Search

Being Benedictine

Jodi Blazek Gehr, Oblate of St. Benedict

Category

Benedictine Spirituality

From Dumpsite to Daffodils

One of my favorite places to visit is a former dump site. 

Despite its location on the corner of a very busy intersection in Lincoln, a former landfill is now a sanctuary with thousands of flowers planted on its one-and-a-half acres. The iconic Sunken Gardens, perfect for wandering, contemplation, and enjoying the beauty of nature, has a healing garden, stunning sculptures, a cascading fountain, and open lawn spaces. Through the years, the gardens have been a special venue for weddings (although brides and grooms must be prepared for cars honking as they drive by), art shows, family picnics, contemplative walks, a quiet place to read, photography, or friendly conversations.

On one of our many sightseeing or historical tours of Lincoln as a child, my dad shared that the gardens had originally been a dump. Amazed, I couldn’t imagine how that kind of transformation could take place. In 1930, as part of a depression-era city program to help unemployed men earn a little cash, the idea of Sunken Gardens was birthed. Crew members worked eight-hour shifts, two days a week for a total of $6.40 per week. Through the years, the gardens have been improved and renovated, most recently in 2005 with a $1.7 million fundraising campaign. I am so grateful for that vision and the continued effort of volunteers to create something of such beauty from trash. 

Sunken Gardens is often a specific destination for me but if I happen to be driving nearby, I might make a spontaneous visit. Recently, I had a few minutes after an appointment, and knowing the tulips and other bulb flowers wouldn’t last much longer, I drove a little out of my way to visit. It was a soulful, wonder-full fifteen minutes of enjoying the fleeting blooms. Finding wonder in nature is a path to practicing contemplation and observing silence. 

St. Benedict invites us to “listen with the ear of the heart” (Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue:1).

“This calls for a contemplative stance, an ability to experience wonder and joy in nature. It can also prompt me to ask: when was the last time I really saw the swift flight of a bird, the delicate beauty of rose petals?? Rather than trying to fill every moment with sound and distraction, the Benedictine way of life is characterized by peace and silence. Benedict instructs his followers to “diligently cultivate silence” (Rule of St. Benedict, 42:1)

Common threads: Francis’ encyclical and Benedict’s rule, By Mary McDonald SGS

I considered this dump-turned-garden as the ultimate metaphor for transformation. Truly, all things can be transformed, and have the potential to be created anew, in our planet, in ourselves, and in relationships.

God did not create creation light years ago, he continually maintains it in existence. God is constantly in the very act of creating. He fills us with his Spirit of creativity so that we can transform the world according to his creative will. Anselm Grün OSB, Benedict and Creation

To be Benedictine is to be open to conversion within ourselves, with people we might disagree with, or in protecting our environment. We allow for the possibility of reconciliation, and restoration of how things could be at their fullest potential. Just as creation is constantly creating and evolving, so must we. We must adapt and change to the environment we are living in by not taking too much or giving too little. Enjoying nature, being in the present moment, and nurturing silence that brings creative thought is the call of Being Benedictine.

© Jodi Blazek Gehr, Being Benedictine Blogger

The Wonder of a Broken Arm

WONDER sees the everyday as sacred.

Living with a sense of wonder, my word for 2023, is my intention. Being open to surprises, having a sense of curiosity, and having the desire to learn is important to my spiritual practice of “being Benedictine.” Wonder sees the sacred in the ordinary and is a doorway to gratitude, but seeing with eyes of wonder is a much easier proposition when our daily life is comfortable. My sense of comfort was recently challenged.

On a cold, windy February morning, my little dog Bailey did not want to do her business outside. Fourteen degrees in Nebraska, who can blame her? Worried about potentially icy roads and getting myself to school in time, I hurriedly picked up my little dog and headed out to accompany her on a potty trip. After stepping down onto our (apparently icy) landing, my feet slipped out from underneath me. It happened so fast yet every second my body met the icy ground, pain pierced through me–first on my bottom, then as I slid to my left side hitting my elbow sharply. I felt several crunches on my arm as I continued sliding on the pavement finally stopping several feet away. 

I knew immediately I had broken my arm, and later it was confirmed–a fractured ulna and a chipped elbow. The entire event was captured on our doorbell video. I watched it only one time to see if it was as I had remembered. Seeing myself fall has ruined me forever from watching America’s Funniest Home Videos again. Falls that used to crack me up (no pun intended) seem not so funny anymore. 

Wonder is the doorway to gratitude.

Making meaning out of life’s experiences and practicing gratitude is foundational to my spirituality, but much of my broken arm experience (7 weeks to date) has been spent feeling like I am not being very Benedictine. I am grateful for much, but I have also been so tired, irritable, and moody. It has been more traumatic for my body, mind, and spirit than I could have imagined. 

Despite my general crabbiness, I know my injury could have been worse–for that I am grateful. Thank God I hadn’t hit my head and been knocked unconscious. I am grateful that it was my left arm that was broken, and not my dominant right. After a week of wearing a splint, I was grateful to learn that the fractured pieces of my ulna had, amazingly, stayed in alignment. I would not need surgery and instead of needing a cast, I would wear a brace that I could easily remove to shower. A welcome reprieve from the confinement of a splint, there would be enough space to wiggle a pencil through to scratch my arm. (More things to be grateful for at the end of this post.)

Gratitude is an emotion that reflects our deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what makes us feel connected to ourselves and others.

Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown

I thought my attitude of gratitude would carry me through the weeks of convalescence in front of me, but I underestimated the many conflicting emotions I would have–frustration, overwhelm, disappointment, empathy, compassion, and wonder, just to mention a few. Out of 87 identified emotions (and experiences or thoughts that can lead to emotions) in Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown, I have felt no less than 40 of them since I fell. 

Early on I had decided I would be a resilient, strong, and compliant patient. I would remain calm in the face of discomfort or pain, knowing “this too shall pass.” Spoiler alert: I have grown weary, increasingly frustrated, and borderline hysterical from the discomfort and/or pain. Betty the brace–named after my strong, steady, prayerful oblate friend, Betty–has been called many other names besides Betty (Betty, the friend, took no offense.) 

Continue reading “The Wonder of a Broken Arm”

Abbey of the Arts: Monk in the World Guest Post

I have been so inspired by the writing and work of Christine Valters Painter, a Benedictine oblate, author, and online abbess of Abbey of the Arts. The Abbey is a virtual global online monastery offering pilgrimages, online classes & retreats, reflections, and resources which integrate contemplative spiritual practice and creative expression with monastic spirituality. They provide support and resources in becoming a monk in the world and an artist in everyday life.

Learning from members of the community in the Monk in the World Guest Post series has been a source of affirmation that, indeed, one can live according to the Rule of St. Benedict not only in the monastery but in the life one chooses to lead.

I am so honored to have my blog post shared on Abbey of the Arts on the Feast of St. Benedict! The full text is below or at Abbey of the Arts.

“I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series. Read on for Jodi Blazek Gehr’s reflection on being a Benedictine oblate.

St. Benedict is special to me for a few reasons. First, we share a birthday. I admit I was disappointed when I first discovered this. My parents had given me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate my Confirmation. As any nine-year-old would do, I immediately looked to see who the saint was for July 11, my birthday. Perhaps Elizabeth, Mary, or Theresa would be my special saint.

Instead, I see an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary-looking bird, a crooked cane, and an unusual name I had only associated with Benedict Arnold. July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said. I had never heard of him and surely did not know what an Abbot was. Through the years, I returned to this image of St. Benedict, thinking that I should have some connection with my patron saint.

Fast forward 26 years. With a full and busy life—married with a young daughter, a career as a high school teacher and club sponsor—I felt a deep longing for times of silence. I answered the call of my heart and responded to an advertisement for a silent contemplative prayer retreat. I discovered an oasis of peace just a few hours from home in the cornfields of Nebraska…called St. Benedict Center.

Continue reading “Abbey of the Arts: Monk in the World Guest Post”

Lectio and Visio Divina during Lent

I am always amazed at new understanding and insight that come through meditative reading and discussion. St. Benedict Center is hosting a five-week Zoom retreat called Lent: Lectio and Visio Divina led by Steven Blum, PhD. to provide an opportunity to gain new understanding of often-heard Scripture.

During the first week’s session, we connect with over 140 participants to learn about the ancient practices of Lectio Divina (sacred reading) and Visio Divina (sacred seeing) using the Gospel reading, Mark 4: 13–20 and the Sower illumination from The Saint John’s Bible.

There are four phases of Lectio Divina. The movement through the steps of these practices engages the heart, mind, and spirit, as we sit together in periods of silence, reading, gazing, reflecting, prayer, and contemplation. We seek to have the Lord awaken “the ears and eyes of our hearts.”

In practicing Lectio Divina, after reading the Scripture out loud, we contemplate, consider and reflect on what we have heard. The Scripture is read again, and perhaps again for a third time. After some time of silence, we are welcomed to share or journal a word or phrase that speaks to us.

Continue reading “Lectio and Visio Divina during Lent”

The Gift of Curiosity: There is no such thing as wasted learning!


Curiosity is the dawn of potential–a desire to learn something new, grow in awareness, and become more than we could be on our own. Curiosity, the birthplace of our becoming, is embodied in WONDER, my 2023 Word of the Year.

I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Surely my dad was blessed by a fairy godmother, endowed with the gift of curiosity, and he passed that down to me. Many Saturday mornings in my childhood, my dad would take my brother and me to local historical attractions and museums, and tell us stories about the “old days.” In retirement, my dad is passionate about learning history, particularly about his hometown of Valparaiso, compiling several books with the research he has done. His hobby and passion started with curiosity.

There are many similarities between my dad and me, even though how we have arrived at our curiosity and love of learning is different. I enjoyed the traditional school setting, spent many hours “playing school,” and was naturally drawn to becoming a teacher. He had an aversion to school and could not wait to get out. But, we both share a passion for gathering information, learning, and, then, sharing what we learn with others. It is an attitude of wonder and the love of storytelling that motivates us.

Wonder, the mental state of openness, questioning, curiosity, and embracing mystery, arises out of experiences of awe.

Dacher Keltner, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life

WONDER opens our eyes to synchronicity.

WONDER leaves room for the unexpected, for learning something new.

Curiosity led to an unexpected experience of “teachable moments” on a recent trip to Breckenridge, Colorado. My husband and a few family members took to the ski slopes, while my brother-in-law, Mark, and I did some sightseeing and enjoyed the mountain vistas. 

A day for wandering, we visited the Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships and enjoyed a scenic gondola ride to the base of Peak 8. We sauntered by dozens of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and stumbled upon a local church where a couple invited us in, sharing the building history and pointing out the original fixtures that shined the first electric lights in Breckenridge. We ambled into souvenir shops with coffee mugs, hats, and shirts–anything that a mountain logo could be printed on–and we walked past the Barney Ford House Museum. I had done plenty of research before this trip (of course), but I hadn’t planned to visit this museum. 

But now I wondered who Barney was and why he had a museum in his honor. With one more day to wander, I sought more information. With an internet search for the Barney Ford House Museum, I learned Barney is a pretty big deal in Breckenridge, that a PBS documentary had been recently filmed about him, and that the following day, February 1, was the first day of Black History Month AND Barney Ford Day in Colorado. Astonished by the synchronicity of learning about Ford just a day before this important date, I spent an hour watching the documentary. I was stunned by what I learned–the story of an enslaved man who, against all odds, becomes a successful entrepreneur. I teach an Entrepreneurship class, so I was already making plans to share Barney’s story with my students.

Continue reading “The Gift of Curiosity: There is no such thing as wasted learning!”

Wonder: The Dance and The Sweet Spot

On my country road drives to and from St. Benedict Center, I often listen to an audiobook or podcast, but on my way home from an oblate weekend of beautiful sunrises and special monk moments, listening to some Carrie Newcomer music called to my spirit. I cued up Carrie Newcomer on my iPhone.

The Music Will Play On” caught my eye. Sweet memories of meeting Parker Palmer, one of my favorite writers and thinkers, and Carrie Newcomer, one of my favorite musicians, at a 2019 Growing Edge retreat flooded my memories. Parker shared that he wanted to learn how to write a song, specifically about his own mortality. He asked Carrie to help him with some song-writing tips.

Parker writes, “I messed with metaphors, and began thinking about living and dying as part of what Thomas Merton, in a classic meditation, called “the general dance.” I’ve always loved dancing, so the metaphor felt just right. One morning, I woke up with a line running through my mind— “If I could, I’d dance this way forever”—and I knew I had the start of a song.”

It was such a special experience to witness the first performance of their song on retreat and to sing it along with them (saved in my personal video archives.) Here is a beautifully produced video of “The Music Will Play On” with lyrics:

No one knows for certain when their time will come, But life does not go silent once our dancing’s done. These harmonies will always call from beyond the years, The heavens dance forever to the music of the spheres.

If I could, I’d dance this way forever, But some soon day my dancing here will end. The music will play on, then one day I’ll be gone. I’ll dance into the darkness as new life dances in. Into the holy darkness where new life begins.

© 2020 by Carrie Newcomer and Parker J. Palmer ©2020 Carrie Newcomer Music (BMI), Administered by BMG Chrysalis

Indeed, our days are finite. We are inevitably “heading home to the music’s source.” As St. Benedict advises, “Keep death daily before your eyes.” Perhaps this sounds morbid, but this message encourages me to live each moment with wonder and gratitude.

Continue reading “Wonder: The Dance and The Sweet Spot”

2023 Word of the Year: Wonder

I love the practice of asking for a word, allowing a word or phrase to bubble up to ponder for the new year. Words that have chosen me in the last few years include Mercy (2017), Cushion (2018), You Are Free (I needed more words that year) (2019), Carry On (2020), Truth (2021), and Consent (2022).

My 2023 Word of the Year is WONDER.

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

WONDER opens our eyes to synchronicity.

The images in a recent SoulCollage card brought forth the word WONDER, and it settled comfortably in my soul.  The title of my card, Sit A Spell, is an encouragement to be open and receptive to the wonders of the universe revealing themselves right where we are—comfortable on our perch, walking through the seasons of life, or, even, in our thoughts and imagination.

It is only with eyes open to wonder, holy surprises, and synchronicity that we experience the humbling and awesome fall to our knees. There we are uplifted by invisible forces and surrounded by angels seen and unseen. (Synchronicity and Holy Surprise)

A card I created using images gathered on retreat and from a greeting card that screamed synchronicity!

WONDER makes us fall to our knees.

After the word WONDER rested in my awareness, it was providential how many words of wisdom, poems, and quotes I came across in my reading. The wisdom begins in wonder decoration (pictured above) hangs around an olive oil bottle in my kitchen. I pass by it many times every day, but I realize I wasn’t really SEEING it. Waking up to meaningful coincidences, C.J. Jung said, “could shift our thinking so we recognize a greater wholeness in all of creation…It could precipitate a spiritual awakening.”

“Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.”

Gregory of Nyssa
Continue reading “2023 Word of the Year: Wonder”

The Days of Awe

The Days of Awe is a ten-day period that begins with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and concludes 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.

IMG_0287.jpeg
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?

71402885_10219892609375987_339861432147378176_n
Torah at Temple Israel

71206637_10219892609775997_6935749842278809600_n

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.

Continue reading “The Days of Awe”

Hospitality: Welcoming the Stranger

Hospitality is the foundation of Benedictine spirituality. St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing:

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.”

Rule of St. Benedict 53:1

The “guest” may be a stranger, a friend in the making, those in our community who are marginalized, or our closest friends and family. Hospitality includes being truly present to others, becoming aware of their needs and challenges, and respectfully responding to them as much as one is able. For those close to us, we must welcome each other over and again, forgiving each other as we grow together or apart, giving each other grace and space as we become.

Recent news has caused me to reflect on how essential extending hospitality is to the health of our spirit and to the soul of organizations, communities, states, and countries; to consider how I have given and received hospitality, and how it has been withheld by myself or others.

Inadvertently or intentionally, we often do not extend welcome to others. We are human—busy, thoughtless, unaware—this is forgivable, but what we have witnessed—immigrants being lured to an undisclosed location with the promise of shelter and work—goes beyond withholding hospitality.

Diana Butler Bass writes about Radical Hospitality in her Cottage Sunday Musings, with commentary on the appalling news of “immigrants being lured from a shelter in San Antonio by the governor of Florida and shipped off to Massachusetts as a kind of political stunt is a profoundly cruel use of distressed people for political purposes. And the mirth and amusement that this episode inspired among self-declared “Christian” politicians has been nauseating… A church on Martha’s Vineyard sheltered unexpected arrivals, “angels unaware,” as guests worthy of dignified treatment, is a testimony to goodness and generosity, a vision of the world as God intends it to be — practicing hospitality toward strangers.”

I encourage you to read her letter which includes an excerpt adapted from her book, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (2004).

She “makes the point that NO ONE can call themselves Christian unless they practice hospitality to strangers…Would that every faith community was like a swarm of bees, running out to meet the displaced, the lost, and the unexpected strangers with the same delight, zeal, and alacrity as the earliest Christians. Theologian Letty Russell once noted, “The word for hospitality in the Greek New Testament is philoxenia, love of the stranger. Its opposite is xenophobia, hatred of the stranger.” Philoxenia turns strangers into friends.

What a difference philoxenia would make a difference in our world — and in our politics — right now.

I also offer excerpts and links to other reflections I have written on hospitality:

Continue reading “Hospitality: Welcoming the Stranger”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑