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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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The Rule of St. Benedict

Planting Trees is a Big Deal: 150 Years of Arbor Day!

“If one tree fruits, they all fruit–there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state. The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective….what we see is the power of unity.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Planting trees is a big deal in Nebraska…so important that the planting and preservation of trees are celebrated with an actual holiday. Arbor Day, which started in my home state of Nebraska, has been celebrated for 150 years and is now observed in all fifty states and in several countries.

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Each generation takes the earth as trustees.

—J. Sterling Morton

The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, was a transplant to the Nebraska Territory from Detroit in the mid-1850s. He was a journalist and newspaper editor, who later served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. Morton understood the importance of trees to agriculture, for windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.

He believed in getting everyone, particularly students, involved in planting trees. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, encouraged by contests between counties and promotion in schools. “Students of different grades met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree that was planted was labeled with the grade, the time planted, and was to be specially cared for by that grade.” (The History of Arbor Day)

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On the final Friday of April every year thereafter, Arbor Day has been celebrated, and this year for the 150th time! Throughout the year the Arbor Day Foundation works to “help others understand and use trees as a solution to many of the global issues we face today, including air quality, water quality, a changing climate, deforestation, poverty, and hunger” through conservation and education programs.

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Arbor Day Lodge is open for tours–we were just there a few months ago! Many activities and, of course, lots of trees in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

Celebrating Arbor Day is a reminder of our interconnectedness with all living things. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis encourages taking responsibility for the health of our planet by cooperating “as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (Laudato Si, 14)

St. Benedict encourages us to “listen with the ear of the heart,” to see all of life as sacred, and to experience the connectedness we have with all of creation. Consider spending time listening to the trees. Perhaps we can be reminded that what happens to one, happens to all.

“There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right–the trees are talking to one another. They communicate via pheromones, hormonelike compounds that are wafted on the breeze, laden with meaning…The trees in a forest are often interconnected by subterranan networks of mycorrhizae, fungal strands that inhabit tree roots…They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking…Through unity, surivial. All flourishing is mutual.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

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Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.

-Richard Powers, The Overstory

The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers, is a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet. The novel weaves together the stories of nine characters, their relationship to trees, and their awareness of and desire to stop the destruction of forests. The characters, each with a short story of their own, are the backdrop of a narrative that is less about them and more about trees.

“There would be neither an economic crisis in the world today, nor an ecological threat, were it not for the evil done by greed. Monastic poverty means being content with the simple things that sustain human existence in its inherent goodness. This poverty allows man to live in harmony with field and forest, without feeling the need to brutally strip the earth of her resources in order to realize an immediate gain.”

(Brother Philip Anderson, Prior Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey )
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In honor of Arbor Day, I share “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibben. This prayerful song is a 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.

Benediction of the Trees

From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt

Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees

Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide

Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees

A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong

In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees

As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say

In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees

© Jodi Blazek Gehr

We Shall Be Known

With some solitude and space this weekend, I reflected on the “Now I Become Myself” retreat that I led in December. Our closing blessing, serendipitously discovered by Sara, settled into my soul as a prayer, my heart’s longing to become more myself.  

The blessing written by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, to follow, begged for images to be created into my own prayer card.

May you grow into your greatest, bravest, most loving self

May you stand tall and unafraid of the great, exquisite, bright light within you that is straining to get out.

May you trust that light, and may you hear the still small voice within that whispers to you about what you need and who you can be. 

May you follow the light and the voice wherever it may take you–even to places you hadn’t guessed, hadn’t imagined, that haven’t been part of the plan. 

May you remain always curious, open, and eager to grow.

May you walk through your life with wonder, radical amazement, and gratitude.

May you stay kind and gentle.

May you regard others with compassion, generosity, and the benefit of the doubt.

May you seek always to be of service to offer of yourself to those that need help–that need you. 

May you speak out bravely against injustice. 

May you make of your life a blessing.

May your thoughts, actions and very being be an offering to the transcendent, to the great stream of life, to…the Holy One.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

 

Prayer card titled, “Now I Become Myself.”


Continue reading “We Shall Be Known”

Not To Be Served, But To Serve

November 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Lectio Divina, Mark 10:35-45

Book Discussion, Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II, “Service”, page 53-54

Morning prayer

Saint of the Day: Francis Xavier Cabrini is a beautiful example of service to others and service to God. She humbly comforted the sick and infirm in the hospital and lent a helping hand to immigrants. She is a role model for our topic of service. For more information about Mother Cabrini.

Women Saints: St. Frances Cabrini Icon | Monastery Icons

Lectio Divina Reading: Mark 10:32-45

Some oblates meeting in person and some on Zoom.

Discussion

You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus shares with John and James what will inevitably happen to him. They certainly do not understand what they are requesting, to share in the glory of Jesus, and they do not want to believe that Jesus’ life will include suffering. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” We must ask ourselves: Can we drink from the chalice that Jesus drinks? Or are we driven by ego, desiring the glory and honor for ourselves? Can we really DO life as Christ did? We may desire a journey with Jesus, the choice seat with God in glory and honor, but are we ready to face great suffering that accompanies it?

This applies to any part of our prayer life when we seek to follow Christ. We don’t know what we are in for! We must put ourselves wholly in the presence of Christ and be there for whatever happens–thy will be done. In the popular Christian song, Lord of the Dance, James and John are featured because they responded to the call of the Lord. With each passing verse, from morning to Sabbath to Good Friday, Jesus is the “Lord of the Dance.” We are called to that dance as well, as James and John were—we will have suffering. We are part of the dance, even when we find it difficult to consider the other first, to be more forgiving than self-centered, to accept that we aren’t just here for ourselves but to be of service to others.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,

I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,

And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,

And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he

Lord of the Dance, Ronan Hardiman
May be an image of tree, nature and sky

We are not in a good place spiritually when we are telling God what should be done, that we know what is best, our own power and glory. Bishop Barron addresses James and John’s ego-driven request in a Sunday Sermon, “Do You Really Want What God Wants?” Power and honor in themselves are not bad, but the problem is using power, not for God’s purpose, but for our own ego. Honor for its own sake is not helpful to others. Jesus flips the story on James and John…it isn’t all about you! You are here to serve. That is the dance you are called to.

Continue reading “Not To Be Served, But To Serve”

Stewardship: Using Our Gifts as Co-Creators

September Lectio Divina and Oblate Discussion

SourcesLectio Divina, Matthew 25: 14-30 The Parable of the Talents; Always We Begin Again-The Benedictine Way of Living, Stewardship, pages 49-51, John McQuiston II

Our Lectio Divina discussion focused on The Parable of the Talents viewed through the lens of stewardship. In the reading, three people are given talents of varying amounts.

The two servants who had received five and two talents had increased their talents two-fold. They were praised, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ (Mt. 25:21)

The one who buried his talent was scolded, judged as wicked and lazy, and his one talent was taken away. “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

We assume wealth has to do with money. Often, we see talent and gifts as economic gains or monetary contributions. Advertisements encourage us to buy more, of course, but we seem not to know when what we have is enough. In the Rule of St. Benedict, everyone should get what they need, but this requires understanding the difference between needs and wants (RB:34). Sadly, our culture says the more we have, the better off we are. We desire what another has—in possessions, money, time, relationships, almost anything, afraid that someone is getting something more than us—but the talents in this story were not equally given—two, five, one.

Continue reading “Stewardship: Using Our Gifts as Co-Creators”

Put on a Heart of Compassion

February 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Colossians 3:12-17; Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (pages 17-22)

For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply Colossians 3:12-17

We share aloud, some of the words and phrases that resonate with us:

God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Bearing with one another. Forgiving one another. Put on love….that is the bond of perfection.

Let the peace of Christ control your hearts. Be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly. Gratitude in your hearts. 

Compassion: We think of compassion as feeling sorry for someone, but it is to feel with someone, to enter into the sufferings and joys of another person. Jesus had compassion for us, entering fully into our lives. He is one with us. We are called to emulate this kind of compassion with others. Sometimes there may not be much we can say to another, but we can give our presence, a physical touch. Wordless gestures are just as compassionate, perhaps even more so.

Continue reading “Put on a Heart of Compassion”

In Humility, We Begin Again

January 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Mark 1:7-11; Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (Preface-p. 14)

For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply Mark 1:7-11, the baptism of Jesus.

Words and phrases that resonate with us, shared in our discussion:

It is with great humility that John proclaims there is one more powerful than I. In an area of rabid individualism, it is hard to turn things over, to admit that I am not the fount of all wisdom. Even if we feel called to speak truth to power, to share our faith or ideas that may differ from another, we must humble ourselves as John did. John admits he is not to untie the sandals of Jesus, and even stoops down to show his humility. Indeed, there is one more powerful than I.

Both John and Jesus show humility. By going down into the water, Jesus foreshadows going down into the tomb. It is a descent, a submission to the obedience of the will of God, and then a rising.  Jesus chose to be baptized; he did not have to be, but he chose to be weak, to become humble. This is the beginning of his service. He has been chosen to be Messiah. Jesus did not shy away from this service.

As part of Jesus’ baptism—the heavens were torn apart. Jesus’ identity was affirmed by the father; this is how we get our identity too. The heavens are torn apart for us as well. We live our lives in the balance of humility and knowing that we are made in the image of God.

Always We Begin Again—A new year, a new book.

We begin 2021 by reading the introduction and first section of Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (Preface through page 14.) The Rule of St. Benedict provided guidelines for monastic living by giving order to the monk’s day with a balance of prayer and work. Although it may be impossible to follow the Rule strictly while maintaining a life in the world, it is the longing of the Benedictine oblate to have a “creatively balanced framework for life.”

Continue reading “In Humility, We Begin Again”

Tender Compassion of Our God

December 2020 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Luke 1:67-79; The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72 Study Guide for The Rule of St. Benedict, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, page 180-185

For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply the well-known Benedictus that is prayed every morning in the Divine Office, Luke 1:67-79.

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Words and phrases that resonate with us, shared in our discussion:

Save us from our enemies….to show mercy….to set us free… without fear…. knowledge of salvation….forgiveness of our sins….the way of peace…promise….prepare his way…you, my child…tender compassion.

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The Benedictus proclaims what God is doing and will do for us—not what we do. Many of us have grown up with the image of an angry God, but that is not the God we are shown in Scripture. We are promised a God of tender compassion, not a bookkeeper of judgments. Mercy is God’s loving response to suffering. God is not watching from afar; God is suffering with us.

The dawn from on high breaks upon us—God is breaking in with the incarnation and gives us hope. Benedict was not harsh, but practical, just as God is tender. God enters our history to experience our suffering with us, but we must expose our wounds for the tender compassion of our God to work. To prepare our heart, we must invite God in. Advent was a time to prepare our hearts for God to enter—although this task is never fully completed. We must live in perpetual Advent, inviting God in and humbling ourselves without fear, to receive the tender compassion of our loving God.

Continue reading “Tender Compassion of Our God”

Happy 80th Birthday, Fr. Volker!

What do Christmas crèches, Wisconsin cheese, Benedictine Oblates, and Pilgrimages have in common?

For those who know and love him, the answer is obvious. Fr. Volker Futter

Each is an expression of his hospitality. A true gentleman with a heart for one who needs compassion and comfort and the most energetic man I have ever met celebrates his 80th birthday today, December 29, 2020.  Fr. Volker has touched many lives through his work as a Missionary Benedictine—as Oblate Director, Sub-Prior, and Mission Procurator—known especially for his hospitality. He is the living example of the instructions of St. Benedict, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35).”

Continue reading “Happy 80th Birthday, Fr. Volker!”

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.”

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