome with emotion, crying and yelling. “No one should use oil ever! It kills the fish!!” I hold her, not wanting to offer false comfort as she learns about difficult realities.

Today, I walk among the trees. The golden rod isn’t so golden anymore. Leaves are starting to change color, a step toward their death. A man is fishing on the bridge but I do not see any fish in the water.

But also, I see a pregnant woman holding a toddler’s hand. I see milkweed. I don’t see any butterflies or even any eggs. But the possibility exists.

Yesterday, I tell my daughter that I will help her research what is happening with oil drilling and I will help her write a letter to our elected officials. Not to fix the situation, but to help her channel her feelings and regain some sense of agency.

Today, my companion reminds me that some things must die in order for others to live.

I search out the milkweed, just like my daughter’s science teacher instructed. I will not yet sing and dance and testify. But I will witness. I will witness.


Up Close

The oak leaves remind me that there are many stages of death just as there are many stages of life. But we aren’t there yet—to the life part.

The oaks teach me that there are many ways to die:

* Letting go quickly, carried by the wind.
* Getting blown over with no control about the timing at all.
* Holding on until you are good and ready
* Hanging on stubbornly, long past the time your friends have gone.
* Falling gracefully. Acceptance

Not every one changes color at the same time or at the same pace.
Whatever the path, every one is held---first by the air, then by the ground.

And every last one whether they die generously and peacefully or whether they fight their way out… whether they believe in resurrection or reincarnation or nothing at all.  Every one becomes compost--whether they believe in it or not, whether they want it or not. Everyone is nourishment for another life yet to come.

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