Each is an expression of his hospitality. A true gentleman with a heart for one who needs compassion and comfort and the most energetic man I have ever met celebrates his 80th birthday today, December 29, 2020. Fr. Volker has touched many lives through his work as a Missionary Benedictine—as Oblate Director, Sub-Prior, and Mission Procurator—known especially for his hospitality. He is the living example of the instructions of St. Benedict, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35).”
Mother Mary finds her way into many of my collage creations, but it is the story and image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I am especially drawn to. On December 12, the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated.
“Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego on Mount Tepayac, 1531
On the site of an ancient shrine to the Aztec mother goddess, near Mexico City on Tepeyac Hill, a young Christian Indian named Juan Diego had a vision of a young Indian woman. Speaking in his native tongue, she directed him to tell the bishop to construct a church on the hill. The bishop dismissed the story, but the young maiden appeared yet again to Diego identifying herself as the Mother of God. She instructed him to gather roses that grew at her feet, during the winter no less, and take them to the bishop. When Diego opened his coat, a colorful impression of Our Lady, with dark skin, was imprinted on the fabric.
This story has been told for five hundred years, standing as an “image of divine compassion for a demoralized people. Speaking to Juan Diego in his own language, she presented herself in terms of compassion and solidarity, not power and domination.” (Blessed Among Us, December 12, 2020) The image of Our Lady attracts millions of pilgrims each year at the basilica in Mexico City, one of the world’s most visited sacred sights.
Recently I gathered with some friends for a much-needed retreat, a “pause between labor contractions”—a metaphor that resonated with us. In such troubling times, we came together to be creative, soulful, compassionate listeners—to take, literally and prayerfully, a breath from the labor of a divisive political environment and necessary pandemic adjustments. Jana, Deb, Patsy, Sara, Julie, and I brought open hearts to celebrate a weekend filled with blessings—a full moon, the beauty of the woods, the insightful practice of SoulCollage® and the celebration of All Saints Day.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in December 1770—250 years ago. A long-awaited celebration for music aficionados, over 300 concerts and other projects had been planned in Germany, and many others around the world, to celebrate one of the most performed of all classical music composers. Unfortunately, the pandemic resulted in events being postponed or adapted for a virtual audience.
This significant date, 250th birthday of Beethoven, was the nudge I needed to write the story of the family tree that includes my daughter, Jessica, as a direct descendent of Beethoven—as a piano player.
Jessica played piano from her Kindergarten year until she entered high school under the tutelage of Ceil Brown, 1953- 2010. Ceil learned to play piano from Marie Ducey, who she spoke of so highly. Marie Ducey took piano lessons from James Madison Tracy, 1837-1928. Tracy and his wife established the Liszt School of Music in Denver in 1910, named in honor of his piano teacher, Franz Liszt.
Franz Liszt, 1811-1886, one of the greatest pianists of all time, a Franciscan lay associate, was known to have never charged his students for piano lessons. Liszt learned from Carl Czerny, 1791-1857, an Austrian composer, teacher, and pianist of Czech origin whose vast musical production amounted to over a thousand works. His study books are still widely used in piano teaching. And….drumroll, please….Czerny was trained by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Our family is proud to be in this distinguished family tree of musicians and lovers of music.
Jessica describes Ceil, her piano teacher, as patient, gracious and calm. Ceil was an extraordinary teacher who appreciated individual student strengths and abilities. I delighted in hearing the conversations between her and Jessica. Ceil treated her as person, not like a kid as so many adults can do. When Jessica did not like a piece of music Ceil had selected for her to learn, Jessica was not afraid to say it. Ceil would go to her bookcase and look for another piece. I remember one occasion when Ceil looked three or four times for music that would suit Jessica’s style and interest (in a 45-minute lesson!)
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately–both old and new, those friends who are near and far, and those who have passed away.
Five years ago, our Circle lost a dear sister. Judy passed away only a year or so after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable, fast-growing cancer. For the last several weeks of her life, Judy was unable to leave her bed and wanted few visitors, but it was important for our Circle to continue sending our love and prayers. Even if we weren’t physically present, we wanted her to feel that we held her in our heart. Each of us committed to a day of the week that we would send Judy some kind of card, note or greeting. In this time of pandemic, just as we did with Judy, we can stay connected with our loved ones.
Judy was a lover of SoulCollage®—she came to my first retreat at St. Benedict Center and fell in love with the process. She started meeting weekly to cut, paste and create with our friend, Beth. The practice became a form of expression and prayer for her and she even shared it with her daughters and grandchildren on one of their last vacations together on Captiva Island. Making and sending a SoulCollage® card to honor Judy and our Circle was a form of creative prayer for me.
I was drawn to images that represented the strong, hard-working, loving women that had met together monthly for several years. I hoped the card would make Judy smile, bring her a little joy and remind her of the bond we all shared. It also gave me the chance to put images and words to how I feel about our Circle.
Cleaning out some old papers, I stumbled upon a script from which I read a farewell greeting to my spiritual director and monk friend, Fr. Mauritius Wilde when he moved from Schuyler, Nebraska to Rome four years ago.
My message was one of gratitude for our shared experiences, but also sadness that we would not see each other regularly…since Rome is a bit more than a car drive away. I knew that we would continue to be in touch, and as luck would have it I was able to visit Rome one year later for the Benedictine World Congress and he has also visited Nebraska a few times to lead retreats. So, it was not a good-bye, but a see-ya-later.
As I read through what I had written four years ago, I realized this feeling of being separated, yet remaining deeply connected speaks to our current situation of pandemic. I feel this same nostalgic see-ya-later-sort-of-way as we hunker down, cancel trips, stay at home and physically distance to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. It is bittersweet—but it is what we must do. We will survive this liminal space where we are together in spirit, but not in person.
I experience this distance, and yet connectedness, with my daughter, who also moved from home—first to Washington DC four years ago (yikes, that 2016 was a doozy of a year) and then to Madison, Wisconsin. She is my child, so of course, we see each other as often as possible, but without the spontaneity of a quick lunch date or evening walk. I am grateful that we talk or text each other nearly every day and have been able to exchange visits nearly every other month.
But still, it is challenging to have your loved ones far away. As much as I love reading about the pioneer days, I was not cut out to be one. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to send your grown child off with her family in a covered wagon, perhaps never to be seen again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”→
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
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:
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.
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”→