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Being Benedictine

Jodi Blazek Gehr, Oblate of St. Benedict

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Contemplative Photography

A Winter WONDERland

“A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder.”

-Susan Orlean

For students and teachers alike, there is nothing quite like getting a “snow day,” no matter if it is actually snowy or whether it is sleet, ice, or high winds— especially if we learn of our impending day off BEFORE we go to bed. I usually stay up a little later, sleep in a little later, binge-watch some TV, catch up on some reading or writing, and gaze out the window (or if it isn’t too awful out, take photos in my yard.) It is a gift of time, a free day.

This week we had one of those snow days. We were forecasted to get 8 to 12 inches of snow. We didn’t—but we did get a lot of sleet and ice. It was a challenge to get little Bailey, my 14-year-old dachshund poodle to go potty. Her little paws stuck to the stiff, sticky, icy grass, so it was one of those snow days to enjoy from the inside.

“They say that every snowflake is different. If that were true, how could the world go on? How could we ever get up off our knees? How could we ever recover from the wonder of it?

Jeanette Winterson

Only one snow day, so I was off to school the next day. The morning drive took a bit longer (no time for gazing in the morning; every minute matters when you’re not a morning person), but the intentionally-circuitous drive home from school was an opportunity to gaze at icicles, glistening like crystals, full of the drop-to-your-knees kind of wonder. (I was driving, so I saved my knees). I am so grateful that the temperature stayed chilly enough to preserve the false-alarm-blizzard-sleet-and-ice storm icicles.

Continue reading “A Winter WONDERland”

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”

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”

The Birds Are Still My Prayer

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.

May be an image of Teresa Kretz and Joe Gehr, people sitting and outerwear

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 sameall 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.

Continue reading “The Birds Are Still My Prayer”

Mystery and History: Holy Days and Crane Calling

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.

Continue reading “Mystery and History: Holy Days and Crane Calling”

The Birds Are My Prayer

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

A new favorite pandemic pastime is sitting on the deck in our backyard. We travel the long distance, a pilgrimage of sorts, from the living room to the outdoors several times a day to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

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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. Yellow finches dart from one tree to another and then to a neighbor’s bird feeder and back again; perhaps a brief landing in the new tallest tree in the neighbor’s yard to the other side of us. It is as if there is a new piece of equipment in the aviary playground of our connected backyards. Birds swoop down to meet each other in a shared tree, chirp a few sentiments, and then take flight again. I wonder what makes them gather together, or what makes them fly solo.

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I am not alone in my amateur birdwatching pandemic pastime. One afternoon, I shared text messages with the neighbors on both sides about our backyard bird show. Beth texted first and then I texted Julie. We feel the same: no one should miss out on the escapades of our yellow finches.

bird texts

Our slower pace is a time to be present to the moment, to notice the simple things that may have been overlooked in the hurry of a pre-pandemic schedule. The Benedictine life is contemplative, “one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption (Laudato Si’, 222).” There has been some talk these past weeks about whether physically distancing and/or staying at home is living in fear or if our freedom is being taken away. 

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For me, true freedom is to be fully who I am, right where I am, in this moment, and in these circumstances. It is not necessary to go shopping or to a restaurant or on vacation (as much as I was looking forward toJessica’s graduation, to visit New York City with friends, and to host my cousin from Germany on his first trip to Nebraska), I can find contentment and enjoyment in my own backyard. If we cannot find contentment at home, I am not certain that it can be found anywhere. Continue reading “The Birds Are My Prayer”

Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation

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!

DSC_0699

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, be less goal-oriented and more process-oriented, to enjoy the beauty of simple things, and take more time to appreciate the surprises of a new country road or the change of seasons. This sense of adventure brings a deep joy in capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again. It is when silence, solitude, creativity, and nature collide into an 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

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, a work of art, or even a sunrise or sunset.The Flowers Are Burning… Oceans A Rising: An Art and Climate Justice Exhibition” was to have taken place at Holy Wisdom Monastery, a Benedictine monastery in Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate the 50th Earth Day. Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, the poignant collection of eco-inspired watercolors painted collaboratively by artists, Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann, will instead be offered digitally.

Capture

“Using their artworks as a source of strength in the face of adversity, they call upon the power of beauty and love to guide us towards taking action to protect what we love and care deeply about…The artists believe deeply that humans must embrace the reality that we are all connected to nature…that what happens in the Ocean, on Earth or to any life forms above and below the water, is happening to us as well. Everything is related and we can no longer go forward believing in the superiority of human life over all other life, if we are to survive. The artists sense of urgency is born out of their love of the natural world and the desire to protect and preserve what is left before it is too late.” Source: Warning Signs—A Powerful Earth Day Exhibit Goes Digital. Continue reading “Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation”

Benediction of the Trees

Profoundly impacted by the lyrics and vocals of “Benediction of the Trees”,  written and performed by Derek Dibbern, I share his music and also images of trees I’ve taken through the years in different seasons and from various states and countries.

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Derek and I met at St. Benedict Center several years ago and our paths continue to cross–we’ve been in the same space for Zen meditation, Catholic Mass, my school classroom, as well as local bars and coffee shops where he has performed. Deeply spiritual and always seeking, Derek is a student of inspirational and recreational tree climbing at Tree Climbing Planet in Oregon. He dedicates the song to his teacher, Tim Kovar, and “the many woodland creatures that have held us aloft in our arboreal adventures.”

This song is a prayer. It is 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

Continue reading “Benediction of the Trees”

A Story Behind Everything

“However well satisfied you are with your own skill or intelligence,
never forget how much there is that remains unknown to you.”
-Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis

There’s so much we don’t know, so much we don’t see, so much we can’t understand. There is a story behind everything.

On a recent country drive, I stumbled upon a cemetery I had never seen before. It was an old cemetery surrounded by, likely, the original iron fence and arched gate.

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I find the old gate breathtaking: the rust over the exquisite spirals and twists on the finials and posts; the contrast of brown and green grasses; the juxtaposition of birth and death, new and old, all at once. I wonder: How many people have passed through that gate? How many tears shed at the graves of loved ones?  I wonder when flowers were last placed on a grave.

The gate remains locked now, and instead, a simpler entrance and a few graveled paths intersect to help visitors find their beloved. Only symbolic now, the fence and gate remain part of this sacred site and its story.

Capture

I continue my journey for miles down a country road, passing no houses, or people, or other cars–truly, a solitary journey. In a wooded area, I notice several old vehicles behind the limbs and brush, so easily missed that I turned around at the next intersection to drive by again. Taking a closer look from many angles and directions, I photographed the old truck. I wondered when it’s dying day had come and it was left to become part of the landscape. When had it last been driven to town? How many children had ridden in the back of the truck, wind blowing in their hair, or perhaps more recently, used it as a jungle gym? Continue reading “A Story Behind Everything”

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