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The Days of Awe

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.

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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

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St. Johann, a Day of Rest: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 10

I had a day of rest today. A headache and a very bad night of sleep was cause for intentional grounding.  So it is appropriate that today I also share about my day of rest in St. Johann, Tirol, Austria.

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Amazing view from the balcony of my room. We stayed in St. Johann for three nights. It was wonderful to have a temporary home. Three days is the longest I stayed anywhere in 3 1/2 weeks. 

Sunday, June 23It was my 16th day of travel. Symptoms of a terrible cold that had started to work its way through the bus, combined with a forecast of rain, convinced me I should stay back from sight-seeing and take a day of rest.

I had visited Chiemsee, the day’s pilgrimage destination, with my cousins five years ago, so it made the decision to take this day off from travel much easier, admittedly despite a bit of FOMO. My dear friends, Joyce and Laura, left some breakfast for me in my room and said, “Go back to sleep.” And I did. Just like I did today when I realized going to school was not to be.

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I slept until 11:30 am (both then and today, so apparently rest was just what I needed), had a simple brunch and headed out to explore the town of St. Johann in search of throat drops and cold medicine. It was the right choice to sleep in and spend some time alone, but by myself I felt an acute sense of homesickness and a little bit lonely.  I reminded myself of the importance of balance—of being together and alone, of having activity and rest. This is what my body and spirit needed today. Continue reading “St. Johann, a Day of Rest: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 10”

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”

You Are Free

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”

From who we are to who we might become

February 2019 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Conversion

Luke 5:27-32Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Jesus saw something in Levi—that he was both a tax collector and open to an invitation to follow him. Levi worked with the oppressive Roman Empire, likely judged as greedy and affluent at the expense of others, but Jesus saw his potential.

So often we see people or situations as either/or, not both/and. We see the tax collector, or a politician, or social media as either good or bad, quickly making blanket statements or judgments to categorize into one or the other. But Jesus does not see Levi as one or the other, he sees Levi, and us, as both/and—as who we are and who we might become. Continue reading “From who we are to who we might become”

In a Pair of Red Shoes

“And if God sees fit to hold me
Anyone that’s ever known me
Know I’d walk the gold streets only
In a pair of red shoes.”

My friend, Colleen, loved red shoes. But I didn’t know this about her until her Aunt Bea shared a story at her funeral.

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SoulCollage® card remembering Colleen.

What a silly thing to say at a funeral, but for “some reason” I told Bea that I loved the beautiful red shoes she had on. Sometimes things fly out of my mouth without any consideration to how they might sound—and today was no exception.  But, of course, there was a reason.

Aunt Bea immediately connected the shoes to Colleen.  Just a few months earlier, Colleen had borrowed those red shoes on an evening when she and her sisters were going out dancing, something they loved to do together.  Aunt Bea commented how much Colleen loved to dance; telling us that Colleen believed when you dance you have to wear high-heeled shoes.  It was a nice story of when Colleen was joyful and doing what she loved most—dancing.  There is comfort in storytelling and remembering. Continue reading “In a Pair of Red Shoes”

A Wild and Precious Life: Mary Oliver

 Mary Oliver. She must have loved life.  She deeply reflected upon it and wrote about it so eloquently. She suffered and enjoyed and made peace. And she wrote about it all. 

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She encouraged us to slow down and enjoy each moment. 

“For how many years did I wander slowly through the forest. What wonder and glory I would have missed had I ever been in a hurry!”  Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way: A Poem

She encouraged us to see the holy that is wholly visible.

“God, or the gods, are invisible, quite understandable. But holiness is visible, entirely.” Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way: A Poem Continue reading “A Wild and Precious Life: Mary Oliver”

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