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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Prayer

The Days of Awe

The Days of Awe is a ten-day period that begins with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and concludes 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.

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Rachel and me, grateful we both married into the Gehr family.

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 KastenOur sins are washed away….sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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Torah at Temple Israel

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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.

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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.

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A view of the temple from the mosque.
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Temple Israel as seen from the mosque.

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.

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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.

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Countryside Community Church
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The American Muslim Institute as seen from Temple Israel 

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.

A few of my posts on beginning again—
Begin Again: New and Improved!
Always, we begin again.

All photos taken at Tri-Faith Initiative. always we begin

A Flag Day Reflection

Each school day during my 5th-period class, I stand with my students, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

This simple moment of national patriotism is a requirement in Nebraska, a rule passed by the Nebraska Board of Education in 2012 stating that all public schools must provide time each day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in order to receive accreditation or state funding. Already common practice in elementary schools and many districts, it was new for most high school students.

When the rule passed ten years ago, I remember teachers taking inventory of classrooms that needed flags—many were old and torn, more had been discarded over the years, and with tight budgets, new ones hadn’t been purchased. The first several weeks, hand over heart, we stood facing an 8½ x 11 colored photocopy of the flag until generous alumni donated enough American flags for every classroom.

This school year, likely in response to a Tik-Tok challenge to steal things from schools, my American flag went missing. As my students stood to recite the pledge one morning, we shared shocked expressions, realizing there was NO flag where there had been the day before. We continued reciting the pledge and then a creative student quickly drew an image of the flag to post where the flag should have been. The kind gesture soothed my anger at having the flag stolen (along with every electric pencil sharpener in the room.) It still hangs beside a replacement flag.

Continue reading “A Flag Day Reflection”

Prayers of Peace for Ukraine

Let us pray.

Pray in whatever ways and words work for you–whether you are holding space, sending positive energy, visualizing hope and peace overflowing, creating a collage, writing your own thoughts, or reciting the words of the prayer Pope Francis has intended for the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (shown below.)

JUST PRAY.

There are no requirements to understand every word of the prayer, to be Catholic, or to believe in Mary’s Immaculate Heart, in order to grow in compassion and unite our intentions with others who pray, hold space, and send good energy. As I read (and prayed) Pope Francis’ prayer, I created bullet-prayers (not sure if that’s a thing, but it is for me now)–one-sentence intentions that I can offer up when I think of those suffering in Ukraine.

Turn our hearts towards love and peace. 🌻 May we hold space for those suffering.

Make visible our compassion. 🌻 May we remember what causes pain for others.

May we hold in our hearts the children, the hungry, the homeless, the fleeing, the mother, the father, the child, the beloved pet, the defenders, the truth-tellers, the fighters, the comforters. 🌻

May we ravage the earth with love. 🌻 Help me to think of others.

May we be, and follow, models of love and peace. 🌻 Help us remember that darkness can be overcome.

Untie the knots of our hearts. 🌻 Help us to forgive.

Water the dryness of our hearts. 🌻 Fill our hearts with peace. 🌻 Help us to pray.

Here is the full text of the prayer obtained by Catholic News Agency:

O Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, in this time of trial we turn to you. As our Mother, you love us and know us: no concern of our hearts is hidden from you. Mother of mercy, how often we have experienced your watchful care and your peaceful presence! You never cease to guide us to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Continue reading “Prayers of Peace for Ukraine”

Eat Cake and Pray

The prayer before dinner in “Don’t Look Up,” the satirical apocalyptic film setting Netflix records and nominated for many awards, keeps going through my mind.

“Dearest Father and Almighty Creator, we ask for your grace tonight despite our pride. Your forgiveness despite our doubt. Most of all Lord, we ask for your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance.”

How will we spend the moments that could be our last?

How do we face tragedy with courage?

How can we find peace in our hearts when our world is falling apart?

How are the people of Ukraine, and others experiencing oppression around the world, facing their fears?

What can soothe in dark times? How can we help? Are prayers enough?

I was deeply touched by Oksana Potapova’s social media post that has gone viral.

Continue reading “Eat Cake and Pray”

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?”

Every. Good. Work.

Every. Good. Work.

St. Benedict instructs that “every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” (RB: Prologue vs. 4)

Embedded in the guidance from St. Benedict in his Rule is that we must both pray and work, ora et labora. The prayers offered by religious at the Democratic National Convention embody the longing for peace and justice that, as Americans, we hope for and work towards. The prayers offered must not be declared only once but be the prayer of our hearts and in our every breath.

ora et labora

My Benedictine Oblate friend, Gloria, invited me to pray with her each day the prayers that Sr. Simone Campbell and Fr. James Martin, SJ shared at the DNC. Her suggestion gave me the idea to invite all who desire peace in the United States of America to also join us in daily prayer.

I share below the text and video of the prayers offered by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK and leader of Nuns on the Bus; Fr. James Martin, S.J., editor at large at America Media; Rabbi Lauren Berkun of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America; and Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid from The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood.

Sister Simone Campbell

“The very first paragraph of the Scripture that informs the three Abrahamic traditions tells us: The Divine Spirit breathed over the waters of chaos and brought forth a new creation. Encouraged by this promise that a new creation can come from chaos, let us pray:

O Divine Spirit!

During the weeks and months ahead, stir our hearts and minds that we might fight for a vision that is worthy of you and your call to honor the dignity of all of your creation.

A vision of who we are as a people, grounded in community and care for all, especially the most marginalized.

A vision that cares for our earth and heals the planet.

A vision that ends structural racism, bigotry and sexism so rife now in our nation and in our history.

A vision that ensures hungry people are fed, children are nourished, immigrants are welcomed.

O Spirit, breathe in us and our leaders a new resolve…that committed to this new American promise, we will work together to build a national community grounded in healing, fearlessly based on truth, and living out of a sense of shared responsibility.

In the name of all that is holy, O Spirit, bring out of this time of global and national chaos a new creation, a new community that can, with your help, realize this new promise that we affirm tonight.

With profound hope, let we the people say: Amen!

Father James Martin, S.J. Continue reading “Every. Good. Work.”

God’s Grandeur: Praying with Poetry

The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, was born July 28, 1884. I spent time in prayer, the practice of Lectio Divina, with his poem “God’s Grandeur.”

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God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. Continue reading “God’s Grandeur: Praying with Poetry”

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!”

World Labyrinth Day: Many Ways to Pray

“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.

 

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Labyrinth at St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, NE

A few summers ago  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 “World Labyrinth Day: Many Ways to Pray”

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