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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Benedictine Spirituality

The Sower Sows

May 2022 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources

Lectio Divina—Parable of the Sower, Mark 4: 1-20

Book Discussion—Stability: How an ancient monastic practice can restore our relationships, churches, and communities by Nathan Oates. (Introduction)

Lectio Divina

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.

Continue reading “The Sower Sows”

Planting Trees is a Big Deal: 150 Years of Arbor Day!

“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.

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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)

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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.

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Arbor Day Lodge is open for tours–we were just there a few months ago! Many activities and, of course, lots of trees in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

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

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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.”

(Brother Philip Anderson, Prior Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey )
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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

© Jodi Blazek Gehr

Celebrate Creation: Earth Day 2022

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!

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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, 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.

On the Road collage

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 and SoulCollage®

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.

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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 jodigehr@gmail.com with a few sentences that explain what your card means to you.

More on SoulCollage® and Earth Day:
Protectors of Creation on Being Benedictine. 
In God’s World, Every Day is Earth Day

Continue reading “Celebrate Creation: Earth Day 2022”

Stay With Me

April 2022 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources

Lectio Divina, Matthew 26: 20-50, The Cross of Christ

Book Discussion, Stability: How an ancient monastic practice can restore our relationships, churches, and communities by Nathan Oates

Of Gods and Men, 2010 French film directed by Xavier Beauvois

Additional Resources: Paraclete Press Lenten Series on Stability with reflections from Nathan Oates, Kathleen Norris & Michael Patrick O’Brien, Jonathon Wilson Hartgrove, and Ronald Rohlheiser. Links below.

Lectio Divina

Matthew 26: 20-50, The Cross of Christ

Discussion

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.”

Continue reading “Stay With Me”

Benedictine Life: A Vision Unfolding

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.

Continue reading “Benedictine Life: A Vision Unfolding”

Eat Cake and Pray

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.

Continue reading “Eat Cake and Pray”

We Shall Be Known

With some solitude and space this weekend, I reflected on the “Now I Become Myself” retreat that I led in December. Our closing blessing, serendipitously discovered by Sara, settled into my soul as a prayer, my heart’s longing to become more myself.  

The blessing written by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, to follow, begged for images to be created into my own prayer card.

May you grow into your greatest, bravest, most loving self

May you stand tall and unafraid of the great, exquisite, bright light within you that is straining to get out.

May you trust that light, and may you hear the still small voice within that whispers to you about what you need and who you can be. 

May you follow the light and the voice wherever it may take you–even to places you hadn’t guessed, hadn’t imagined, that haven’t been part of the plan. 

May you remain always curious, open, and eager to grow.

May you walk through your life with wonder, radical amazement, and gratitude.

May you stay kind and gentle.

May you regard others with compassion, generosity, and the benefit of the doubt.

May you seek always to be of service to offer of yourself to those that need help–that need you. 

May you speak out bravely against injustice. 

May you make of your life a blessing.

May your thoughts, actions and very being be an offering to the transcendent, to the great stream of life, to…the Holy One.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

 

Prayer card titled, “Now I Become Myself.”


Continue reading “We Shall Be Known”

2022 Word of the Year

“This tradition (for desert mothers and fathers) of asking for a word was a way of seeking something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime.  The “word” was often a short phrase to nourish and challenge the receiver.  A word was meant to be wrestled with and slowly grown into.”

Christine Valters Painter

A new year is a reminder of our opportunity to begin again, the essence of “being Benedictine.” That simple tick of the clock from midnight to 12:01 a.m. marks in time our deep longing to begin again. Choosing a word of the year can be a prayerful intention to focus our awareness on an idea, a feeling, our hopes, or even an attribute we want to cultivate in our lives.

There are no rules for choosing a word. There is nothing magical about one word over another, but choosing a word that settles in your heart can reveal unexpected layers of meaning and new levels of understanding that can be both spiritually comforting and challenging.

I did not choose a word for 2022. My word for this year, CONSENT, chose me.

As I was re-reading lines I had highlighted from The Exquisite Risk by Mark Nepo, I was struck by this paragraph:

Both attracted to and challenged by the word CONSENT, I have spent several weeks considering what it might have to teach me. On first impression, consent sounds like a route of less suffering, acceptance of what is, peacefulness. Count me in for this kind of bliss!

But CONSENTING is not so easy. To consent sounds so passiveto give up or compromise, to settle. My nature is to resist what I do not prefer, to solve problems or change circumstances so that they are more ideal, to somehow fix even what I cannot control. I have a tendency to fight, to flee, to figure out, rather than to consent, to surrender, to let it be. 

Miss Fixit: A card that I made several years ago when I became aware of my tendency to want to to fix.
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Not To Be Served, But To Serve

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

Morning prayer

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.

Women Saints: St. Frances Cabrini Icon | Monastery Icons

Lectio Divina Reading: Mark 10:32-45

Some oblates meeting in person and some on Zoom.

Discussion

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
May be an image of tree, nature and sky

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.

Continue reading “Not To Be Served, But To Serve”

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