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Benedictine Spirituality

The Flowing Grace of Now

“Winter, spring, summer, and fall are mulch for each other. The seasons of our lives are like that also. We learn from the layers of life. Our joys, sorrows, regrets, hopes, miseries, and enthusiasms are mulch for each other.” The Flowing Grace of Now, Macrina Wiederkehr

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Book Review by Jodi Blazek Gehr—
“The Flowing Grace of Now,” Macrina Wiederkehr 

Our storehouse of personal experiences can be our greatest teacher as we move through the seasons of life. The lessons we have learned through good and hard living can give us insight to navigate our worries and fears, to help us find answers to hard questions, or to let go of the questions altogether, and to, ultimately, help us make peace with our past, present, and future.

seasons Continue reading “The Flowing Grace of Now”

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The Days of Awe

The Days of Awe is a ten-day period that begins with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), beginning Sunday, September 29-Tuesday, October 1, and concluding with the observance of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). I learned about this Jewish tradition that dates back to the third century BCE from my sister-in-law, Rachel Pred Gehr.

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Rachel and me, grateful we both married into the Gehr family.

Rachel wrote about celebrating Rosh Hashanah several years ago on her blog, and it continues to make an impression on my own spirituality (I thought she wrote it just last year—lol, time flies.) I was touched by the ritual of “tashlich” that she described—“the congregation gathers at the creek for a ritual of tossing our sins into the moving stream, signaling a fresh start to the new year.”

She quotes,The custom of going to a body of water on Rosh Hashanah is a symbolic allusion, for the waters which now seem to be at this place were not here before and will not remain afterward. So, if the sinner says to himself or herself: “I will not repeat my sin; my behavior will change”, the sin, like the waters, will move on.” (A Feminist Tashlich, Rachel KastenOur sins are washed away….sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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Torah at Temple Israel

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Most of what I know about the Jewish faith I learned in patchwork fashion—from a few friends, “The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith and Google. In elementary school, I had a friend who invited me to her Bat Mitzvah, a ceremony she explained as similar to Confirmation in the Christian church. But it seemed a lot different to this 12-year-old Catholic girl—it spanned two days, a lot of prayers that I didn’t understand, the carrying of a large package through the sanctuary and ending at a party with the fanciest finger food I’d ever eaten.

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I am grateful for that early introduction, though, even if I didn’t understand much. It provided me with a foundation of acceptance and a desire to learn more about all faiths…and a realization that wisdom and truth are found in all faith traditions.

Recently my Spirit Circle and I had the opportunity to visit the Tri-Faith Initiative, a sacred space that brings together a synagogue, church, mosque, and interfaith center on one 38-acre campus in Omaha. The Tri-Faith Initiative started over 20 years ago with a vision to encourage relationships in the three Abrahamic faith groups—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths. But it is just in the last year that Temple Israel, Countryside Community Church (UCC), and The American Muslim Institute, opened their new buildings, all connected by bridges and within view of each other.

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A view of the temple from the mosque.
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Temple Israel as seen from the mosque.

It was a profound experience to see all of the prayer centers, but I was most impacted by the temple. Since childhood, I have had a chance to experience and learn more about Judaism. The Bat and Bar Mitzvahs of my niece and nephew, Alice and Mike, were special religious experiences that go beyond the boundaries of the faith I grew up in. Perhaps my fascination with Jewish tradition is because it feels new(ish) to me, but I find it peculiar that Christianity, a religion rooted in Judaism, doesn’t continue to celebrate many Jewish rituals and holidays including The Days of Awe. For 2400 years, Jewish people, likely Jesus too,  have reflected on their past year and repented for their sins with a spirit of beginning again.

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Rachel continues in her post, “And with the new year comes reflection on the past year, and commitments to improve ourselves and the community and the ripple effect continues…whether you celebrate Rosh Hashanah or not – a year can start any time.”

The essence of making resolutions at the new year, whether one follows the Gregorian or Jewish calendar, is that we desperately seek the chance to “do-over.” Celebrating the beginning of a new year is a reminder of our opportunity to “always begin again”—the embodiment of Being Benedictine. It’s not as simple as a “do-over” but Rosh Hashanah or New Year’s Day gives us a definitive time and space to honor our deepest longing to begin again. As St. Benedict proclaimed, “Always we begin again.”

These next days, no matter your faith tradition, can be a time for reflecting on the past, making amends and setting intentions for a hopeful future.

These next days, I shall get me to a river, practice some forgiveness of self and others….and begin again.

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Countryside Community Church
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The American Muslim Institute as seen from Temple Israel 

A lovely prayer to use for washing those “sins” away:

Here I am again
ready to let go of my mistakes.
Help me to release myself
from all the ways I’ve missed the mark.
Help me to stop carrying
the karmic baggage of my poor choices.
As I cast this bread upon the waters
lift my troubles off my shoulders.
Help me to know that last year is over,
washed away like crumbs in the current.
Open my heart to blessing and gratitude.
Renew my soul as the dew renews the grasses.
– Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

See Rachel’s full post here. And another one about “tashlich” here.

A few of my posts on beginning again—
Begin Again: New and Improved!
Always, we begin again.

All photos taken at Tri-Faith Initiative. always we begin

Salzburg, just aaah: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 9

Salzburg, just aaah. I just loved everything about Salzburg–that the Trapp family performed there, that they hid out in the cemetery I walked through, that “The Sound of Music” was filmed in various locations in the Old Town. I loved the architecture, art, music, food, polkas, prayers, catacombs, street artists, and gelato. I loved it all, but I must go back. I must see where Maria and the Baron were married. Until then, the movie.

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Saturday, June 22A beautiful drive through Austrian countryside and an inspirational morning prayer set the tone for our day in Salzburg. Each day on the bus, we prayed the traditional Benedictine invitatory, “Lord, open my lips. –And my mouth will proclaim your praise,” followed by Psalms. Fr. Volker led our traditional prayers, but today also shared Native American Aztec and Sioux prayers that resonated with many of us.

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Oh, only for so short a while have you loaned us to each other…Let me not take those I love for granted…as if tomorrow you would call them home to you…When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light…

The prayer was a powerful reminder to live each day, THIS day to the fullest; to appreciate our friends and travel companions and to be profoundly grateful, to “stand beneath the endless waterfall of (God’s) abundant gifts to me.” It was also a reminder to be gentle with each other, as “the other is also wounded.” The morning prayer made a difference in our day!

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Passing through the tunnels of the walled city to the Old Town (Alstadt), we arrived in medieval Salzburg for our morning Mass at St. Peter’s Benedictine Monastery. As with many of the centuries-old churches we visited, reconstruction and renovation could throw a wrench into some of our plans, and the same for Salzburg. There was confusion and a wait to determine the chapel that we would celebrate Mass in.

Although inconvenient, it was encouraging to consider that pilgrims can enjoy the rich beauty and history of the churches for centuries to come—and we took advantage of our time to practice impromptu Tai Chi Chih, a form of meditative movement. It was peaceful to do and to watch later (as some sharp cookie recorded.)

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Continue reading “Salzburg, just aaah: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 9”

Always Room for Dessert: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 8

It’s been a month since my last pilgrimage post...no, I did not forget about the second half of our pilgrimage! We have NINE days left to journey!

But life happened here in Nebraska—school started with a week of teacher planning days, our daughter, Jessica, came home for two weeks, her boyfriend came to visit for several days, I had the first few weeks of school with students, we celebrated the wedding of dear friends, helped Jessica move to Madison, Wisconsin, had more weeks of school….and, you get the point. I need another pilgrimage. 🙂 

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Friday, June 21 —Our stay at St. Ottilien ended with Mass in the chapel with Fr. Volker Futter and Fr. Anastasius Gunter Reiser, who spent several months at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler last year.  St. Otillien Congregation of Missionary Benedictines is the motherhouse of Münsterschwarzach Abbey and the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing.

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In 1884 Andreas Amrhein, formerly a Benedictine from Beuron Archabbey (that I visited with my cousin Jefferey), had a vision of combining the Benedictine way of life—following the Rule of St. Benedict, practicing hospitality and promising stability, obedience and conversion of life—while also serving as missionaries. In 1887 the community settled in Emming at an existing chapel called St. Ottilia, and the congregation took the same name. Continue reading “Always Room for Dessert: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 8”

The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

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Thursday, June 20One of the highlights of the pilgrimage was a visit to Ettal Abbey, founded in 1330 by Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian, for the procession celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, a ritual dating back to 13th century Italy. The procession of parishioners, visitors, musicians, and clergy started after Mass by leaving the chapel and threading its way through abbey grounds, flower gardens and nearby pastures of sheep and cows. There was something so sacred about the singing, chanting, the aroma of incense, the sound of the sheep bells clanging as they walked or bent to eat. Not understanding hardly any words, there was still a deeper understanding that there was something holy happening here. The meditative walking and liturgical pauses along the way, a pilgrimage of sorts, were hints that this ritual pointed to something much more.

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The Corpus Christi procession is a Catholic ritual, one of the hundreds that are celebrated during the liturgical calendar, but rituals can also be created by oneself or in small communities and groups to help commemorate or honor a special experience. Thomas Merton wrote that a ritual is “imbued with the beloved’s presence.”  James Finley, in Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere: The Essential Guide to the Contemplative Teachings of Thomas Merton, notes that “we need a holy place or thing to awaken us to the holiness of everything.” Rituals convey a sense of the spiritual and holy, if not during the ritual, oftentimes later when one is reflecting and remembering. Rituals connect us to something more than ourselves, not just with our intellect, but through our senses, our heart, and soul. Rituals are packed with divine meaning. (Read Fr. Mauritius Wilde’s ritual of embracing the cross as an example.) Continue reading “The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7”

Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6

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Hospitality can look different from one situation to another. It can be opening one’s home to another or serving a meal, but it can also be cracking a joke to break the ice or ease some tension. Humor is the hand of hospitality. Today I get my chance to practice.

Wednesday, June 19—This day begins with a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is a well-known medieval old town, having survived the Thirty Years War and World War II (limited damage that was repaired). Rothenburg, a walled village with many towers, is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

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In Rothenburg, there were many sites to see—churches, garden walks, spectacular views, quaint shops, many Christmas stores, a part Gothic/part Renaissance Town Hall, and beautiful fountains.

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Continue reading “Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6”

Flood the World with Love: An Antidote to Darkness

Flood the world with love. These words came to me this morning after I woke up anxious and fearful. I had a disturbing dream, but it was more about what is happening in this country— a foreboding sense of hopelessness for the future, so much political tension, blatant racism and xenophobia, and strained relationships with, even aggressiveness from, those who don’t see what is so very wrong with the words and actions coming from the White House.

Flood the world with love. I remembered that several months ago I had written a blog post titled, Flood The World With Love, but I didn’t remember exactly what I had written, or why. As I read it again, I realized that my own words had come at just the moment I needed them.

Flood the world with love. Inspired by the lyrics of a Carrie Newcomer song, what I wrote gave me enough light to start my day with the hope that if I just flood the world with love, I am doing something.

Flood the world with love. I had written about practicing lectio divina with both song (“I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer, and spiritual teacher) and scripture.

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
Those are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
The best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “Love”

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of God will gather in
Every sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

(Carrie Newcomer, The Gathering of Spirits, 2001)

My heart is heavy with the darkness of the world, of “the evil people do” in the name of our own opinion, religion, political party, racial or economic privilege. Our collective anxiety, fear, anger, and hostility have led to so much division and violence—in our spirits and in relationships. We must

Flood the world with love.

The words are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must

Flood the world with love.

With so much darkness, “the best of what we all can be” is to

Flood the world with love.

 I want to “fiercely love,” to build others up, to “treat each other tenderly,” to ease another’s suffering, to remind others of their divine spark, to err on the side of compassion, to

Flood the world with love.

I want to be a light in this world. We are creators, too—with our thoughts, actions, and energy. We can either live in love or live in fear. Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

Flood the world with love.

St. Benedict instructs, “Let peace be your quest and aim.” (RB, Prologue 18) We cannot accept hate as the new normal. It can feel overwhelming at times—“I am only one person,” but we must, at least, try. We must “light every candle” that we can. We must

Flood the world with love.

The only word is “Courage”/ And the only answer “Love.” I pray for the courage to bring more light and less darkness in the world. And as I wait for the ultimate display of love that “The arms of God will gather in / Every sparrow that falls / And makes no separation / Just fiercely loves us all”, I choose, in all my imperfection, to 

Flood the world with love.

Read the original post in its entirety HERE.
And if you haven’t listened to I Heard an Owl, you must.

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Missionary Benedictines of Tutzing, chapel artwork, “The Living Water” 

A Busload of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 4

“Pilgrimage calls us to yield our own agendas and follow where we are being led.” —Christine Valters Painter, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

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Many times in the months leading up to the pilgrimage, I perused the informational brochure outlining where we would visit each day and where we would stay, anticipating the trip ahead. The pace and routine of the previous pilgrimage gave me a good idea of what to expect—but what is actually experienced lies in the gaps of the agenda, in the conversations and relationships with others, and in the details of the day that cannot be planned or controlled. This is where the grace of God enters—sometimes it is in the form of discomfort and challenges and other times in opportunities that new insights and “aha moments” of new understanding bring.

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I am at a threshold, a doorway, entering into a time and space of letting go as I pray in my mantra—“Trust God, peace like a river flows.” I know that surrender can eventually bring peace, wonder, surprise, openness, vulnerability, and/or joy, but I also know that not surrendering can bring tension, worry, expectation, guilt, anger, resentment, and/or disappointment. I want to surrender to whatever the moment brings. And if and when those less desirable, more challenging moments come, I want to surrender self-judgment too. Ultimately, surrender is transformational—not in the moment, but over time. The experiences and the accompanying feelings will percolate over days, weeks, months, and begin to define a new part of my self.

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“What’s your biggest takeaway?” many of my friends have asked.

My first thought is OMG, it was SO HOT!! How do people live without air conditioning?

The European heatwave made a big impression and impact, but it was only the last several days of our trip. There were many other takeaways that I will share as I travel through the itinerary in my reflections. Join me on the journey through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the outer pilgrimage, and the inner pilgrimage as I share my biggest takeaways—

Hospitality—History—Humor—Humility—Heat —Home
(the H thing was a total coincidence, but I took it as a good sign to keep writing.) Continue reading “A Busload of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 4”

Welcoming the Stranger: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 3

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ”—Rule of St. Benedict 53:1

Officially the Benedictine pilgrimage part of my trip does not start until I connect with thirty-six other pilgrims, but as I reflect on the readings/homily from Sunday, July 21, 2019 (the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C), it occurs to me that the week I spent with my cousins was just as much part of the pilgrimage. It was the embodiment of being Benedictine and of the hospitality demonstrated in these readings.

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For having only met once, Jefferey and Sabine were practically welcoming a stranger in their home and yet, they received me with enthusiasm, providing food, water, bath, and bed for several days. So, too, did Jennifer and Santhosh. They planned events and excursions; they took care of transportation and many other practical details. Jennifer rearranged a room, asked if I needed shampoo, soap, lotion, a light, a different blanket, more food, a glass of water…so much hospitality that Santhosh had to drag her out of the room, laughing, “Let her sleep, she is tired.” But, mostly we were in each other’s company—listening, talking, asking questions. We were present to each other.

In Genesis 18:1-10a, Abraham welcomes three strangers, running enthusiastically to greet them; he offers the choicest food, water, rest, and a foot bath (okay, no one gave me a foot bath, but I did have wonderful hot showers!) He provides the strangers, often illustrated as the three angels of the Holy Trinity icon, the practical concerns of being hospitable, but he also “wait(ed) on them under the tree while they ate.” He meets their needs, but also gives them his attention; he is present to them.

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In Luke 10:38-42, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home, working hard on the practical elements of serving a guest, perhaps preparing the food, cleaning a room for the visitor, and setting the table. Mary, on the other hand, simply sits with Jesus and listens. She gives him her attention; she is present to him. Surely, the practical things are important (otherwise no one would ever eat), but Jesus tells them that “Mary has chosen what is better.” Both the practical actions and being present, or contemplative, are important elements of hospitality and being Benedictine. Continue reading “Welcoming the Stranger: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 3”

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