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Benedictine Spirituality

Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude

Preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday can be a sacred ritual. Weeks in advance several family members begin planning the menu for our Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, there is little variation from year to year—turkey, dressing, dumplings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pies, dinner rolls, and so on—but an afternoon of list-making, guest-counting, and recipe-searching ensues. Some years, even a second planning session is required—to count plates and chairs, to create a map of the food line, or to scour advertisements for butter sales. The planning sessions have become part of the practice of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving planning sessions and meals that immediately followed the passing of each of Joe’s parents was bittersweet. We missed their presence. But the ritual itself, while grounding us in the present, was a reminder to be grateful even in our sadness and grief.

gratitude soul

History tells us that the first Thanksgiving, in 1621, commemorates the gratitude Pilgrims had for a bountiful harvest. This is a simplistic, and perhaps, mythical snapshot, but it is where the ritual begins for Americans.  Thanksgiving is celebrated in many other countries as well for a variety of historical, religious and secular reasons. Primarily Thanksgiving is about just that—giving thanks. Thanksgiving is a ritual of planning and remembering to be grateful—even in times of division and darkness.

Thanksgiving, as a legally observed holiday in the United States, was championed by Sarah Josepha Hale (October 24, 1788 – April 30, 1879), an American writer and author of the infamous nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb“. Sarah, fortunate that her parents believed in education for girls, was home-schooled and eventually became a teacher herself and, later, an advocate of higher education and workplace rights for women. When Sarah was 34 years old, her husband died of a stroke—her oldest child was 7 and the youngest was born two weeks after her husband’s death.

It’s hard to imagine the sadness, grief and dark days that Sarah Josepha Hale endured. And, yet, Sarah believed in Thanksgiving. She wrote: “There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which a whole community participate. They bring out, and together, as it were, the best sympathies of our nature…because all are privileged to be happy in their own way.”

Sarah wrote many letters, working tirelessly over three decades, to convince American presidents, from Taylor to Lincoln, to acknowledge Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She was adamantly opposed to slavery, yet desperately desired a healing between the north and the south. She wrote, “We are already spread and mingled over the Union. Each year, by bringing us oftener together, releases us from the estrangement and coolness consequent on distance and political alienations; each year multiplies our ties of relationship and friendship. How can we hate our Mississippi brother-in-law?”

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Letter to Abraham Lincoln; Sarah Josepha Hale

Finally Abraham Lincoln, with the turmoil of the Civil War in mind, agreed to make Thanksgiving a holiday that both the north and south would celebrate, hoping to unify a deeply divided country. It was in the darkest days that gratitude was encouraged.

Thanksgiving isn’t just one day. Thanksgiving is a practice. It is a plan to be grateful. It is gratitude rather than grumbling. “Do not grumble or speak ill of others. Place your hope in God alone.”- Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 4:39-41

Thanksgiving is a reminder that we can, and must, practice gratitude even in the darkest of days—in the midst of a deeply divided nation, in the woundedness of a broken heart, in the storms of a conflicted relationship.

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Our Thanksgiving table may not have the same faces around it that have always been there, but it is possible to hold those loved ones who have passed on, or moved on, in our hearts. May you have a Thanksgiving day of gratitude, a day to remember that there is room at the table, or in your heart, for everyone.

Carrie Newcomer, Room at the Table—

Let our hearts not be hardened to those living on the margin
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 is all begins
There is room at the table for everyone

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

Norwood, Arlisha. “Sarah Hale.” National Women’s History Museum. National Women’s History Museum, 2017. Date accessed.

Baker, Peggy M. “THE GODMOTHER OF THANKSGIVING: the story of Sarah Josepha Hale” Pilgrim Society & Pilgrim Hall Museum 2007.

Maranzani, Barbara. “Abraham Lincoln and the “Mother of Thanksgiving”, October 3, 2013.

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Flood the World with Love

Weekend mornings are made for slowing down—for sipping coffee crowned in frothy milk, catching up on reading, and listening to some of my favorite music. This morning my meditation consisted of listening countless times to “I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer and spiritual teacher, and accidentally reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

Both song and scripture 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.

flood the world with love

I practice lectio divina, contemplating the words of the song—

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 experience discriminating language and behavior; we watch public opinion, policy, and executive orders further victimize our most vulnerable; and we witness “the face of deepest loss” in the profound suffering and death of those close to us and in one tragedy after another. I stand confused and bewildered by what we say and do to each other—“The whole world weeps and is weeping still.”

I read, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” 

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Have I chosen love? I admit I can be impatient. I have been unkind, rude and short-tempered. I much prefer to have my own way and can be irritable and resentful when that doesn’t happen. Sometimes I choose darkness, not light. Lately, I have let disappointment and anger overcome me, rather than practicing or resting in love. Surely, “darkness waits” if I fail to practice keeping the light in front of me, if I “leave the light behind.” Choosing love and light must be an intentional decision, a part of my spiritual practice, even when it isn’t easy.

The only peace this world will know can only come from love.” I’m beginning to believe that love is the antidote for all that ails us (perhaps, I’m catching up with what all the great spiritual traditions teach), that only love can bring us peace. With so much darkness, “the best of what we all can be” is to flood the world with love.

love newcomer

I read about the Jewish trauma nurse, Ari Mahler, RN, treating the suspect who killed eleven worshippers in the Tree of Life massacre, who yelled, “Death to all Jews,” as he was wheeled into the hospital. People wonder about how he could have treated this man. He writes, “Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish (to) instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.”

Yes, love means everything. In my deepest self, I want to flood the world with love, 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. 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.” 

peace st. ben

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. I draw strength and courage from Mahler and so many who face unfathomable suffering and pain at the hands of hatred, and yet choose love. Ann Frank writes, “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define darkness.” We must call upon our inner light to defy, not define, the darkness.

The only word is “Courage”/ And the only answer “Love.” I cannot deny my feelings—hurt, disappointment, anger—or my beliefs, or my opinions about the wounds of the world, but I place alongside these feelings, hope. 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.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Light and Rumi

 

The Future Is The Spirit’s Work

Benedictine Oblates have a commitment to a specific monastery to live out their spirituality in the world according to the Rule of St. Benedict. But what is the future of Benedictine monasticism?  As monastic vocations decrease, monasteries have been forced to consider their future, either merging with other monasteries or closing altogether. How might Oblates respond to this uncertain future?

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Sister Joan Chittister addressed this theme at the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome in November 2017. She asks, “The question of the day is a simple one but potentially life-changing one: the question is why would anyone even bother to get attached to a Benedictine monastery?”

Fr. Joel Macul, Prior of Christ the King Priory, also addressed the future of Benedictine Oblates at the Benedictine Oblates Regional Conference at St. Benedict Center held in September 2018.

He begins: “We can ask ourselves why we are raising this question or topic in the first place. What prompts us to raise it? It is certainly not because the Oblate community is diminishing! Is it because the some of the communities to which Oblates belong are diminishing and Oblates might be left high and dry? Or perhaps it is a concern about Oblate communities in lands where Benedictine life is new, communities are young and the Oblate experience has no precedence? Or is there something about our culture, our American culture that makes the question of the future so important?

Joels message spirit.JPG

While I do not consider myself a prophet in the sense of predicting a future for Benedictine life let alone Oblate life, I can fall back on the Prophet Joel.  The best future I can invite you to consider is to listen to the word of God through the prophet Joel who simply says: “It shall come to pass (code words for the future) I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…” It is clear enough. The future lies with the Spirit and our willingness and readiness to recognize its presence. According to the prophet, old and young, sons and daughters, male and female, servants and slaves will receive this gift of the spirit. The Spirit is God’s future or plan. When we can trust that Spirit, we are standing in God. And being in God is the future for ourselves, as well as humanity and our created world. If we co-opt God’s Spirit or start writing God’s plan, then theologically, we have no future. Any threads of the future will have to have the deep and inexhaustible richness of color of the Spirit. The future of anything Christian, including the Benedictine monastic way, lies with the Spirit. It is assumed that the Benedictine way is itself a gift of the Spirit and so holds within it the Spirit’s creative power. Continue reading “The Future Is The Spirit’s Work”

2019 Benedictine Pilgrimage Opportunity: Germany, Austria and Switzerland!

WHAT: 2019 Benedictine Pilgrimage with Fr. Volker Futter and Benedictine Oblates of Christ the King Priory

WHO: Open to Oblates, Friends of St. Benedict Center, Anyone! Feel free to share this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with your friends and family!

WHERE: GERMANY, AUSTRIA AND SWITZERLAND including Münsterschwarzach, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Chiemsee, Stams, Einsiedeln, Lake Constance, Freiburg, Heidelberg, Rüdesheim, Cologne, Neuss, Düsseldorf, and more.

DATE: June 16– July 1, 2019

COST: $4989 per person, double occupancy, (single supplement: $400.00) Required deposit: $500  See brochure for more info.

Footsteps of St Benedict and Scholastica pilgrimage 2019

Continue reading “2019 Benedictine Pilgrimage Opportunity: Germany, Austria and Switzerland!”

Community: To Be Fashioned and Tried

June 2018 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Community

We continued our discussion on Community from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72 using 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30 for Lectio Divina.

christs body

Words and phrases that resonated with oblates became the springboard for our discussion—

  • seem to be weaker are all the more necessary
  • God placed the parts…as he intended
  • if one part suffers, all parts suffer with it
  • baptized in one body
  • there may be no division in the body
  • all given to drink of one spirit
  • now you are Christ’s body and individually parts of it
  • many are one body
  • our less presentable parts are treated w/ greater propriety
  • eye to hand—I do not need you
  • if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy

From the very first book of the Bible, we hear it is not good for us to live alone. One of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill” could be understood metaphorically—that when we cut someone out of our community, we are killing that person’s role. There is a loss when we don’t honor each person in the community—we need all the parts.

When we judge that someone (a part) is unimportant and exclude them, we miss part of our body. Consider the marginalized in our society—the elderly, the poor, and the immigrant, among others—who are seen as less honorable or less presentable to the group. With our own perception and judgment, we kill off segments of the population that are the body of Christ.

Each of us has a special place in the body for our own community. But, still, we ask ourselves, in frustration—do I really need others? Do they really need me? But, yes, we are made to live together; no man is an island. We need others to realize our own weaknesses and strengths. For example, each of us in our oblate group has a role. We complement each other with our individual talents—we cannot all be the arm; we need the whole body to work together. Our group grows in relationship when we honor the talents of others and work together. Continue reading “Community: To Be Fashioned and Tried”

Living in Community: Where we are is Where we grow

May 2018 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Community

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“Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10) supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.” (RB:72)

Learning to live well in community is the foundation of Benedictine spirituality and the topic of Chapter 72 in the Rule of St. Benedict.  “A person living in solitary retirement will not readily discern his own defects, since he has no one to admonish and correct him with mildness and compassion.” (Beil, Study Guide) Continue reading “Living in Community: Where we are is Where we grow”

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

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he began, as we made the Sign of the Cross.

A few months after we had moved into our new home, one of my favorite monks, Fr. Thomas Leitner joined us for a special dinner and house blessing. After the introductory prayers and Scripture readings, Fr. Thomas sprinkled Holy Water that had been blessed at the Easter Vigil in each of our rooms—the living room, bedrooms, kitchen, upstairs, downstairs and even next door at Al and Beth’s house, our townhouse roofmates—and a little extra splash for our loyal Dachsy-Poo, Bailey. Our daughter, who was finishing her last year in college, would spend a few months living in our new home, but mostly it would become our empty nest. This blessing for our home was also a blessing for the next chapter in our lives.

Building Hacienda Drive.jpg

Fr. Thomas also gave us a special gift, a replica of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity Icon. An icon, an image or religious picture, communicates a deeper spiritual meaning often used in prayer and meditation for Christians throughout the world. It was a special image for him, used as the holy card for his ordination and First Mass in 1992.*  He enthusiastically shared with us why he also felt it represented how we would welcome those who entered as guests and the hospitality we would extend in our new home. Continue reading “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ: Hospitality and The Holy Trinity”

O Holy Spirit, You are the Mighty Way

O Holy Spirit, you are the mighty way in which everything that is in the heavens, on the Earth, and under the Earth, is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness. -St. Hildegard of Bingen

holy spirit

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place….All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.”—Acts 2:1

They came from many different places and, yet, they understood each other. They were connected as one in Spirit, united in understanding by the One and Holy Life-Giving Breath of God. Despite their diversity, each person had a uniquely mystical experience. Their different languages were not erased, yet unity was accomplished.

It’s as if for this one day, in this one place, God blessed our diversity and showed that our differences need not divide.  It’s as if for this one day, in this one place, it was “on earth as it is in heaven.” All people understood what the other said. They saw themselves as a part of the whole, that their God—the Giver of Life, the Great Communicator and Unifier—resides in them and the other. Continue reading “O Holy Spirit, You are the Mighty Way”

125 Years: A Big Day for Benedictines!

Celebrating the 125th Jubilee of the Benedictine Confederation, Pope Francis addressed Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, Fr. Prior Mauritius Wilde and other Benedictines, expressing his gratitude “for the important contribution that the Benedictines have made to the life of the Church, in every part of the world, for almost fifteen hundred years.”

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Sant’ Anselmo, the seat of the Benedictine Confederation, is the home of the Abbot Primate and eighty monks from over thirty countries around the world. It was a thrill for me to visit Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo, for a tour of the academic center, prayers with the monks, and a formal address for the Fourth International Oblate Congress. It was Pope Leo XIII, Fr. Mauritius shared, who said, “You Benedictines need a place in Rome. He saw two things: he certainly saw it was difficult for him to control us Benedictines, so he wanted to have a representative in Rome and he created the office of the Abbott Primate, the highest representative of all Benedictines.”

jubilee

On April 18, 1893, the first stone of Sant’Anselmo was laid on the Aventine Hill.  “In this celebration of the Jubilee of the Benedictine Confederation we wish to recall the commitment of Pope Leo XIII, who in 1893 wanted to unite all the Benedictines by founding a common house of study and prayer, here in Rome”, Pope Francis said. On July 12, 1893, Pope Leo XIII officially established the Benedictine Confederation. Continue reading “125 Years: A Big Day for Benedictines!”

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