“Winter, spring, summer, and fall are mulch for each other. The seasons of our lives are like that also. We learn from the layers of life. Our joys, sorrows, regrets, hopes, miseries, and enthusiasms are mulch for each other.” The Flowing Grace of Now, Macrina Wiederkehr
Book Review by Jodi Blazek Gehr— “The Flowing Grace of Now,” Macrina Wiederkehr
Our storehouse of personal experiences can be our greatest teacher as we move through the seasons of life. The lessons we have learned through good and hard living can give us insight to navigate our worries and fears, to help us find answers to hard questions, or to let go of the questions altogether, and to, ultimately, help us make peace with our past, present, and future.
The Days of Awe is a ten-day period that begins with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), beginning Sunday, September 29-Tuesday, October 1, and concluding with the observance of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). I learned about this Jewish tradition that dates back to the third century BCE from my sister-in-law, Rachel Pred Gehr.
Rachel wrote about celebrating Rosh Hashanah several years ago on her blog, and it continues to make an impression on my own spirituality (I thought she wrote it just last year—lol, time flies.) I was touched by the ritual of “tashlich” that she described—“the congregation gathers at the creek for a ritual of tossing our sins into the moving stream, signaling a fresh start to the new year.”
She quotes, “The custom of going to a body of water on Rosh Hashanah is a symbolic allusion, for the waters which now seem to be at this place were not here before and will not remain afterward. So, if the sinner says to himself or herself: “I will not repeat my sin; my behavior will change”, the sin, like the waters, will move on.” (A Feminist Tashlich, Rachel Kasten) Our sins are washed away….sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Most of what I know about the Jewish faith I learned in patchwork fashion—from a few friends, “The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith and Google. In elementary school, I had a friend who invited me to her Bat Mitzvah, a ceremony she explained as similar to Confirmation in the Christian church. But it seemed a lot different to this 12-year-old Catholic girl—it spanned two days, a lot of prayers that I didn’t understand, the carrying of a large package through the sanctuary and ending at a party with the fanciest finger food I’d ever eaten.
I am grateful for that early introduction, though, even if I didn’t understand much. It provided me with a foundation of acceptance and a desire to learn more about all faiths…and a realization that wisdom and truth are found in all faith traditions.
Recently my Spirit Circle and I had the opportunity to visit the Tri-Faith Initiative, a sacred space that brings together a synagogue, church, mosque, and interfaith center on one 38-acre campus in Omaha. The Tri-Faith Initiative started over 20 years ago with a vision to encourage relationships in the three Abrahamic faith groups—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths. But it is just in the last year that Temple Israel, Countryside Community Church (UCC), and The American Muslim Institute, opened their new buildings, all connected by bridges and within view of each other.
It was a profound experience to see all of the prayer centers, but I was most impacted by the temple. Since childhood, I have had a chance to experience and learn more about Judaism. The Bat and Bar Mitzvahs of my niece and nephew, Alice and Mike, were special religious experiences that go beyond the boundaries of the faith I grew up in. Perhaps my fascination with Jewish tradition is because it feels new(ish) to me, but I find it peculiar that Christianity, a religion rooted in Judaism, doesn’t continue to celebrate many Jewish rituals and holidays including The Days of Awe. For 2400 years, Jewish people, likely Jesus too, have reflected on their past year and repented for their sins with a spirit of beginning again.
Rachel continues in her post, “And with the new year comes reflection on the past year, and commitments to improve ourselves and the community and the ripple effect continues…whether you celebrate Rosh Hashanah or not – a year can start any time.”
The essence of making resolutions at the new year, whether one follows the Gregorian or Jewish calendar, is that we desperately seek the chance to “do-over.” Celebrating the beginning of a new year is a reminder of our opportunity to “always begin again”—the embodiment of Being Benedictine. It’s not as simple as a “do-over” but Rosh Hashanah or New Year’s Day gives us a definitive time and space to honor our deepest longing to begin again. As St. Benedict proclaimed, “Always we begin again.”
These next days, no matter your faith tradition, can be a time for reflecting on the past, making amends and setting intentions for a hopeful future.
These next days, I shall get me to a river, practice some forgiveness of self and others….and begin again.
A lovely prayer to use for washing those “sins” away:
Here I am again
ready to let go of my mistakes.
Help me to release myself
from all the ways I’ve missed the mark.
Help me to stop carrying
the karmic baggage of my poor choices.
As I cast this bread upon the waters
lift my troubles off my shoulders.
Help me to know that last year is over,
washed away like crumbs in the current.
Open my heart to blessing and gratitude.
Renew my soul as the dew renews the grasses. – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
See Rachel’s full post here. And another one about “tashlich” here.
Salzburg, just aaah. I just loved everything about Salzburg–that the Trapp family performed there, that they hid out in the cemetery I walked through, that “The Sound of Music” was filmed in various locations in the Old Town. I loved the architecture, art, music, food, polkas, prayers, catacombs, street artists, and gelato. I loved it all, but I must go back. I must see where Maria and the Baron were married. Until then, the movie.
Saturday, June 22—A beautiful drive through Austrian countryside and an inspirational morning prayer set the tone for our day in Salzburg. Each day on the bus, we prayed the traditional Benedictine invitatory, “Lord, open my lips. –And my mouth will proclaim your praise,” followed by Psalms. Fr. Volker led our traditional prayers, but today also shared Native American Aztec and Sioux prayers that resonated with many of us.
Oh, only for so short a while have you loaned us to each other…Let me not take those I love for granted…as if tomorrow you would call them home to you…When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light…
The prayer was a powerful reminder to live each day, THIS day to the fullest; to appreciate our friends and travel companions and to be profoundly grateful, to “stand beneath the endless waterfall of (God’s) abundant gifts to me.” It was also a reminder to be gentle with each other, as “the other is also wounded.” The morning prayer made a difference in our day!
Passing through the tunnels of the walled city to the Old Town (Alstadt), we arrived in medieval Salzburg for our morning Mass at St. Peter’s Benedictine Monastery. As with many of the centuries-old churches we visited, reconstruction and renovation could throw a wrench into some of our plans, and the same for Salzburg. There was confusion and a wait to determine the chapel that we would celebrate Mass in.
Although inconvenient, it was encouraging to consider that pilgrims can enjoy the rich beauty and history of the churches for centuries to come—and we took advantage of our time to practice impromptu Tai Chi Chih, a form of meditative movement. It was peaceful to do and to watch later (as some sharp cookie recorded.)
I’ve written before about choosing a “Word of the Year.” This year, I chose a phrase to serve as my spiritual mantra—three life-changing words that came as a gift of grace when I felt torn between two possibilities and needed to make a difficult decision.
For me, the process of discernment, especially when I have strong feelings or attachments, often begins with compulsive mental role-playing. I replay conversations—what was said, what was meant, what could have been said, and now what? Once I am able to slow down my thoughts, create some space, and breathe, I can face a decision more calmly and with a spiritual perspective. I write out my thoughts and feelings, ask questions of myself and God, and listen to what might be beneath the words. I write as prayer, knowing that, so often, an answer is revealed.
The decision I needed to make felt particularly heartbreaking. Feeling desperate, I reached out to a spiritual companion and asked for prayers.
Asking for prayers was admitting I needed help.
Asking for prayers was an act of vulnerability, humility, and surrender for me.
Asking for prayers helped me to be even more prayerful about my situation. I surrendered to God for the answer that my obsessive thinking would not bring. Asking for prayers opened me for the words that came.Continue reading “You Are Free”→
Sometimes I just don’t know when to shut up. Words, words, and more words.
I love words—to write them and to read them. I have been considering how I use words after reading The Power of Words by Joe Kay at Living Gracefully. It shined a light on the word wars often waged in my head, in conversation, in writing—either on social media or my personal journaling.
In some ways, I give words too much power. I think if I keep talking I might find just the right words to communicate my point better. Maybe my words weren’t effective, or they weren’t heard the way I intended, or my words were rejected—so I try again with more words, thinking “this time” I will be understood or be able to help another understand. Maybe “this time” we will come to an agreement or reach a hoped-for reconciliation.
But words do have power, Kay writes— “Martin Luther King, Jr., understood the power of words. He spoke so beautifully and prophetically about his dream of a world in which everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God.
Words have the power to inspire us, touch us, and transform us for better or worse, depending upon which words we choose to allow inside of us. They can bring us more peace, love and justice, or they can increase our levels of division, fear and hatred. In the last few months, we’ve been reminded how easy it is to get sucked into the pool of hateful words.Continue reading “In Praise of Words and Less Words”→
The Benedictine path calls us to solitude, prayer, balance and listening with the ear of our heart. In the spirit of Benedictine hospitality, I share a guest post from Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha. Michelle moved to Nebraska (where our paths have crossed) in 2001, is the wife of an English professor and mom to two teenage boys.
Michelle’s newest book, True You, releasing January 1, guides readers on a journey toward letting go in order to uncover their true God-created selves. True Youcaptures Michelle’s experience of becoming her truest self by honoring time and space for authentic reflection.
I am delighted to be reading an advanced copy of True You from Michelle’s publisher to share my impressions with you. I am doing much reflection and writing over my Christmas break and will share more in upcoming blog posts. For now, I share an excerpt of the book here:Continue reading “True You: Becoming Your Truest Self”→
Weekend mornings are made for slowing down—for sipping coffee crowned in frothy milk, catching up on reading, and listening to some of my favorite music. This morning my meditation consisted of listening countless times to “I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer and spiritual teacher, and accidentally reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.
Both song and scripture are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must flood the world with love.Continue reading “Flood the World with Love”→
Profoundly impacted by the lyrics and vocals of “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibbern, I share his music and also images of trees I’ve taken through the years in different seasons and from various states and countries.
Derek and I met at St. Benedict Center several years ago and our paths continue to cross–we’ve been in the same space for Zen meditation, Catholic Mass, my school classroom, as well as local bars and coffee shops where he has performed. Deeply spiritual and always seeking, Derek is a student of inspirational and recreational tree climbing at Tree Climbing Planet in Oregon. He dedicates the song to his teacher, Tim Kovar, and “the many woodland creatures that have held us aloft in our arboreal adventures.”
This song is a prayer. It is 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.
Images are so powerful. They tap into the pool of memories, both personal and universal, that are deep within us. One image can be understood in so many ways—for different people, faiths, and cultures or for the same person over time.
Recently when the Sacred Heart of Jesus popped out in my Facebook newsfeed, memories of my grandma came flooding back.
She had a framed image of the Sacred Heart between her living room and her kitchen. As a young child, I remember wondering why the heart had fire and blood on it…and, quite honestly, I was a little afraid of the image. I never asked about it and she never said anything either. Same with the rosary on her nightstand (pictured below). Or the prayer cards on her dresser. But I remember them. Those images communicated a deep faith in Catholicism and belief in and devotion to Jesus that I intuitively knew she had.