SoulCollage® Facilitator, Benedictine Oblate of Christ the King Priory,
Retreat Leader at St. Benedict Center, Blogger at Being Benedictine and SoulFully You,
Teacher, Mother, Wife, Friend, Lover of learning, reading, creativity and spirituality.
Ring Out, Wild Bells, a poem sung by Alana, is a heartfelt, prayerful intention to ring out the old and to ring in the new. The poem, In Memoriam, (Ring out, wild bells) was written during a time of grief, nearly 150 years ago by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). The lyrics ring true for both letting go and welcoming in—letting go of the false, feuding, dying, grief, pride, partisan divide, and civic slander WHILE welcoming in the new, true, noble, sweet, pure, love, truth, light, and peace.
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”
― LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
(Image above taken at St. Jacob’s Church bell tower in Telc, Czechia)
Listening to the sweet and soulful songs of Alana Levandoski is prayer itself. I discovered Alana through the Center for Action and Contemplation and have used her contemplative songs and chants in retreats I have led and in my own prayer practice. Whether setting music to her own words, or lyrics drawn from poetry or scripture, her singing is elevated prayer.
Alana writes: “Ring Out, Wild Bells is taking off again… moving from last year’s 75,000 + views to nearly 90,000 as of right now. I even heard from the CBC Weekend Morning Show who saw the video, and want to do an interview with me for their first show to air in 2022.” Interview with Alana HERE.
And at the bottom of this post, learn more about Alana, how to find her music, and some additional prayerful songs to start your new year.
“Friendship binds past and present and makes bearable the uncertainty of the future. Friendship is…always and everywhere eternal mystery, eternal desire. It is a grasp at the ultimate, the quest for human understanding.”
Joan Chittister, The Friendship of Women
Friendships, both old and new, are a treasure, a gift of hospitality, a welcoming of another into your life. Friendships create space for coming home to oneself, an opportunity to be fully seen as who we are and who we want to become. Friendships are an opportunity to accept the hospitality of another as well, to see ourselves through the eyes of our special friends. Friendships with women are all-at-once sistering, mothering, armchair counseling, and spiritual direction.
Friendship is sacramental, an “outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace,” as defined by St. Augustine. Friendship is an invisible grace, a soul connection, that lives on even when friends are not together, when time or distance separate, and even after a dear friend passes. It is a sacred gift to have an old friend, one who has seen you through decades of life. Beth and Judy, friends from “Circle” had that kind of friendship for fifty years.
A short “Circle” story (the longer version HERE) that inspired a new card and brought new insights about hospitality, humility, and friendship:
I met Beth through Katie and then Judy through Beth. Colleen shared her friend, Joyce, with me and she eventually introduced me to SoulCollage. I shared my love of SoulCollage® with Beth, Judy and our Circle through several retreats and social gatherings. Judy and Beth loved to create cardstogether—finding images, cutting them out, and when the time was right, pasting them into collages. They looked forward to weekly conversations and new insights. In 2016, their weekly ritual came to an end when Judy passed away. Recently Beth gifted me a bin of SoulCollage® supplies with folders of carefully trimmed images. SoulCollage® was an intimate memory she treasured with Judy, and not something she wanted to continue. Those images came with me on my last retreat.
Now I Become Myself
Sorting through Beth’s images, I came across a photo of Judy and Beth from some 50 years ago. I placed the photo on my table as inspiration, the younger Judy and Beth standing witness to our weekend creativity and to the conversations and insights of the ten women attending.
Several of the images I gathered came together in a special way to make a card titled “Another Kind of Hospitality.” I felt the essence of Beth and Judy that weekend and as I work with the meaning of my card. They were not at the retreat, but there were definitely present.
Reflection: Another Kind of Hospitality
Take off your shoes. Stay awhile.
Join me at the table, there is always an extra place. Break bread with me.
Or sit on the floor. Let’s play, watch, listen, create.
I see you, the One and the Many. I see you in all your many selves—your playfulness, your fear, your loneliness, your becoming. I see that you see me, too.
Welcoming you, I meet a part of myself that perhaps I didn’t see before.
Being with you teaches me about who I am, more of who I am becoming.
I take time to stand still, to be here, to look within. I see me and I see you.
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.
November 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections
Sources: Lectio Divina, Mark 10:35-45
Book Discussion, Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II, “Service”, page 53-54
Saint of the Day: Francis Xavier Cabrini is a beautiful example of service to others and service to God. She humbly comforted the sick and infirm in the hospital and lent a helping hand to immigrants. She is a role model for our topic of service. For more information about Mother Cabrini.
Lectio Divina Reading: Mark 10:32-45
You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus shares with John and James what will inevitably happen to him. They certainly do not understand what they are requesting, to share in the glory of Jesus, and they do not want to believe that Jesus’ life will include suffering. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” We must ask ourselves: Can we drink from the chalice that Jesus drinks? Or are we driven by ego, desiring the glory and honor for ourselves? Can we really DO life as Christ did? We may desire a journey with Jesus, the choice seat with God in glory and honor, but are we ready to face great suffering that accompanies it?
This applies to any part of our prayer life when we seek to follow Christ. We don’t know what we are in for! We must put ourselves wholly in the presence of Christ and be there for whatever happens–thy will be done. In the popular Christian song, Lord of the Dance, James and John are featured because they responded to the call of the Lord. With each passing verse, from morning to Sabbath to Good Friday, Jesus is the “Lord of the Dance.” We are called to that dance as well, as James and John were—we will have suffering. We are part of the dance, even when we find it difficult to consider the other first, to be more forgiving than self-centered, to accept that we aren’t just here for ourselves but to be of service to others.
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he
Lord of the Dance, Ronan Hardiman
We are not in a good place spiritually when we are telling God what should be done, that we know what is best, our own power and glory. Bishop Barron addresses James and John’s ego-driven request in a Sunday Sermon, “Do You Really Want What God Wants?” Power and honor in themselves are not bad, but the problem is using power, not for God’s purpose, but for our own ego. Honor for its own sake is not helpful to others. Jesus flips the story on James and John…it isn’t all about you! You are here to serve. That is the dance you are called to.
The Harvest Moon and Autumn Equinox this week, combined with a free Sunday afternoon, have ripened my desire for SoulCollage creativity and reflection. As often happens, intuitively the card comes together with images I am drawn to. Words follow upon reflection and using the “I am one who…” prompt. (See HERE for more info about How to SoulCollage.)
I am one who has an appetite for knowledge that is never quenched.
I am one who loves to learn. I want to know more. I want to understand.
I am one who grows weary from my own desire to learn more and more and more.
I never want to be as uninformed as I used to be—about politics, about the suffering of others, about racism or poverty.
I can learn just a little bit more. More knowledge (of good and evil?) seems just a book, podcast, documentary, news article, or Facebook post away.
I am one who creates my own stress, anxiety and overwhelm because I never know enough.
When will I know ENOUGH, I wonder?
I know that I cannot know it all. I need to settle into that knowing.
Knowing is not all or none, one or the other. Authentic knowing is not a spectrum of “knowing nothing” on one end and “knowing it all” on the other. I can let go of dualistic thinking and rest in the balance of enough.
I can take a break, stop seeking, and let what I do know move through me into a new kind of knowing.
There is no deadline for which I need to know more. I can give myself some breathing space, a letting go of the pursuit of more, a gentle moving from one season of knowing to another.
I can take a time out with a dose of self-compassion, knowing I will never know it all. I can love learning without letting it consume me.
Yes, that’s it—I give myself permission to not know it all, to not exhaust every source of information that promises more knowing. I can say ENOUGH.
I welcome a new season of unknowing, of revealing, of growing, of I don’t know, of enough.
Sources: Lectio Divina, Matthew 25: 14-30 The Parable of the Talents; Always We Begin Again-The Benedictine Way of Living, Stewardship, pages 49-51, John McQuiston II
Our Lectio Divina discussion focused on The Parable of the Talentsviewed through the lens of stewardship. In the reading, three people are given talents of varying amounts.
The two servants who had received five and two talents had increased their talents two-fold. They were praised, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ (Mt. 25:21)
The one who buried his talent was scolded, judged as wicked and lazy, and his one talent was taken away. “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
We assume wealth has to do with money. Often, we see talent and gifts as economic gains or monetary contributions. Advertisements encourage us to buy more, of course, but we seem not to know when what we have is enough. In the Rule of St. Benedict, everyone should get what they need, but this requires understanding the difference between needs and wants (RB:34). Sadly, our culture says the more we have, the better off we are. We desire what another has—in possessions, money, time, relationships, almost anything, afraid that someone is getting something more than us—but the talents in this story were not equally given—two, five, one.
After 36 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great stories to be told over and over. This last year of marriage we are the “something old” in the cliche and “something new” was celebrated by welcoming our new son-in-law, John, when our daughter, Jessica and he were married on July 17, 2021.
So on August 17, 2021 we celebrate 36 years; John and Jessica celebrate one month. Something old, something new.
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. I shared this sentiment in a blessing at their wedding, see From This Day Forward, To Have and To Hold.
Sources: Lectio 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:
“We have gathered today to celebrate the union of Jessica Gehr and John Holland. Marriage is a sacred blessing and this morning we celebrate the love shared between two special individuals.”
–Joyce Schmeeckle, wedding officiant and dear friend
We gathered—John and Jessica’s community, their friends and family—to support and bless their marriage. A wedding day conjures images of hearts and flowers, vows and wedding rings, first kisses and champagne toasts. Marriage is a sacred commitment where two people commit to journey through life together, so it is appropriate that the focus of the day is on the bride and groom. It is their BIG DAY!!
My daughter, Jessica, had her fairytale, storybook, dream-come-true wedding on July 17, 2021, and yes, indeed, she married her Prince Charming—we absolutely love our new son-in-law, John, and are so grateful that he adores our daughter. I remember when my husband and I got married, there was very little choice in what the day would look like. Tradition said this, the parents said that, the Catholic Church said this…but what I loved about John and Jessica’s wedding is that they created their own ceremony and carefully planned what their first day as husband and wife would look like.
The wedding guests, John and Jessica’s community, were an integral part of their wedding day—from who the officiant was, to parts of the ceremony, to the events planned to celebrate after the wedding. As a Benedictine oblate, it reminds me that for St. Benedict, everything that is written in his Rule takes place within the context of community; whether giving instruction about prayer, relationships, or work, the monk is reminded he or she is a part of a community. It is through community, not just as monks or oblates but within families and our community of friends, that we grow in understanding of self and God and learn to love one another more deeply.
“Benedict’s genius was in recognizing the power of journeying together. There is power and empowerment, healing and strength in living together and recognizing our mutual interdependence.”
Judith Valente writes, “My friend Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica once described a monastic community as ‘a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow’ (How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community).” The guests of John and Jessica’s wedding are linking arms with them, will support them, and as community does, will challenge them and help them grow.
When creating their wedding ceremony, John and Jessica carefully chose who would be part of the ceremony and the words that would be spoken. When they talked about who they wanted to marry them, they knew they wanted someone who shared their own spirituality and values and would deliver a message filled with insight and wisdom. They asked my own “anam cara,” soul friend, Joyce, who also hired Jessica for her first job in high school, quickly becoming a spiritual mentor to Jess as well. This is a newer phenomenon, to choose your own officiant, but my heart is full that they chose so wisely. (See script throughout this post.)
The ceremony also included a family blessing shared by each mother. I was deeply touched to be able to contribute some words about what I hoped John and Jessica’s marriage might hold for them. I shared the following blessing:
Blessing for John and Jessica Holland Wedding
When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night. Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” But the lengthier version has remained my prayer for Jessica as she has grown up.
This special prayer I say now includes BOTH Jessica and John as they join their life together in marriage.
God bless Jessica, and John’s minds, so that they make good decisions and choices.
God bless Jessica and John’s bodies so that they grow strong and healthy and safe.
God bless Jessica and John’s spirit so that they know the love of God and others. Amen.
It is said that the only thing that prepares you for marriage, is marriage. It will not always be easy, but more often it will be better than you could have imagined. Every day you will make choices about what kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you will continue to build with God and each other.
A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage is not 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.
In your becoming, take time for solitude—pursuing your individual passions knowing you are always supported by the other. Listen with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict writes, listening to each other’s words but also to what lies between the words, seeking to understand the silence too.
May you be patient with each other, keeping a sense of humor, apologizing, and forgetting quickly.
May you be a joyful giver and treat each hour as the rarest gift with gratitude for each other. May you build traditions and rituals that are uniquely yours as a couple.
May you have a marriage that embraces all seasons.
God Bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit.
God Bless John’s mind, body, and spirit.
God Bless the marriage of John and Jessica. Amen
A reading from Romans 12: 9-18, instruction for sharing love and hospitality both in marriage and in community, was followed by a message from Joyce. Friends and family were asked to participate in a community vow, agreeing to love and support John and Jessica in their marriage, offering them love and friendship.
This community vow mirrors the importance of The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago as a guide for those who desired a spiritual life of prayer and work, learning to love others as Christ. It was not a guide for individual pursuits, but for living in community. It is a given that the community is important, an integral part of growing in holiness and happiness. John and Jessica see clearly that they have the support of friends and family, that they are part of a community that they will also share their gifts and hospitality with. This was followed by a moment of silent prayer for their marriage.
“The words community and communicate share the same Latin root. They are related by root to another word, compassion, which means to “suffer with”, or more loosely, to “walk beside.”
Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.
John and Jessica have created a community that will walk beside them, people they have known all their life as well as those who they have met along the way. As a couple, they will continue to gather new friends as well. My husband gave a nod during his toast to all those in John and Jessica’s community who have helped them become who they are:
When you raise your kid, you hope to instill your hopes, dreams, and values in them and that when they go out into the world, they make all the right choices and remember the way they were raised. Lots of people have told Jodi and I what a great job we did in raising our daughter. That is partially true, but I think we learn and form who we are from those around us. Jessica and John have had many positive role models in their lives. They have taken a little bit of each one of those people to become who they are today. So, when people tell me, you did a great job in raising your daughter, it has as much to do with all the relationships she had with others. I want to thank everyone for helping me raise my daughter. Everyone here can take credit for the beautiful person she is today. Many can take credit for John being a kind, loving and caring person. They are who they are today because of all the people in their life.
“The Benedictine spirituality of community is based on life with other persons in the spirit of Christ: to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them.”
Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today
John and Jessica vow to journey through life together—to support and empower each other and to continue to learn and grow in their relationship. They are community to each other, first and foremost. I am so proud of and happy for them!
We are grateful that Jessica’s friend, Tarah, videotaped the wedding ceremony! You can watch the video HERE.