Rising from the Ruins: review by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

I especially cherish this review from Bearings, the magazine of Collegeville Institute. I wrote so many of the the most difficult pages of this memoir while at weeklong workshops during the summers of 2012 and 2013. I’m grateful to be part of that writing community.

The Fifth Season: A Daughter-in-Law’s Memoir of Caregiving

A Book Review

The Fifth season by Lisa Ohlen Harris“The Fifth Season” is an honest, yet poetic, account of a difficult experience: caregiving for an elderly person. An added complication is that the person requiring care both is/isn’t a relative. She is in that unique role: mother in law.

The author, Lisa Ohlen Harris, brings all of herself to this work: her compassion, her irritation, her humor, and most of all, her fine writing skills.

The result is a book which is both easy to read, and worth reading.

I especially recommend this book to people who may some day serve in a caregiving capacity (a growing demographic!) and their relatives. This book helps make clear the kind of help that caregivers need.

This book also opens up a dialogue about difficult questions about end of life care. The decision making process is not as easy as checking the box: die at home. What does that mean? At what point should these decisions be made? How do we support people during this process?

Thank you Lisa, for addressing this important topic with such bravery!

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“We Love the Work”

Gordon Lightfoot Tour 2013, 50 Years on the Carefree HighwayThe title is a quote from Gordon Lightfoot.

I attended Gordon’s concert last night at Wolf Trap, as part of his “Fifty Years on the Carefree Highway Tour.”

It’s easy to see that even after 50 years, Gordon is still energized by his work. During the concert, he said two things a few times:

We love the work.

A-One Two Three Four . . .

Those are both good lines for writers, aren’t they?

The concert was a perfect way to re-enter my world after spending a week at a writing workshop at Collegeville Institute. There were a dozen of us writers there. We were writing in many genres, and came from many religious traditions, but all of us were interested in the ways that the life of faith intersects with writing.


We love the work.


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Praying with Open Eyes

I have a favorite spiritual discipline, and I notice that I exercise it more when I’m in a good place mentally and spiritually. A connection perhaps?

I like to be in a public area where no one knows me, and watch people and pray for them. Usually I start out making sentences in my head, and then at some point I quit needing words anymore. I just feel very grateful for each person’s presence in the world, and for God’s goodness in making us humans, with all of our uniqueness, our potential, our foibles. We are a wondrous bunch and the ways we interact are startling and touching.

There are a couple upsides to this discipline:

~ I can do it anywhere

~ I can drink coffee while I do it, always a plus

~ this is a very natural activity for an Introvert, but allows me to move outside of myself mentally and spiritually

I’ve also noticed how this feeds the writer in me, which loves to notice detail.

Because I consider my creativity and love for words to be gifts from God, there is something very organic about having this particular practice nourish those gifts.

What spiritual practice do you return to repeatedly because it feeds your spirit?

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The Fire of Hospitality: the Benedictine Way

Tea Ceremony ready at the St. John's Pottery StudioToday I enjoyed Benedictine hospitality with a cup of tea in the Japanese style, and a piece of homemade custard pie, served on a handmade plate and garnished with strawberries.

The photo is from the St. John’s Pottery website, but it reflects today’s experience.

While we enjoyed our tea, Master Potter, Richard Bresnahan, sat with us and explained the chemistry of glazes, the physics of fire, and the temperature control necessary to create St. John’s Pottery. It was a relaxed, wide-ranging and fascinating conversation.

A small group of us had just toured the intimate studio, seeing the mound of raw clay which was dug out of the nearby ground, and the series of rudimentary vats and machines used to wash the clay. While we toured, the potter and an apprentice sat at wheels throwing pots, and other workers moved long boards loaded with clay objects from rack to rack.

Steven Lemke showed us a picture of the wood-fired kiln (which is nearby, housed in a shed), and is the largest of its kind in North America. It takes a year for the potters to create the thousands of clay pieces which are loaded into the kiln’s three chambers. And a year to chop the wood which feeds the fire!

Steven described how the fire is lit after a ceremonial purification and blessing, and how the fire is then stoked for more than a week.

I’m at Collegeville Institute which is part of St. John’s University, near St. Cloud, Minnesota. I’m attending a week-long writing workshop. There are a dozen writers here, working independently and sharing our evenings. We are all especially interested in writing about the life of faith, and see our writing as a vocation. I am so grateful for this place, and the important work it does!

If you’re in the St. Cloud, Minnesota area, or are particularly interested in pottery, I encourage you to tour the pottery studio. There’s lots of info at the website, and contact information. If I could, I’d return at the end of September to see the lighting ceremony.

The Benedictines excel at hospitality. If you need a dose of the real thing, I encourage you to look up the Benedictine community nearest you. You might discover a hidden treasure.

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