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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Art and Images

The Prodigal Son: Where Art and Beauty Run Rampant

“The artist Rembrandt was born on this day in 1606. When the soul is heavy and the work seems futile, a visit to an art museum––where art and beauty run rampant and meetings, proposals, finances, and debates have no place––revives the heart and makes it soft. Then going on seems possible; then life has vision again; then going on seems necessary.” ––from A Monastery Almanac, by Joan Chittister

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Lectio Divina:

Insights one can gain by practicing Lectio Divina with Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32—The Parable of the Lost Son or Visio Divina by spending time with Rembrandt’s famous painting are manifold. Continue reading “The Prodigal Son: Where Art and Beauty Run Rampant”

What a Wonderful World!

Taking stock of our blessings is a gratitude practice that can sustain us through many challenges. This morning I met with a group of ambassadors who help promote the good work of St. Benedict Center. Each of us shared a blessing and challenge from this time of pandemic.

Most of us have not struggled with sheltering in place and could easily identify many blessings, but of course, there are challenges—missing the physical presence of friends and family, not hugging, having fear and anxiety about the re-entry to a world with Covid-19 especially with health concerns, wanting to DO but needing to do in different ways, not being able to visit the elderly, delaying bereavement, uncertainty about the future, and letting go of plans. Continue reading “What a Wonderful World!”

Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation

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 50th 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, be less goal-oriented and more process-oriented, to enjoy the beauty of simple things, and take more time to appreciate the surprises of a new country road or the change of seasons. This sense of adventure brings a deep joy in capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again. It is when silence, solitude, creativity, and nature collide into an oneness that can only be received, not pursued.

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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

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, a work of art, or even a sunrise or sunset.The Flowers Are Burning… Oceans A Rising: An Art and Climate Justice Exhibition” was to have taken place at Holy Wisdom Monastery, a Benedictine monastery in Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate the 50th Earth Day. Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, the poignant collection of eco-inspired watercolors painted collaboratively by artists, Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann, will instead be offered digitally.

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“Using their artworks as a source of strength in the face of adversity, they call upon the power of beauty and love to guide us towards taking action to protect what we love and care deeply about…The artists believe deeply that humans must embrace the reality that we are all connected to nature…that what happens in the Ocean, on Earth or to any life forms above and below the water, is happening to us as well. Everything is related and we can no longer go forward believing in the superiority of human life over all other life, if we are to survive. The artists sense of urgency is born out of their love of the natural world and the desire to protect and preserve what is left before it is too late.” Source: Warning Signs—A Powerful Earth Day Exhibit Goes Digital. Continue reading “Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation”

Praying with the Stations of the Cross

Amidst 160 acres of farmland in Nebraska at St. Benedict Center, there is a contemplative prayer journey that focuses on the events of Jesus’ last day. The Stations of the Cross is a mini-pilgrimage to contemplate the Passion of Christ. At each pause or station on the journey, a prayer is offered to remember the sufferings and struggles of all.

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Traditionally there are 14 images and events that are commemorated, but at St. Benedict Center there is one additional station. Ascending a small hill, a fifteenth station appears marking the resurrection of Christ and the joy of Easter. The artist of each of the station markers is Lore Friedrich of Münsterschwarzach, Germany.

May you be blessed by praying with the arts and taking the Way of the Cross.

“The Stations of the Cross are not given to us only to remind us of the historical Passion of Christ, but to show us what is happening now, and happening to each one of us.  Christ did not become man only to lead his own short life on Earth – unimaginable mercy though that would have been – but to live each of our lives.  He did not choose his Passion only to suffer it in his own human nature – tremendous though that would have been – but in order to suffer it in the suffering of each one of his members through all ages, until the end of time.” –Caryll Houselander

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Station 1: Jesus is Condemned to Death
Pilate: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.” -Mt 27:24
Remember
…those condemned unjustly
…those sentenced by members of governments and society because of their faith.

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Station 2: Jesus Bears His Cross
Jesus: “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls.” Mt 11:28
Remember those carrying a heavy cross in life without murmuring, inspired by Christ.

Station 3: Jesus Falls the First Time
Psalmist: “I was pressed, pressed, about to fall, but Yahweh came to my help.” -Ps 118:13
Remember those breaking down under the weight of their failures, and fall.

4 EasterStation 4: Jesus Meets His Mother
Jesus: “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother.” -Mt 12:50
Remember
…your own mother
…all called to be mother to others
…all expectant mothers

“One of the oldest devotions in Christianity, the Stations of the Cross, attests to the ongoing human effort to understand the place of suffering in the human’s search for resurrection from death to life that is part and parcel of what it means to be alive and grow and become our best selves as we go.”—The Way of the Cross, Joan Chittister

Station 5: Jesus Is Helped by Simon
Matthew: “A man from Cyrene, Simon by name, was forced to carry his cross.” -Mt 27:32
Remember
…those who assist others in life without being recognized
…those who give of themselves that other’s burdens are lightened.

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Station 6: Jesus and Veronica
Jesus: “What you did for the least of my brothers, you did it for me.” -Mt 25:40
Remember
…those reaching out to the marginalized of society.
…those helping AIDS victims, prisoners, minorities.

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Station 7: Jesus Falls a Second Time
Jesus: “If anyone wants to be my follower…let him take up his cross and follow me.” -Mt 16:24
Remember those who lack the courage and strength to overcome addictions, personal shortcomings, sinfulness, and find themselves back in their old habits and behavior.

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Station 8: Jesus Speaks to the Women
Jesus: “Daughter of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” -Lk 23:28
Remember
…families who are struggling with any kind of difficulties and problems
…women oppressed by society, Church, work force, spouses…

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Station 9: Jesus Falls the Third Time
Paul: “The Lord says: My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness.” -2 Cor 12:9
Remember those who have given up and see no purpose and meaning in life.

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Station 10: He is Stripped of His Garments
Psalmist: “They shared out my clothing among them, they cast lots for my clothes.” -Ps 22: 18
Remember those sisters and brothers stripped of their dignity.

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Station 11: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Jesus: “Father, forgive them: they do not know what they are doing.” -Lk 23:34
Remember those who find themselves trapped in difficult situations and see no way out.

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12 easterStation 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Jesus: “It is accomplished” and bowing his head he gave up his spirit. -Jn 19:30
Remember
…the lonely
…the dying
…those who have no one to be within their final hours of life’s journey.

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Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Jesus: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” -Mt 10:22
Remember
…those who mourn the loss of loved ones
…those longing for consolation

 

Station 14: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
Jesus: “I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” Jn 12:24
Remember
…those facing death without hope of eternal life
…those who will die unexpectedly

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Station 15: Jesus is Raised from the Dead
Angel: “He is not here: he is risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee.” Lk 24:6
Remember those who believe in the Resurrection and give witness to it daily.

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Holy Water: Image of Gratitude

Practicing SoulCollage® is part of my spiritual practice that provides “boundaries and direction”, especially in this time of uncertainty.  I share an “I am one who” reflection for a card I created this week.  It came together slowly, over the course of several days, taking up space on my kitchen table until it felt complete.  The card has become a prayer of gratitude and a reminder to keep reaching for life-giving “holy water” in all its forms.

Card Name: “Holy Water”

I am one who stands in a circle of women who hold each other up, who embrace life and each other, who are connected, who grow together. I am one and many.

I am one who recognizes Source in the still, holy water. Stones, upright, are less about unsettling the water, and more about propelling motion, continually adapting, always transforming or conforming to what comes in its way. I can trust the peaceful, holy water.

I am one who stands in the stream of life-giving, purifying water.

I am one who, with open arms, is anointed with holy water. With joy, faith and a sense of solidarity, I am blessed with nourishment in abundance—above, below, around, overflowing.  

I am one who thirsts, not in an aching, despairing, dying, sort of way (at least not in this card, at this moment) but as a reminder that purification happens only when intentionally sought after and accepted. Water is the essential element to growth; I long for this fullness.

I am one who is grateful for thirst, to trust that the thirst will be quenched, and to drink from the chalice of holy water. Continue reading “Holy Water: Image of Gratitude”

No Words: Praying with Art

“There are times when music and other forms of art become vital because words alone won’t suffice. This is one of them.”
–Parker J. Palmer

I love words—to write them and to read them (shared in In Praise of Words and Less Words)—but during the past few weeks, I have found my thoughts turn to words that spiral into feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry. It is one of those times when I need to listen deeply with the “ear of the heart,” according to St. Benedict, for good words, or no words, to replace that which is not edifying.

God is the Great Artist.

Art is incarnational, and the arts have long been celebrated by Christian tradition as a way of encountering Christ. 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, a work of art, or even a sunrise, a sunset, the flash of an oriole, the flight of a red-tailed hawk. (St. Benedict Center, Praying with the Arts)

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I invite you to practice Visio Divina with one of my favorite pieces of art at St. Benedict Center, a wood carving of the Makonde clan of Tanzania, east Africa. I have taken dozens of photos and contemplated its meaning from many angles and directions over the years. Only recently did I ask Fr. Thomas, administrator at the Center, if he knew the story behind it. He shared that it is titled “Democracy.”  He described that in the traditional Makonde clan when something important had to be discussed, the elder calls the extended family together. After the matter is discussed and everyone has had the opportunity to speak, the elder makes known the decision. The artist is saying, somewhat humorously, in a democracy everybody can speak but are those speakers really listening to one another?

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Practice Visio Divina

Relax and come to a quiet before the photos of “Democracy.”

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Read the work of art. Listen with the “ear of your heart.” Explore it. Does it remind you of a passage from Scripture or The Rule of St. Benedict?

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What is the story being told? Notice colors, shapes, textures, shades, symbols, posture, expressions. How do they work together to tell the story?

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Continue reading “No Words: Praying with Art”

Earth Gratitude

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Card name: Earth Gratitude

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.

“I am one who”…is a SoulCollage® prompt used to speak from, not about, your card/collage.

Consider creating a collage for Earth Day that represents your feelings toward our environment or your feelings about how humans interact with the environment. Be creative!! Show your love, anger, doubt, concerns, joys, gratitude—let your spirit moves you. Make it your Earth Day prayer.

For more info see other Earth Day blog posts. 

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Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge

Seeing the beauty of nature is the first step to taking action to protect it. Unless we can appreciate the oneness we have with creation, we will do very little to protect it.

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“Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” –Pope Francis

A few years ago, I challenged readers to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled,  “Soul Collage® and the Environment”. Inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-wining novel,  The Overstory, I am resurrecting the challenge. Continue reading “Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge”

From Fingerpaints to SoulCollage®: My Creative Kid (Now Adult)

I was absolutely tickled when my daughter, Jessica, asked me to help her with an Environmental Politics project when she was in college. Not only did it focus on SoulCollage®, one of my passions, but she had requested special permission to use a different research idea than those suggested by her professor. I find that kind of creative thinking pretty awesome. But, then, I think she’s a pretty awesome kid (now, adult.)

 

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Jessica creating in elementary school

From finger painting and Play-doh as a toddler to crayons, markers, and watercolor in elementary school and later to SoulCollage®, Jessica has always been willing to try new things. We always had an “art drawer” at our house when Jessica was growing up and an evening at the kitchen table creating was a favorite way for us to spend time together. It has become a form of self-expression, self-understanding, even a way for Jessica to visualize her future.

Rather than putting words in her mouth, though, I wanted to hear from her what she valued about SoulCollage®. Perhaps her words will inspire another child, teen or young woman to express themselves creatively.

Continue reading “From Fingerpaints to SoulCollage®: My Creative Kid (Now Adult)”

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