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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Creativity

2021 Word of The Year

Choosing a word of the year can be a prayerful intention as well as creative expression. There is nothing magical about one word over another, but I find the process insightful and revealing—both spiritually comforting and challenging. I worked with the idea of doorways and thresholds for several weeks after realizing how many cards in my SoulCollage® collection had images of doors on them.

“Doors are places for pausing, of finding your key, of knocking, of asking for entry. Thresholds carry us from one place to another – usually from outside to inside or the other way around.  They are symbols of our inner movements…. I believe that our lives are about crossing one threshold after another. Thresholds are challenging places to be because there is no map. There is no ten-step plan for how to move through this space. We feel disoriented there and impatient in having to wait.”

Christine Valters Paintner

I thought about selecting a word like welcome or becoming, or simply doorway or threshold. The images resonated, but the words were not quite right. I considered what it feels like to stand on the threshold of the unknown, to step through the doorway of uncertainty. The moment of crossing over can require courage, honesty, a surrendering, a willingness to be transformed.

“Our uncertainty is the doorway into mystery, the doorway into surrender, the path to God that Jesus called “faith.” -Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder

Extending hospitality to guests, as St. Benedict instructed in The Rule, can be practiced towards the uncertainty that life brings, the times when we can no longer control our circumstances and we must surrender our expectations. We can extend hospitality towards all that is mystery and trust that we will be transformed in the process. We may not know what we are walking into, but we can grow into acceptance of whatever comes.

“We need to honor what is on both sides of the doorway: to celebrate the whole of our lives, the self we are leaving behind as well as the self toward which we are going.”  

Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern, On the Threshold

The threshold moment requires an acceptance of what has been, what is, and what possibilities may come. The threshold moment, if we wish to honor each moment as life-giving and transformational, forces us to see our truth, the truth of our desires, and the truth of our circumstances.

If you are interested in transformation, no element is more important than developing a love of truth. As we learn to accept what is real in the present moment, we are more able to accept whatever arises in us, because we know that it is not the whole of us… When we are willing to be with the whole truth—whatever it is –we have more inner resources available to deal with whatever we are facing.” –The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

And this brings me to my 2021 word of the year: TRUTH.

Continue reading “2021 Word of The Year”

The Light Shines in the Darkness

We are still in the Christmas season.

During Advent, we wait in darkness for the light of Christmas Day. We circle around the Advent wreath, igniting another candle each week.

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Advent is about longing for the God that breaks into time and space as a baby in a manger. Advent is about cultivating patience and not rushing to the Incarnation. Advent is the ultimate “vorfreude”, anticipating the joy of God becoming one of us, that God in his humanity has shared with us his divinity.

“God became human so that his divine life might flow into us and free us from our mortality and impermanence…to fulfill the deepest longings for transformation and the healing of lives.”

Anselm Grün, A Time of Fulfillment

The Advent wreath symbolizes the coming of the birth of Jesus, the light of Christmas drawing near and the anticipation of the Christ-light breaking into our life and world. With each passing week, the candle represents our hope that light will dispel the darkness.

So it is with us. We circle around the same issues, questions, and problems in our lives, struggling with the dark and light within us and around us. And we pray that God breaks in, that the light will prevail.

Light and Darkness: our life is filled with both. WE are filled with both.

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Spending time creating collages during the Christmas season is prayer for me. Consider some creative possibilities with Sanctuary, an free online retreat.

 “When we come to understand that everything in our world, including its darker aspects, derives from God, we begin to realize that much of what we perceive as “bad” is, from the divine perspective, simply another piece of the sacred whole…that which appears as darkness to us may very well be the beacon to our redemption.”

Niles Elliot Goldstein, God at the Edge

The beauty of the Advent season is recognizing and honoring this darkness in ourselves, in others and in the world.  This darkness that we prefer to deny, flee from or quickly fix is actually the beginning of something new and hopeful happening in ourselves.  The darkness can bring a great light.  “We see the darkness and we forget even darkness is light to God.” (Deidra Riggs, Every Little Thing)

journey through darkness into light
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2)
A collage creation during Christmas season.

The expectant and hopeful waiting in Advent when Jesus is in the womb, where possibility of new birth is upon us in the waiting and tender honing of our patience, is where we must begin. We begin in the womb.

Consider creating a SoulCollage® card or journaling with the following questions:

So what is it that needs to be birthed within us? In our world?  

How do we accept and forgive the darkness in our selves and others while nurturing and encouraging the positive?

What can we bring out of darkness and into the light?

What gives us the strength to wait in patience, to trust that our circling around will bring us into the light?

“I am one who” is a prompt to begin to speak from and about the images that intuitively come together. Using all three of the collage creations on this post, I write:Advent dark and light

I am one who walks through rough and rocky terrain.
I am one who dances gracefully in the light.
I am one who casts shadows. I am one who gets stuck.
I am one who circles around and around, sometimes feeling a little lost.

I trudge reluctantly… or tread carefully… or move forward faithfully.
I am one who, with open arms, embraces both dark and light: in myself, in others, in my world.
I see the light and the darkness, the gold and the shadows, the smooth and the rough.
I go through all…the white sand, the gold dust, the smooth and rocky, the hard and broken, the shadowy or the illuminated, the gray, the light, the dark.

I am one who is filled with hope. I pray. I am one who feels hopeless too.
Eyes open, door ajar, I glimpse the light.
I am one who closes my eyes, sometimes trusting and at times in denial.
I dance the dance of light and darkness.

I stretch out my arms in surrender to the moments, layers, phases, experiences that are light and darkness intermingled;
Darkness that seems like it will never pass and pure, unadulterated light that never ends.
I am one who believes that the Christ-child covers both light and dark, in me and in the world.

I hope, I pray that I hold the two in balance; honoring both, recognizing both, knowing I am both, knowing others are both.
I surrender to rebirth, to a new way of being and seeing and accepting.
I am one who holds together the dark and the light.

“…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1-1:5

May the darkness of Advent, the light of Christmas, and the new insights of Epiphany be with you. By holding the sufferings and joys of our life together, may we come to see Christ in new ways.

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Sacred Mother: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Mother Mary finds her way into many of my collage creations, but it is the story and image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I am especially drawn to. On December 12, the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated.

“Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego on Mount Tepayac, 1531

On the site of an ancient shrine to the Aztec mother goddess, near Mexico City on Tepeyac Hill, a young Christian Indian named Juan Diego had a vision of a young Indian woman. Speaking in his native tongue, she directed him to tell the bishop to construct a church on the hill. The bishop dismissed the story, but the young maiden appeared yet again to Diego identifying herself as the Mother of God. She instructed him to gather roses that grew at her feet, during the winter no less, and take them to the bishop. When Diego opened his coat, a colorful impression of Our Lady, with dark skin, was imprinted on the fabric.

Our Lady of Guadalupe - Wikipedia

This story has been told for five hundred years, standing as an “image of divine compassion for a demoralized people. Speaking to Juan Diego in his own language, she presented herself in terms of compassion and solidarity, not power and domination.” (Blessed Among Us, December 12, 2020) The image of Our Lady attracts millions of pilgrims each year at the basilica in Mexico City, one of the world’s most visited sacred sights.

Recently I gathered with some friends for a much-needed retreat, a “pause between labor contractions”—a metaphor that resonated with us. In such troubling times, we came together to be creative, soulful, compassionate listeners—to take, literally and prayerfully, a breath from the labor of a divisive political environment and necessary pandemic adjustments. Jana, Deb, Patsy, Sara, Julie, and I brought open hearts to celebrate a weekend filled with blessings—a full moon, the beauty of the woods, the insightful practice of SoulCollage® and the celebration of All Saints Day.

Continue reading “Sacred Mother: Our Lady of Guadalupe”

Circle of Friends: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately–both old and new, those friends who are near and far, and those who have passed away.

Five years ago, our Circle lost a dear sister. Judy passed away only a year or so after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable, fast-growing cancer. For the last several weeks of her life, Judy was unable to leave her bed and wanted few visitors, but it was important for our Circle to continue sending our love and prayers. Even if we weren’t physically present, we wanted her to feel that we held her in our heart. Each of us committed to a day of the week that we would send Judy some kind of card, note or greeting. In this time of pandemic, just as we did with Judy, we can stay connected with our loved ones.

Judy, Laura, Ruth, Joyce, me and Katie–some of our Circle who came to my first SoulCollage® retreat at St. Benedict Center.

Judy was a lover of SoulCollage®—she came to my first retreat at St. Benedict Center and fell in love with the process. She started meeting weekly to cut, paste and create with our friend, Beth. The practice became a form of expression and prayer for her and she even shared it with her daughters and grandchildren on one of their last vacations together on Captiva Island. Making and sending a SoulCollage® card to honor Judy and our Circle was a form of creative prayer for me.

I was drawn to images that represented the strong, hard-working, loving women that had met together monthly for several years. I hoped the card would make Judy smile, bring her a little joy and remind her of the bond we all shared. It also gave me the chance to put images and words to how I feel about our Circle.

Continue reading “Circle of Friends: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”

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 50th 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, 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.

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“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”

Holy Water: Image of Gratitude

Practicing SoulCollage® is part of my spiritual practice that provides “boundaries and direction”, especially in this time of uncertainty.  I share an “I am one who” reflection for a card I created this week.  It came together slowly, over the course of several days, taking up space on my kitchen table until it felt complete.  The card has become a prayer of gratitude and a reminder to keep reaching for life-giving “holy water” in all its forms.

Card Name: “Holy Water”

I am one who stands in a circle of women who hold each other up, who embrace life and each other, who are connected, who grow together. I am one and many.

I am one who recognizes Source in the still, holy water. Stones, upright, are less about unsettling the water, and more about propelling motion, continually adapting, always transforming or conforming to what comes in its way. I can trust the peaceful, holy water.

I am one who stands in the stream of life-giving, purifying water.

I am one who, with open arms, is anointed with holy water. With joy, faith and a sense of solidarity, I am blessed with nourishment in abundance—above, below, around, overflowing.  

I am one who thirsts, not in an aching, despairing, dying, sort of way (at least not in this card, at this moment) but as a reminder that purification happens only when intentionally sought after and accepted. Water is the essential element to growth; I long for this fullness.

I am one who is grateful for thirst, to trust that the thirst will be quenched, and to drink from the chalice of holy water. Continue reading “Holy Water: Image of Gratitude”

Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge

Seeing the beauty of nature is the first step to taking action to protect it. Unless we can appreciate the oneness we have with creation, we will do very little to protect it.

creation protectors

“Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” –Pope Francis

A few years ago, I challenged readers to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled,  “Soul Collage® and the Environment”. Inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-wining novel,  The Overstory, I am resurrecting the challenge. Continue reading “Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge”

From Fingerpaints to SoulCollage®: My Creative Kid (Now Adult)

I was absolutely tickled when my daughter, Jessica, asked me to help her with an Environmental Politics project when she was in college. Not only did it focus on SoulCollage®, one of my passions, but she had requested special permission to use a different research idea than those suggested by her professor. I find that kind of creative thinking pretty awesome. But, then, I think she’s a pretty awesome kid (now, adult.)

 

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Jessica creating in elementary school

From finger painting and Play-doh as a toddler to crayons, markers, and watercolor in elementary school and later to SoulCollage®, Jessica has always been willing to try new things. We always had an “art drawer” at our house when Jessica was growing up and an evening at the kitchen table creating was a favorite way for us to spend time together. It has become a form of self-expression, self-understanding, even a way for Jessica to visualize her future.

Rather than putting words in her mouth, though, I wanted to hear from her what she valued about SoulCollage®. Perhaps her words will inspire another child, teen or young woman to express themselves creatively.

Continue reading “From Fingerpaints to SoulCollage®: My Creative Kid (Now Adult)”

In God’s World, Every Day is Earth Day

I recently finished reading The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers. I like to think I am able to find suitable, at times, even eloquent, words to express how I am feeling, but this is all I got:

Wow wow wow. This book—omg. It’s so much, so rich. I can’t even. Every sentence is a literary masterpiece; every character becomes a friend. Highly recommend—I will never be the same again, in such a good way.

This 500-page masterpiece is meant to be read slowly, to be savored. The novel weaves together the stories of nine characters, their relationship to trees and their awareness of and desire to stop the destruction of forests. The characters, each with a short story of their own, are the backdrop of a narrative that is less about them and more about trees. The Overstory was a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet.

I was invited to write an essay for the SoulCollage® newsletter, SoulCollage® Community Update, to commemorate Earth Day 2016, reflecting on how creating with images of nature can cultivate a sense of gratitude for God’s creation and, ultimately, impact how we protect our earth’s resources. With a newly heightened awareness of the magnitude of environmental threats and the importance of human behavior, I share the essay below: Continue reading “In God’s World, Every Day is Earth Day”

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