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Jodi Blazek Gehr, Oblate of St. Benedict

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Walk With Me: A Wedding Promise of Stability

Last summer (July 17, 2021) we enjoyed celebrating the wedding of my daughter, Jessica, to John Holland with a beautiful ceremony officiated by my dear friend, Joyce.

This summer (June 25, 2022) I was so honored to be the officiant for the wedding of Travis and Sam, one of Jessica’s college friends. It was such a joy to walk with them in creating their ceremony and so humbling to be a part of their special day with family and dear friends.

It was a spiritual experience for me to consider again, after 37 years of marriage, what it means to make a marriage commitment—to promise “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death does us part” (Sam and Travis’ vows to each other) and to walk together on life’s journey.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the famous French author of The Little Prince, wrote in Wind, Sand and Stars:

“Love is not just looking at each other, it’s looking in the same direction.”

I shared these words during the wedding ceremony:

“Walking together, in the same direction, is what your marriage commitment will require. The primary reason we commit to relationships, to promise stability, is to be there for the other. In a consumer-driven society, we are encouraged to buy new, better, more but the ancient monastic practice of stability encourages us to stay put. Nathan Oates writes, “Stability doesn’t mean you’re not trying to improve or that you don’t work on the problems. Just the opposite. It means you’re going to work hard, and you expect problems. This isn’t a fairy tale. This is learning how to love.”

Promising to stay, to walk together in all of life’s joys and challenges, is the vow of stability. One’s relationship can grow deep roots, in great love, by understanding that the other will always be there for you.

Selfies with the bride and groom!
Continue reading “Walk With Me: A Wedding Promise of Stability”

The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments

Jodi Blazek ❤️ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985

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.

I believe more each day that it is only in the stability of marriage, enduring the weather of every season, that one can reap the true benefits of a life lived together. Advice to young couples: Stick with it. Don’t give up.  I promise, with effort, love, respect, and forgiveness, your marriage will endure and you will be so happy it did!

A marriage is made of moments.

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. Continue reading “The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments”

Stability and Wintry Weather

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Winter weather gives us the opportunity to practice stability. The Benedictine vow of stability provides for our need to be rooted in Christ, to be grounded in the present moment, and practicing gratitude regardless of our circumstances and of the uncertain future.

Seasons come and go, “but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) We learn from the seasons that they, as all things do, indeed, pass. The icy, chilly weather prevents us from traveling too swiftly; there is something to learn from this staying put. This paradox, that we must stay grounded while the seasons change, encourages us to move a little slower and to learn from the present moment.

The cold and icy weather give us no choice but to stay put. Perhaps when we are going through “icy” relationships or experiences, we can apply the Benedictine principle of stability as well.  Continue reading “Stability and Wintry Weather”

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”

Abbey of the Arts: Monk in the World Guest Post

I have been so inspired by the writing and work of Christine Valters Painter, a Benedictine oblate, author, and online abbess of Abbey of the Arts. The Abbey is a virtual global online monastery offering pilgrimages, online classes & retreats, reflections, and resources which integrate contemplative spiritual practice and creative expression with monastic spirituality. They provide support and resources in becoming a monk in the world and an artist in everyday life.

Learning from members of the community in the Monk in the World Guest Post series has been a source of affirmation that, indeed, one can live according to the Rule of St. Benedict not only in the monastery but in the life one chooses to lead.

I am so honored to have my blog post shared on Abbey of the Arts on the Feast of St. Benedict! The full text is below or at Abbey of the Arts.

“I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series. Read on for Jodi Blazek Gehr’s reflection on being a Benedictine oblate.

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.

Continue reading “Abbey of the Arts: Monk in the World Guest Post”

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.

Continue reading “July 11: A Big Day for Being Benedictine”

Being Benedictine: Beginning the Journey

Some things change your life forever—getting married, having a baby, getting a new job, or a promotion. Finding St. Benedict Center in June 2002, twenty years ago, makes my “forever” list. It was the beginning of a connection that has changed my life in countless ways. It started my journey of Being Benedictine.

As a busy mom, wife, and teacher, I had a desire for silence and prayer. I learned about a four-day silent contemplative prayer retreat at St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, Nebraska from an advertisement in our local newspaper. I loved the silence; although the twenty-minute meditation sittings throughout the day were a little more challenging, I knew I would come back to this oasis of peace.

St. Benedict Center sponsors many retreats each year—these opportunities have nurtured my spiritual longing and love of learning. I wasn’t sure if I would come back for a silent retreat, but I knew I would return to this sacred getaway soon. It started out that I came two or three times a year….and it gradually increased over time to be once or twice a month. There was one summer that I came every week, and it was suggested that I build a little cabin out back. I’ve particularly enjoyed attending retreats given by the monks of Christ the King Priory, visiting monks, and by authors like Macrina Weiderkehr (who became a dear friend), Joyce Rupp, Anselm Gruen, Helen Prejean, and Michael Casey. I have even come back for more silent retreats too, and I eagerly look forward to them now.

Continue reading “Being Benedictine: Beginning the Journey”

Sober and Merciful: St. Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness

The Tesla Roadster is said to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds. Whoa!

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Who really needs to go that fast?! I understand better than most what it is like to be running late, hurrying to my destination and feeling like I need to drive a little faster—I’ve been known to have a lead foot in these cases a few too many times.

But is it smart, safe or the best thing for us and others? We know it is a wiser choice to slooooow down.

move slowly

Likewise, I know all too well about reacting emotionally in challenging situations. My temper can go from zero to 60 in about 2 seconds. It is a benefit to slow down my thoughts, emotions, and reactions a bit to gain a better perspective.

The local, national or global news can cause one’s heart to race, from zero to 60, in the time it takes to read or hear just one reported sentence. It is all too easy to get caught up in the “swirl and chaos of fear, violence, and anger assaulting our world today. Practicing soberness means being detached from emotions, both overly negative or positive feelings. It is not good to be “drunk” on either extreme.” (Discerning Hearts)

Alternatively, we can meet all challenges with an attitude of soberness.

Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome and former prior of Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska, has a podcast series on the Benedictine understanding of sobriety. He will also return to Nebraska to lead a retreat at St. Benedict Center, July 29-31, 2022 called Sober and Merciful: Saint Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness. Continue reading “Sober and Merciful: St. Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness”

The Sower Sows

May 2022 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources

Lectio Divina—Parable of the Sower, Mark 4: 1-20

Book Discussion—Stability: How an ancient monastic practice can restore our relationships, churches, and communities by Nathan Oates. (Introduction)

Lectio Divina

Mark 4:1-20 A sower went out to sow

We consider the question: How does the Parable of the Sower apply to the Benedictine value of stability? Words and phrases that resonate give us a rich perspective of the sower, the seed, the soil, and the fruit.

The sower sows regardless of thorns, rocky ground, little soil, or rich soil. The sower sows—a committed action to continue to sow.

Continue reading “The Sower Sows”

Stay With Me

April 2022 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources

Lectio Divina, Matthew 26: 20-50, The Cross of Christ

Book Discussion, Stability: How an ancient monastic practice can restore our relationships, churches, and communities by Nathan Oates

Of Gods and Men, 2010 French film directed by Xavier Beauvois

Additional Resources: Paraclete Press Lenten Series on Stability with reflections from Nathan Oates, Kathleen Norris & Michael Patrick O’Brien, Jonathon Wilson Hartgrove, and Ronald Rohlheiser. Links below.

Lectio Divina

Matthew 26: 20-50, The Cross of Christ

Discussion

Stability “is the commitment to a purpose, a place, and a people…At its root, stability is the blend of two biblical concepts: patient endurance and standing firm.” (Stability, Nathan Oates) After reflecting on Matthew 26: 20-50, we consider:

How is the virtue of stability present in the gospel story? Are there similarities between what happened to Jesus in Gethsemane and what is happening in Ukraine?

Many people of Ukraine will not flee their country. “This is my home,” they say. Despite the many risks, they stay. They are rooted in their homeplace, their land. Jesus also stayed; despite knowing he was to be betrayed, despite the possibilities the next day would bring. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong for Jesus. Everyone betrays him, even the best of friends. It would have been much easier to give up when left alone.

“My soul is very sorrowful even to death.” We all struggle with the virtue of stability, but Jesus stayed IN HIS sorrow; he could have fled. Despite our difficulties, we need to die before we die as Jesus did. Jesus’ steadfastness, his stability, was rooted in doing the will of God. “Your will be done” is an exclamation of surrender that gave Jesus the courage to stay. He died before his own death; he surrendered his will. He was able to face his suffering because he had consented to let God work out what would happen next. As St. Benedict said, “keep death daily before our eyes.”

Continue reading “Stay With Me”

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