Our favorite pandemic pastime has been sitting on the deck in our backyard. We enjoy the sights and sounds of nature regardless of the weather. Nature has been healing for us, even if it means bundling up with coats, hats and mittens and plugging in a few outdoor heaters. We enjoy home-cooked meals, whiskey tastings, long conversations, and an occasional cigar (for one of us.) As Covid cases decrease and more people are vaccinated, we are encouraged to return to life as usual, but I find that given the option, my favorite entertainment is still in my own backyard.
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
One year ago, I wrote,“Birds chirping, frogs croaking, raindrops meeting their “splat” on the flowerpots and patio chairs, wind rustling in the trees—the simple sounds suggest that all is well with the world.” I feel the exactly the same—all is MOST well when I am attentive to the sights and sounds of nature, when I witness creation unfolding in my own backyard.
A few weeks ago (April 29, 2021), we noticed the resourcefulness of this mama robin who had built a nest on the downspout of our neighbor’s house. A bird’s home is its castle, as seen from our deck.
A few weeks later (May 14, 2021), we see the first feeding of the baby birds.
Between sunset on Holy Saturday evening and sunrise on Easter Sunday, the Easter Vigil is celebrated. I have spent the Holy Days, the three days leading up to Easter, with the Benedictine monks in Schuyler many times. The prayers and chants are the most beautiful of the liturgical year.
The Easter Vigil readings begin with the Book of Genesis—the story of creation when heaven and earth, darkness and light, water and sky, land, plants, animals, birds, fish, and humans were created—and continue through New Testament readings. Between each of the several readings is a Psalm that is sung by cantor and congregation.
This year I spent the Holy Days listening to a different kind of song, the call of the Sandhill Crane. I missed the familiar chants of the monks, participating virtually when possible, but the experience of observing the oldest living birds feasting in the fields and wetlands of Nebraska was likewise a sacred experience.
This year we will celebrate the Holy Days and Easter, virtually, with the monks of Christ the King Priory. I have spent the Holy Days with the monks in Schuyler many times and the prayers and chants are the most beautiful of the liturgical year.
During the Holy Triduum, we remember the events leading up to Easter. Each Holy Day is significant to the fullness of Jesus’ story—his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ life was full of joy—learning, teaching, helping others, growing in his authentic identity, and embracing his essence—but, also, as the Gospel of John poignantly states, “Jesus wept.” Even Jesus could not escape his own suffering—the death of a friend, concern for political and religious corruption, the betrayal of his disciples, his own physical persecution, and, finally, his fear of abandonment, that he had been forgotten by God and everyone. No doubt about it, Jesus experienced both joy and suffering.
Consider joining the Benedictines for the Holy Triduum. Times and prayers listed below. All prayer are live-streamed HERE.
Sources: Luke 18: 9-14; Good Work; Teaching and Learning—Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II
We begin our Oblate Meeting with Lectio Divina practice by reading Luke 18:9-14.
We began our discussion with the question: Can I find myself in both the Pharisee and the tax collector? There is no doubt that we have each of them within us, not just one or the other.
We can dig deeper by asking: How can I come into relationship with Jesus and others knowing I am a multi-facetedperson, not all good or all bad. This parable is addressed to those who feel their righteousness (I’m a good guy), and may despise others for not being as good. We compare ourselves to others—our good works become a score card rather than a gift from our heart. We must avoid creating a tally of our good works or making comparisons with others about how good or bad I am (or how good or bad someone else is)—we are ALL sinners and in need of God’s mercy; not one of us is more worthy than another.
February 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections
Sources: Colossians 3:12-17; Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (pages 17-22)
For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply Colossians 3:12-17
We share aloud, some of the words and phrases that resonate with us:
God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Bearing with one another. Forgiving one another. Put on love….that is the bond of perfection.
Let the peace of Christ control your hearts. Be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly. Gratitude in your hearts.
Compassion: We think of compassion as feeling sorry for someone, but it is to feel with someone, to enter into the sufferings and joys of another person. Jesus had compassion for us, entering fully into our lives. He is one with us. We are called to emulate this kind of compassion with others. Sometimes there may not be much we can say to another, but we can give our presence, a physical touch. Wordless gestures are just as compassionate, perhaps even more so.
“Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless my reed pens and my inks. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight. May they be visible to eyes not yet born. When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”
Ana, The Book of Longings
In The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, Ana writes this prayer of longing on the incantation bowl her aunt Yaltha has gifted her. “Do you know what an incantation bowl is?” Yaltha asked. “In Alexandria we women pray with them. We write our most secret prayer inside them…Every day we sign the prayer. As we do, we turn the bowl in slow circles and the words wriggle to life and spin off toward heaven.”
“Friendship is the linking of spirits. It is a spiritual act, not a social one. It is the finding of the remainder of the self. It is knowing a person before you even meet them.”
St. Scholastica, whose feast we celebrate on February 10, is the twin sister of my patron saint, St. Benedict. Legend holds that Scholastica and Benedict had a close relationship and were both deeply committed to God, despite not being able to spend much time together.
The story of St. Scholastica, from the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great, shows the commitment they shared to God and each other:
“Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.
One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.
Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”
When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.”
Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.
It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.
Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.
Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.”
On the Feast of St. Scholastica, I remember my dear friend, Colleen, whose birthday was on this day. It is such a special connection to know that Colleen and I were spiritual twins (since my birthday is July 11, the feast day of St. Benedict.) In 2002, Colleen and I met at St. Benedict Center, both of us seeking a contemplative prayer practice. We quickly became “anam caras,” soul companions–we read spiritual books and prayed together and could talk for hours about our spiritual journeys. I was blessed by my friendship with Colleen, Joyce and so many other soul friends in the years since then.
The lessons I have learned from my spiritual friendships, and the lives of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica are many:
Spiritual friendships never end. ♥ Neither death nor distance can separate us from the love of another. ♥ There is no such thing as loving too much. ♥ Spiritual friendships are a gift from God. ♥ We support each other in living out God’s purpose in our life. ♥ Spiritual connections with friends enrich one’s prayer life and guide the other back to God when one is temporarily lost. ♥ Spending time together is important, but friendship resides in the heart. ♥ We pray for and with each other. ♥ We cry with each other. ♥ We laugh together. ♥ We listen to, plan with, comfort and challenge each other. ♥ We are grateful for each other and we say it. ♥ “Our minds are united in God.”
The Red Shoes
Colleen, loved red shoes. But I didn’t know this about her until her Aunt Bea shared a story at her funeral. What a silly thing to say at a funeral! But for “some reason” I told Aunt Bea that I loved the beautiful red shoes she had on. Sometimes words fly out of my mouth without thinking how they might sound—and today was no exception. But, of course, there was a reason.
Without missing a beat, Aunt Bea shared that just a few months earlier, Colleen had borrowed those red shoes on an evening when she and her sisters were going out dancing, something they loved to do together. Aunt Bea commented how much Colleen loved to dance; telling us that Colleen believed when you dance you have to wear high-heeled shoes. It was a lovely story to imagine a time when Colleen was joyful and doing what she loved most—dancing. There is comfort in storytelling and remembering.
Sources: Mark 1:7-11; Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (Preface-p. 14)
For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply Mark 1:7-11, the baptism of Jesus.
Words and phrases that resonate with us, shared in our discussion:
It is with great humility that John proclaims there is one more powerful than I. In an area of rabid individualism, it is hard to turn things over, to admit that I am not the fount of all wisdom. Even if we feel called to speak truth to power, to share our faith or ideas that may differ from another, we must humble ourselves as John did. John admits he is not to untie the sandals of Jesus, and even stoops down to show his humility. Indeed, there is one more powerful than I.
Both John and Jesus show humility. By going down into the water, Jesus foreshadows going down into the tomb. It is a descent, a submission to the obedience of the will of God, and then a rising. Jesus chose to be baptized; he did not have to be, but he chose to be weak, to become humble. This is the beginning of his service. He has been chosen to be Messiah. Jesus did not shy away from this service.
As part of Jesus’ baptism—the heavens were torn apart. Jesus’ identity was affirmed by the father; this is how we get our identity too. The heavens are torn apart for us as well. We live our lives in the balance of humility and knowing that we are made in the image of God.
Always We Begin Again—A new year, a new book.
We begin 2021 by reading the introduction and first section of Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (Preface through page 14.) The Rule of St. Benedict provided guidelines for monastic living by giving order to the monk’s day with a balance of prayer and work. Although it may be impossible to follow the Rule strictly while maintaining a life in the world, it is the longing of the Benedictine oblate to have a “creatively balanced framework for life.”