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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Lighting a candle is a sacred ritual in many religions. It is a prayerful intention to remember a loved one or to pray for those who have died. We can pray using words or in silence, but the act of lighting a candle can be itself prayer. It is expression, longing, remembering, hoping. A candle is a symbol of Christ-light entering into our darkness.
I am drawn to the display of candles in churches, chapels, basilicas and other places of prayer. When alone in prayer or in meditation with friends, a candle is lit. When away from my family on trips, I light a candle for them. When 500,000 people in my country die in less than a year, I am moved to pray with candles.
Join me in prayer, a visio divina, for the 500,000 who have lost their lives to Covid in the United States, for those who have died throughout the world and for all their loved ones. May their lives and memories be a blessing.