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Being Benedictine

Living Benedictine values in everyday life

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Prayer

Guns and Schools, Prayer and Work

These past few days our social media feeds have been filled with messages of thoughts and prayers for the victims of yet another school shooting. And there are just as many posts that reject what may seem like Pollyanna, feel-good greetings:

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I understand both perspectives. I want to “LIKE” the thoughts and prayers posts and the posts that say prayers are not enough.

I send my thoughts and prayers to all the families who have lost loved ones because I believe in prayer. My heart goes out to the parents who have lost their beloved children, bursting with potential; for the teachers, inspired to share a passion for life-long learning; for the students who survived, the students who saw their friends die, and the students who will have nightmares for weeks, months and years to come from this trauma.

I believe in the power of prayer to change the person praying and to affect the situation being prayed for. When I pray, I am sending my heartfelt condolences and positive energy to a specific person and/or for a situation. And I know it works—I’ve felt it myself when others have prayed for me. I can only hope it makes a difference when I pray for others.

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But I believe that giving only lip-service to prayer can be a cop-out, a way for some to avoid the responsibility of facing real issues. “Thoughts and prayers” can sound hollow without action, effort, or work towards change.

Prayer must be accompanied with authentic listening and selfless action. St. Benedict refers to this as “ora et labora” or prayer and work. This Benedictine motto has application beyond the monastery.

God empowers us and encourages us to put our prayers to work. Prayer alone is sentimental; work alone lacks heart and soul. It is not either prayer or work, but both prayer and work that can make an impact on those we love and for situations that need healing. We need both prayer and work.

This either/or thinking is what has brought our country to be divided on more issues than I can name here (besides, it just exhausts me.) There is not one single reason that America has found itself the leader in gun murders; there are many.

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A teacher colleague, Alan Holdorf, wrote, “We have a gun problem. Or we have a mental health problem. Or a discipline problem with our children. Can we have all of the problems? Then again, how silly would that be to have a multi-faceted problem that can’t be tackled by a single hot-button issue.”

Of course, America’s problems are multi-layered. There is something Americans are doing differently than other countries. There is something we are doing wrong. It is undeniable, but there isn’t one simple solution to our complex problems. The solution is not one thing or another, it is a both/and situation. There are layers of possibilities for addressing what ails our country, but for God’s sake let’s do something.

This crisis of gun violence in America is an opportunity to be open-minded listeners and to be leaders sans political agenda; to be compassionate and to detach from our own opinions long enough to realize that we all want the same thing—for our children to be safe in their learning environment.

It’s being humble enough as people, as a country, to say that we aren’t getting it right yet. We have a long way to go to make all of America feel safe, let alone great.

But America and my classroom are two different things.

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My heart belongs to the classroom. I look out my window at the flag flying half-staff, and I am reminded how much I love my students and want them to succeed. I want them to become their best self, to reach their fullest potential. I grieve when I see that a student comes from an environment that doesn’t encourage or support that.

Students have so many more issues than they did when I started my career in education 21 years ago—there are m­ore broken homes, mental illness, learning disabilities, poverty, personal and family trauma. Teaching has become much more than delivering curriculum, it is about connecting to the heart, soul, and mind of my student.

But this does not require me to carry a gun—that’s too easy. An eye for an eye makes everyone blind. Instead, some policy decisions need to be made to prevent school violence. Some decisions need to be made to give teachers the tools they need to connect with and help our most vulnerable students.

I will continue to PRAY and WORK towards this goal. 

“I’m a teacher and you want to arm me? Then arm me with a school psychologist who has time to do more than test and sit in meetings about testing. Arm me with enough counselors so we can build skills to prevent violence, and have meaningful discussions with students about their future. Arm me with social workers who can thoughtfully attend to students and their family’s needs. Arm me with enough school nurses so that they are accessible to every child. Arm me with more days on the calendar for teaching and learning and fewer days for standardized testing. Arm me with smaller class sizes that allow my colleagues and I to get to know our students and their families better. Arm me with community schools that are hubs of educational, cultural, health and civic partnerships, improving the entire community. Until you arm me to the hilt with what it takes to meet the needs of our school and students, I respectfully request you keep your guns out of my school.” Source: UTLA, video below.

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Lord, You Know Me: Friendships and Loneliness

A new blog post from Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, that honors both friendship, which God touches, and loneliness, which can only be filled with God. It captures the essence of the book Anam Cara, by John O’Donohue, which I treasure. He writes, “You should never belong to something that is outside yourself…(it is) important to find a balance in your belonging.”

He refers to the friendship of God, who is with us from the beginning as our “secret companion”, our truest friend. Christ is our true companion, nearer to us than any other. There is a danger to become too attached to our friendships, but we must not forget the Source of all friendships, our friendship in Christ. It is too easy to forget that God is our great love, our best friend.

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Lord, You Know Me

It is wonderful to have a friend who knows you well, with whom you have walked for many years. With whom you can share everything; who knows your story. With whom a conversation does not start at zero, you can just jump into it. To have a person who understands and who knows you, is a great gift of God.

However, sometimes not even a friend can reach my heart. This is an odd experience. Sometimes we are just left with ourselves, left alone. We cannot find a partner that adequately responds to our feelings, our story, our thoughts, situation or needs. But these moments that can be filled with darkness and sadness can also turn into a very precious experience. The situation breaks us open to realize that our loneliness is not an accident, but the reflection of our deepest call as human beings that goes beyond what another human being can grasp or understand. We realize that our loneliness touches the dimension of God; it is a result of the fact that we are immediate to God. This is the monk’s moment. The term monk stems from the Greek word “monachos” which means “single, solitary”.

Through God’s grace, we are able in these moments of aloneness to talk to Christ or to God and find his ear. And his response is always exactly what we need. We realize: HE understands, HE knows. His presence resonates with everything I utter and express. I feel understood, appreciated, loved. I feel liked by him as by a good friend. But even better, and in a perfect way. Nothing is missing.  Read More at WildeMonk >>

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Many Ways to Pray: Walking a Labyrinth

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

There are many ways to pray—in song, spoken or written words, silence, creativity, nature and movement, just to mention a few. Paul recommends to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which is only possible if we are able to connect with our Creator in a variety of ways. We are meant to engage our senses, our whole bodies, in prayer.

I’ve come to appreciate this about the Catholic Mass, even if visitors might think there is a lot of up and down. We genuflect, sit, stand, kneel and bow. These gestures, postures or movement help to bring our whole being into prayerful expression—raising our hands when saying the “Our Father”, making the sign of the cross or receiving the Eucharist allows us to use our bodies in prayer.

lab signIn addition, walking the stations of the cross or a labyrinth, taking a nature hike, or practicing yoga or tai chi are prayerful forms of movement that engage our bodies while quieting our mind. Going away on retreat is an opportunity to explore and practice various forms of prayer.

St. Benedict Center is building a labyrinth modeled after the famous labyrinth in the Cathedral of Chartres, France.  “When the Holy Land was closed to pilgrims in the Middle Ages, labyrinths abounded in the churches of Europe.  They were used to symbolically represent the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Our life is a pilgrimage, a journey to our eternal home with God in heaven.” –Father Thomas Leitner The labyrinth will be completed in late summer or fall. 

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This summer I had the opportunity to pray in many ways while attending an eight-day Ignatian retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center. Each day, for about an hour, I met with a spiritual director to receive guidance and to share my faith journey; the remainder of the day was spent reflecting on these discussions and praying. One of the ways that I prayed was by walking a labyrinth.

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a symbol of life without meaning, it is an agent of confusion, deception with dead ends that lead you nowhere. But a labyrinth is a symbol of a life of deeper meaning, an on-going sacred journey leading us inward, outward and to greater wholeness.” –Carrie Newcomer Continue reading “Many Ways to Pray: Walking a Labyrinth”

The Lord is Our Shepherd: New Meaning, Ancient Words

May 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic:  Psalm 23, God is Our Shepherd and Guide

Psalm 23 is the most commonly known Psalm—simple, familiar and full of richness. In lectio divina we ask, “What does this Psalm mean for me?”  We dwell in the words to make personal the promises of God to the people of Israel–promises of renewal, healing, peace, protection, encouragement, and guidance.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

After reading through the text together and then quietly, we share the words and phrases that come to mind. These words should ultimately lead to personal prayer.

Psalm 23 lectio

Oblates share the words that have settled on their hearts, continuing to listen deeply to what God is saying.

“I remind myself every morning that no matter what the day may bring, I gather strength from God. If I forget this, then other thoughts come into my mind and the day doesn’t go very well.”

“I realize that I lack nothing.  When I pray the “Our Father”, I am praying for my daily bread, not for yesterday or for tomorrow or when I retire, but for my daily bread.  When I realize I lack for nothing in this present moment, my cup overflows. Even when it’s cold, rainy, dreary, or my coworkers are a pain, my cup still overflows. I need to remember the gifts rather than the stuff going on around me.”

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“It can be comforting to substitute the name of a loved one who has died when reading Psalm 23. The Lord is John’s shepherd, He shall not want. He makes John lie down in green pastures; he leads him beside still waters; he restores his soul.

“In grief and hard times, we can believe that our happiness will return soon and our spirit will be renewed. If you substitute happiness for spirit, the Psalm can read as prayer and affirmation. Lord, renew my spirit.” Continue reading “The Lord is Our Shepherd: New Meaning, Ancient Words”

Praying the Psalms ~ Psalm 22

April 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic: Praying the Psalms

We can read the Psalms with three layers in mind: what the Psalm meant the first time it was prayed in history; how the Psalm hints at the life of Christ in the New Testament and how Jesus would have prayed it; and, finally, how it applies to our own lives and  how we can pray the Psalms now. We pray Psalms 22: 1-32.

my god why have you forsaken me

In practicing Lectio Divina, after reading the Scripture out loud, we contemplate, consider and reflect on what we have heard. The Scripture is read again. After some time of silence, we are welcomed to share a word or phrase that speaks to us.

All night long I call and cannot rest, my soul will live for you.      They never trusted you in vain.     Do not stand aside trouble is near.       They trusted and you rescued them.     If God is your friend let God rescue you.        Rescue my soul from the sword.           More worm than human.        My heart is like wax melting inside me.  

One participant said the images of wild beasts in the desert environment was overwhelming—she had no words.  We rest in silence, some speak, a few sniffles, a sigh. The verses and words in this Psalm touch each of us in a unique way.

What resonates with you from reading Psalms 22?  This is what resonated with us:

So many feelings are expressed in this Psalm—complaint, fear, desperation, anguish, hopelessness. We tend to think that we should feel in a certain way, that trust is the superior action or emotion, but it is human to feel all of the desperate feelings mentioned. We can accept all of our emotions because God lets us feel all of those things and desires that we express them. Continue reading “Praying the Psalms ~ Psalm 22”

Prayer during Lent (and other times too)

March 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topics: Lent for Benedictines; Ways to Pray

Source for discussion: Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB
Readings in the Rule of Saint Benedict: RB 48:14-15 THE DAILY MANUAL LABOR, RB 49:1-10   THE OBSERVANCE OF LENT

St. Benedict states that the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent  (RB:49). St. Benedict in his wisdom knew few would have the strength for this, so he has other suggestions. Fr. Volker Futter, Oblate Director, shared two important ideas:

  1. Lent is self-offering, not denial, it comes from the heart.
  2. We need to acknowledge  the presence of God then we can do sacrifice.  Sacrifice can be giving up something specific like food, TV or internet, or we can give a positive sacrifice.

Oblates shared that “giving of your time is priceless—you can’t get it back”.  So a short visit to the nursing home, or a visit to a neighbor or sending someone a long overdue card—that is your gift of time. “This may sound simple, but one of the hardest things for me to do is find that priceless gift of time for others.  It really is a sacrifice.”

A definition of compunction of heart was requested.  Compunction of heart is when we have an uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience because of something we may have done that may have caused worry, fear, etc. in someone’s heart.  When we give this up we receive more in return. Continue reading “Prayer during Lent (and other times too)”

Begin Everything in Prayer

February 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic—Prayer; Rule of St. Benedict, Chapters 8-20, 52.

The Divine Presence is Everywhere, RB 19:1 We believe that the divine presence is divine-presence
everywhere
and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked. (Prov 15:3). 2. But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office.

“It is also held that even work can be prayer. Any occupation undertaken through obedience, offered to God and accompanied with short invocations frequently renewed would in itself be prayer. Thus, only by sanctifying one’s daily actions can one pray without ceasing.” – Maria-Thomas Beil

Lectio and Discussion

Scripture for Lectio Divina: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

After reading the Scripture out loud, we contemplate, consider and reflect on what we have heard. The Scripture is read again. After some time of silence, we are welcomed to share a word or phrase that speaks to us. What I love most about practicing lectio divina with a group is what resonates with each of us is so different. We bring to the table a variety of ways to understand what we’ve read; we learn from each other.

Inner room.      Deliver.     Do not babble.    So that others may see them.    Received they reward.      Sees in secret.          Thy will.         Us.          Forgive.           Your Father knows what you need. 

 What resonates with you from this reading?  This is what resonated with us:

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There’s more to prayer than making words. Continue reading “Begin Everything in Prayer”

BENEDICTINE OBLATE ENJOYS MONASTIC WAY OF LIFE

Experiencing a taste of the monastic life while living in the secular world.betty_b

That’s a benefit that Betty Bohaty enjoys as an oblate of the Missionary Benedictines of Christ the King Priory in Schuyler.

An oblate since 2004 and a member of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler with her husband, Don, Bohaty and up to 50 other oblates meet with the monks and study the 1,500-year-old Rule of St. Benedict, which gives guidelines for the spiritual and monastic life – incorporating obedience, silence, prayer, humility and work.

Learning that even the littlest actions of daily life can be a prayer if done for love of God is one aspect of monastic spirituality that rings true for Bohaty. “It gives me an awareness that I am praying always,” she said. Continue reading “BENEDICTINE OBLATE ENJOYS MONASTIC WAY OF LIFE”

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