And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately–both old and new, those friends who are near and far, and those who have passed away.
Five years ago, our Circle lost a dear sister. Judy passed away only a year or so after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable, fast-growing cancer. For the last several weeks of her life, Judy was unable to leave her bed and wanted few visitors, but it was important for our Circle to continue sending our love and prayers. Even if we weren’t physically present, we wanted her to feel that we held her in our heart. Each of us committed to a day of the week that we would send Judy some kind of card, note or greeting. In this time of pandemic, just as we did with Judy, we can stay connected with our loved ones.
Judy was a lover of SoulCollage®—she came to my first retreat at St. Benedict Center and fell in love with the process. She started meeting weekly to cut, paste and create with our friend, Beth. The practice became a form of expression and prayer for her and she even shared it with her daughters and grandchildren on one of their last vacations together on Captiva Island. Making and sending a SoulCollage® card to honor Judy and our Circle was a form of creative prayer for me.
I was drawn to images that represented the strong, hard-working, loving women that had met together monthly for several years. I hoped the card would make Judy smile, bring her a little joy and remind her of the bond we all shared. It also gave me the chance to put images and words to how I feel about our Circle.
A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.
A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.
A marriage provides a safe place to fall, a form of protection from the stresses of everyday life and also from more extreme challenges, like the pandemic we now face. The traditional symbol for a 35th anniversary is coral, an organic material found in warm seas. Coral takes many years to form—much like the strength of a marriage made of moments. Coral is a symbol of protection—providing essential habitat structure and energy for 25% of the world’s ocean life, including young fish. How fitting that coral is the symbol of our 35th year of marriage, a year where we have found much safety in each other’s company.
Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off.
After 35 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great storytelling or one-liners that no one else understands but us. Funny, sad, silly, stupid, poignant, heartwarming, memorable moments. Moments we’d like to forget and moments we have to forgive. But, mostly, moments that have helped us become who we are.
A marriage is made of moments. Some of our earlier moments:
Joe sending little gifts to me for several days before our wedding that said: “7 days til a lifetime” (6, 5, 4 and so on). Each day a new gift arrived.
Working four jobs between us so I could finish college, sometimes with only enough time to exchange notes or take a break together at one of our shared part-time jobs at Montgomery Ward.
Buying our first home and meeting our neighbors, Cece and Bob. Cece, who became a widow just six months later, became part of our family and a grandma to our daughter.
Having our first baby and Joe announcing “You got your girl!”, when she was born…my secret hope.
Experiencing the loss of two babies and the grief of infertility while creating a family of three with more love than we could imagine.
Welcoming dogs (Ralph, Rosie, and Bailey) and cats (Peaches and Boots) into our little family…and missing their love and companionship when they passed on.
Being parents to Jessica, from diapers and bottles, soccer games, and DECA competitions to college internships and sorority activities.
Spending time with our parents as Jessica’s grandparents.
A marriage is made of moments. Our life now:
Living through the stress of a pandemic and all that entails—staying at home much of the time, but enjoying cooking, taking outdoor excursions nearby, and enjoying the extra time together while I taught remotely during the fourth quarter and Joe had off some extra time from work.
Becoming more adventurous with outdoor activities—biking, enjoying hikes in nature, and visiting local parks, flower gardens, and arboretums.
Being parents to our adult daughter Jessica—staying in touch with our daily Fam-bam texts, taking long weekends to visit Jessica in Madison, Wisconsin, and welcoming her back home for holidays and birthday celebrations. Despite the hardship of the pandemic and the uncertainties it has brought to our lives, we have gotten to see Jessica, and her boyfriend John, more than usual this year.
Celebrating Jessica’s graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with her Masters in Public Affairs (sans ceremony, a trip that did not happen because of rising COVID-19 infections) and getting a job as a Policy Analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Enjoying what still feels like our new home (although it’s been five years) and sitting outside on our deck—our favorite pastime—with a glass of wine or snifter of whiskey in hand, even social distancing with close friends and neighbors occasionally.
Still yelling at the news (rather than at each other) and thanking God that we have grown together, sharing the same world view in very troubled times.
Heading back to school for both of us, with many special precautions to be as safe as possible while COVID-19 cases are still much higher than is comfortable.
Being more content with the simple things in life. Despite the political and pandemic turmoil in this country, we enjoy each other’s company more than ever.
Still missing Joe’s parents, Marv and Mary Gehr, who passed away in 2012 and 2015; and visiting my parents a little less than normal until Covid-19 numbers go down.
Thirty-five years of marriage is a threading of memories, a string of moments that hold the seasons of life. After 35 years, marriage is about acceptance. We rest into acceptance of who the other is, rather than attempting to create the other into who we would like them to be. We enjoy each other with a lightheartedness that wasn’t possible in the newlywed years. Time is funny: it goes too fast, but it also unfolds so slowly that we don’t always see the transformation of the innocent into the mature, the immature into the confident.
School starts this week. It has been five months since I have been in a real-life classroom with my students. After spring break, we immediately went to online learning for the remainder of the school year.
I have been so encouraged by those who have asked me how things are going, promising their prayers. I was encouraged by my friend, Sara, to create a SoulCollage® card that I could keep at school as a reminder to pray when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious. My prayer is that I can find some peace despite the fear of the unknown. My prayer is to remember to seek peace and pursue it, as St. Benedict instructs (RB Prologue 17), and to include time in my day for silence and meditation. Continue reading “Praying with Collage: Seek Peace and Pursue It”→
My cup was running empty. Six surreal months of the pandemic, political turmoil, and feelings of anxiety facing an uncertain and challenging school year has taken its toll on my mind, body, and spirit. Finally, the timing was right this weekend, and it felt safe to return to my spiritual home, St. Benedict Center. It takes just moments for a deep peace to settle in as I take my overnight bag to my room and head outside to enjoy a beautiful afternoon.
Wandering the path around the lake, I see Ellen, a fellow pilgrim from last summer—which feels like a warm bath of blessings. I had been looking forward all week to reconnecting, knowing she would be there.
Suddenly I hear a shout, “Surprise!” Sara, a special friend, Oblate and SoulCollage® companion, is running towards me with open arms despite all COVID caution. I exclaim, “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” Sara repeats “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” There may have been more exclamations of “I can’t believe this!”, “Oh, my God!” and finally, “Did you bring some of your SoulCollage® cards?” We decide to meet later to share some of our cards and seek them for guidance—what we call “a reading.”Continue reading “A Divine Encounter: Trusting the Journey”→
“The artist Rembrandt was born on this day in 1606. When the soul is heavy and the work seems futile, a visit to an art museum––where art and beauty run rampant and meetings, proposals, finances, and debates have no place––revives the heart and makes it soft. Then going on seems possible; then life has vision again; then going on seems necessary.” ––from A Monastery Almanac, by Joan Chittister
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”→
Practicing SoulCollage® is part of my spiritual practice that provides “boundaries and direction”, especially in this time of uncertainty. I share an “I am one who” reflection for a card I created this week. It came together slowly, over the course of several days, taking up space on my kitchen table until it felt complete. The card has become a prayer of gratitude and a reminder to keep reaching for life-giving “holy water” in all its forms.
Card Name: “Holy Water”
I am one who stands in a circle of women who hold each other up, who embrace life and each other, who are connected, who grow together. I am one and many.
I am one who recognizes Source in the still, holy water. Stones, upright, are less about unsettling the water, and more about propelling motion, continually adapting, always transforming or conforming to what comes in its way. I can trust the peaceful, holy water.
I am one who stands in the stream of life-giving, purifying water.
I am one who, with open arms, is anointed with holy water. With joy, faith and a sense of solidarity, I am blessed with nourishment in abundance—above, below, around, overflowing.
I am one who thirsts, not in an aching, despairing, dying, sort of way (at least not in this card, at this moment) but as a reminder that purification happens only when intentionally sought after and accepted. Water is the essential element to growth; I long for this fullness.
“There are times when music and other forms of art become vital because words alone won’t suffice. This is one of them.”
–Parker J. Palmer
I love words—to write them and to read them (shared in In Praise of Words and Less Words)—but during the past few weeks, I have found my thoughts turn to words that spiral into feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry. It is one of those times when I need to listen deeply with the “ear of the heart,” according to St. Benedict, for good words, or no words, to replace that which is not edifying.
God is the Great Artist.
Art is incarnational, and the arts have long been celebrated by Christian tradition as a way of encountering Christ. 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, a sunset, the flash of an oriole, the flight of a red-tailed hawk. (St. Benedict Center, Praying with the Arts)
I invite you to practice Visio Divina with one of my favorite pieces of art at St. Benedict Center, a wood carving of the Makonde clan of Tanzania, east Africa. I have taken dozens of photos and contemplated its meaning from many angles and directions over the years. Only recently did I ask Fr. Thomas, administrator at the Center, if he knew the story behind it. He shared that it is titled “Democracy.” He described that in the traditional Makonde clan when something important had to be discussed, the elder calls the extended family together. After the matter is discussed and everyone has had the opportunity to speak, the elder makes known the decision. The artist is saying, somewhat humorously, in a democracy everybody can speak but are those speakers really listening to one another?
Practice Visio Divina
Relax and come to a quiet before the photos of “Democracy.”
Read the work of art. Listen with the “ear of your heart.” Explore it. Does it remind you of a passage from Scripture or The Rule of St. Benedict?
What is the story being told? Notice colors, shapes, textures, shades, symbols, posture, expressions. How do they work together to tell the story?
It’s not just a cliche. Images are powerful. They conjure up feelings, memories, ideas. They tell stories. They stand for something.
A brandmark or logo expresses the identity of a business that is easily recognized without using words. Businesses spend a ton of money developing their brand identity, not that we need the business world’s affirmation of the power of images. We already know it. We know it in our soul.