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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Laudato Si’ – Earth Day

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.

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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”

Arbor Day: Planting Trees is a Big Deal in Nebraska

Planting trees is a big deal in Nebraska…so important that the planting and preservation of trees are celebrated with an actual holiday, Arbor Day, started right here in Nebraska and now observed in all fifty states and in several countries.

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The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, was a transplant to the Nebraska Territory from Detroit in the mid-1850s. He was a journalist, newspaper editor and served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. Morton understood the importance of trees to agriculture, for windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.

He believed in getting everyone, particularly students, involved in planting trees. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, encouraged by contests between counties and promotion in schools. “Students of different grades met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree that was planted was labeled with the grade, the time planted, and was to be specially cared for by that grade.” (The History of Arbor Day)

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On the final Friday of April every year thereafter, Arbor Day has been celebrated. Throughout the year the Arbor Day Foundation works to “help others understand and use trees as a solution to many of the global issues we face today, including air quality, water quality, a changing climate, deforestation, poverty, and hunger” through conservation and education programs.

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Each generation takes the earth as trustees. —J. Sterling Morton

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Arbor Day Lodge is open for tours–we were just there a few months ago! Many activities and, of course, lots of trees in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

I recently finished reading The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers and I have not stopped thinking about trees since. I think about climate change, our responsibility to creation and to future generations, the beauty of trees, the importance of nature in our spiritual lives, about knowing our place in the world, about Arbor Day and EarthDay and all the things that conscientious people do to make a difference.

Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible. –Richard Powers, The Overstory

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The Overstory 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.

“There would be neither an economic crisis in the world today, nor an ecological threat, were it not for the evil done by greed. Monastic poverty means being content with the simple things that sustain human existence in its inherent goodness. This poverty allows man to live in harmony with field and forest, without feeling the need to brutally strip the earth of her resources in order to realize an immediate gain. (Brother Philip Anderson, Prior Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey )

Abbot John Klassen, OSB of St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota writes about our responsibility to the environment in The Rule of Benedict and Environmental Stewardship (highly recommended!) St. Benedict wrote about humility, stability, and frugality in The Rule he used for his monastic communities…there is much we can learn from his wisdom even 1500 years later.

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In honor of Arbor Day, I share “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibben. This prayerful song is a 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

From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt

Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees

Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide

Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees

A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong

In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees

As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say

In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees

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© Jodi Blazek Gehr

 

 

 

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.

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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”

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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