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Being Benedictine

Listening with the ear of your heart

We Shall Overcome Someday

I had a soulful, musical experience this weekend that has left me (nearly) speechless. I went to a free afternoon concert of The American Spiritual Ensemble (ASE) at a local church—a concert to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with African American spirituals. I had no idea what a big deal the ASE is—they are “a critically-acclaimed professional group composed of some of the finest singers in the classical music world.” Their members have performed at the Metropolitan Opera, the Kennedy Center, Radio City Music Hall, the Aspen Music Festival and more. They are a big deal…and they are good. Incredibly good. 

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 I expected to hear some beautiful music, to be moved, yes—but it was so much more. It was a history lesson, a spiritual experience, and a reminder that we are all connected, that we must meet each other with compassion and in our suffering. We must lift each other up and Walk Together, Children—the first song.

O, Walk together children
Don’t you get weary
There’s a great camp meeting in the Promised Land

Listen here.

The conductor, Dr. Everett McCorvey, shared that Negro spirituals, created by the Africans who were captured and brought to the United States to be sold into slavery, were songs of hope and survival. The music was a lifeline for the slaves. They had lost everything—their country, culture, language, family, and way of life, but the music gave the slaves spiritual sustenance and energy. They worked harder when they sang—and the slave owners noticed. So, they were permitted to sing all but one song, Go Down Moses.

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They sang about freedom. They sang about the Promised Land, of being delivered from their slavery. They sang about their suffering and their hope. Music was their only sense of freedom. In 21st century America, we cannot understand the suffering that our African American brothers and sisters endured. And still, endure. But we can try. We can learn.

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I read in the program: The American Negro spiritual is the mother music that gave birth to jazz, blues, gospel and pop. The spiritual was born in American during the most difficult time in our history and helped America find its voice. Even as our country was being formed, slaves were not allowed to cover their own music or speak their own language. And in many cases, they were separated from their families. They had to learn a new way of communication. The melodies they sang in the cotton fields, in their homes and at camp meetings became the American slaves’ musical expression. Some of these songs date back to the 1500s.”

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 So how did the Negro spirituals become so influential in American music? How did they get from the fields to the concert halls? Dr. McCorvey shared that it was the world-renowned Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák, who worked at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, who permitted African Americans to be accepted into the Conservatory. Dvořák had worked extensively with the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia and believed that Native and African American music should be the foundation for American music in general. This was the beginning of writing the spirituals down—6000 songs in all.

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I hear there are a lot of Czechs in Nebraska, the conductor said. This is true—I am Czech. This story made such an impression on me—how someone from around the globe can lift another up, can make a difference, and in this case, liberate the African slave experience in song for all history.

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ASE invited local choirs and children of the Malone Community Center to sign with them for a few songs including We Shall Overcome and This Little Light of Mine.

We need each other—we need to Walk Together, Children, as the song says. We cannot know when we might need help from another, when we too may become the oppressed. I am reminded of my visit to Prague, Czechia in 2014—such a beautiful city, and yet, it is notable, that their cultural identity was stripped through the oppression of communism. Oppression happens in many ways. It is our duty to come to the aid of the suffering, the marginalized, the poor—to give others hope. It is the Benedictine practice of hospitality. St. Benedict wrote in his Rule:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matt 25:35).

And this is what today is about in the United States of America. We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr—advocate for social justice, racial harmony and equality, civil rights and non-violent resistance. MLK wrote that spirituals “give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.” In his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait, he wrote that civil rights activists “sing the freedom songs today for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that ‘We shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday’”

We shall overcome, Black and white together,
We shall overcome someday

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The King Center, a living memorial to MLK, envisions a world where global brotherhood and sisterhood are not a dream but the state of humankind. Let this be our prayer today—that we walk together as children of God, that we ease the suffering of those near and far from us, that we stand up for the oppressedthe poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, the suffering. Let us pray, that through our efforts and the grace of God, that we shall overcome.

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A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”Pope Francis, Address to Congress, 2015

Sources:

The Stanford Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute
The American Spiritual Ensemble
Antonín Leopold Dvořák
The King Center

More information: How The ‘New World’ Symphony Introduced American Music To Itself

Creating Sanctuary: The “Beautiful Ones” Group Card

“Altars can be very powerful…We acknowledge an incarnate God who speaks through symbols and the things of our everyday lives…” -The Artist’s Rule, Christine Valters Paintner

An altar can be a centering, focal point for group or personal prayer or creativity. The altar placed in the center of our creative space during the Sprigs of Rosemary Advent Retreat held symbols of the season and the retreat—an advent wreath surrounded by fresh rosemary and a rosemary candle.

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Throughout the retreat, more symbols were added.  Each woman placed SoulCollage® cards they had made over the days as well as offering a single image that resonated with them that later I would create into a group card—something I’ve never done before. For the closing session, each woman lit their own rosemary candle from the larger candle and special blessings were shared.

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Symbols and rituals create pathways in our hearts and minds, allowing us to carry meaningful experiences with us into our ordinary lives. Creating our group card was one such experience. With permission from the Beautiful Ones, a term of endearment coined by Sara—a dear friend and retreat participant—find reflections and I Am One Who Statements from some of our group.

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Betty shared—“There was a bond formed within this retreat of Beautiful Ones that will keep us united eternally. Christ sat with us the entire time. I’m still at a loss to describe how this retreat touched and changed me.  I only know since the card reading, I have learned more about myself and my relationship with God.  Both have deepened to a level I have never experienced. I really can’t find words to express what is differentinner confidence I’ve lacked, acceptance of physical issues, but most of all a deepening in my trust of my Lord. My mantra, Jesus I trust in you is going to depths I never expected.  Continue reading “Creating Sanctuary: The “Beautiful Ones” Group Card”

2020 Words of the Year–Carry On!

Carry On!

The inspiration for my 2020 Word(s) of the Year came from the Sprigs of Rosemary Advent retreat that I recently led. The retreat was centered around the theme of sanctuary, inspired by the lyrics of Sanctuary written by Carrie Newcomer.

There were several questions participants were asked to consider as a guide for them during the retreat. “What do I need sanctuary from?” touched my heart.

I shared that I need sanctuary from the endless flood of thoughts that preoccupy my mind; thoughts that hold me back and keep me from being truly free. I need sanctuary from the constant rerun of conversations and/or situations that have led to hurt feelings and a sense of rejection. I need sanctuary from the relentless inner conversations that distract me from living fully and hold me a prisoner in the role of victim.

When I have strong feelings or attachments, compulsive mental role-playing commences. I replay conversations—what was said, what I could have or should have said, what he/she meant, and on and on. Once I can slow down my thoughts, create some space, and breathe, I can hear more clearly what God intends for me to know.

Being clear about what I need to detach from—my thoughts—was the creative fuel I needed to intuitively make my first card named “Sanctuary.”

“Our logical thinking mind cannot leap out of the loop, but our intuitive mind can step back and watch….the logical mind usually misses the symbolic voice heard by the intuitive senses.” Discernment Matters, Mary Margaret Funk, OSB

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Sanctuary Card–the first card of my reading.

A culminating activity of the retreat was a SoulCollage® reading. Reflecting on, praying with, or “reading” your cards is a process that never fails—if you have questions, God provides answers that are tailor-made using the images that have spoken uniquely to you. We begin by selecting one card we made during the retreat and randomly selecting two other Soulcollage® cards from our personal collection, cards made months or years earlier, taking turns with questions and reflections.

The question for my cards, interestingly evolved while I was saying it out loud—”How can I find sanctuary from my thoughts? … Actually, how can I move on from them, how can I carry on?” Continue reading “2020 Words of the Year–Carry On!”

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Closing Session)

This session closes our Advent retreat, Sprigs of Rosemary—a retreat that can be adapted to any schedule and, certainly, can be used any time of the year. This final post recognizes that YOU are a temple of God, a home for God in the world, the ultimate sanctuary for the Divine.nativity

Advent leads us from the darkness of the womb to the light of Christ at Christmas. As we journey through the weeks, we circle the Advent wreath lighting a new candle each week—a reminder that our waiting ends, that Christ will come. But it can also set our intention to be a dwelling place for God, to remind ourselves that Christ is incarnated in us. “Sanctuary” by Maranatha Music is a prayerful reminder:

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You
Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Closing Session)”

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 5)

Welcome to Session 5—Using Your Cards Creatively

soul pictureCreating SoulCollage® cards has been the focus of the Sprigs of Rosemary retreat sessions so far, but there are many ways to go deeper with creating, journaling, praying with or reading your cards. In the ancient prayerful practice of Lectio or Visio Divina, Latin for “divine seeing”, we allow words and images to speak into our hearts. This prayer, recommended by St. Benedict, embraces the universal roles, the archetypes, of Inner Monk and Inner Artist, instead of the worldly roles that we know we can never be fully satisfied with. Planted deep within us are these archetypes that fuel our desire for solitude and prayer, creativity and expression.

What is special about SoulCollage creativity is that it is time spent listening to the images, drawing on our intuition, creating and then listening to what our own creations are saying to us. We are co-creating with the Divine. Holding an image in prayer is powerful. It is not just a craft project. Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 5)”

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 4)

Welcome to Session 4—Friendship as Sanctuary.

It is so important to cultivate sacred friendships, to make space for people to experience giving and receiving the unconditional love that God extends to us.

Soul friends, or anam caras, can bring us joy, humor, understanding, compassionate listening, comfort, or consolation—and the intuition to know what we need sanctuary from. For nearly 17 years, I have met with a circle of friends to read and discuss spiritual books. We have gone through several iterations as members have, sadly, passed away, moved away or moved on, but we provide sanctuary for each other that I am grateful I can count on. 

 Consider the story of the Visitation. 

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  —Luke 1:39–40 Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 4)”

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 3)

Welcome to Session 3—Silence as Sanctuary

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There are many ways to find refuge in our daily lives if we choose to remember. Too often, we can get sucked into the vortex of expectations and things to do accompanied by a flurry of activities and thoughts, that we forget to ask for help when we need it. Refuge, sanctuary, will not come looking for us.  Consider the first lines of Sanctuary.

Will you be my refuge
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm
When my fire’s all but gone?

The lyrics are posed as a question. To ask for help requires self-awareness and humility. We must remember to ask for sanctuary.

You can rest here in Brown Chapel,
Or with a circle of friends,
A quiet grove of trees
Or between two bookends.

Carrie Newcomer, Sanctuary

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There is no one right way to seek or find sanctuary. Sometimes sanctuary is a place. Sometimes we need to be with loved ones, our circle of friends. Sometimes spending time in nature or reading a good book. Sometimes we find sanctuary through an act of creativity, like collage or journaling or in an activity where one loses all sense of time. And sometimes we just need silence.

We need silence to hear our own thoughts. It is in silence that we recognize thin places.

 

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To enter into silence for this session, listen to “Move Slowly”, a meditation narrated by James Finley, set to the music of Alana Levandoski from the album “Sanctuary: Exploring the Healing Path.” Follow the link below for “Move Slowly” (it may be on the right side under Top Tracks), or you can download it at Alana’s website. Follow along with lyrics below. Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 3)”

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 2)

In Session 1, we contemplated the lyrics of Sanctuary, written by Carrie Newcomer, and explored the power of images to tap into our intuition through collage. Expressing one’s creativity allows time and space for new ideas to bubble up, for questions to surface, and for meaning to take hold.

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“Images attract the attention of the right side of our brains, and when there are only images, this intuitive side stays in charge and will go deeper into the uncharted territory of the psyche. It is this side of our brain that can see the whole picture at once and surprise us with wise answers that seem to come from some deeper place.” Seena Frost, SoulCollage Evolving

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My Sanctuary Card

Contemplative Session 2: Sanctuary in Thin Places

The Caim
Symbols, as with images, can represent something beyond a surface level of understanding, pointing to the abstract. Symbols can become an important part of rituals, helping cement an idea or intention and give energy to creativity and prayer.

While researching sanctuary as a theme for this retreat, I discovered two symbols that illuminated the notion of creating sanctuary. The first is the Celtic Christian symbol, caim.  A caim can be practiced as a ritual of circling oneself with prayerful protection in dark times. There is a power in a symbol that embraces its meaning and yet goes beyond—it can be a reminder of being loved and safe during times when one feels uncertainty.

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“The “caim” involves simply drawing a circle around yourself or another person physically or in your imagination. This encircling prayer is grounded in our awareness of the constant companionship and protection of the divine. It reminds us that God is in this place. Often, as they embarked on journeys or felt at risk, Celtic pilgrims would inscribe a circle around themselves as a reminder of God’s ever-present companionship and protection.

Practicing the encircling prayer is simple. Pause and then take a moment to draw a holy circle around yourself or, imaginatively, around a loved one. Use your index finger as a way of inscribing the circle around you. As you draw the protective circle, you may use a traditional or contemporary prayer of encircling. You may also choose to write and read your own personal prayer for yourself or another. But, in any case, the power of a spiritual tradition often finds its most lively expression when we embody it from our deepest spirit and in the language of our own hearts.” Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 2)”

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 1)

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat

Over the next several days, I will share excerpts from a recent Advent retreat I was honored to lead. Ten women joined me on a journey to explore the significance of seeking, being and finding sanctuary.

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The inspiration for the retreat came from the lyrics of this song, Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer.

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Sanctuary was written by Carrie Newcomer after a conversation with her friend Parker J. Palmer.  She asked him, “What can we do when we are personally or politically heartbroken?” He responded that we take sanctuary. We gather with those we love.  We remember, we share stories or we sit in silence until we can go on. There is time for positive action, to do what needs to be done, but there are also times when we rest in the arms of what most sustains us.

The retreat, Sprigs of Rosemary, was an opportunity to creatively and prayerfully ponder what sustains us—a special time to gather with kindred spirits and create our own sanctuary. Consider asking a circle of friends to join you for this online contemplative retreat…or if that doesn’t work, simply carve out time for yourself, a little each day, to practice Lectio Divina with song lyrics, poetry or scripture and to express yourself creatively through SoulCollage®.

Contemplative Session 1: Listen to Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer.

Practice Lectio Divina with the lyrics of this song. What words or phrases speak to your heart? Do any of these words or phrases resonate with you?

Refuge (safe, rest, quiet)   —   Haven in the storm   —   Fire (all but gone, embers warm) —   Sprigs of Rosemary (remember)   —   Sanctuary   —   Carry on   —   Knees (ground, dropped me)   —   Us and them —   Circle of friends

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Consider what SANCTUARY means to you.

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What do you think is the significance of SPRIGS OF ROSEMARY? Consider some of the historical uses of rosemary. Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 1)”

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