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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

Month

April 2020

Arbor Day: Planting Trees is a Big Deal in Nebraska

Planting trees is a big deal in Nebraska…so important that the planting and preservation of trees are celebrated with an actual holiday, Arbor Day, started right here in Nebraska and now observed in all fifty states and in several countries.

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The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, was a transplant to the Nebraska Territory from Detroit in the mid-1850s. He was a journalist, newspaper editor and served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. Morton understood the importance of trees to agriculture, for windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.

He believed in getting everyone, particularly students, involved in planting trees. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, encouraged by contests between counties and promotion in schools. “Students of different grades met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree that was planted was labeled with the grade, the time planted, and was to be specially cared for by that grade.” (The History of Arbor Day)

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On the final Friday of April every year thereafter, Arbor Day has been celebrated. Throughout the year the Arbor Day Foundation works to “help others understand and use trees as a solution to many of the global issues we face today, including air quality, water quality, a changing climate, deforestation, poverty, and hunger” through conservation and education programs.

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Each generation takes the earth as trustees. —J. Sterling Morton

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Arbor Day Lodge is open for tours–we were just there a few months ago! Many activities and, of course, lots of trees in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

I recently finished reading The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers and I have not stopped thinking about trees since. I think about climate change, our responsibility to creation and to future generations, the beauty of trees, the importance of nature in our spiritual lives, about knowing our place in the world, about Arbor Day and EarthDay and all the things that conscientious people do to make a difference.

Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible. –Richard Powers, The Overstory

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The Overstory weaves together the stories of nine characters, their relationship to trees, and their awareness of and desire to stop the destruction of forests. The characters, each with a short story of their own, are the backdrop of a narrative that is less about them and more about trees. The Overstory was a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet.

“There would be neither an economic crisis in the world today, nor an ecological threat, were it not for the evil done by greed. Monastic poverty means being content with the simple things that sustain human existence in its inherent goodness. This poverty allows man to live in harmony with field and forest, without feeling the need to brutally strip the earth of her resources in order to realize an immediate gain. (Brother Philip Anderson, Prior Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey )

Abbot John Klassen, OSB of St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota writes about our responsibility to the environment in The Rule of Benedict and Environmental Stewardship (highly recommended!) St. Benedict wrote about humility, stability, and frugality in The Rule he used for his monastic communities…there is much we can learn from his wisdom even 1500 years later.

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In honor of Arbor Day, I share “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibben. This prayerful song is a recognition that Nature blesses us with trees for our healing, enjoyment, leisure, and protection. Our very breath is dependent on the Benediction of the Trees.

Benediction of the Trees

From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt

Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees

Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide

Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees

A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong

In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees

As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say

In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees

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© Jodi Blazek Gehr

 

 

 

Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation

Seeing the beauty in nature is the first step in taking action to protect it. Our planet needs all the love, prayer, and protection it can get. Celebrate creation this 50th Earth Day by sending positive energy and intention into the universe through some creative and prayerful practices including contemplative photography, nature meditation, Visio Divina, Soul Collage® and Lectio Divina. There are many ways to pray!

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Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all. — Thomas Merton, Thoughts In Solitude

Practice contemplative photography

Contemplative photography is a prayerful practice of seeing with new eyes. With camera in hand, I have learned to slow down, be more aware of details, be less goal-oriented and more process-oriented, to enjoy the beauty of simple things, and take more time to appreciate the surprises of a new country road or the change of seasons. This sense of adventure brings a deep joy in capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again. It is when silence, solitude, creativity, and nature collide into an oneness that can only be received, not pursued.

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The great Catholic writer Ernesto Cardenal in Abide in Love observes: “Everything in nature has a trademark, God’s trademark: the stripes on a shell and the stripes on a zebra; the grain of the wood and the veins of the dry leaf; the markings on the dragonfly’s wings and the pattern of stars on a photographic plate; the panther’s coat and the epidermal cells of the lily petal; the structure of atoms and galaxies. All bear God’s fingerprints.”

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Go for a walk and look for God’s trademarks. Better still, use a camera to document evidence of God’s fingerprints in nature. Source: Earth Day: 12 Spiritual Practices to Honor the Earth

Praying with Art—Visio Divina

Visio Divina is like Lectio Divina, but instead of using the words from a page of Scripture to pray with, you use an icon, a sacred image, a work of art, or even a sunrise or sunset.The Flowers Are Burning… Oceans A Rising: An Art and Climate Justice Exhibition” was to have taken place at Holy Wisdom Monastery, a Benedictine monastery in Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate the 50th Earth Day. Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, the poignant collection of eco-inspired watercolors painted collaboratively by artists, Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann, will instead be offered digitally.

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“Using their artworks as a source of strength in the face of adversity, they call upon the power of beauty and love to guide us towards taking action to protect what we love and care deeply about…The artists believe deeply that humans must embrace the reality that we are all connected to nature…that what happens in the Ocean, on Earth or to any life forms above and below the water, is happening to us as well. Everything is related and we can no longer go forward believing in the superiority of human life over all other life, if we are to survive. The artists sense of urgency is born out of their love of the natural world and the desire to protect and preserve what is left before it is too late.” Source: Warning Signs—A Powerful Earth Day Exhibit Goes Digital. Continue reading “Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation”

Naked Before God

Just one year ago, I started reading “The Soul of a Pilgrim” by Christine Valters Painter in preparation for a trip to visit family in Germany and to go on a Benedictine pilgrimage to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

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Kloster Benedicktbeuren, Germany

“When we take inward and outward journeys, we can be pilgrims as long as we stay open to new experiences.”—Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim

If we are “attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, (and) opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort” (Paintner), we are on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage may be intentional or not: becoming a new parent, losing a loved one, resolving a relationship conflict, or going on a spiritual retreat can be a pilgrimage if one seeks to learn, reflect and be transformed from the experience. Our life itself is a pilgrimage.

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Bohemian Alps, Nebraska

The cousin I visited in Germany was planning a pilgrimage of his own this summer. Jefferey and his wife, Sabine, were planning to visit Nebraska for the first time. I was excited to show him the Bohemian Alps, where his father (my uncle) grew up, the village where he went to school and to introduce him to family he has never met. Instead, Nebraska, Germany, and countries all over the world are on a different kind of pilgrimage altogether—the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of planning or hosting trips, we are staying put.

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Spring came on time, pandemic or not.

The pandemic transformed our world in an instant, personally and collectively—how, where and if we work has changed; how students are learning is different; the economy, health care, personal finances, shopping and travel no longer look like they used to. There is nothing that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic.

Although each of us is affected differently, we are all on a pilgrimage, not of our own choosing, but from circumstances unimaginable just a few months ago. Still, we can “make the choice for the journey to become meaningful and soulful.” (Painter) We can choose this time as an opportunity to become more aware of who we are and who we want to be.

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Despite the early spring flowers, Nebraska had an April snowstorm.

I have returned to “The Soul of a Pilgrim,” for insight, re-reading the book and also participating in an online retreat with the Abbey of the Arts, to navigate this pilgrimage of uncertainty and its library of emotions, as Mary Pipher calls it. I go from gratitude to grief in short order. I am both content and irritable, joyful and disappointed, trusting and afraid. In this smaller world of “stay at home”, I have a heightened awareness of the little things, both the beauty and the idiosyncrasies. More hours alone together in our home, my husband and I brush up against each other with all our uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, but also gratitude and joy. We have a lot of fun but can also get on each other’s nerves. We are a bundle of contradictions now more than ever. Continue reading “Naked Before God”

Easter: Embracing Light and Darkness

“We love to think of Easter as the feast of dazzling light. We get up on Easter Sunday morning knowing that the sorrow of Good Friday is finally ended… that Jesus is vindicated, that the faith of the disciples is confirmed for all to see, and that everyone lived happily ever after. We love fairy tales. Unfortunately, Easter is not one of them.” (Joan Chittister)

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During the Holy Triduum, we remember the events leading up to Easter. Each Holy Day is significant to the fullness of Jesus’ story—his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ life was full of joy—learning, teaching, helping others, growing in his authentic identity, and embracing his essence—but, also, as the Gospel of John poignantly states, “Jesus wept.” Even Jesus could not escape his own suffering—the death of a friend, concern for political and religious corruption, the betrayal of his disciples, his own physical persecution, and, finally, his fear of abandonment, that he had been forgotten by God and everyone. No doubt about it, Jesus experienced both joy and suffering.

Jesus’ life is an archetype for our own spiritual journey. There is nothing that happens in our lives that Jesus didn’t also experience. When we live out our own Good Fridays, mini-deaths that bring us face to face with darkness, we know we are not alone. We may feel betrayed by loved ones, blamed for problems we didn’t create, forsaken by those we trust. We grieve the loss of loved ones and lament our own mistakes. We are depressed or sad.

Our Holy Saturday is a time of waiting, enduring or resting, perhaps a respite from problems, a time when we can separate from our pain for moments, even days at a time. In the tomb, we wait for healing. Perhaps, we allow others to mourn with us and wait with us in hope. Our waiting is a gray space of in-between.

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This darkness is not what we want—and anytime we experience something unwanted, or conversely don’t get what we do want, we live in some shade of darkness. Truth be told, we simply want peace and joy. We don’t want to be patient, to feel bad, to hurt. There are times when we cling to the darkness and choose to stay in a place of suffering, but we can both honor the darkness while looking towards a glimmer of light, to Easter. Continue reading “Easter: Embracing Light and Darkness”

Praying with the Stations of the Cross

Amidst 160 acres of farmland in Nebraska at St. Benedict Center, there is a contemplative prayer journey that focuses on the events of Jesus’ last day. The Stations of the Cross is a mini-pilgrimage to contemplate the Passion of Christ. At each pause or station on the journey, a prayer is offered to remember the sufferings and struggles of all.

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Traditionally there are 14 images and events that are commemorated, but at St. Benedict Center there is one additional station. Ascending a small hill, a fifteenth station appears marking the resurrection of Christ and the joy of Easter. The artist of each of the station markers is Lore Friedrich of Münsterschwarzach, Germany.

May you be blessed by praying with the arts and taking the Way of the Cross.

“The Stations of the Cross are not given to us only to remind us of the historical Passion of Christ, but to show us what is happening now, and happening to each one of us.  Christ did not become man only to lead his own short life on Earth – unimaginable mercy though that would have been – but to live each of our lives.  He did not choose his Passion only to suffer it in his own human nature – tremendous though that would have been – but in order to suffer it in the suffering of each one of his members through all ages, until the end of time.” –Caryll Houselander

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Station 1: Jesus is Condemned to Death
Pilate: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.” -Mt 27:24
Remember
…those condemned unjustly
…those sentenced by members of governments and society because of their faith.

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Station 2: Jesus Bears His Cross
Jesus: “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls.” Mt 11:28
Remember those carrying a heavy cross in life without murmuring, inspired by Christ.

Station 3: Jesus Falls the First Time
Psalmist: “I was pressed, pressed, about to fall, but Yahweh came to my help.” -Ps 118:13
Remember those breaking down under the weight of their failures, and fall.

4 EasterStation 4: Jesus Meets His Mother
Jesus: “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother.” -Mt 12:50
Remember
…your own mother
…all called to be mother to others
…all expectant mothers

“One of the oldest devotions in Christianity, the Stations of the Cross, attests to the ongoing human effort to understand the place of suffering in the human’s search for resurrection from death to life that is part and parcel of what it means to be alive and grow and become our best selves as we go.”—The Way of the Cross, Joan Chittister

Station 5: Jesus Is Helped by Simon
Matthew: “A man from Cyrene, Simon by name, was forced to carry his cross.” -Mt 27:32
Remember
…those who assist others in life without being recognized
…those who give of themselves that other’s burdens are lightened.

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Station 6: Jesus and Veronica
Jesus: “What you did for the least of my brothers, you did it for me.” -Mt 25:40
Remember
…those reaching out to the marginalized of society.
…those helping AIDS victims, prisoners, minorities.

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Station 7: Jesus Falls a Second Time
Jesus: “If anyone wants to be my follower…let him take up his cross and follow me.” -Mt 16:24
Remember those who lack the courage and strength to overcome addictions, personal shortcomings, sinfulness, and find themselves back in their old habits and behavior.

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Station 8: Jesus Speaks to the Women
Jesus: “Daughter of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” -Lk 23:28
Remember
…families who are struggling with any kind of difficulties and problems
…women oppressed by society, Church, work force, spouses…

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Station 9: Jesus Falls the Third Time
Paul: “The Lord says: My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness.” -2 Cor 12:9
Remember those who have given up and see no purpose and meaning in life.

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Station 10: He is Stripped of His Garments
Psalmist: “They shared out my clothing among them, they cast lots for my clothes.” -Ps 22: 18
Remember those sisters and brothers stripped of their dignity.

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Station 11: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Jesus: “Father, forgive them: they do not know what they are doing.” -Lk 23:34
Remember those who find themselves trapped in difficult situations and see no way out.

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12 easterStation 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Jesus: “It is accomplished” and bowing his head he gave up his spirit. -Jn 19:30
Remember
…the lonely
…the dying
…those who have no one to be within their final hours of life’s journey.

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Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Jesus: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” -Mt 10:22
Remember
…those who mourn the loss of loved ones
…those longing for consolation

 

Station 14: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
Jesus: “I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” Jn 12:24
Remember
…those facing death without hope of eternal life
…those who will die unexpectedly

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Station 15: Jesus is Raised from the Dead
Angel: “He is not here: he is risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee.” Lk 24:6
Remember those who believe in the Resurrection and give witness to it daily.

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Gather Into One: A Sacred Journey

April 2020 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
Topic: Lent   Sources: Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 49; John 11:45-56

“We dwell in grief and despair to be surprised into life again with resurrection—each year we are invited to make this sacred journey together.” –Engaging Benedict, Laura Swan

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As Oblates of Christ the King Priory we “make this sacred journey together” meeting once a month for connection, prayer, and study. We gather in Schuyler, Nebraska on the second Saturday of the month for our Oblate meeting including morning prayers, Lectio Divina, Mass, lunch, and discussions both in full and small groups.

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Our inaugural Zoom Oblate Meeting was a huge success!!

Yet, in this time of uncertainty when we cannot meet in person, we still crave the connectedness and the spiritual grounding of our Oblate promises. Being creative problem-solvers, several of our oblates organized a Zoom event for our April meeting. Fr. Volker reflects, “It worked out beyond any expectation and was a wonderful event. Our social media technology and the present challenging Coronavirus Pandemic turn out to be a hidden blessing.” We had 28 Oblates participate, many who typically cannot make the day trip for our monthly meeting. We started as we usually do with a few announcements, prayers and Lectio Divina, each in our own home, and yet we were together.

Our Lectio Divina reading: 

There were many words and phrases that resonated with us:

You know nothing. Gather into one. What are we going to do? If we leave him alone. Began to believe in him. All will believe in him. Jesus would die for the nation. They looked for Jesus. The whole nation may not perish. What do you think? Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews.

The layers of meaning in this Gospel reading are inexhaustible, especially as we consider the impact of the pandemic during Lent— Continue reading “Gather Into One: A Sacred Journey”

Holy Water: Image of Gratitude

Practicing SoulCollage® is part of my spiritual practice that provides “boundaries and direction”, especially in this time of uncertainty.  I share an “I am one who” reflection for a card I created this week.  It came together slowly, over the course of several days, taking up space on my kitchen table until it felt complete.  The card has become a prayer of gratitude and a reminder to keep reaching for life-giving “holy water” in all its forms.

Card Name: “Holy Water”

I am one who stands in a circle of women who hold each other up, who embrace life and each other, who are connected, who grow together. I am one and many.

I am one who recognizes Source in the still, holy water. Stones, upright, are less about unsettling the water, and more about propelling motion, continually adapting, always transforming or conforming to what comes in its way. I can trust the peaceful, holy water.

I am one who stands in the stream of life-giving, purifying water.

I am one who, with open arms, is anointed with holy water. With joy, faith and a sense of solidarity, I am blessed with nourishment in abundance—above, below, around, overflowing.  

I am one who thirsts, not in an aching, despairing, dying, sort of way (at least not in this card, at this moment) but as a reminder that purification happens only when intentionally sought after and accepted. Water is the essential element to growth; I long for this fullness.

I am one who is grateful for thirst, to trust that the thirst will be quenched, and to drink from the chalice of holy water. Continue reading “Holy Water: Image of Gratitude”

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