Being Benedictine

Jodi Blazek Gehr, Oblate of St. Benedict


April 2023

From Dumpsite to Daffodils

One of my favorite places to visit is a former dump site. 

Despite its location on the corner of a very busy intersection in Lincoln, a former landfill is now a sanctuary with thousands of flowers planted on its one-and-a-half acres. The iconic Sunken Gardens, perfect for wandering, contemplation, and enjoying the beauty of nature, has a healing garden, stunning sculptures, a cascading fountain, and open lawn spaces. Through the years, the gardens have been a special venue for weddings (although brides and grooms must be prepared for cars honking as they drive by), art shows, family picnics, contemplative walks, a quiet place to read, photography, or friendly conversations.

On one of our many sightseeing or historical tours of Lincoln as a child, my dad shared that the gardens had originally been a dump. Amazed, I couldn’t imagine how that kind of transformation could take place. In 1930, as part of a depression-era city program to help unemployed men earn a little cash, the idea of Sunken Gardens was birthed. Crew members worked eight-hour shifts, two days a week for a total of $6.40 per week. Through the years, the gardens have been improved and renovated, most recently in 2005 with a $1.7 million fundraising campaign. I am so grateful for that vision and the continued effort of volunteers to create something of such beauty from trash. 

Sunken Gardens is often a specific destination for me but if I happen to be driving nearby, I might make a spontaneous visit. Recently, I had a few minutes after an appointment, and knowing the tulips and other bulb flowers wouldn’t last much longer, I drove a little out of my way to visit. It was a soulful, wonder-full fifteen minutes of enjoying the fleeting blooms. Finding wonder in nature is a path to practicing contemplation and observing silence. 

St. Benedict invites us to “listen with the ear of the heart” (Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue:1).

“This calls for a contemplative stance, an ability to experience wonder and joy in nature. It can also prompt me to ask: when was the last time I really saw the swift flight of a bird, the delicate beauty of rose petals?? Rather than trying to fill every moment with sound and distraction, the Benedictine way of life is characterized by peace and silence. Benedict instructs his followers to “diligently cultivate silence” (Rule of St. Benedict, 42:1)

Common threads: Francis’ encyclical and Benedict’s rule, By Mary McDonald SGS

I considered this dump-turned-garden as the ultimate metaphor for transformation. Truly, all things can be transformed, and have the potential to be created anew, in our planet, in ourselves, and in relationships.

God did not create creation light years ago, he continually maintains it in existence. God is constantly in the very act of creating. He fills us with his Spirit of creativity so that we can transform the world according to his creative will. Anselm Grün OSB, Benedict and Creation

To be Benedictine is to be open to conversion within ourselves, with people we might disagree with, or in protecting our environment. We allow for the possibility of reconciliation, and restoration of how things could be at their fullest potential. Just as creation is constantly creating and evolving, so must we. We must adapt and change to the environment we are living in by not taking too much or giving too little. Enjoying nature, being in the present moment, and nurturing silence that brings creative thought is the call of Being Benedictine.

© Jodi Blazek Gehr, Being Benedictine Blogger

The Wonder of a Broken Arm

WONDER sees the everyday as sacred.

Living with a sense of wonder, my word for 2023, is my intention. Being open to surprises, having a sense of curiosity, and having the desire to learn is important to my spiritual practice of “being Benedictine.” Wonder sees the sacred in the ordinary and is a doorway to gratitude, but seeing with eyes of wonder is a much easier proposition when our daily life is comfortable. My sense of comfort was recently challenged.

On a cold, windy February morning, my little dog Bailey did not want to do her business outside. Fourteen degrees in Nebraska, who can blame her? Worried about potentially icy roads and getting myself to school in time, I hurriedly picked up my little dog and headed out to accompany her on a potty trip. After stepping down onto our (apparently icy) landing, my feet slipped out from underneath me. It happened so fast yet every second my body met the icy ground, pain pierced through me–first on my bottom, then as I slid to my left side hitting my elbow sharply. I felt several crunches on my arm as I continued sliding on the pavement finally stopping several feet away. 

I knew immediately I had broken my arm, and later it was confirmed–a fractured ulna and a chipped elbow. The entire event was captured on our doorbell video. I watched it only one time to see if it was as I had remembered. Seeing myself fall has ruined me forever from watching America’s Funniest Home Videos again. Falls that used to crack me up (no pun intended) seem not so funny anymore. 

Wonder is the doorway to gratitude.

Making meaning out of life’s experiences and practicing gratitude is foundational to my spirituality, but much of my broken arm experience (7 weeks to date) has been spent feeling like I am not being very Benedictine. I am grateful for much, but I have also been so tired, irritable, and moody. It has been more traumatic for my body, mind, and spirit than I could have imagined. 

Despite my general crabbiness, I know my injury could have been worse–for that I am grateful. Thank God I hadn’t hit my head and been knocked unconscious. I am grateful that it was my left arm that was broken, and not my dominant right. After a week of wearing a splint, I was grateful to learn that the fractured pieces of my ulna had, amazingly, stayed in alignment. I would not need surgery and instead of needing a cast, I would wear a brace that I could easily remove to shower. A welcome reprieve from the confinement of a splint, there would be enough space to wiggle a pencil through to scratch my arm. (More things to be grateful for at the end of this post.)

Gratitude is an emotion that reflects our deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what makes us feel connected to ourselves and others.

Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown

I thought my attitude of gratitude would carry me through the weeks of convalescence in front of me, but I underestimated the many conflicting emotions I would have–frustration, overwhelm, disappointment, empathy, compassion, and wonder, just to mention a few. Out of 87 identified emotions (and experiences or thoughts that can lead to emotions) in Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown, I have felt no less than 40 of them since I fell. 

Early on I had decided I would be a resilient, strong, and compliant patient. I would remain calm in the face of discomfort or pain, knowing “this too shall pass.” Spoiler alert: I have grown weary, increasingly frustrated, and borderline hysterical from the discomfort and/or pain. Betty the brace–named after my strong, steady, prayerful oblate friend, Betty–has been called many other names besides Betty (Betty, the friend, took no offense.) 

Continue reading “The Wonder of a Broken Arm”

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