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News Archives » Sr. Maxine Pohlman

Nature’s Soul April 8th, 2024

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center

A few weeks ago, OMI Novices and I took a field trip to Treehouse Wildlife Center where the “intrinsic value” of creatures is honored, “independent of their usefulness” as Laudato Si’ states in paragraph 140. One of the permanent residents is a turkey vulture named Einstein, later discovered to be female. She was found as a chick and raised by a family. Since Einstein was human imprinted, she coud not be released back into the wild because, seeing herself more human than vulture, she would have trouble surviving. She is a resident for life, living in a glass enclosure inside the TreeHouse Center.

This is a photo of a painting which hangs near her enclosure. It shows Einstein looking in a mirror and seeing herself human-like. The artist poignantly captured Einstein’s perspective, and the human face is haunting, so much so that I was disturbed by the image.

Upon reflection, I find the painting holds implications for us humans who also seem to have an issue with self-identity. We, too, often live in a self-constructed world and fai to see reality, having been disconnected from the natural world for so long. We feel fundamentally unrelated to sun and moon, wind, rain, birds and all the many living beings we often don’t even notice as we live our daily lives.

Richard Rohr describes our situation as having “lost our souls”, and so we cannot see soul anywhere else. He writes, “Without a visceral connection to the soul of nature, we will not know how to love or respect our own soul…While everything has a soul, in many people it seems to be dormant, disconnected, and ungrounded. They are not aware of the inherent truth, goodness, and beauty shining through everything.” Rohr believes “…we can’t access our full intelligence and wisdom without some real connection to nature.”

Maybe that is one reason our wonderful world is suffering so much at our hands and why we are suffering too. We are like the vulture whose life is limited, enclosed, and out-of-touch with the magnificence of the natural world that is now beyond her reach; however, we have a choice! We can re-claim our soul within the Great Soul that is the Mystical Body holding all.

It seems that fitting conclusion to this reflection would be to listen to Heather Houston’s “Re-Wild My Soul”.



All-surrounding Grace March 14th, 2024

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Ctr

Especially on a sunny day one can stand atop the bluffs at La Vista and feel linked to eagles, hawks, or vultures riding thermals rising from those bluffs. When birds find these warm currents of air, they are literally lifted up by them. It seems that there is enough lift from the rising air that birds can stop flapping their wings, holding them still, extended sideways, as in this photo taken from the lodge.

I often think how much fun they are having, being birds on the wing in this gorgeous place! What must it be like to be so supported that flying effortlessly is the way  to go? Visitors to La Vista never tire of the sight, nor do I. We are mesmerized. In her poignant, brief poem The Avowal, Denise Levertov artfully offers two images from nature which help me explore this allurement: swimmers lying back while “water bears them”; hawks resting while “air sustains them”.

In a final revealing metaphor, she shares her deeply human wish:

to attain freefall, and float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace, knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace”.

Maybe that is the draw when we witness or experience this kind of support. We identify the images with our own effortless experiences of the Spirit’s gratuitous embrace. When have you rested in this awareness?

May March provide you with ample opportunities to be present to Spirit in such an alluring way!

                     (Image by Yinan Chen from Pixabay)       (Image by Veronika Andrews from Pixabay)

World Wide Technology Employees Engage in Corporate Volunteering at La Vista November 27th, 2023

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND

La Vista Ecological Learning Center’s usual monthly workday in the Missionary Oblates Woods Nature Preserve became unusual when seven young people from World Wide Technology joined our efforts.  This company grants employees one day a year to do service, and this group, wanting to do something ecological, chose La Vista.

For the hours we were together in our important pursuit of restoring health to the forest by removing invasive bush honeysuckle, we felt a wonderful sense of belonging.  We belonged to a group of volunteers, for sure, but in a broader sense we felt our belonging to the larger Earth community so in need of healing.

We extend our gratitude to World Wide Technology for supporting outreach in the broader community!


October – Giving One’s Gold Away October 16th, 2023

flower with yellow center and orange edges

(Image by congerdesign from Pixabay)

(by Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center)

During fall the pollinator garden at La Vista brings to mind Mary Oliver’s delightful poem “Goldenrod”. She describes these ubiquitous fall flowers as having “light-filled bodies… giving their gold away”. I appreciate that way of looking at goldenrod which seem to be everywhere at this time of year.

Her poem came to mean more to me after hearing a talk on the physics of light by astronomer Stephan Martin. He told his listeners that light is how we know the Universe! Just that thought gives me pause. He invited us to recall the many ways we encounter light daily; for example, in the morning when we open our eyes and see light from the window which travels to our brains creating an image. He said that our eyes are the interface between ourselves and our world, and that seeing is a sacred connecting act we experience first thing upon awakening!

Next, we may take a morning walk and observe goldenrod growing and giving on the roadside. He explained that we are actually experiencing light from the sun absorbed by atoms of the flower. Goldenrod then emits the energy from these atoms, so we are seeing the light of goldenrod – not just a reflection, but the essence of goldenrod. How wonderful is that! Here is another reason to be in awe, and he said this is true for all that we see – each being is radiating itself into the world like a star, creating intimacy, healing our separation from nature – when we are receptive to this truth.

(Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay)

Later in the day we might be sitting near someone and feel heat radiating from them. The reality is that we are feeling light. They are glowing; we are glowing. Our bodies both see and feel light. Ponder this, our entire lives are powered by sunlight, and our energy IS the sun’s energy. Light is what we are!

No wonder Jesus was moved to say, “You are the light of the world… let your light shine…” No wonder Buddha said at the end of his life, “Make of yourself a light”. No wonder Mary Oliver implicitly encourages us to imitate goldenrod and give our gold away.

How can we not? 



Biophony and Mindful Listening July 17th, 2023

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center

Early in June as I sat on the porch in the morning listening very carefully to the outdoor bird symphony, I heard an unusual sound, “chuck, chuck, chuck”, and I thought, if this is a bird it is new to me. I doubted that, so I researched vocalizations of chipmunks since they have been quite active around the yard lately. Sure enough, I learned that chipmunks use that call when there is an aerial predator around, and I had just observed a hawk in the trees! I also learned that if the predator is terrestrial, an alternate sound is chosen. I delighted in becoming more familiar with chipmunks that entertain me throughout the day, and I was captivated by their caring for other chipmunks with this warning sound.

(Photo by Veronika Andrews, Pixabay)

Recently I have been spending some of my morning meditation time listening intently in the backyard, thanks to learning about the ecological soundscape. This name includes three distinct sounds we hear all the time and usually just lump together: biophony, the collective sounds produced by all living beings in a particular area; geophony which includes all nonbiological natural sounds like wind, water, thunder; and anthrophony, the sounds we humans generate like music, language and noise. Soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause coined these words, calling them the voice of the natural world!

Krause’s study of natural sound led him to see the importance of expanding

(Photo by GDJ, Pixabay)

our perceptions beyond the visual, giving us a deeper experience of the wider world which he says is always more complex and compelling than we think. He points out that careful listening “rivets us to the present tense – to life as it is – singing its full-throated choral voice where each singer is expressing its particular song of being”. I hadn’t thought of mindful listening as riveting me to the present moment, but this message called me to include careful listening in my morning meditation, expanding my mindfulness to include so many lovely voices singing their songs of being. And I find what Krause found – creation is way more complex and compelling than my mind can wrap around.

There is one more thought about listening to all forms of sound that I want to include, and it comes from Thomas Berry who links us to an often ignored source of our ecological crisis: We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual ‘autism.’

May the practice of mindful listening help heal our broken world.

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