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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Put on a Heart of Compassion

February 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Colossians 3:12-17; Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (pages 17-22)

For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply Colossians 3:12-17

We share aloud, some of the words and phrases that resonate with us:

God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Bearing with one another. Forgiving one another. Put on love….that is the bond of perfection.

Let the peace of Christ control your hearts. Be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly. Gratitude in your hearts. 

Compassion: We think of compassion as feeling sorry for someone, but it is to feel with someone, to enter into the sufferings and joys of another person. Jesus had compassion for us, entering fully into our lives. He is one with us. We are called to emulate this kind of compassion with others. Sometimes there may not be much we can say to another, but we can give our presence, a physical touch. Wordless gestures are just as compassionate, perhaps even more so.

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Tender Compassion of Our God

December 2020 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Luke 1:67-79; The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72 Study Guide for The Rule of St. Benedict, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, page 180-185

For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply the well-known Benedictus that is prayed every morning in the Divine Office, Luke 1:67-79.

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Words and phrases that resonate with us, shared in our discussion:

Save us from our enemies….to show mercy….to set us free… without fear…. knowledge of salvation….forgiveness of our sins….the way of peace…promise….prepare his way…you, my child…tender compassion.

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The Benedictus proclaims what God is doing and will do for us—not what we do. Many of us have grown up with the image of an angry God, but that is not the God we are shown in Scripture. We are promised a God of tender compassion, not a bookkeeper of judgments. Mercy is God’s loving response to suffering. God is not watching from afar; God is suffering with us.

The dawn from on high breaks upon us—God is breaking in with the incarnation and gives us hope. Benedict was not harsh, but practical, just as God is tender. God enters our history to experience our suffering with us, but we must expose our wounds for the tender compassion of our God to work. To prepare our heart, we must invite God in. Advent was a time to prepare our hearts for God to enter—although this task is never fully completed. We must live in perpetual Advent, inviting God in and humbling ourselves without fear, to receive the tender compassion of our loving God.

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A Conversion Story: Filled with Compassion

February 2019 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Conversion

Our morning prayer antiphon is inspiration to listen deeply to the word of God in Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32—The Parable of the Lost Son (see end of this post for full text.)

Let us listen to the voice of God; let us enter into his rest

Although we may feel we know this story well, it is a different experience altogether, revealing layers of meaning, to read and reflect on the parable of the prodigal son in the spirit of Lectio Divina. In our oblate meetings, we read the Scripture out loud, followed by a time of silence to contemplate, consider and reflect on what we have heard. We are invited to share a word or phrase that speaks to us after a time of silence.

It always amazes me the different words or phrases that resonate with our oblates. For example: embraced him and kissed him, you are here with me always, coming to his senses, he was lost and has been found, he got up and went back, give me my share, you never gave me even a young goat to feed on with my friends, he heard the sound of music and dancing, has come to life again, longed to eat his fill, this brother of yours…. Continue reading “A Conversion Story: Filled with Compassion”

July 11: A Big Day for Being Benedictine

St. Benedict is special to me for a few reasons. First, we share a birthday. I admit I was disappointed when I first discovered this. My parents had given me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate my Confirmation. As any nine-year-old would do, I immediately looked to see who the saint was for July 11, my birthday. Perhaps Elizabeth, Mary, or Theresa would be my special saint.

Instead, I see an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary-looking bird, a crooked cane, and an unusual name I had only associated with Benedict Arnold. July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said. I had never heard of him and surely did not know what an Abbot was. Through the years, I returned to this image of St. Benedict, thinking that I should have some connection with my patron saint.

Fast forward 26 years. With a full and busy life—married with a young daughter, a career as a high school teacher and club sponsor—I felt a deep longing for times of silence. I answered the call of my heart and responded to an advertisement for a silent contemplative prayer retreat. I discovered an oasis of peace just a few hours from home in the cornfields of Nebraska…called St. Benedict Center.

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Both Life and Choice

March for Life, 1978

Earlier than I would get up for school and before the snowy roads were cleared, an eager catechism teacher drove me and a friend through a snowstorm to walk in the March for Life, an annual event opposing both the practice and legality of abortion, culminating with a rally at our State Capitol. In my sixth-grade CCD class (circa 1978), I had recently learned about abortion and was taught that unequivocally, it was wrong.

I learned that morning that not everyone sees abortion, or pro-life issues, the same way. I was stunned as we entered the Capitol that there were women already positioned on the balconies, holding signs and shouting at marchers about having rights to their own bodies. It left me very confused—a woman’s body is different than an unborn baby, I thought, and yet there was such passion, so much anger. (Photo credit: Lincoln Journal Star, NE State Capitol, 2019)

As an outspoken pro-life teenager, I was so sure of what I understood about abortion that in 1984 I wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Nebraskan, my college newspaper. I pulled that old newspaper out of storage a few days after Roe vs. Wade was overturned. Nearly four decades later, I am uneasy with what I wrote. What I used to be so sure of, I am now less certain of and often, in complete disagreement with my younger self.

What I have learned since then about life and choice.

Two things can be true at the same time. I believe BOTH that human life is sacred from the time of conception AND that we are created to have free will. We have agency over our own bodies, choosing whether our life continues and/or whether we will bring life forth. Embracing a culture of life is respecting not just the unborn child, but also the pregnant woman while advocating for issues including prenatal care, childcare, gender equality, trafficking, healthcare reform, gun safety, racism, climate change, LGBT rights, capital punishment, and so much more.

We are BOTH created in the image of God AND given a life of choice, of free will, from the beginning. As the story goes, Adam and Eve were gifted with a beautiful garden and the choice to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or not. They were given agency over their bodies, and from the beginning were able to choose their actions. Humans make both good and bad choices—and we suffer the consequences. Further, Christian tradition holds that the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive and bear a child who will be named Jesus, the Incarnation (Luke 1:26–38.) In her “fiat,” Mary consented; she said yes.

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The Colors of the Rainbow

“The artist speaks to that part of you which yearns for beauty and creativity.  The inner artist invites you to participate in the great work of healing the world by lifting out of your senses creative images, words, and actions that inspire others to live lives of wonder and surprise.”

–Macrina Wiederkehr (The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner)

Recently I led a retreat titled Becoming Ourselves: Exploring the Archetypes of Inner Monk & Artist. Our inner artist engages with the world through its senses, while our inner monk has a longing for connection with the Divine, seeing the sacred in the ordinary. We can be intentional about nurturing these energies within us, paying attention to the beauty around us, and bringing a sense of wonder and curiosity to our work. We can be intentional about nurturing these energies within us by seeing nature, people, and life circumstances in new ways, while creatively and prayerfully expressing ourselves through poetry, art, music, gardening, relationships, and more.

Practicing SoulCollage® is the perfect expression of the inner artist and monk archetypes. We creatively and prayerfully cut and paste images onto cards that eventually become a visual journal. It is a spiritual practice of seeking the Divine while learning about parts of yourself. With others, while “image bathing” and creating cards, there is a unique opportunity to share parts of our spiritual journey—why I love leading and participating in retreats!

On retreat, spiritual playmate*, Jana West, was particularly drawn to images of rainbows—they kept popping up in the images she was collecting and intuitively finding their way onto her collage cards.

*Don’t you just love the idea of a spiritual playmate?! Jana coined the term, and it has quickly become part of my post-retreat reflection vernacular.

Rainbows in EVERY card! Can’t wait to hear more from Jana about what they have revealed to her since the retreat.

So now I am seeing rainbows and the spectrum of colors in all kinds of ways. I saw, and accepted, this fun challenge on Facebook: to find the colors of the rainbow in nature.

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Prayers of Peace for Ukraine

Let us pray.

Pray in whatever ways and words work for you–whether you are holding space, sending positive energy, visualizing hope and peace overflowing, creating a collage, writing your own thoughts, or reciting the words of the prayer Pope Francis has intended for the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (shown below.)

JUST PRAY.

There are no requirements to understand every word of the prayer, to be Catholic, or to believe in Mary’s Immaculate Heart, in order to grow in compassion and unite our intentions with others who pray, hold space, and send good energy. As I read (and prayed) Pope Francis’ prayer, I created bullet-prayers (not sure if that’s a thing, but it is for me now)–one-sentence intentions that I can offer up when I think of those suffering in Ukraine.

Turn our hearts towards love and peace. 🌻 May we hold space for those suffering.

Make visible our compassion. 🌻 May we remember what causes pain for others.

May we hold in our hearts the children, the hungry, the homeless, the fleeing, the mother, the father, the child, the beloved pet, the defenders, the truth-tellers, the fighters, the comforters. 🌻

May we ravage the earth with love. 🌻 Help me to think of others.

May we be, and follow, models of love and peace. 🌻 Help us remember that darkness can be overcome.

Untie the knots of our hearts. 🌻 Help us to forgive.

Water the dryness of our hearts. 🌻 Fill our hearts with peace. 🌻 Help us to pray.

Here is the full text of the prayer obtained by Catholic News Agency:

O Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, in this time of trial we turn to you. As our Mother, you love us and know us: no concern of our hearts is hidden from you. Mother of mercy, how often we have experienced your watchful care and your peaceful presence! You never cease to guide us to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

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We Shall Be Known

With some solitude and space this weekend, I reflected on the “Now I Become Myself” retreat that I led in December. Our closing blessing, serendipitously discovered by Sara, settled into my soul as a prayer, my heart’s longing to become more myself.  

The blessing written by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, to follow, begged for images to be created into my own prayer card.

May you grow into your greatest, bravest, most loving self

May you stand tall and unafraid of the great, exquisite, bright light within you that is straining to get out.

May you trust that light, and may you hear the still small voice within that whispers to you about what you need and who you can be. 

May you follow the light and the voice wherever it may take you–even to places you hadn’t guessed, hadn’t imagined, that haven’t been part of the plan. 

May you remain always curious, open, and eager to grow.

May you walk through your life with wonder, radical amazement, and gratitude.

May you stay kind and gentle.

May you regard others with compassion, generosity, and the benefit of the doubt.

May you seek always to be of service to offer of yourself to those that need help–that need you. 

May you speak out bravely against injustice. 

May you make of your life a blessing.

May your thoughts, actions and very being be an offering to the transcendent, to the great stream of life, to…the Holy One.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

 

Prayer card titled, “Now I Become Myself.”


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2022 Word of the Year

“This tradition (for desert mothers and fathers) of asking for a word was a way of seeking something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime.  The “word” was often a short phrase to nourish and challenge the receiver.  A word was meant to be wrestled with and slowly grown into.”

Christine Valters Painter

A new year is a reminder of our opportunity to begin again, the essence of “being Benedictine.” That simple tick of the clock from midnight to 12:01 a.m. marks in time our deep longing to begin again. Choosing a word of the year can be a prayerful intention to focus our awareness on an idea, a feeling, our hopes, or even an attribute we want to cultivate in our lives.

There are no rules for choosing a word. There is nothing magical about one word over another, but choosing a word that settles in your heart can reveal unexpected layers of meaning and new levels of understanding that can be both spiritually comforting and challenging.

I did not choose a word for 2022. My word for this year, CONSENT, chose me.

As I was re-reading lines I had highlighted from The Exquisite Risk by Mark Nepo, I was struck by this paragraph:

Both attracted to and challenged by the word CONSENT, I have spent several weeks considering what it might have to teach me. On first impression, consent sounds like a route of less suffering, acceptance of what is, peacefulness. Count me in for this kind of bliss!

But CONSENTING is not so easy. To consent sounds so passiveto give up or compromise, to settle. My nature is to resist what I do not prefer, to solve problems or change circumstances so that they are more ideal, to somehow fix even what I cannot control. I have a tendency to fight, to flee, to figure out, rather than to consent, to surrender, to let it be. 

Miss Fixit: A card that I made several years ago when I became aware of my tendency to want to to fix.
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Now I Become Myself: Stand Still

In the past few months, I have become smitten with the PBS series, Call the Midwife, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a midwife in 1950’s London. I have heard of the show for years, but, late to the game, I just started Season 1 in September 2021. (I will likely be through Season 6 by year’s end, so I am unstoppable now.) In Season 3, Nurse Jenny Lee, one of the midwives of Nonnatus House, was grieving the sudden death of her boyfriend. Sister Julienne, recognizing Jenny Lee’s need to acknowledge her grief, suggests that she “take compassionate leave.”

Take compassionate leave.

Such powerful words.

How compassionate that Sr. Julienne understands that going through the motions of “normal” will not be helpful or healing. One must honor the soul’s need for being still with our grief and our many other emotions or experiences. We heal only when we take time to “stand still, to be here”, as May Sarton (1912-1995), American poet, novelist, and memoirist, pens in her poem, “Now I Become Myself.”

As we journey through the many deaths we experience throughout our life, even the little ones where we must let go of our expectations, we must “take compassionate leave” to listen to our soul speak. It is self-compassionate to take time to listen deeply to the soul, to process through, to understand, and make meaning of the experiences of our lives—both the grief and the joy, the transitions from one life stage to another—to just be with our emotions and the response in our body. Sometimes that can be done in our ordinary lives, but other times we may literally need to take leave by going away or on retreat.

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