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Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Gratitude for Teaching: A Mirror to the Soul

My friend Evi Wusk asked me to write a guest post for her blog, Gratitude Gal, about what I am grateful for as a teacher. The reflection that resulted has been a game-changer for me. It’s been a busy and challenging school year, but digging deeper about why I continue to choose to be an educator has uplifted my attitude and helped me deal with the daily challenges of teaching.

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Here is what I wrote:

“Gratitude at its deepest level embraces all of life with thanksgiving: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy… I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, ‘Everything is grace. “–Henri Nouwen

I am grateful to have had two grown-up careers—five years in advertising sales and the past 23 years as a Business educator. It is teaching that has taught me about the importance of practicing gratitude.

I am grateful to see teaching as a vocation, not just a paycheck. When I made my career change, it was certainly not for the money. I have never looked at teaching as just a job; it is a spiritual calling. Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach writes, “I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.”

I am grateful that I have stayed in education even when it can be soooo hard. Several years ago, I tried to capture the essence of the evolving nature of teaching through SoulCollage®. When I started my first teaching job, I was incredibly naïve and idealistic about what it would be like, represented by the black and white, “country school” image —students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn, happy, compliant, respectful, and totally mesmerized by every word I said. The reality is that teaching is a much more “colorful” role than I had expected or could have imagined. Continue reading “Gratitude for Teaching: A Mirror to the Soul”

Mindfulness and a Blue Heron

What is good medication for this time of conflict and anxiety? This question was posed by Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB, Ph.D. at a retreat he led called “Sober and Merciful: St. Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness.”

Fr. Mauritius suggests we can learn how to approach the tensions in our lives and the conflicts in our family, community, and world by looking at the recommendations for selecting a leader of a monastic community in The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 64.  This chapter suggests that good leadership requires living the values of sound judgment, wisdom in teaching, pure motives, moderation, prudence, loving behavior, discernment, and as the retreat title suggests, soberness and mercy, among others.

Leadership starts with leading oneself. Cultivating the values of being sober and merciful can help us be our better selves in tough times. So often we want to escape or numb ourselves to any pain we may feel—to simply run away from our feelings, people, or situations. At other times we might become overwhelmed by distress or completely absorbed by worries. Neither of these approaches is effective to deal with conflict and anxiety but practicing soberness can provide a middle way—a more balanced, Benedictine way to help us accept our reality as it is, yet not becoming attached to it.

To be sober (Latin: sobrium) is to have an attitude of acceptance, to be temperate, and to take people, things, and activities just as they are. We can become “drunk with anxieties” of daily life, but as one who can compulsively think, ponder, wonder and what-if, this tendency can block one from seeing the truth of the way things truly are. It’s as if an alternate reality is created, one that takes us far away from the present moment.

Emotions can make us drunk; they can completely absorb us. Being sober and vigilant (1 Peter 5:8) is the absence of being drunk on emotion or being overcome with anxiety. By practicing mindfulness, we learn soberness tastes better—the purity and truth of circumstances are clear. One begins to sense when something is just too much—emotions, noise, activity, food, or drink—and is more able to set boundaries for what disturbs. Wanting more of this sobriety is craving what is real—the present moment, an ecstatic peace for only God can fill us with. To be sober is to be free. We must remain vigilant, alert, and open, for what God fills us with, for moments when Christ is revealed in our daily lives.

This retreat weekend is one of the last before I begin a new school year, so there is no shortage of uncertainty or anxiety. What I have learned about soberness is wisdom I will carry with me, a reminder to be gentle with myself while also being watchful and mindful of my tendency to be absorbed in emotion and the circumstances of a school day, whether it is a conflict with a student or colleague, disappointments of unmet expectations, or a frantic pace and frequent interruptions.

Continue reading “Mindfulness and a Blue Heron”

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”

Celebrate Creation: Earth Day 2022

Seeing the beauty in nature is the first step in taking action to protect it. Our planet needs all the love, prayer, and protection it can get. Celebrate creation this Earth Day by sending positive energy and intention into the universe through some creative and prayerful practices including contemplative photography, nature meditation, Visio Divina, Soul Collage® and Lectio Divina. There are many ways to pray!

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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
Practice contemplative photography

Contemplative photography is a prayerful practice of seeing with new eyes. With camera in hand, I have learned to slow down, be more aware of details, and enjoy the beauty of simple things. Driving down a new country road is an adventure that brings deep joy in capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again. It is less about arriving at a destination and more about enjoying the journey. It is when silence, solitude, creativity, and nature collide into a oneness that can only be received, not pursued.

On the Road collage

The great Catholic writer Ernesto Cardenal in Abide in Love observes: “Everything in nature has a trademark, God’s trademark: the stripes on a shell and the stripes on a zebra; the grain of the wood and the veins of the dry leaf; the markings on the dragonfly’s wings and the pattern of stars on a photographic plate; the panther’s coat and the epidermal cells of the lily petal; the structure of atoms and galaxies. All bear God’s fingerprints.”

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Go for a walk and look for God’s trademarks. Better still, use a camera to document evidence of God’s fingerprints in nature. Source: Earth Day: 12 Spiritual Practices to Honor the Earth

Praying with Art—Visio Divina and SoulCollage®

Visio Divina is like Lectio Divina, but instead of using the words from a page of Scripture to pray with, you use an icon, a sacred image, or a work of art (even your own!)

Create a card that represents the environment and/or how you feel about how humans interact with the environment. You may take the prompt in whatever direction you choose. Or use the card Earth Gratitude to write your own poem or “I am one who” statement.

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I am one who believes in the Divine birthing of our planet and the life-force that is poured out for us by our mere existence in this dynamic, evolving, growing, breathing earth home.

I am one who exists as part of this environment, receiving the mysterious flow of energy and outpouring of nourishment with open hands. I bow my head at the splendor of shades and shapes, the rebirth of nature through the sacred spirals of the seasons, the purpose and patterns that are sometimes evident and always sought after. The waters of life flow through us—cleansing, renewing, blessing us with existence. Nature gives to us without hesitation.

I am one who receives with awe.  

After you create a card, feel free to share in the comments section or email a photo to jodigehr@gmail.com with a few sentences that explain what your card means to you.

More on SoulCollage® and Earth Day:
Protectors of Creation on Being Benedictine. 
In God’s World, Every Day is Earth Day

Continue reading “Celebrate Creation: Earth Day 2022”

About Me

I am a high school business teacher and department chair just starting my 25th year as an educator.

My passion is practicing SoulCollage®, writing blog posts for my websites, Being Benedictine and SoulFully You, and leading retreats in creativity and spirituality.

I have been a Benedictine Oblate at Christ the King Priory since 2011. I am a lover of learning, reading, and writing and a compulsive curator of images, information and inspiration.

I have been married for 36 years and have one daughter, Jessica, 27 years old, who was just married this summer.

Jessica becoming

Blessings as you explore Being Benedictine!

Jodi Blazek Gehr

A time for everything under the heavens

August Lectio Divina and Oblate Discussion

SourcesLectio Divina, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, There is a time for everything under the heavens.

Come, let us worship God who holds the world and its wonders in his creating hand.

-Antiphon, Week 3 Saturday

Such an affirming antiphon for times when I think I am the glue that holds all things together. I am most definitely not. It is God who holds the world and its wonders in his creating head. And I just need to remember.

This morning, I remind myself of this as feelings of guilt creep in that I have not posted on behalf of my oblate family since April. Much has happened in this time for me: I finished a year of teaching during during a pandemic (how many people can say that?), I led a retreat, I went to a retreat, I helped my daughter plan her summer wedding, I helped my parents with health issues that surprised us ten days before the wedding AND most wonderfully, we celebrated the marriage of our daughter, Jessica, to John Holland. It has been a summer full of ALL of the emotions.

Much as happened, we can assume, in each of our lives. Knowing this, we can give ourselves and others compassion when we feel we are falling short, when we don’t meet the expectations we have placed on ourselves. Each of us has a story. There is a time for everything, and how wonderfully TIMELY is our lectio reading for today:

Continue reading “A time for everything under the heavens”

He Appeared In Another Form

April 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

SourcesLectio Divina, Mark 16: 9-15, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Book Discussion, Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II

It was the first time in over a year that many of our oblates met in person. All of those present were fully vaccinated, thank God!

We begin our Oblate Meeting with Lectio Divina practice reading Mark 16: 9-15:

9 When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.

10 She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping.

11 When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country.

13 They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either.

14 But later, as the Eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.

15 He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Words or phrases that resonated:

Continue reading “He Appeared In Another Form”

The Gift of Good Works

March 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Luke 18: 9-14; Good Work; Teaching and Learning—Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II

We begin our Oblate Meeting with Lectio Divina practice by reading Luke 18:9-14.

We began our discussion with the question: Can I find myself in both the Pharisee and the tax collector? There is no doubt that we have each of them within us, not just one or the other.

We can dig deeper by asking: How can I come into relationship with Jesus and others knowing I am a multi-faceted person, not all good or all bad. This parable is addressed to those who feel their righteousness (I’m a good guy), and may despise others for not being as good. We compare ourselves to others—our good works become a score card rather than a gift from our heart. We must avoid creating a tally of our good works or making comparisons with others about how good or bad I am (or how good or bad someone else is)—we  are ALL sinners and in need of God’s mercy; not one of us is more worthy than another.

Continue reading “The Gift of Good Works”

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.

Continue reading “Tender Compassion of Our God”

Our (Piano Teacher) Family Tree Includes Beethoven!

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!)

Continue reading “Our (Piano Teacher) Family Tree Includes Beethoven!”

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