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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Family and Friends

From This Day Forward, To Have and To Hold

“We have gathered today to celebrate the union of Jessica Gehr and John Holland. Marriage is a sacred blessing and this morning we celebrate the love shared between two special individuals.”

–Joyce Schmeeckle, wedding officiant and dear friend

We gathered—John and Jessica’s community, their friends and family—to support and bless their marriage. A wedding day conjures images of hearts and flowers, vows and wedding rings, first kisses and champagne toasts. Marriage is a sacred commitment where two people commit to journey through life together, so it is appropriate that the focus of the day is on the bride and groom. It is their BIG DAY!!

My daughter, Jessica, had her fairytale, storybook, dream-come-true wedding on July 17, 2021, and yes, indeed, she married her Prince Charming—we absolutely love our new son-in-law, John, and are so grateful that he adores our daughter. I remember when my husband and I got married, there was very little choice in what the day would look like. Tradition said this, the parents said that, the Catholic Church said this…but what I loved about John and Jessica’s wedding is that they created their own ceremony and carefully planned what their first day as husband and wife would look like.

The wedding guests, John and Jessica’s community, were an integral part of their wedding day—from who the officiant was, to parts of the ceremony, to the events planned to celebrate after the wedding. As a Benedictine oblate, it reminds me that for St. Benedict, everything that is written in his Rule takes place within the context of community; whether giving instruction about prayer, relationships, or work, the monk is reminded he or she is a part of a community. It is through community, not just as monks or oblates but within families and our community of friends, that we grow in understanding of self and God and learn to love one another more deeply.

“Benedict’s genius was in recognizing the power of journeying together. There is power and empowerment, healing and strength in living together and recognizing our mutual interdependence.”

Engaging Benedict: What the Rule Can Teach Us Today, Laura Swan

Judith Valente writes, “My friend Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica once described a monastic community as ‘a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow’ (How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community).” The guests of John and Jessica’s wedding are linking arms with them, will support them, and as community does, will challenge them and help them grow.

When creating their wedding ceremony, John and Jessica carefully chose who would be part of the ceremony and the words that would be spoken. When they talked about who they wanted to marry them, they knew they wanted someone who shared their own spirituality and values and would deliver a message filled with insight and wisdom. They asked my own “anam cara,” soul friend, Joyce, who also hired Jessica for her first job in high school, quickly becoming a spiritual mentor to Jess as well. This is a newer phenomenon, to choose your own officiant, but my heart is full that they chose so wisely. (See script throughout this post.)

The ceremony also included a family blessing shared by each mother. I was deeply touched to be able to contribute some words about what I hoped John and Jessica’s marriage might hold for them. I shared the following blessing:

Blessing for John and Jessica Holland Wedding

When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night. Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” But the lengthier version has remained my prayer for Jessica as she has grown up.

This special prayer I say now includes BOTH Jessica and John as they join their life together in marriage.

God bless Jessica, and John’s minds, so that they make good decisions and choices.

God bless Jessica and John’s bodies so that they grow strong and healthy and safe.

God bless Jessica and John’s spirit so that they know the love of God and others. Amen.

It is said that the only thing that prepares you for marriage, is marriage.  It will not always be easy, but more often it will be better than you could have imagined. Every day you will make choices about what kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you will continue to build with God and each other.

A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage is not made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

In your becoming, take time for solitude—pursuing your individual passions knowing you are always supported by the other. Listen with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict writes, listening to each other’s words but also to what lies between the words, seeking to understand the silence too.

May you be patient with each other, keeping a sense of humor, apologizing, and forgetting quickly.

May you be a joyful giver and treat each hour as the rarest gift with gratitude for each other. May you build traditions and rituals that are uniquely yours as a couple.

May you have a marriage that embraces all seasons.

God Bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit.

God Bless John’s mind, body, and spirit.

God Bless the marriage of John and Jessica. Amen

Family was an important part of the wedding ceremony and weekend. Both dads and John’s brother shared toasts and the mothers shared a blessing.

A reading from Romans 12: 9-18, instruction for sharing love and hospitality both in marriage and in community, was followed by a message from Joyce.  Friends and family were asked to participate in a community vow, agreeing to love and support John and Jessica in their marriage, offering them love and friendship.

This community vow mirrors the importance of The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago as a guide for those who desired a spiritual life of prayer and work, learning to love others as Christ. It was not a guide for individual pursuits, but for living in community. It is a given that the community is important, an integral part of growing in holiness and happiness. John and Jessica see clearly that they have the support of friends and family, that they are part of a community that they will also share their gifts and hospitality with. This was followed by a moment of silent prayer for their marriage.

“The words community and communicate share the same Latin root. They are related by root to another word, compassion, which means to “suffer with”, or more loosely, to “walk beside.”

Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.

John and Jessica have created a community that will walk beside them, people they have known all their life as well as those who they have met along the way. As a couple, they will continue to gather new friends as well. My husband gave a nod during his toast to all those in John and Jessica’s community who have helped them become who they are:

When you raise your kid, you hope to instill your hopes, dreams, and values in them and that when they go out into the world, they make all the right choices and remember the way they were raised. Lots of people have told Jodi and I what a great job we did in raising our daughter. That is partially true, but I think we learn and form who we are from those around us. Jessica and John have had many positive role models in their lives. They have taken a little bit of each one of those people to become who they are today. So, when people tell me, you did a great job in raising your daughter, it has as much to do with all the relationships she had with others. I want to thank everyone for helping me raise my daughter. Everyone here can take credit for the beautiful person she is today. Many can take credit for John being a kind, loving and caring person. They are who they are today because of all the people in their life.

“The Benedictine spirituality of community is based on life with other persons in the spirit of Christ: to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them.”

Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today

John and Jessica vow to journey through life together—to support and empower each other and to continue to learn and grow in their relationship. They are community to each other, first and foremost. I am so proud of and happy for them!

As part of their wedding gift, I created a SoulCollage® card called “John and Jessica Becoming.” A wedding photo will be added to the card soon.

Other blog posts on marriage and family:

What Makes a Happy Mother’s Day?

The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments

Jessica Becoming

What Makes a Happy Mother’s Day?

Being Jessica’s mother is the greatest gift and honor of a lifetime. I will never forget the moment she was born. “You got your girl,” my husband said. I had all but forgotten that the baby would have a gender while laboring. This excerpt from The Red Tent resonates about that moment:

“There should be a song for women to sing at this moment, or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment. Like every mother since the first mother, I was overcome and bereft, elated and ravaged. I had crossed over from girlhood. I beheld myself as an infant in my mother’s arms, and caught a glimpse of my own death. I wept without knowing whether I rejoiced or mourned.”

Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

It’s been a few years since Jess and I have spent an official Mothers’ Day together. For the past five years, she has done some serious adulting—graduating from college, moving from Lincoln to Washington, DC. to Madison, Wisconsin, working full-time, going to graduate school, getting her first apartment on her own, and finding love.

2020 was a big year. Besides enduring a pandemic that abruptly ended her graduate studies sans proper graduation ceremony, Jessica started a new job with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as a Children’s Services Program and Policy Analyst. And on the third Sunday of Advent—called Gaudete Sunday, Latin for joy—John Holland asked Jessica to marry him on a hilltop in historic Galena, Illinois where more than 5,000 candlelit luminaries lined the streets, steps, sidewalks, and store windows. Jessica’s smile says it all — PURE JOY.

She is becoming… and it is beautiful to behold.  

Continue reading “What Makes a Happy Mother’s Day?”

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.”

Friends are friends forever

Cleaning out some old papers, I stumbled upon a script from which I read a farewell greeting to my spiritual director and monk friend, Fr. Mauritius Wilde when he moved from Schuyler, Nebraska to Rome four years ago.

My message was one of gratitude for our shared experiences, but also sadness that we would not see each other regularly…since Rome is a bit more than a car drive away. I knew that we would continue to be in touch, and as luck would have it I was able to visit Rome one year later for the Benedictine World Congress and he has also visited Nebraska a few times to lead retreats. So, it was not a good-bye, but a see-ya-later.

Farewell party for Fr. Mauritius. October, 2016

As I read through what I had written four years ago, I realized this feeling of being separated, yet remaining deeply connected speaks to our current situation of pandemic. I feel this same nostalgic see-ya-later-sort-of-way as we hunker down, cancel trips, stay at home and physically distance to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. It is bittersweet—but it is what we must do. We will survive this liminal space where we are together in spirit, but not in person.

I experience this distance, and yet connectedness, with my daughter, who also moved from home—first to Washington DC four years ago (yikes, that 2016 was a doozy of a year) and then to Madison, Wisconsin. She is my child, so of course, we see each other as often as possible, but without the spontaneity of a quick lunch date or evening walk. I am grateful that we talk or text each other nearly every day and have been able to exchange visits nearly every other month.

An autumn pandemic visit from Jessica. Working from home means she can work anywhere!

But still, it is challenging to have your loved ones far away. As much as I love reading about the pioneer days, I was not cut out to be one. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to send your grown child off with her family in a covered wagon, perhaps never to be seen again.

Continue reading “Friends are friends forever”

Our Coral Anniversary: 35 Years of Marriage

Jodi Blazek ❤️ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985

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A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.

A marriage provides a safe place to fall, a form of protection from the stresses of everyday life and also from more extreme challenges, like the pandemic we now face.  The traditional symbol for a 35th anniversary is coral, an organic material found in warm seas. Coral takes many years to form—much like the strength of a marriage made of moments. Coral is a symbol of protection—providing essential habitat structure and energy for 25% of the world’s ocean life, including young fish. How fitting that coral is the symbol of our 35th year of marriage, a year where we have found much safety in each other’s company.

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Visiting Jessica in Madison during the summer, 2020.

Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off.

After 35 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great storytelling or one-liners that no one else understands but us. Funny, sad, silly, stupid, poignant, heartwarming, memorable moments. Moments we’d like to forget and moments we have to forgive. But, mostly, moments that have helped us become who we are.

A marriage is made of moments. Some of our earlier moments: Continue reading “Our Coral Anniversary: 35 Years of Marriage”

Every Day is Happy Mothers’ Day!

Today my child should be walking across the stage at her graduation ceremony to receive her Masters in Public Affairs diploma. I should be there, applauding and celebrating her achievements. But, you know…. the pandemic and all. It would have been a beautiful way to spend Mothers’ Day.

Although I would love to be with Jessica on this day, to have recognized her achievements with ceremony, what makes this Mothers’ Day truly happy (and my heart full on ordinary days as well), is having a child who lives a life of joy and purpose.

This is all a mother desires—to know that her child is happy, at peace, learning, growing, working hard, loving well, and always becoming. 

Jessica becoming
Jessica Becoming, a special card for all the phases of Jessica’s life through high school, 2012.

It’s been a few years since Jess and I have spent an official Mothers’ Day together. In 2016, after graduating from college, Jessica moved to Washington, DC. to work as a full-time research assistant. And in 2018, Jessica moved to Madison, Wisconsin, earning a fellowship to study public policy at the LaFollette School of Public Affairs. Continue reading “Every Day is Happy Mothers’ Day!”

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)”

Just Listen: Big decisions require big listening

Big decisions require big listening.

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I created a SoulCollage® card for my daughter when she was 21 and going through what some Millennial research experts dubbed a “quarter-life crisis.” At that point in her life she was going through the oh-my-gosh-where-did-the last three-years-of-college-go-?-I-still-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up-and-there’s-only-one-year-left-of-college-until-the-real-world-hits-me-upside-the- head and-my-parents-declare-my-financial-emancipation!

Fast forward four years, and she reaches another crossroads. Of course, wise mothers know that these crossroads are the markers of a life well-lived. Life is full of forks in the road and sometimes a few detours. There is never a straight road with easy answers about which direction to go. We come to accept that normal is the in-between spaces of what was and what is to come, while we practice trust, patience, and big listening, an opportunity for Life Lectio.

It was during this time of in-between, the summer of her quarter-life crisis, that I created a SoulCollage® card for Jessica’s 21st birthday. It represented my advice/prayer for her. I hoped it would be an image for her to practice Visio Divina, deep and big listening to her intuition. I share again the image and words of Just Listen:

listen

Just Listen

I remember the carefree little-girl-Jessica who ran and played and laughed and didn’t worry about a darn thing. Just a sketch of yourself then. Happy, yes, but not fully who you are to become. Within you is that little girl you have always been and always will be— the spirit of Jessica, Jessica Becoming Stay connected to those little voices and playful characters, the pondering and contemplating spirits, the fairy spirits within you.

Listen carefully. Put your ear to the ground. Put your ear to the seashell. Do you hear the ocean?  Just listen. Listen to the sound of your environment, amplified. Listen to the ground of Being from which you come. Listen to the people and experiences that God places in your life. This is the Universe speaking to you. Listen and learn. Continue reading “Just Listen: Big decisions require big listening”

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