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Being Benedictine

A Listening Heart

Month

May 2020

The Birds Are My Prayer

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

A new favorite pandemic pastime is sitting on the deck in our backyard. We travel the long distance, a pilgrimage of sorts, from the living room to the outdoors several times a day to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

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Birds chirping, frogs croaking, raindrops meeting their “splat” on the flowerpots and patio chairs, wind rustling in the trees—the simple sounds suggest that all is well with the world. Yellow finches dart from one tree to another and then to a neighbor’s bird feeder and back again; perhaps a brief landing in the new tallest tree in the neighbor’s yard to the other side of us. It is as if there is a new piece of equipment in the aviary playground of our connected backyards. Birds swoop down to meet each other in a shared tree, chirp a few sentiments, and then take flight again. I wonder what makes them gather together, or what makes them fly solo.

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I am not alone in my amateur birdwatching pandemic pastime. One afternoon, I shared text messages with the neighbors on both sides about our backyard bird show. Beth texted first and then I texted Julie. We feel the same: no one should miss out on the escapades of our yellow finches.

bird texts

Our slower pace is a time to be present to the moment, to notice the simple things that may have been overlooked in the hurry of a pre-pandemic schedule. The Benedictine life is contemplative, “one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption (Laudato Si’, 222).” There has been some talk these past weeks about whether physically distancing and/or staying at home is living in fear or if our freedom is being taken away. 

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For me, true freedom is to be fully who I am, right where I am, in this moment, and in these circumstances. It is not necessary to go shopping or to a restaurant or on vacation (as much as I was looking forward toJessica’s graduation, to visit New York City with friends, and to host my cousin from Germany on his first trip to Nebraska), I can find contentment and enjoyment in my own backyard. If we cannot find contentment at home, I am not certain that it can be found anywhere. Continue reading “The Birds Are My Prayer”

Hearts Burning Within Us

May 2020 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic:  The Emmaus Story, Creating a Peaceful Environment

Sources: Luke 24:13-35

After a successful inaugural Zoom meeting in April, the Oblates of Christ the King Priory were excited to meet again “virtually” as we continue to physically distance and adapt to the uncertainty that the pandemic brings. We began our morning with introductions, personal prayer intentions and Morning Prayer from the breviary.

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The Emmaus Story painted by Josef Mahler of Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia

 

Our Lectio Divina reading was Luke 24:13-35, the Emmaus Story. At St. Benedict Center, adjacent to Christ the King Priory and our typical oblate meeting place, all who enter are greeted with a mural of the Emmaus Story. It is the hope of the monks that visitors to the Center may have an Emmaus experience. “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke?” (Luke 24:32) Just as Jesus opened the Scriptures, revealing himself in the breaking of the bread, so too can those on the spiritual journey meet the living Christ.

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Rich in meaning, there are many words and phrases that resonate with our group:

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Stay with us. Initially, the disciple’s eyes were prevented from seeing the Risen Christ when encountering him on the road. They are talking, debating, and rehashing the events of the last days. They are downcast; disappointed, that the one they had hoped would redeem Israel was crucified. They are incredulous, sharing that the women of their group had reported that Jesus’ body was gone. The stranger promptly gave them an Old Testament lesson— “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” The disciples ask the stranger to stay with them. In the breaking of the bread, they see him. Isn’t it interesting, an oblate shared, that the disciples were not put off with Jesus immediately vanishing? He vanishes, and yet now they recognize him. It is a paradox that he is gone, but also present.

“With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

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How often are we prevented from seeing the truth of the Risen Christ, the beauty of creation, the holy in the ordinary? Even now, in this time of pandemic with much suffering, grief, and uncertainty, there is still the sun, moon, trees, sky and grass—all of Christ and creation is still here. Nothing has disappeared. Do we look? Do we stop and truly listen as the disciples did? Do we want to see or hear?

In the Emmaus story, Christ is made known in the ordinary—during a discussion or debate, in the breaking of the bread, when meeting a stranger. Christ can be known in our ordinary too. Yes, he is risen, he is with us. Even when he leaves, he is present. It is the archetypal Exodus story—there must be a leaving for there to be a coming home.

Breaking of the bread. In our hunger for the Eucharist, we realize the hunger of others. In this time of pandemic, unable to attend Mass, we have all becomes celebrants of the Eucharist—we distribute food for the homeless, refugees, and those in need because of job loss. We are being Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Some of us shared that during stay at home restrictions it feels that we are constantly preparing food, eating, clearing the table, washing dishes—and yet these ordinary activities have taken on a sacredness. With so much food scarcity, meals have become the focal point of our day. We feel more gratitude, a joining of our hearts in prayer with those who do not have enough and we contribute in ways that we can for those with food insecurity.

Fr. Jim, one of our oblates, shared, “Eucharist is not a noun, it’s a verb. It is about thanksgiving, about feeding others. It is a presence we are called to be.” This is our directive—now imitate what you celebrate. The Eucharist impels us to be everything we just celebrated, to go into the world and to serve others. Intimacy with God is in the incarnation, the Eucharist, the Word and within us.

Pastor Steve, one of our oblates, shared this reflection on the Eucharist by Martin Luther (1519):

When you have partaken of this sacrament, therefore, or desire to partake of it, you must in turn also share the misfortunes of the congregation…. There your heart must go out in love and devotion and learn that this sacrament is a sacrament of love, and that love and service are given you and you again must render love and service to Christ and His needy ones. You must feel with sorrow all the dishonor done to Christ in His holy Word, all the misery of Christendom, all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing: you must fight, work, pray, and, if you cannot do more, have heartfelt sympathy. (A Treatise Concerning the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ and Concerning the Brotherhoods)

Hearts Burning Within Us. It was the women who came to understand the Risen Christ while the men, in fear, locked themselves into a room. (There was some funny discussion about how men do not listen, but I digress…) The women have their stories, and eventually the disciples on the road have their “burning heart” story too. The women knew and shared, but sometimes the burning heart must be your own. We must each have our own stories of experiencing Christ as well. One oblate shared that at the beginning of stay at home orders, she was overcome with weeping beyond words or explanation. Weeping can often be a burning heart experience—a feeling of connection with others, God, nature, an expression that allows us to get out of our head and beyond thought. We seek our own experiences and we also listen to each other’s stories. We are not alone, we accompany others. The women and the men who followed Jesus find the Risen Christ in their own way.

It is important to ask ourselves if we invite Christ into our life, to reflect on how Christ has been made known to us. This is when we begin to recognize him. The definition of recognize is to know again. Jesus may not always feel present, but we can come to know the Christ again. Our Road to Emmaus, then, is understanding how we identify with the two disciples on the way. What do we need to do to see more clearly?

After morning prayers and Lectio Divina, we were invited to Mass online at Christ the King Priory. After lunch on our own, we reconvened on Zoom for small group discussions reflecting on the Prologue 14-20, 17 of the Rule of St. Benedict.

Seek peace and pursue it.  -St. Benedict

Specifically, we discussed ways that we can find peace in the chaos and uncertainty of this worldwide pandemic. The many ideas may sound cliché, but there is something to these actions and attitudes that bring peace, if but only for moments at a time—controlling our thoughts, remembering that we aren’t in control, spending time in nature, appreciating the ordinary, looking for the beauty in simple things, realizing that worry does no good, taking one day at a time, not looking too far down the road with our thoughts and worries, and focusing on what we can do for this day.

In this time of sheltering at home, many of us are spending more time alone than usual. But in our solitude, we must ask how we can serve each other as a community while recognizing our human solidarity. We focus so much on our individuality, but the pandemic has heightened our awareness that we are one. Our hope is that we will experience a paradigm shift, a spiritual awakening, and a greater sense of community, responsibility to others and solidarity, rather than narcissism or a growing resentment at the need to follow guidelines about wearing a mask or physically distancing.

Fr. Volker shared the essay, “Prayer is not enough” by the Dalai Lama on why we need to fight the coronavirus with compassion, commenting that “no Christian could have said it better.” Full essay here.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama taking a break before lunch at his residence in Dharamsala, HP, India on May 18, 2003. (Photo by Manuel Bauer)
His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

From the Buddhist perspective, every sentient being is acquainted with suffering and the truths of sickness, old age and death. But as human beings, we have the capacity to use our minds to conquer anger and panic and greed. In recent years I have been stressing “emotional disarmament”: to try to see things realistically and clearly, without the confusion of fear or rage. If a problem has a solution, we must work to find it; if it does not, we need not waste time thinking about it.

We Buddhists believe that the entire world is interdependent. That is why I often speak about universal responsibility. The outbreak of this terrible coronavirus has shown that what happens to one person can soon affect every other being. But it also reminds us that a compassionate or constructive act—whether working in hospitals or just observing social distancing—has the potential to help many.

In this time of great fear, it is important that we think of the long-term challenges—and possibilities—of the entire globe. Photographs of our world from space clearly show that there are no real boundaries on our blue planet. Therefore, all of us must take care of it and work to prevent climate change and other destructive forces. This pandemic serves as a warning that only by coming together with a coordinated, global response will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face.

We must also remember that nobody is free of suffering, and extend our hands to others who lack homes, resources or family to protect them. This crisis shows us that we are not separate from one another—even when we are living apart. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to exercise compassion and help.” Full essay here

My loyal companion, Bailey, at her second online Oblate meeting. Perhaps she napped a little during the discussion. Peace does not escape her. 

Even during this time of uncertainty, we must seek peace. Perhaps it is only in the seeking that we can experience “hearts burning within us”, to recognize the Risen Christ, to see the sacred in the ordinary, the beauty in simplicity. Indeed, we are one body and Christ lives within us.

May our days be filled with the Eucharist, a continual thanksgiving.

Emmaus Prayer

Lord Jesus, hear this prayer for my spiritual renewal. I praise you for calling me. You once opened the scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Now renew me with the trust and power of your word. Nourish me with you Body and Blood. Help me to imitate in my life your death and resurrection. Give me enthusiasm for the gospel, zeal for the world’s salvation, humility in service and concern for my sisters and brother. For you love me, Lord Jesus, and I love you. I pray in your name. Amen.

More Oblate Lectio Divina discussions HERE.

Sources:

Rule of St. Benedict

New American Bible

Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, pages 13-15

© Jodi Blazek Gehr

 

Every Day is Happy Mothers’ Day!

Today my child should be walking across the stage at her graduation ceremony to receive her Masters in Public Affairs diploma. I should be there, applauding and celebrating her achievements. But, you know…. the pandemic and all. It would have been a beautiful way to spend Mothers’ Day.

Although I would love to be with Jessica on this day, to have recognized her achievements with ceremony, what makes this Mothers’ Day truly happy (and my heart full on ordinary days as well), is having a child who lives a life of joy and purpose.

This is all a mother desires—to know that her child is happy, at peace, learning, growing, working hard, loving well, and always becoming. 

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Jessica Becoming, a special card for all the phases of Jessica’s life through high school, 2012.

It’s been a few years since Jess and I have spent an official Mothers’ Day together. In 2016, after graduating from college, Jessica moved to Washington, DC. to work as a full-time research assistant. And in 2018, Jessica moved to Madison, Wisconsin, earning a fellowship to study public policy at the LaFollette School of Public Affairs.

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Jessica visiting Madison before beginning her graduate program.

For the past four years, she has done some serious adulting—working, learning on-the-job about social policy for low-income families, then transitioning to taking classes again, serving on a non-profit board, making decisions about insurance and retirement savings, getting her first apartment on her own, and challenging herself to grow personally and professionally. She’s had fun visiting new sites and cities, enjoying solitude, making new friends, and finding love. And a true “big girl” thingJess has hosted both her dad and me as guests in her home in DC and in Madison.

She is becoming… and it is beautiful to behold.  

“Blessing Jessica, as my grown-up child, is a journey of becoming comfortable with the uncertainty and the many possibilities for her future, letting go slowly, surely, courageously. The blessing card is as much a reminder for me as it is for Jessica.” (from A Mother’s Blessing)

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Card Name: A Mother’s Blessing 

“When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night…Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” Still, it remains my prayer for Jessica as she continues to become, giving birth to herself over and over again, becoming more herself.

God bless Jessica’s mind so that she makes good decisions and choices.
God bless Jessica’s body so that she grows strong and healthy and safe.

God bless Jessica’s spirit so that she knows the love of God and others. Amen.”
(from Jessica Becoming)

There isn’t anything that could make my Mothers’ Day any happier than knowing that my prayers have been, and are being, answered. Jessica has made good decisions and choices, she is strong and healthy, she does know the love of God and others. She is becoming.

“I journey with Jessica in her becoming. As she grows, I grow; I re-center, reset, and adjust to our new way of relating.  I am learning and re-creating the role of mother as Jessica is becoming. We are both becoming.

Tomorrow, Jessica begins a new job with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as a Children’s Services Program and Policy Analyst in the Medicaid Services division. Inspired by her nephew, Michael, and her Uncle Steve, she has a passion for helping families and children with disabilities receive the services and support they need. 

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Being Jessica’s mother is the greatest gift and honor of a lifetime. I will never forget the moment she was born. “You got your girl,” my husband said. I had all but forgotten that the baby would have a gender while laboring. This excerpt from The Red Tent  resonates about that moment:

“There should be a song for women to sing at this moment, or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment. Like every mother since the first mother, I was overcome and bereft, elated and ravaged. I had crossed over from girlhood. I beheld myself as an infant in my mother’s arms, and caught a glimpse of my own death. I wept without knowing whether I rejoiced or mourned.” ~Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

That sacred moment of birth continues into all the moments of becoming. This is what makes every day a happy Mother’s Day. 

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© Jodi Blazek Gehr

Home Is The Nicest Word There Is

Home is where the heart is.

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling.

A house is made of walls and beams, a home is built with love and dreams.

(And, of course) Home sweet home.

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Platitudes? Perhaps. But what may seem overly sentimental is what we yearn for in a home—a place of comfort, expression, warmth, understanding, love, hope, and shelter. An ideal home is a refuge, a haven, a sanctuary that provides safety and protection, a shelter in more ways than one. Our home can be an expression of our personality and values. We bring our whole self into a house and make it a home.

On day 50-something of “sheltering at home,” I am grateful for the roof over our head and all that our home provides us. Our current home is the result of “packing lightly” and “crossing the threshold”, themes from The Soul of a Pilgrim by Christine Valters Paintner.

“The journey of pilgrimage is about returning home with a new awareness of what home really means.”—The Soul of a Pilgrim

The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within ...

Five years ago, my husband and I put our house up for sale with no idea what we were going to do when it sold. It was an adventure—kind of exciting, a little scary, but certainly a threshold opportunity to see what our next step would be. We went through a process of considering what we really needed, what we would keep, what would be given away or sold, what might be tucked away in storage until we knew more decisively what we would do.

Some essential questions to consider in “The Practice of Packing Lightly” are: What would create more lightness in your life? What can you let go of to pack more lightly?

We knew the home we had lived in for nine years was not the place we wanted to be forever. Coming to that decision did not happen overnight. We had tossed it around, tabled it, brought it back up…but finally decided that we had been standing at the threshold of this decision for far too long. For us it came down to two issues: we did not need as much space or stuff and we wanted to have more free time to spend on things we loved, not just working on, or thinking about, household projects.

It felt right to let go of an attachment to our house and our things to see what might be in store for us. We were brought to a threshold, a clearing out of the old, and were ready to move into the uncertainty that lied ahead.

A voice comes to your soul saying,

Lift your foot. Cross over.

Move into emptiness of question and answer and question.

—Rumi, The Glance

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Card Name: Witness    I am one who is Witness to self.
I am one who stands tall
Upright, resilient, longsuffering
Despite winds of change.
I am one who, with the pace of a praying monk,
Glides gently through breeze and shadow, clouds and sea.
I stand centered
I move with purpose
I am one who is Witness to self
It is time
The door is open.

“The LORD said to Abram: Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I WILL show you. I WILL make of you a great nation, and I WILL bless you; I WILL make your name great, so that you WILL be a blessing.”—Genesis 12:1-3

In the story of Abram and Sarai (Genesis 12:1-9; The Soul of a Pilgrim, Chapter 2), they are guided to a new life in an unknown and distant land. When practicing Lectio Divina with this story, I imagine the couple had a sense of loss at leaving their familiar home, but that they also desired an adventure, something new. Despite mixed feelings, they were open to hearing the blessings God promised, they trusted God’s will. Continue reading “Home Is The Nicest Word There Is”

World Labyrinth Day: Many Ways to Pray

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

There are many ways to pray—in song, spoken or written words, silence, creativity, nature, and movement, just to mention a few. Paul recommends to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which is only possible if we are able to connect with our Creator in a variety of ways. We are meant to engage our senses, our whole bodies, in prayer.

I’ve come to appreciate this about the Catholic Mass, even if visitors might think there is a lot of up and down. We genuflect, sit, stand, kneel, and bow. These gestures, postures, or movement help to bring our whole being into prayerful expression—raising our hands when saying the “Our Father”, making the sign of the cross or receiving the Eucharist allows us to use our bodies in prayer.

lab signIn addition, walking the stations of the cross or a labyrinth, taking a nature hike, or practicing yoga or tai chi are prayerful forms of movement that engage our bodies while quieting our mind. Going away on retreat is an opportunity to explore and practice various forms of prayer.

 

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Labyrinth at St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, NE

A few summers ago  I had the opportunity to pray in many ways while attending an eight-day Ignatian retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center. Each day, for about an hour, I met with a spiritual director to receive guidance and to share my faith journey; the remainder of the day was spent reflecting on these discussions and praying. One of the ways that I prayed was by walking a labyrinth.

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a symbol of life without meaning, it is an agent of confusion, deception with dead ends that lead you nowhere. But a labyrinth is a symbol of a life of deeper meaning, an on-going sacred journey leading us inward, outward and to greater wholeness.” –Carrie Newcomer Continue reading “World Labyrinth Day: Many Ways to Pray”

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