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A Listening Heart

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Benedictine Spirituality

Return to Pilgrimage: Switzerland! Part 11

It’s been almost five months since I shared my last pilgrimage post about taking a day of rest in St. Johann, Austria (written also on a day of rest.) So, after a long rest from writing, it is with humility and humor that I attempt to finish the reflections I started many months ago.

To refresh my rested memory, I re-read the ten Benedictine Pilgrimage Reflections previously shared. I remembered anew some of the special experiences and insights that motivated me to share last summer. For that reason, it is important for me to finish what I start—to continue to reflect on what the pilgrimage meant for me and other pilgrims and to document the memories made. Continue reading “Return to Pilgrimage: Switzerland! Part 11”

A Conversion Story: Filled with Compassion

February 2019 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Conversion

Our morning prayer antiphon is inspiration to listen deeply to the word of God in Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32—The Parable of the Lost Son (see end of this post for full text.)

Let us listen to the voice of God; let us enter into his rest

Although we may feel we know this story well, it is a different experience altogether, revealing layers of meaning, to read and reflect on the parable of the prodigal son in the spirit of Lectio Divina. In our oblate meetings, we read the Scripture out loud, followed by a time of silence to contemplate, consider and reflect on what we have heard. We are invited to share a word or phrase that speaks to us after a time of silence.

It always amazes me the different words or phrases that resonate with our oblates. For example: embraced him and kissed him, you are here with me always, coming to his senses, he was lost and has been found, he got up and went back, give me my share, you never gave me even a young goat to feed on with my friends, he heard the sound of music and dancing, has come to life again, longed to eat his fill, this brother of yours…. Continue reading “A Conversion Story: Filled with Compassion”

Life Lectio—Just Float, Move Slowly

Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.  -Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 

Listen—the first word in the Rule of St. Benedict. Listening is the essence of Benedictine spirituality and the inimitable path to unity with God.

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Lectio Divina, translated as divine reading, is a Benedictine practice of seeking deeper meaning in words and stories. It is listening to what lies beneath the words.

The practice of Visio Divina another kind of listening using art or images can help one intuit spiritual guidance from the still, small voice of inner wisdom. One can use sacred Scriptures, spiritual reading, song lyrics, icons, art, and collage to listen “with the ear of your heart.”

I am still learning. -Michaelangelo

Life, itself, is a listening practice. In our daily living, we can practice divine seeing. I find myself circling back to life lessons, sort of a “life lectio.” Over time there are new revelations and epiphanies —I am still learning. The miracle is that when one looks, there is seeing. When one asks, there are answers. Here is one such experience.

“If you know and have been affected by your dreams you will feel in yourself a thread of meaning and purpose that is part of something much bigger than yourself. This is the faith that lives in me.”–John A. Sanford, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language

Several years ago, in a dream, the words “Just float” and an image came to me. I had been experiencing many worries and concerns and it was a comforting message. My dreaming self was telling me to release my anxiety, or at least to just let it lie for a while. But it’s not easy to “just float” when one is resistant, when one wants to manage, to fix, to control. Continue reading “Life Lectio—Just Float, Move Slowly”

We Shall Overcome Someday

I had a soulful, musical experience this weekend that has left me (nearly) speechless. I went to a free afternoon concert of The American Spiritual Ensemble (ASE) at a local church—a concert to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with African American spirituals. I had no idea what a big deal the ASE is—they are “a critically-acclaimed professional group composed of some of the finest singers in the classical music world.” Their members have performed at the Metropolitan Opera, the Kennedy Center, Radio City Music Hall, the Aspen Music Festival and more. They are a big deal…and they are good. Incredibly good. 

ASE pics

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 I expected to hear some beautiful music, to be moved, yes—but it was so much more. It was a history lesson, a spiritual experience, and a reminder that we are all connected, that we must meet each other with compassion and in our suffering. We must lift each other up and Walk Together, Children—the first song. Continue reading “We Shall Overcome Someday”

Gratitude for Teaching: A Mirror to the Soul

My friend Evi Wusk asked me to write a guest post for her blog, Gratitude Gal, about what I am grateful for as a teacher. The reflection that resulted has been a game-changer for me. It’s been a busy and challenging school year, but digging deeper about why I continue to choose to be an educator has uplifted my attitude and helped me deal with the daily challenges of teaching.

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Here is what I wrote:

“Gratitude at its deepest level embraces all of life with thanksgiving: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy… I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, ‘Everything is grace. “–Henri Nouwen

I am grateful to have had two grown-up careers—five years in advertising sales and the past 23 years as a Business educator. It is teaching that has taught me about the importance of practicing gratitude.

I am grateful to see teaching as a vocation, not just a paycheck. When I made my career change, it was certainly not for the money. I have never looked at teaching as just a job; it is a spiritual calling. Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach writes, “I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.”

I am grateful that I have stayed in education even when it can be soooo hard. Several years ago, I tried to capture the essence of the evolving nature of teaching through SoulCollage®. When I started my first teaching job, I was incredibly naïve and idealistic about what it would be like, represented by the black and white, “country school” image —students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn, happy, compliant, respectful, and totally mesmerized by every word I said. The reality is that teaching is a much more “colorful” role than I had expected or could have imagined.

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I am grateful that teaching has shown me how diverse my community is and has given me the opportunity to grow in understanding and compassion. My students are more economically and racially diverse than earlier in my career. Students have more challenges than they did when I first started teaching—m­ore personal and family traumas, mental illness, learning disabilities, poverty and more. Teaching has become much more than delivering curriculum, it is about connecting to the personal experiences of each student. Committed to learning about the impact of poverty, racism, and traumatic experiences in my students lives has been both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Recognizing blind spots and facing my own privilege has challenged me to the growing edge. I want my students to succeed, to become their best self, to reach their fullest potential. I grieve when I see that a student who comes from an environment that does not encourage or support that.

I am grateful for the creativity and spontaneity that I can bring to my lessons.  Perhaps the most exciting part of teaching is surrendering to the sweet surprises that can occur during a school day. My lesson plans give the day structure and order, but being flexible and willing to let go of plans to respond to unique situations, questions or spontaneous discussions, is sometimes messier, but much more “colorful” and always well worth it.

I am grateful for students who love learning and for those “light bulb” moments that can happen in the learning process. I am grateful for teaching a subject that I have never lost my passion for. The joy that comes when a student learns something new about business or about themselves is the best reward for teaching classes that can be relevant to students now and in their future.

I am grateful for the opportunity to begin again. I am grateful that I can keep learning. I am grateful for the educators I work with who also have a commitment to growth and learning. Two of my favorite things about teaching are discovering new ways to share the love of learning with students and the chance to start the next semester with a clean slate. Fresh ideas, new teaching strategies, another opportunity to grow, learn and improve—and hoping a little of that rubs off on my students—are the greatest gifts of being a teacher.

I am grateful that I can accept my own imperfections (most of the time…I’m still practicing). I think I’m still learning that I will never get it just right. I will never be perfect. But I love that I can be creative each day, trying new things, forgiving myself for what doesn’t work and starting over again the next day, week or semester.

I am grateful I have had the courage to stay put and grow in my profession. It is the Benedictine promise of stability that has given me the courage to stay in teaching, to learn the valuable lessons that can only be learned slowly and over time. My commitment to teaching is a little like my marriage. It takes work. I give. I get. It is hard. I want to quit. I recommit. There are days, weeks, months, sometimes years, that don’t seem very rewarding. But there are moments that are so affirming; it is then that the reward is revealed. It is only over time that the fruits of the labor can be truly appreciated. 

I am grateful for the memories of deep connections with students. I was with students the day the World Trade Center towers came down and when I went to the 9/11 memorial. I’ve journeyed with students when they’ve made big mistakes and major accomplishments. I am grateful for the students who have stayed in touch through the years, celebrating their careers, marriages, and new babies.

I am grateful for my business teacher colleagues who care about students and believe in what we teach. I love the solitude and community we have—we respect each other’s individuality but also work well as a department and professional learning community.

I am grateful that teaching reveals more about who I am, giving me plenty of material for reflection and growth. “Teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge—and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.” –Parker Palmer

I am grateful for the good and the bad days. Not every day, nor for every student, do I feel grateful. But gratefulness is a feeling; gratitude is a practice. It is a grace to embrace it all.

“Teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the hearts—and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be… If a work is mine to do, it will make me glad over the long haul, despite the difficult days.”—Parker Palmer

More posts about teaching at BeingBenedictine, HERE.

More posts about teaching at SoulFullyYou, my other blog HERE.

Quantum Entanglement, The Invisible Tug and The Temple of God

Things happen in threes, they say.

Just in the last few days, I have been impacted by three distinct impressions—a reflection written by Richard Rohr, a poem penned by Emily Bass and a Lectio Divina reading and discussion at our monthly Oblate meeting.

All three Things point to the divine, invisible, and yet very tangible, connection that exists between us.

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Thing One—a friend forwarded an email from the Center for Action and Contemplation by Richard Rohr about “quantum entanglement.” He describes quantum entanglement as “a wonderful illustration of the interconnected nature of reality, both spiritual and material. In quantum physics, it appears that one particle of any entangled pair ‘knows’ what is happening to another paired particle.”

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Deeply-felt intuition and synchronicities that occur in our lives may be explained as a mere coincidence by some or the work of angels, saints or Divine assistance by others, but Christianity embraces the idea that quantum entanglement, despite the vocabulary used, is a spiritual phenomenon that very much exists. But what does this mean for us as we live out our daily lives?

Rohr writes, “We must deliberately choose to be instruments of peace—first of all in our minds and hearts. This is conscious quantum entanglement.” We make a difference in this world—who we are and how we behave impacts others.

Thing TwoParker Palmer, one of my favorite writers, shared a poem by Emily Bass on social media followed by the comment, “What if you felt the invisible tug between you and everything”? (Sounds a little like quantum entanglement…)

 

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The World Has Need of You

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple as well.

Parker writes, “Hard as it may be to believe, our little lives and actions make a difference. There are more than enough people of good will among us to resist the power-hungry, wealth-obsessed, anti-democratic forces that threaten us. If enough of us do what we can—bit by bit, day by day—we can tilt the earth toward sanity and humanity.”

Thing Three—at our November Oblate meeting we read 1 Corinthians 3: 9-11, 16-17 for our Lectio Divina practice.

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Phrases that resonated with our group:

You are God’s building—another is building upon it—be careful how he builds—you are the temple of God—dwells in you—you are….holy.

Reflections shared in discussion:

We are the temple of God. Despite our sense of worthiness or participation in good actions, we are the dwelling place for the Spirit of God. We are holy.

This foundation is firm, but we must be full of care in how it is built upon. We must be careful how we build upon another’s temple or let others build on ours. We must protect ourselves, our temple, with what builds us up. We must be careful what we send into the universe that it builds up rather than tears down.

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We are entangled; we feel the invisible tug of the other; and, yes, we are connected to each other, can make a difference and have an impact. I work with God on the building of the temple. We are co-builders with Christ.

The temple may be destroyed but will rise again. It happened with Christ, it happens over and again throughout history, and it will in our own life.

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The temple is WHO I AM. I need the One who can rebuild. It is through Christ living in me that I am able to build myself again and to build others up. Nothing can destroy our temple, a blessing freely given from God.

Yes, I think things happen in threes—at least this week they did.

Quantum Entanglement, The Invisible Tug and The Temple of God. Words of wisdom may come from a variety of traditions or sources but point to one Truth.

Be careful builders. Be intentional. Be peace. Amen.

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Cell Phones, Paying Attention and Hospitality

As a high school teacher, I am concerned about the level of attentiveness my students pay to their teachers and classmates. I wonder how often they are truly present to another, not to mention their own emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical needs.

Their cell phones have become so distracting that I fear they lack the social skills needed to develop personal relationships that are essential to living a full and rewarding life, not to mention becoming a valuable employee and citizen. Students have shared that their phones have become a tool to avoid fully engaging with others or the moment—when experiencing discomfort, their cell phones provide an escape.

I know this is not a phenomenon exclusive to teenagers—many adults struggle with respectful and appropriate use of technology as well. I need to practice awareness myself.

Deeply saddened (and frustrated) by this, I was struck this morning by a commercial using the hashtag #EatTogether with this heart-warming message:

Each of the characters would have likely gone to their apartment for a meal alone if it not for the family who extended a hand of hospitality and an offer of a meal to include everyone.

Of course, we need our solitude, but how often do we consider the one who may need an invitation? Who needs to be accompanied? Who needs a meal? Or who has more than their fair share of solitude, and desperately needs to be noticed?

We must look up long enough from our cell phone, and all the distractions of a busy life, to remember the Benedictine value of practicing hospitality.  

St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB 53:1) Being hospitable is our opportunity to respond to God’s great generosity towards us.  Hospitality is being present to others—taking time to enjoy one another’s presence and being attentive to what the other is sharing.

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The #EatTogether commercial is the brainchild of a Canadian company President’s Choice-NatureFresh Farms. Concerned with the challenging task families face with balancing work, activities, children, sports, and school combined with the increased use of technology, they hope to inspire families to remember the importance of eating meals together and extending that invitation to their community—in other words, practicing hospitality.

 “The monastery was to be a place of comfort and of solace and of safety for everyone. The monastery was the place where anyone would be welcomed., where rich and poor alike could come and find seats side by side despite the world around them where status counted dearly and classism was a given.”—Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily

Offering a meal, listening, and paying attention to the present moment are all ways that we can be a monk in the world. We can offer comfort, solace, and safety for others. We can welcome all.

We can extend this hospitality for those people who are in our daily lives—at school, work, home, down the street—but we are also called to extend hospitality to “those living on the margins.” There is room at the table for everyone, as Carrie Newcomer writes—

“Let our hearts not be hardened to those living on the margins,
There is room at the table for everyone.
This is where it all begins, this is how we gather in,
There is room at the table for everyone.

Too long we have wandered, burdened and undone,
But, there is room at the table for everyone.
Let us sing the new world in, this is how it all begins,
There is room at the table for everyone.

Chorus:
There is room for us all, and no gift is too small.
There is room at the table for everyone.
There’s enough if we share, come on pull up a chair.
There room at the table for everyone.

 

How can you practice hospitality with your loved ones? At your workplace? In your neighborhood? With those marginalized?

*Photo in heading taken in Montes de Oca, Argentina with the Mogues family. The importance of the family and community meal has not been forgotten this family or country.

For more on hospitality:

Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ: Hospitality and The Holy Trinity

Ode to Mary: Lover and Giver of Life

Hospitality on Pilgrimage

Learning from the Seasons of Life

“Are you doing okay?” a friend asked me.

“Yes and no, ha,” an honest reply.

 “Why yes?”

Hmmm, I think.  “Good question…yes, because of faith and hope. Many blessings.”

This might not be the typical are-you-okay-what’s-wrong? line of questioning one might expect, but good friends know what’s behind your “yes and no” already.  Sometimes the no just needs to lie right where it is; it’s the yes that needs more attention.

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Likely, the question was meant for me to consider what is good? what is hopeful? what is well with my soul? 

I have a SoulCollage® card that I created named “The Seasons of Life: I’ve Seen A Lot of Shit.”  Eloquent, I know, but it’s the first thing that came to mind when I looked at my finished card.

“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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I had no idea what I was creating when I started, with no goal in mind. I was drawn to the older women sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company.  They look experienced (not old, please), rested, peaceful, connected, comfortable and wise. I imagined what they might be discussing. Perhaps, despite the storms of life and the many obstacles that make them feel all shot-up, they are grateful to be still standing, still sitting, still connecting, still enjoying.

Both women hold a little of each season, every year, and the many experiences they have lived within them. I imagine that these soul companions are teachers for each other. There are teachers all around us—our circle of friends, spiritual companions, authors, thought-leaders, poets and musicians.

One of my spiritual teachers is author Sister Macrina Wiederkehr. The first Benedictine book I was introduced to (back in the ’90s) was “A Tree Full of Angels:  Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary” written by Macrina. Several years later, at St. Benedict Center, I was honored to meet Macrina attending one of her retreats. Through the years, I’ve gotten to know her better, to attend more of her retreats and enjoy more of her writing.

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Me and Macrina at St. Benedict Center.

Her newest book, The Flowing Grace of Now,” has fifty-two meditative readings that weave their way through the seasons of the year, pointing to a different teacher for each week. The reading and reflective questions include wisdom lessons from Macrina, as well as poetry and prose from teacher-writers like Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Joyce Rupp, John O’Donahue, Henri Nouwen and Joan Chittister, mystics like Julian of Norwich, and from the stories of the Old and New Testament. By taking an entire week to devote to the reading, the seed has time to burrow. By meditating upon a line or two of scripture, poetry, lyrics or prose, it sinks to a deeper place of resting in one’s heart, taking root, becoming the “mulch” from which to grow from understanding to blooming and becoming.  The words take root in your life, impacting your thoughts, attitudes, and actions. 

“Autumn holds fragments of the other seasons in transformative arms…the mood of autumn is the ebb and flow of life. Autumn stands as an epiphany to the truth that all things are passing and even in the passing there is beauty. It holds out platters of death and life.” -The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr

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So many teachers, so many seasons in a long life—we are called to keep learning. Each of us is called to take the seasons of life into “transformative arms”, to become more of who we are. So this autumn weekend, I consider the seasons of life—all of it, especially the blessings. I think about the “yes” of life that threads itself through my days—the yes to faith, hope, learning new lessons and gratitude for many blessings. The daily yeses keep me focused on the bigger yes—the yes to God.

My yes is the desire to become more of who God created me to be, to keep learning from the “mulch” of the seasons and experiences of life. This I have hope for and believe in. This I am grateful for and what I say yes to.

Yes, it is well with my soul.

 “People often speak of becoming more grateful after having lost some of their health. Suddenly they see all they have taken for granted. Gratitude for all that has been enables them to say yes to all that is to come.” -The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr

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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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