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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

Work is the Friend of the Soul: #TeacherStrong and Grateful

I have just completed four weeks of teaching students in the middle of a pandemic. Not a boatload of people throughout history can make that claim. It is not normal. While it is much harder than I could have imagined, it also feels safer than I had feared. It feels good to be back to school…and it feels so good that it feels good, especially after so much anxiety about going back. It feels like a perfect fitting glove to be back in my role as teacher. It is where I belong. I feel #TeacherStrong and am filled with gratitude.

“We experience that work is not only a necessity and hard labor…but our work brings us likewise joy and fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment. We grow and develop ourselves in our work. It becomes part of who we are. However, we are more than our work. Any serious effort that enhances and enriches our own and other people’s life can fill us with joy and gratitude.”

Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict

Twenty percent of our students have chosen to participate in remote learning—they Zoom in from home to their classes every day. I have seen their faces (for some of the time) but have not gotten to know them very well yet. Eighty percent of our students, who I have come to recognize from their eyes up only, are doing a hybrid version of in school and remote learning—attending classes 2-3 days a week in person and the other days Zooming with the fully remote students. The fancy word for this is “synchronous learning.” It means I am teaching students at home and online simultaneously while students are adapting to new ways of learning.

It is taking a lot of resilience, creativity, and hard work for all of us to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning. I have gathered so much strength and peace from the Benedictine motto—ora et labora, pray and work. Before school started, I spent time with soulful friends and in solitude creatively praying with SoulCollage®. I felt a seismic shift within that allowed me to detach from my fears, to separate myself from the circumstances of going back to school and to focus on the needs of my students. It truly has been a “Seek Peace and Pursue It” experience. The peace has remained for four weeks—I am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to grow in understanding and compassion as we journey through this new way of doing school. Students have more challenges than they did when I first started teaching—personal and family traumas, mental and emotional health issues, learning disabilities, poverty and now, the impact of a pandemic.

Students have shared with me what they have been grateful for during the time of quarantine and what has been challenging. The challenges were what I expected (and experienced myself)—not seeing friends and family, missing a routine, having to wear a mask and other precautions, not being able to go out or take a vacation and sometimes, boredom. A few students expressed frustration—wishing that everyone would do their part to follow the advice of scientists and medical professionals. A few students had gotten COVID or experienced frustrations in their home life. One student said just wishing things were different was most challenging.

What students said they were grateful for—well, it blew me away. I have been profoundly impacted by the wisdom and maturity of what they shared. Here is a collection of student gratitude statements:

  • I learned that people show their true colors. I learned who my true friends are.
  • I had more time for reflection.
  • I have a new appreciation for school and other things that I took for granted.
  • I had more time to take care of my mental health.
  • I had more family time.
  • I was able to be more independent and not rely on others to make me happy. I realized I can be happy with myself.
  • I was able to form new friendships and rekindle old ones on Zoom.
  • I value school more now.
  • I was forced me to be more creative and do things I wouldn’t have considered before.
  • I am grateful for staying sober.
  • I am overall happier.
  • I have truly found myself and it made me stronger.
  • I got a puppy/cat.
  • There was lower pollution with everyone staying home.
  • I was able to work more.
  • I was able to catch up on my sleep.
  • I was able to watch some fun TV—I didn’t have time before.
  • I was able to exercise more.
  • I was able to be safe and help others not get COVID by staying home.  
  • Nothing

As much as I am excited about and motivated by teaching, I believe students learned something they could NOT and would NOT have learned in the classroom. I was impressed with their candor and vulnerability—even with the student who felt there was nothing to be grateful for. Sometimes life is like that.

This teaching is sacred work for me. I learn so much from my students and I am grateful that we are taking the first steps together into the uncertainty of doing school differently. We will all learn so much.

Benedict teaches us that work is our gift to the world, our social fruitfulness, done in community…Work allows to focus on something other than ourselves, and in that way draw us away from self-centeredness.

-Michael Rock, St. Benedict’s Guide to Improving Your Work Life

Every. Good. Work.

Every. Good. Work.

St. Benedict instructs that “every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” (RB: Prologue vs. 4)

Embedded in the guidance from St. Benedict in his Rule is that we must both pray and work, ora et labora. The prayers offered by religious at the Democratic National Convention embody the longing for peace and justice that, as Americans, we hope for and work towards. The prayers offered must not be declared only once but be the prayer of our hearts and in our every breath.

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My Benedictine Oblate friend, Gloria, invited me to pray with her each day the prayers that Sr. Simone Campbell and Fr. James Martin, SJ shared at the DNC. Her suggestion gave me the idea to invite all who desire peace in the United States of America to also join us in daily prayer.

I share below the text and video of the prayers offered by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK and leader of Nuns on the Bus; Fr. James Martin, S.J., editor at large at America Media; Rabbi Lauren Berkun of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America; and Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid from The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood.

Sister Simone Campbell

“The very first paragraph of the Scripture that informs the three Abrahamic traditions tells us: The Divine Spirit breathed over the waters of chaos and brought forth a new creation. Encouraged by this promise that a new creation can come from chaos, let us pray:

O Divine Spirit!

During the weeks and months ahead, stir our hearts and minds that we might fight for a vision that is worthy of you and your call to honor the dignity of all of your creation.

A vision of who we are as a people, grounded in community and care for all, especially the most marginalized.

A vision that cares for our earth and heals the planet.

A vision that ends structural racism, bigotry and sexism so rife now in our nation and in our history.

A vision that ensures hungry people are fed, children are nourished, immigrants are welcomed.

O Spirit, breathe in us and our leaders a new resolve…that committed to this new American promise, we will work together to build a national community grounded in healing, fearlessly based on truth, and living out of a sense of shared responsibility.

In the name of all that is holy, O Spirit, bring out of this time of global and national chaos a new creation, a new community that can, with your help, realize this new promise that we affirm tonight.

With profound hope, let we the people say: Amen!

Father James Martin, S.J. Continue reading “Every. Good. Work.”

Our Coral Anniversary: 35 Years of Marriage

Jodi Blazek ❤️ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985

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A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.

A marriage provides a safe place to fall, a form of protection from the stresses of everyday life and also from more extreme challenges, like the pandemic we now face.  The traditional symbol for a 35th anniversary is coral, an organic material found in warm seas. Coral takes many years to form—much like the strength of a marriage made of moments. Coral is a symbol of protection—providing essential habitat structure and energy for 25% of the world’s ocean life, including young fish. How fitting that coral is the symbol of our 35th year of marriage, a year where we have found much safety in each other’s company.

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Visiting Jessica in Madison during the summer, 2020.

Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off.

After 35 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great storytelling or one-liners that no one else understands but us. Funny, sad, silly, stupid, poignant, heartwarming, memorable moments. Moments we’d like to forget and moments we have to forgive. But, mostly, moments that have helped us become who we are.

A marriage is made of moments. Some of our earlier moments:

  • Joe sending little gifts to me for several days before our wedding that said: “7 days til a lifetime” (6, 5, 4 and so on). Each day a new gift arrived.
  • Working four jobs between us so I could finish college, sometimes with only enough time to exchange notes or take a break together at one of our shared part-time jobs at Montgomery Ward.
  • Buying our first home and meeting our neighbors, Cece and Bob. Cece, who became a widow just six months later, became part of our family and a grandma to our daughter.
  • Having our first baby and Joe announcing “You got your girl!”, when she was born…my secret hope.
  • Experiencing the loss of two babies and the grief of infertility while creating a family of three with more love than we could imagine.
  • Welcoming dogs (Ralph, Rosie, and Bailey) and cats (Peaches and Boots) into our little family…and missing their love and companionship when they passed on.
  • Being parents to Jessica, from diapers and bottles, soccer games, and DECA competitions to college internships and sorority activities.
  • Spending time with our parents as Jessica’s grandparents.

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Jessica’s friend, Abby, was married on August 17, 2019, to Tony. It was a great way to celebrate our 34th anniversary. Jessica and her boyfriend, John, made the trip to Lincoln so Jessica could by Abby’s maid of honor. Blog post–The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments. 

A marriage is made of moments. Our life now:

  • Living through the stress of a pandemic and all that entails—staying at home much of the time, but enjoying cooking, taking outdoor excursions nearby, and enjoying the extra time together while I taught remotely during the fourth quarter and Joe had off some extra time from work.
  • Becoming more adventurous with outdoor activities—biking, enjoying hikes in nature, and visiting local parks, flower gardens, and arboretums.

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  • Being parents to our adult daughter Jessica—staying in touch with our daily Fam-bam texts, taking long weekends to visit Jessica in Madison, Wisconsin, and welcoming her back home for holidays and birthday celebrations. Despite the hardship of the pandemic and the uncertainties it has brought to our lives, we have gotten to see Jessica, and her boyfriend John,  more than usual this year.

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A trip to Madison to visit Jessica and John.

  • Celebrating Jessica’s graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with her Masters in Public Affairs (sans ceremony, a trip that did not happen because of rising COVID-19 infections) and getting a job as a Policy Analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
  • Enjoying what still feels like our new home (although it’s been five years) and sitting outside on our deck—our favorite pastime—with a glass of wine or snifter of whiskey in hand, even social distancing with close friends and neighbors occasionally.
  • Still yelling at the news (rather than at each other) and thanking God that we have grown together, sharing the same world view in very troubled times.

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  • Heading back to school for both of us, with many special precautions to be as safe as possible while COVID-19 cases are still much higher than is comfortable.
  • Being more content with the simple things in life. Despite the political and pandemic turmoil in this country, we enjoy each other’s company more than ever.
  • Still missing Joe’s parents, Marv and Mary Gehr, who passed away in 2012 and 2015; and visiting my parents a little less than normal until Covid-19 numbers go down.

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Thirty-five years of marriage is a threading of memories, a string of moments that hold the seasons of life.  After 35 years, marriage is about acceptance. We rest into acceptance of who the other is, rather than attempting to create the other into who we would like them to be. We enjoy each other with a lightheartedness that wasn’t possible in the newlywed years. Time is funny: it goes too fast, but it also unfolds so slowly that we don’t always see the transformation of the innocent into the mature, the immature into the confident. 

Happy Coral Anniversary to us!

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A card I made for Joe on Valentine’s Day! 

A Marriage Made of Moments is a blog post I wrote for our 30th anniversary in 2015. For our 31-derful anniversary, I shared a revised post with updated photos, new “moments” and fresh reflections. Check them out too.

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A Valentine’s card made for Joe several years ago. 

Praying with Collage: Seek Peace and Pursue It

School starts this week. It has been five months since I have been in a real-life classroom with my students. After spring break, we immediately went to online learning for the remainder of the school year.

What it means to be a teacher, captured in a SoulCollage® card. More blogs about teaching HERE

I have been so encouraged by those who have asked me how things are going, promising their prayers. I was encouraged by my friend, Sara, to create a SoulCollage® card that I could keep at school as a reminder to pray when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious. My prayer is that I can find some peace despite the fear of the unknown. My prayer is to remember to seek peace and pursue it, as St. Benedict instructs (RB Prologue 17), and to include time in my day for silence and meditation. Continue reading “Praying with Collage: Seek Peace and Pursue It”

You Are Not Alone: My Peace I Give to You

August 2020 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic: Seek Peace and Pursue It, Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue 17

Sources: John 14:27 and John 16:29-33; Study Guide for The Rule of St. Benedict, pages 13-15, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB

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Fr. Volker shares reflections and music for our August meeting.

The questions that guided our discussion were: How can we remain peaceful despite the anxiety caused by the pandemic and political division? And in light of our Lectio Divina readings: What did Jesus mean by the gift of peace? Oblates of Christ the King Priory met in person at St. Benedict Center for our August meeting, respectfully following safety guidelines of physically distancing at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. Those who were not able to make the drive had the option to Zoom in.  All are encouraged to follow the 11th Commandment:

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Continue reading “You Are Not Alone: My Peace I Give to You”

A Divine Encounter: Trusting the Journey

My cup was running empty. Six surreal months of the pandemic, political turmoil, and feelings of anxiety facing an uncertain and challenging school year has taken its toll on my mind, body, and spirit. Finally, the timing was right this weekend, and it felt safe to return to my spiritual home, St. Benedict Center. It takes just moments for a deep peace to settle in as I take my overnight bag to my room and head outside to enjoy a beautiful afternoon.

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Wandering the path around the lake, I see Ellen, a fellow pilgrim from last summer—which feels like a warm bath of blessings. I had been looking forward all week to reconnecting, knowing she would be there.

Suddenly I hear a shout, “Surprise!”  Sara, a special friend, Oblate and SoulCollage® companion, is running towards me with open arms despite all COVID caution.  I exclaim, “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” Sara repeats “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” There may have been more exclamations of “I can’t believe this!”, “Oh, my God!” and finally, “Did you bring some of your SoulCollage® cards?” We decide to meet later to share some of our cards and seek them for guidance—what we call “a reading.” Continue reading “A Divine Encounter: Trusting the Journey”

God’s Grandeur: Praying with Poetry

The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, was born July 28, 1884. I spent time in prayer, the practice of Lectio Divina, with his poem “God’s Grandeur.”

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God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. Continue reading “God’s Grandeur: Praying with Poetry”

The Prodigal Son: Where Art and Beauty Run Rampant

“The artist Rembrandt was born on this day in 1606. When the soul is heavy and the work seems futile, a visit to an art museum––where art and beauty run rampant and meetings, proposals, finances, and debates have no place––revives the heart and makes it soft. Then going on seems possible; then life has vision again; then going on seems necessary.” ––from A Monastery Almanac, by Joan Chittister

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Lectio Divina:

Insights one can gain by practicing Lectio Divina with Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32—The Parable of the Lost Son or Visio Divina by spending time with Rembrandt’s famous painting are manifold. Continue reading “The Prodigal Son: Where Art and Beauty Run Rampant”

Feast of St. Henry: Patron Saint of Oblates

Happy Feast of St. Henry, patron saint of Benedictine Oblates!

Falling within the Octave of Saint Benedict, only two days after the Solemnity of St. Benedict, we are reminded that a commitment to following the Rule of St. Benedict was and is not restricted to monks and sisters, but also open to Benedictine Oblates.

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Saint Henry II was born in 973 in the village of Regensburg, Bavaria, German. As a child he went to school in Hildesheim. (Note: Hildesheim is the same hometown as Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo formerly of Christ the King Priory. They also attended the same school!) Henry served as the Duke of Bavaria (995) and as the Holy Roman Emperor (972-1024), crowned by Pope Benedict VIII. As emperor, Henry, who had considered the priesthood, was devoutly religious. He shared his faith by rebuilding the many churches that had been destroyed,  building monasteries, and supporting them with both money and land. In 1006, he founded the See of Bamberg and built its great Cathedral that was consecrated by Pope Benedict VIII in 1020.

St. Henry lived a married life with his wife, Cunigunde, founding and visiting monasteries and praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Henry was canonized in 1146 by Pope Eugene III and Pope St Pius X declared him the patron saint of the Benedictine Oblates.
Continue reading “Feast of St. Henry: Patron Saint of Oblates”

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