Mutually blessed

Denise West, OSB Living in Community 1 Comment

Sister Lynne Smith describes the process of restoring Lost Lake to 8th grade students from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church as we listen to a barred owl calling.

Recently we’ve been blessed by interactions with three communities of youth and young adults in the Madison area. Earlier this year, Youth Director Becca Feldhacker, from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Verona, reached out to Sister Lynne to invite the sisters to participate in their spring youth retreats on the theme of rhythms, ritual and repetition. In Mid-March Sister Lynne and I joined a discussion panel for nearly 50 6th and 7th graders on the rhythms and rituals of Benedictine/monastic life. The students, parents and coworkers offered us hospitality, prayer and laughter at their beautiful church. We were delighted to reconnect with Pastor Dara Schuller-Hanson who was part of last year’s ECCSR cohort at the monastery. On Palm Sunday, their 8th graders came to the monastery for a work project outdoors and a walk around Lost Lake. They heard from Dr. Amy Alstad, digitally, about her work and how she connects her spirituality to care for the land. Finally, they enjoyed some of Chef Lisa Hoon’s amazing chocolate chip cookies.

Also on Palm Sunday, the sisters welcomed the Interfaith Fellows from the UW Center for Religion and Global Citizenry who were spending an overnight in the RGH on silent retreat to learn about contemplative practices in various religious traditions. Homilist Paul Knitter and oblate David McKee co-led the retreat with the UW instructors. Some of the sisters met with them for a welcome and introductions, they joined us for Liturgy of the Hours, and later in the evening David McKee and I facilitated a discussion on Benedictine spirituality and centering prayer practice. Look for students’ reflections on their time at the monastery in upcoming editions of Weekly Wisdom.

Sister Denise West and students from UW Pres House plant chokecherry and hawthorn shrubs at the monastery.

Finally, this past weekend, Nii Addo Abrahams, Associate Director of Campus Ministry, brought a group of students from UW Pres House for their third annual (excluding one pandemic year) ecospirituality retreat. Our conversations touched on the seasons of life, becoming aware of the presence of the divine in the experience of silence and in creation, and how people conceive of God. We also shared aspects of Benedictine spirituality with them – balance, self-knowledge and listening. We were blessed with sunshine and blue skies that day and it was great fun to be outside planting chokecherry and hawthorn shrubs in the prairie outside the dining room. One person shared this thought on the day: “Our conversation about balance, self-knowledge, and God was so enriching. I enjoyed being able to connect the values the sisters shared with us to an embodied experience of planting shrubs.” Several students commented on the meaningfulness of planting the shrubs, which was very gratifying to us. Cultivating a reciprocal relationship with the earth is an essential part of contributing to a spiritually and environmentally healthy future for the entire planet.

It’s an honor to be in relationship with young people, even for just a day. We welcome invitations to connect with young adults and youth in person, virtually, at your place or ours. If you’re interested in gathering together around care for the earth or Benedictine spirituality or values such as silence, listening, awareness of God, community, justice, moderation, please reach out to any of the sisters. You can contact me at

Comments 1

  1. Thank you for your great work with these young people. You are planting seeds of spirituality that will nurture them for their whole lives. They will always remember this time with you at HWM and how they were welcomed!

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