Each school day during my 5th-period class, I stand with my students, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
This simple moment of national patriotism is a requirement in Nebraska, a rule passed by the Nebraska Board of Education in 2012 stating that all public schools must provide time each day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in order to receive accreditation or state funding. Already common practice in elementary schools and many districts, it was new for most high school students.
When the rule passed ten years ago, I remember teachers taking inventory of classrooms that needed flags—many were old and torn, more had been discarded over the years, and with tight budgets, new ones hadn’t been purchased. The first several weeks, hand over heart, we stood facing an 8½ x 11 colored photocopy of the flag until generous alumni donated enough American flags for every classroom.
This school year, likely in response to a Tik-Tok challenge to steal things from schools, my American flag went missing. As my students stood to recite the pledge one morning, we shared shocked expressions, realizing there was NO flag where there had been the day before. We continued reciting the pledge and then a creative student quickly drew an image of the flag to post where the flag should have been. The kind gesture soothed my anger at having the flag stolen (along with every electric pencil sharpener in the room.) It still hangs beside a replacement flag.
“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.
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.
Book Discussion—Stability: How an ancient monastic practice can restore our relationships, churches, and communities by Nathan Oates. (Introduction)
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.
“If one tree fruits, they all fruit–there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state. The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective….what we see is the power of unity.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Planting trees is a big deal in Nebraska…so important that the planting and preservation of trees are celebrated with an actual holiday. Arbor Day, which started in my home state of Nebraska, has been celebrated for 150 years and is now observed in all fifty states and in several countries.
Each generation takes the earth as trustees.
—J. Sterling Morton
The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, was a transplant to the Nebraska Territory from Detroit in the mid-1850s. He was a journalist and newspaper editor, who later served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. Morton understood the importance of trees to agriculture, for windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.
He believed in getting everyone, particularly students, involved in planting trees. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, encouraged by contests between counties and promotion in schools. “Students of different grades met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree that was planted was labeled with the grade, the time planted, and was to be specially cared for by that grade.” (The History of Arbor Day)
On the final Friday of April every year thereafter, Arbor Day has been celebrated, and this year for the 150th time! Throughout the year the Arbor Day Foundation works to “help others understand and use trees as a solution to many of the global issues we face today, including air quality, water quality, a changing climate, deforestation, poverty, and hunger” through conservation and education programs.
Celebrating Arbor Day is a reminder of our interconnectedness with all living things. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis encourages taking responsibility for the health of our planet by cooperating “as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (Laudato Si, 14)
St. Benedict encourages us to “listen with the ear of the heart,” to see all of life as sacred, and to experience the connectedness we have with all of creation. Consider spending time listening to the trees. Perhaps we can be reminded that what happens to one, happens to all.
“There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right–the trees are talking to one another. They communicate via pheromones, hormonelike compounds that are wafted on the breeze, laden with meaning…The trees in a forest are often interconnected by subterranan networks of mycorrhizae, fungal strands that inhabit tree roots…They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking…Through unity, surivial. All flourishing is mutual.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.
-Richard Powers, The Overstory
The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers, is a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet. The novel weaves together the stories of nine characters, their relationship to trees, and their awareness of and desire to stop the destruction of forests. The characters, each with a short story of their own, are the backdrop of a narrative that is less about them and more about trees.
“There would be neither an economic crisis in the world today, nor an ecological threat, were it not for the evil done by greed. Monastic poverty means being content with the simple things that sustain human existence in its inherent goodness. This poverty allows man to live in harmony with field and forest, without feeling the need to brutally strip the earth of her resources in order to realize an immediate gain.”
In honor of Arbor Day, I share “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibben. This prayerful song is a recognition that Nature blesses us with trees for our healing, enjoyment, leisure, and protection. Our very breath is dependent on the Benediction of the Trees.
Benediction of the Trees
From the Heart to the Heavens Rooted in the Earth Branching out above us Healing what was hurt
Reaching down to lift us Swing us in the breeze the air we breathe She gives us Benediction of the Trees
Home before our houses Cornered us inside Gentle arms around us Above the rising tide
Can you hear them calling? Like music in a dream The leaves are always falling A Benediction from the Trees
A shout becomes a whisper A Sermon into Song It’s useless to resist her She’s where we all belong
In our Sanctuary Forest Beneath the Pleiades Cicadas in the chorus Benediction to the Trees
As the moon reflects the sunlight From a million miles away I’ll try to get the words right So you can hear her say
In a melody familiar That brings us to our knees In Liturgy peculiar Benediction to the Trees
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with a few sentences that explain what your card means to you.
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.”
The Benedictine women’s Federation of St. Scholastica is celebrating its 100th anniversary this June by stepping into the future of monasticism. The Rule of St. Benedict is not only for monks and sisters, but available to all spiritual seekers; written in the 6th century, but is relevant to life in our current challenging times.
You can be a part of opening the door into that future by participating in “Benedictine Life: A Vision Unfolding,” a Colloquium open to all followers of Benedict: women and men who are professed, oblates, or spiritual seekers. The Colloquium will take place at Mount Saint Scholastica in Atchison, KS, June 21-24, 2022, and virtually.
The conference will focus on three themes: Wisdom, Witness, and Way Forward.
WISDOM GOAL: Make our Benedictine way of life visible and accessible in new ways to today’s seekers by celebrating our history and envisioning our future.
WITNESS GOAL: Share our lives as Benedictine women, past and present, what we stand for, and why we do what we do as we invite others to experience our charism and good zeal and to join us in “running while we have the light of life.” (Prologue, Rule of Benedict)
WAY FORWARD GOAL: Support Benedictine life today so that it can continue to be the same kind of stabilizing presence in our cities and towns and light for spiritual seekers that it has been for more than 1500 years.
We are breaking new monastic ground. Please join us.
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.)
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.
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.
The prayer before dinner in “Don’t Look Up,” the satirical apocalyptic film setting Netflix records and nominated for many awards, keeps going through my mind.
“Dearest Father and Almighty Creator, we ask for your grace tonight despite our pride. Your forgiveness despite our doubt. Most of all Lord, we ask for your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance.”
How will we spend the moments that could be our last?
How do we face tragedy with courage?
How can we find peace in our hearts when our world is falling apart?
How are the people of Ukraine, and others experiencing oppression around the world, facing their fears?
What can soothe in dark times? How can we help? Are prayers enough?
I was deeply touched by Oksana Potapova’s social media post that has gone viral.