Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Frustration and the Gift of Fortitude

By Brother Luke

Every morning at Matins, the opening psalmody is followed by a reading and then a brief meditation time. Usually something in the readings will strike a chord in me and stay with me for the rest of the day. Sometimes it comes back to mind during my meditation time later in the day. A recent meditation reading about the gift of fortitude from a collection of readings by Thomas Keating hit home that day.  When Fr Thomas listed the various ways fortitude can make a difference, the reference to frustration stuck in my mind. As I pondered the connection between fortitude and frustration, another image came to mind: the Pauline description of love always being patient.

In today’s world, it is not hard to feel frustration over much that we see in the news. Violence and hostility, fueled by fear, anger, and exasperation over many inequities and injustices, abound. As we notice ourselves getting pulled into that vortex, fortitude and patience may be the antidote. However, we may not want to go there.  Every fiber in our being is screaming: outrage. How can love conquer all this evil? How can patience and fortitude be of any help? Maybe looking at frustrations closer to home can offer a clue. And this is where my thoughts and prayers turned that day. How do I respond to personal slights, insults, failures, disappointments, and hostility directed at me?

If my innermost emotions are telling me to strike back, then here is where fortitude and patience come in. Here is where the love that St Paul is writing about can make the difference. And the difference is striving to make the situation better. Often that process can begin if I attempt to understand the situation from the other’s point of view. It does not mean that I have to accept or agree with the other’s point of view; it means I have to at least look at it. In looking outside myself I can move away from the emotions fueling my frustration.

This is not an exercise in denial; the reality is there. Rather, it is an exercise in facing reality with a view to making a difference that brings peace to the situation. This will include peace within me and peace between me and the other. It may very well involve taking action, but that action is constructive, not destructive. If I need to speak with a brother about some incident that occurred between us, then that conversation needs to take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect born of love and not antagonism born of rancor. And this is hard to do—hence the place for the gift of fortitude. 

Hostess in a Holy House: Coordinating Dog Seminars

By Ida Williams, Director of Marketing and Communications

Inviting people into the home of your employer can be daunting, to say the least, but the eighth New Skete dog owner/trainer seminar ended this past Sunday, and with a sigh of relief I can say it went as well as the first one held in 2013.

My background is in hospitality marketing and management. Coordinating events is in my skill set, but never did I imagine that I would be running events in the home of the Monks of New Skete. Years of management in hotels and resorts, a western-themed amusement park with a banquet facility, and participating in the promotion and planning of our county fair may have provided the base for event coordination, but New Skete dog seminars have been a new encounter that I thoroughly relish.

Event planners know that defining your goals and objectives prior to planning the particulars of the event is key. Once the goals have been established, the rest falls in place. The objectives of hosting New Skete dog owner/trainer seminars are these:

  • To share the New Skete philosophy of living intentionally with your dog, providing a base for a deeper human-canine bond.
  • To share dog training knowledge and expertise so fewer dogs are surrendered to shelters.
  • To validate the spiritual connection of humankind with creation through conversations and experience sharing.
  • To introduce people to New Skete Monasteries through a mutual interest in dogs.
  • To make life-long friends.

Achieving these objectives at a monastery:

  • The Program - The brothers have the knowledge and experience needed to provide a one-of-a-kind seminar that is available nowhere else. Pulling from personal experience and education, each monk shares his knowledge of living with and training dogs. Conversations go beyond the classroom to one-on-one discussions. The brothers’ monastic tradition of hospitality is evident in all sessions, church services, and social gatherings.
Quotes from attendees:
“Some women go on spa vacations... I'm going on a 3-day dog seminar vacation and can't wait.”
“It is so fun to watch the faces of people when you tell them you are going to a monastery for a dog seminar!”

  • The Food - I am a big believer in “the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach.” We have become very proficient at meeting any dietary restrictions. Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten free—no problem. Meals are shared with the brothers and are further opportunities to learn from and share with the monks. Good food lends to great conversations. 
Quotes from attendees:
“A BIG thank you for catering to my vegan needs. You helped to make the workshop not only informative, but a most enjoyable experience as well.”   
“I have attended many workshops and seminars during my years as a dog trainer; never have I eaten so well.”
  • The Staff - New Skete staff is small in numbers but big on talent and loyalty. Each staff member steps outside of their assigned roles to help. Anastacia Tonjes, Purchasing Manager and Gift Shop Coordinator, helps in food prep and is an expert pineapple cutter. Carrie Murphy, Director of Finance, helps with food prep. Josh Elliot, Maintenance Manager and Cook, works tirelessly preparing meals and making certain that the facilities are in working order. (By the way, Josh and his wife had their first child just a few days before the July 2016 seminar.) Karen Gladstone, Director of Advancement and Stewardship, makes certain that the tent, tables, and chairs are here; coordinates volunteers; helps with set-up and food prep; and attends to the guests. I have often said that one of my favorite parts about working for New Skete is that I am never bored. Not a typical 9 to 5 job.
  • The Volunteers - The heart of a non-profit event is its volunteers. Dave, a long-time friend of New Skete, drives up from Pennsylvania just to help during these events. Carl, Anna P., Anna C., John, Dale, Isaac, Cindy, Irene, Bob, Autumn, Nina, Chuck… from food prep to washing dishes, from directing traffic to running errands—these people are more than volunteers; they are part of New Skete’s circle of friends.
  • The Guests - If the brothers are the brains, the staff the hands, and the volunteers the heart, then the guests are the soul. Each attendee comes for their interest in dogs. What they leave with and what they leave behind is much more. The demographics have changed in the past four years. The first year, attendees were 80% dog trainers, 20% dog enthusiasts. This year attendees were 80% dog enthusiasts, 20% dog trainers. We also had our oldest and youngest (9 years old) attendees this year. Attendees leave with a new understanding of the connection with their canine companion and a larger picture of how we all fit into creation. What they leave behind is a renewed view on how New Skete touches lives and a yearning by the brothers, staff, and volunteers to see their new friends again.
Quote from attendee:
“It was so refreshing to be renewed in body, soul and spirit this past weekend. After 40+ years of dog training it can and does remain fresh when you view your work as an act of praise and worship to the creator. Prayer without ceasing!”

Many thanks to all who presented and participated in this time of renewal.

They’re back! Hiking Trails Up Two Top Mountain

By Brother Luke

After several decades, we have recreated a hiking trail up to the top of Two Top Mountain, where New Skete is located. In fact, we now have two trails on Two Top. The red trail runs from the Emmaus House driveway half way up the northeast face of the mountain on the recently created logging road and then descends to the back of the monks’ monastery next to our new smoke house.  The second trail, marked with yellow arrows, begins behind the monks’ monastery, goes up the east side of the mountain, and connects to a 20-year-old logging road up to the top of the mountain.  The descent then heads back down the west side of the mountain and turns south. It connects to the red trail, so a hiker at that point can decide to continue on down to the guest house (Emmaus House) or head up the red trail and come back to the starting point behind the monks’ monastery. Mike Bodnar, a forest ranger and friend of the monastery who will be leading the hike at our upcoming Pilgrimage on Saturday, August 6, is helping us get a map that we can trace the hiking trails on, so hikers can easily find their way on these two new trails.

My dogs and I have been working on these trails for many months now, having begun to lay out the trails last fall.  We had some exciting moments last winter getting up to the top of the mountain and then running into a snow storm before we could get back down.  Most recently, as we were putting up the last of the yellow blazes on the trail, a thunder storm broke out. So we made a mad dash down the trail as the thunder rumbled and then a downpour rained down on us.  We all got soaked, but we made it back to dry territory inside the monastery without any mishaps. 

I was hoping to take some videos of the new trail, but the humidity knocked out my iPod camera, and then the storm came, so the video will have to wait for another time.  Ida faithfully puts all my videos, such as they are, on the New Skete Facebook page, so keep checking it out: scenes from Two Top will be forthcoming! Most likely they will feature German Shepherd antics. There will be no selfies of me falling down the side of the mountain!