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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Pilgrimage

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”

Naked Before God

Just one year ago, I started reading “The Soul of a Pilgrim” by Christine Valters Painter in preparation for a trip to visit family in Germany and to go on a Benedictine pilgrimage to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

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Kloster Benedicktbeuren, Germany

“When we take inward and outward journeys, we can be pilgrims as long as we stay open to new experiences.”—Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim

If we are “attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, (and) opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort” (Paintner), we are on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage may be intentional or not: becoming a new parent, losing a loved one, resolving a relationship conflict, or going on a spiritual retreat can be a pilgrimage if one seeks to learn, reflect and be transformed from the experience. Our life itself is a pilgrimage.

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Bohemian Alps, Nebraska

The cousin I visited in Germany was planning a pilgrimage of his own this summer. Jefferey and his wife, Sabine, were planning to visit Nebraska for the first time. I was excited to show him the Bohemian Alps, where his father (my uncle) grew up, the village where he went to school and to introduce him to family he has never met. Instead, Nebraska, Germany, and countries all over the world are on a different kind of pilgrimage altogether—the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of planning or hosting trips, we are staying put.

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Spring came on time, pandemic or not.

The pandemic transformed our world in an instant, personally and collectively—how, where and if we work has changed; how students are learning is different; the economy, health care, personal finances, shopping and travel no longer look like they used to. There is nothing that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic.

Although each of us is affected differently, we are all on a pilgrimage, not of our own choosing, but from circumstances unimaginable just a few months ago. Still, we can “make the choice for the journey to become meaningful and soulful.” (Painter) We can choose this time as an opportunity to become more aware of who we are and who we want to be.

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Despite the early spring flowers, Nebraska had an April snowstorm.

I have returned to “The Soul of a Pilgrim,” for insight, re-reading the book and also participating in an online retreat with the Abbey of the Arts, to navigate this pilgrimage of uncertainty and its library of emotions, as Mary Pipher calls it. I go from gratitude to grief in short order. I am both content and irritable, joyful and disappointed, trusting and afraid. In this smaller world of “stay at home”, I have a heightened awareness of the little things, both the beauty and the idiosyncrasies. More hours alone together in our home, my husband and I brush up against each other with all our uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, but also gratitude and joy. We have a lot of fun but can also get on each other’s nerves. We are a bundle of contradictions now more than ever. Continue reading “Naked Before God”

Always Room for Dessert: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 8

It’s been a month since my last pilgrimage post...no, I did not forget about the second half of our pilgrimage! We have NINE days left to journey!

But life happened here in Nebraska—school started with a week of teacher planning days, our daughter, Jessica, came home for two weeks, her boyfriend came to visit for several days, I had the first few weeks of school with students, we celebrated the wedding of dear friends, helped Jessica move to Madison, Wisconsin, had more weeks of school….and, you get the point. I need another pilgrimage. 🙂 

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Friday, June 21 —Our stay at St. Ottilien ended with Mass in the chapel with Fr. Volker Futter and Fr. Anastasius Gunter Reiser, who spent several months at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler last year.  St. Otillien Congregation of Missionary Benedictines is the motherhouse of Münsterschwarzach Abbey and the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing.

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In 1884 Andreas Amrhein, formerly a Benedictine from Beuron Archabbey (that I visited with my cousin Jefferey), had a vision of combining the Benedictine way of life—following the Rule of St. Benedict, practicing hospitality and promising stability, obedience and conversion of life—while also serving as missionaries. In 1887 the community settled in Emming at an existing chapel called St. Ottilia, and the congregation took the same name. Continue reading “Always Room for Dessert: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 8”

A Busload of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 4

“Pilgrimage calls us to yield our own agendas and follow where we are being led.” —Christine Valters Painter, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

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Many times in the months leading up to the pilgrimage, I perused the informational brochure outlining where we would visit each day and where we would stay, anticipating the trip ahead. The pace and routine of the previous pilgrimage gave me a good idea of what to expect—but what is actually experienced lies in the gaps of the agenda, in the conversations and relationships with others, and in the details of the day that cannot be planned or controlled. This is where the grace of God enters—sometimes it is in the form of discomfort and challenges and other times in opportunities that new insights and “aha moments” of new understanding bring.

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I am at a threshold, a doorway, entering into a time and space of letting go as I pray in my mantra—“Trust God, peace like a river flows.” I know that surrender can eventually bring peace, wonder, surprise, openness, vulnerability, and/or joy, but I also know that not surrendering can bring tension, worry, expectation, guilt, anger, resentment, and/or disappointment. I want to surrender to whatever the moment brings. And if and when those less desirable, more challenging moments come, I want to surrender self-judgment too. Ultimately, surrender is transformational—not in the moment, but over time. The experiences and the accompanying feelings will percolate over days, weeks, months, and begin to define a new part of my self.

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“What’s your biggest takeaway?” many of my friends have asked.

My first thought is OMG, it was SO HOT!! How do people live without air conditioning?

The European heatwave made a big impression and impact, but it was only the last several days of our trip. There were many other takeaways that I will share as I travel through the itinerary in my reflections. Join me on the journey through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the outer pilgrimage, and the inner pilgrimage as I share my biggest takeaways—

Hospitality—History—Humor—Humility—Heat —Home
(the H thing was a total coincidence, but I took it as a good sign to keep writing.) Continue reading “A Busload of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 4”

Welcoming the Stranger: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 3

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ”—Rule of St. Benedict 53:1

Officially the Benedictine pilgrimage part of my trip does not start until I connect with thirty-six other pilgrims, but as I reflect on the readings/homily from Sunday, July 21, 2019 (the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C), it occurs to me that the week I spent with my cousins was just as much part of the pilgrimage. It was the embodiment of being Benedictine and of the hospitality demonstrated in these readings.

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For having only met once, Jefferey and Sabine were practically welcoming a stranger in their home and yet, they received me with enthusiasm, providing food, water, bath, and bed for several days. So, too, did Jennifer and Santhosh. They planned events and excursions; they took care of transportation and many other practical details. Jennifer rearranged a room, asked if I needed shampoo, soap, lotion, a light, a different blanket, more food, a glass of water…so much hospitality that Santhosh had to drag her out of the room, laughing, “Let her sleep, she is tired.” But, mostly we were in each other’s company—listening, talking, asking questions. We were present to each other.

In Genesis 18:1-10a, Abraham welcomes three strangers, running enthusiastically to greet them; he offers the choicest food, water, rest, and a foot bath (okay, no one gave me a foot bath, but I did have wonderful hot showers!) He provides the strangers, often illustrated as the three angels of the Holy Trinity icon, the practical concerns of being hospitable, but he also “wait(ed) on them under the tree while they ate.” He meets their needs, but also gives them his attention; he is present to them.

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In Luke 10:38-42, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home, working hard on the practical elements of serving a guest, perhaps preparing the food, cleaning a room for the visitor, and setting the table. Mary, on the other hand, simply sits with Jesus and listens. She gives him her attention; she is present to him. Surely, the practical things are important (otherwise no one would ever eat), but Jesus tells them that “Mary has chosen what is better.” Both the practical actions and being present, or contemplative, are important elements of hospitality and being Benedictine. Continue reading “Welcoming the Stranger: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 3”

Cousin Week: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 2

Sunset over the Atlantic, sunrise over Europe and eight hours later, cousin week of the pilgrimage begins. Jefferey greets me with a huge smile at the Munich airport and we chat enthusiastically about our travel plans as we drive to Heidhausen, where he and Sabine live. We will spend a few days in Munich; we will visit his mother; I will travel to Stuttgart for a few days to visit Jennifer and her husband, Santhosh; and, then spend one final day in Munich before joining the group pilgrimage. Jefferey has planned everything down to the detail—even pre-booking my train trips to connect with others.

After a short rest, we have a wonderful brunch. The food is as amazing as I remember it. Jefferey is a great chef, using only fresh, organic and, always, a variety of ingredients. We can’t believe it has been 5 years since my last visit and we first met.

 

 

Continue reading “Cousin Week: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 2”

The Soul of a Pilgrim: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 1

“A pilgrimage is an intentional journey into the experience of unknowing and discomfort for the sake of stripping away preconceived expectations. We grow closer to God beyond our own imagination and ideas.” The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Christine Valters Paintner

Recently my Spirit Circle chose to read Christine Valters Paintner’s “The Soul of a Pilgrim”, a book that explores pilgrimage as both an inner and outer journey. Several of us were preparing for “Footsteps of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica,” a Benedictine pilgrimage to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland sponsored by the Benedictine Oblates of Christ the King Priory.

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By definition, a pilgrimage is a sacred journey or holy expedition, but we do not need to travel a great distance to go on pilgrimage. It is more about choosing to be “attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort, and going out to our own inner wild edges to explore new frontiers.”

The purpose of going on a journey “is always to return home carrying the new insight back to everyday life,Paintner writes. “When we take inward and outward journeys, we can be pilgrims as long as we stay open to new experiences.”  A week of hard work, becoming a new parent, losing a loved one, resolving a relationship conflict, or going on a spiritual retreat can all be a pilgrimage if one seeks to learn, reflect and be transformed from the experience.

These insights from the first few chapters and the book “The Soul of a Pilgrim” travel with me on my two-part pilgrimage. First, I visit cousins in Germany and then I join thirty-six other pilgrims to learn more about St. Benedict and to visit sacred sites including churches, monasteries, abbeys, castles, small villages, and large cities.

Three weeks, three days I will be gone. As I journey from Nebraska to Europe, I reflect on both my outer and inner experiences—the people, places, feelings and insights that I encounter on the journey. Continue reading “The Soul of a Pilgrim: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 1”

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