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, 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!”→
“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.
In 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
“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”→
Amidst 160 acres of farmland in Nebraska at St. Benedict Center, there is a contemplative prayer journey that focuses on the events of Jesus’ last day. The Stations of the Cross is a mini-pilgrimage to contemplate the Passion of Christ. At each pause or station on the journey, a prayer is offered to remember the sufferings and struggles of all.
Traditionally there are 14 images and events that are commemorated, but at St. Benedict Center there is one additional station. Ascending a small hill, a fifteenth station appears marking the resurrection of Christ and the joy of Easter. The artist of each of the station markers is Lore Friedrich of Münsterschwarzach, Germany.
May you be blessed by praying with the arts and taking the Way of the Cross.
“The Stations of the Cross are not given to us only to remind us of the historical Passion of Christ, but to show us what is happening now, and happening to each one of us. Christ did not become man only to lead his own short life on Earth – unimaginable mercy though that would have been – but to live each of our lives. He did not choose his Passion only to suffer it in his own human nature – tremendous though that would have been – but in order to suffer it in the suffering of each one of his members through all ages, until the end of time.” –Caryll Houselander
Station 1: Jesus is Condemned to Death
Pilate: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.” -Mt 27:24
…those condemned unjustly
…those sentenced by members of governments and society because of their faith.
Station 2: Jesus Bears His Cross
Jesus: “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls.” Mt 11:28
Remember those carrying a heavy cross in life without murmuring, inspired by Christ.
Station 3: Jesus Falls the First Time
Psalmist: “I was pressed, pressed, about to fall, but Yahweh came to my help.” -Ps 118:13
Remember those breaking down under the weight of their failures, and fall.
Station 4: Jesus Meets His Mother
Jesus: “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother.” -Mt 12:50
…your own mother
…all called to be mother to others
…all expectant mothers
“One of the oldest devotions in Christianity, the Stations of the Cross, attests to the ongoing human effort to understand the place of suffering in the human’s search for resurrection from death to life that is part and parcel of what it means to be alive and grow and become our best selves as we go.”—The Way of the Cross, Joan Chittister
Station 5: Jesus Is Helped by Simon
Matthew: “A man from Cyrene, Simon by name, was forced to carry his cross.” -Mt 27:32
…those who assist others in life without being recognized
…those who give of themselves that other’s burdens are lightened.
Station 6: Jesus and Veronica
Jesus: “What you did for the least of my brothers, you did it for me.” -Mt 25:40
…those reaching out to the marginalized of society.
…those helping AIDS victims, prisoners, minorities.
Station 7: Jesus Falls a Second Time
Jesus: “If anyone wants to be my follower…let him take up his cross and follow me.” -Mt 16:24
Remember those who lack the courage and strength to overcome addictions, personal shortcomings, sinfulness, and find themselves back in their old habits and behavior.
Station 8: Jesus Speaks to the Women
Jesus: “Daughter of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” -Lk 23:28
…families who are struggling with any kind of difficulties and problems
…women oppressed by society, Church, work force, spouses…
Station 9: Jesus Falls the Third Time
Paul: “The Lord says: My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness.” -2 Cor 12:9
Remember those who have given up and see no purpose and meaning in life.
Station 10: He is Stripped of His Garments
Psalmist: “They shared out my clothing among them, they cast lots for my clothes.” -Ps 22: 18
Remember those sisters and brothers stripped of their dignity.
Station 11: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Jesus: “Father, forgive them: they do not know what they are doing.” -Lk 23:34
Remember those who find themselves trapped in difficult situations and see no way out.
Station 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Jesus: “It is accomplished” and bowing his head he gave up his spirit. -Jn 19:30
…those who have no one to be within their final hours of life’s journey.
Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Jesus: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” -Mt 10:22
…those who mourn the loss of loved ones
…those longing for consolation
Station 14: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
Jesus: “I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” Jn 12:24
…those facing death without hope of eternal life
…those who will die unexpectedly
Station 15: Jesus is Raised from the Dead
Angel: “He is not here: he is risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee.” Lk 24:6
Remember those who believe in the Resurrection and give witness to it daily.
Listen with the ear of your heart to Pope Francis’ message to the world. Practice Lectio Divina, contemplating the words and/or images that speak to your soul. Full text and video available at the end of this post.
What are you called to learn during this “unexpected, turbulent storm?” Share your insights in the comment section.
“Like the disciples in the Gospel (Mark 4: 35-41) we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.
On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.”
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.
The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity. Continue reading “Urbi et Orbi: A Blessing for the World”→
The award-winning song We Are The World, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, is an anthem for our time. On January 21, 1985, the most well-known artists in the music industry, under the direction of Quincy Jones, came together to support USA for Africa, bringing awareness and financial relief to the famine in Africa. It was a gesture of solidarity that is a reminder for us now and always. Listen here:
(First verse) “There comes a time
When we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one.”
I have friends or family living in many countries–Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Czechia, Belgium, Spain, Canada, Argentina, Australia—and in all regions of the United States from California to New York, Washington to Arkansas. Being Benedictine has followers and visitors from over 75 countries. In the Benedictine Confederation, there are hundreds of monasteries and thousands of monks, nuns, sisters, and oblates in every part of the world.
No matter where we call home, we are connecting with each other on social media, Zoom, Skype and Facetime to check in with each other, to ask how it’s going, to send a word of encouragement, to offer help. Never have we ALL been in such shared circumstances like this.
(First verse continued) “There are people dying.”
An inevitability, St. Benedict reminds us to keep death daily before our eyes. But even that advice feels different now. The pandemic underscores our connectedness that we don’t take stock of regularly. Collectively we are staring death in the eyes. Depending on where we live, we are on varying points of “the curve” with differing strategies from our governments and medical professionals to “flatten the curve.” Continue reading “We Are The World, We Are The Children”→
There are many ways to find refuge in our daily lives if we choose to remember. Too often, we can get sucked into the vortex of expectations and things to do accompanied by a flurry of activities and thoughts, that we forget to ask for help when we need it. Refuge, sanctuary, will not come looking for us. Consider the first lines of Sanctuary.
Will you be my refuge
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm
When my fire’s all but gone?
The lyrics are posed as a question.To ask for help requires self-awareness and humility. We must remember to ask for sanctuary.
You can rest here in Brown Chapel,
Or with a circle of friends,
A quiet grove of trees
Or between two bookends.
—Carrie Newcomer, Sanctuary
There is no one right way to seek or find sanctuary. Sometimes sanctuary is a place. Sometimes we need to be with loved ones, our circle of friends. Sometimes spending time in nature or reading a good book. Sometimes we find sanctuary through an act of creativity, like collage or journaling or in an activity where one loses all sense of time. And sometimes we just need silence.
We need silence to hear our own thoughts. It is in silence that we recognize thin places.
“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.