“Friendship binds past and present and makes bearable the uncertainty of the future. Friendship is…always and everywhere eternal mystery, eternal desire. It is a grasp at the ultimate, the quest for human understanding.”
Joan Chittister, The Friendship of Women
Friendships, both old and new, are a treasure, a gift of hospitality, a welcoming of another into your life. Friendships create space for coming home to oneself, an opportunity to be fully seen as who we are and who we want to become. Friendships are an opportunity to accept the hospitality of another as well, to see ourselves through the eyes of our special friends. Friendships with women are all-at-once sistering, mothering, armchair counseling, and spiritual direction.
Friendship is sacramental, an “outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace,” as defined by St. Augustine. Friendship is an invisible grace, a soul connection, that lives on even when friends are not together, when time or distance separate, and even after a dear friend passes. It is a sacred gift to have an old friend, one who has seen you through decades of life. Beth and Judy, friends from “Circle” had that kind of friendship for fifty years.
A short “Circle” story (the longer version HERE) that inspired a new card and brought new insights about hospitality, humility, and friendship:
I met Beth through Katie and then Judy through Beth. Colleen shared her friend, Joyce, with me and she eventually introduced me to SoulCollage. I shared my love of SoulCollage® with Beth, Judy and our Circle through several retreats and social gatherings. Judy and Beth loved to create cardstogether—finding images, cutting them out, and when the time was right, pasting them into collages. They looked forward to weekly conversations and new insights. In 2016, their weekly ritual came to an end when Judy passed away. Recently Beth gifted me a bin of SoulCollage® supplies with folders of carefully trimmed images. SoulCollage® was an intimate memory she treasured with Judy, and not something she wanted to continue. Those images came with me on my last retreat.
Now I Become Myself
Sorting through Beth’s images, I came across a photo of Judy and Beth from some 50 years ago. I placed the photo on my table as inspiration, the younger Judy and Beth standing witness to our weekend creativity and to the conversations and insights of the ten women attending.
Several of the images I gathered came together in a special way to make a card titled “Another Kind of Hospitality.” I felt the essence of Beth and Judy that weekend and as I work with the meaning of my card. They were not at the retreat, but there were definitely present.
Reflection: Another Kind of Hospitality
Take off your shoes. Stay awhile.
Join me at the table, there is always an extra place. Break bread with me.
Or sit on the floor. Let’s play, watch, listen, create.
I see you, the One and the Many. I see you in all your many selves—your playfulness, your fear, your loneliness, your becoming. I see that you see me, too.
Welcoming you, I meet a part of myself that perhaps I didn’t see before.
Being with you teaches me about who I am, more of who I am becoming.
I take time to stand still, to be here, to look within. I see me and I see you.
In the past few months, I have become smitten with the PBS series, Call the Midwife, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a midwife in 1950’s London. I have heard of the show for years, but, late to the game, I just started Season 1 in September 2021. (I will likely be through Season 6 by year’s end, so I am unstoppable now.) In Season 3, Nurse Jenny Lee, one of the midwives of Nonnatus House, was grieving the sudden death of her boyfriend. Sister Julienne, recognizing Jenny Lee’s need to acknowledge her grief, suggests that she “take compassionate leave.”
Take compassionate leave.
Such powerful words.
How compassionate that Sr. Julienne understands that going through the motions of “normal” will not be helpful or healing. One must honor the soul’s need for being still with our grief and our many other emotions or experiences. We heal only when we take time to “stand still, to be here”, as May Sarton (1912-1995), American poet, novelist, and memoirist, pens in her poem, “Now I Become Myself.”
As we journey through the many deaths we experience throughout our life, even the little ones where we must let go of our expectations, we must “take compassionate leave” to listen to our soul speak. It is self-compassionate to take time to listen deeply to the soul, to process through, to understand, and make meaning of the experiences of our lives—both the grief and the joy, the transitions from one life stage to another—to just be with our emotions and the response in our body. Sometimes that can be done in our ordinary lives, but other times we may literally need to take leave by going away or on retreat.
The Harvest Moon and Autumn Equinox this week, combined with a free Sunday afternoon, have ripened my desire for SoulCollage creativity and reflection. As often happens, intuitively the card comes together with images I am drawn to. Words follow upon reflection and using the “I am one who…” prompt. (See HERE for more info about How to SoulCollage.)
I am one who has an appetite for knowledge that is never quenched.
I am one who loves to learn. I want to know more. I want to understand.
I am one who grows weary from my own desire to learn more and more and more.
I never want to be as uninformed as I used to be—about politics, about the suffering of others, about racism or poverty.
I can learn just a little bit more. More knowledge (of good and evil?) seems just a book, podcast, documentary, news article, or Facebook post away.
I am one who creates my own stress, anxiety and overwhelm because I never know enough.
When will I know ENOUGH, I wonder?
I know that I cannot know it all. I need to settle into that knowing.
Knowing is not all or none, one or the other. Authentic knowing is not a spectrum of “knowing nothing” on one end and “knowing it all” on the other. I can let go of dualistic thinking and rest in the balance of enough.
I can take a break, stop seeking, and let what I do know move through me into a new kind of knowing.
There is no deadline for which I need to know more. I can give myself some breathing space, a letting go of the pursuit of more, a gentle moving from one season of knowing to another.
I can take a time out with a dose of self-compassion, knowing I will never know it all. I can love learning without letting it consume me.
Yes, that’s it—I give myself permission to not know it all, to not exhaust every source of information that promises more knowing. I can say ENOUGH.
I welcome a new season of unknowing, of revealing, of growing, of I don’t know, of enough.
“We have gathered today to celebrate the union of Jessica Gehr and John Holland. Marriage is a sacred blessing and this morning we celebrate the love shared between two special individuals.”
–Joyce Schmeeckle, wedding officiant and dear friend
We gathered—John and Jessica’s community, their friends and family—to support and bless their marriage. A wedding day conjures images of hearts and flowers, vows and wedding rings, first kisses and champagne toasts. Marriage is a sacred commitment where two people commit to journey through life together, so it is appropriate that the focus of the day is on the bride and groom. It is their BIG DAY!!
My daughter, Jessica, had her fairytale, storybook, dream-come-true wedding on July 17, 2021, and yes, indeed, she married her Prince Charming—we absolutely love our new son-in-law, John, and are so grateful that he adores our daughter. I remember when my husband and I got married, there was very little choice in what the day would look like. Tradition said this, the parents said that, the Catholic Church said this…but what I loved about John and Jessica’s wedding is that they created their own ceremony and carefully planned what their first day as husband and wife would look like.
The wedding guests, John and Jessica’s community, were an integral part of their wedding day—from who the officiant was, to parts of the ceremony, to the events planned to celebrate after the wedding. As a Benedictine oblate, it reminds me that for St. Benedict, everything that is written in his Rule takes place within the context of community; whether giving instruction about prayer, relationships, or work, the monk is reminded he or she is a part of a community. It is through community, not just as monks or oblates but within families and our community of friends, that we grow in understanding of self and God and learn to love one another more deeply.
“Benedict’s genius was in recognizing the power of journeying together. There is power and empowerment, healing and strength in living together and recognizing our mutual interdependence.”
Judith Valente writes, “My friend Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica once described a monastic community as ‘a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow’ (How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community).” The guests of John and Jessica’s wedding are linking arms with them, will support them, and as community does, will challenge them and help them grow.
When creating their wedding ceremony, John and Jessica carefully chose who would be part of the ceremony and the words that would be spoken. When they talked about who they wanted to marry them, they knew they wanted someone who shared their own spirituality and values and would deliver a message filled with insight and wisdom. They asked my own “anam cara,” soul friend, Joyce, who also hired Jessica for her first job in high school, quickly becoming a spiritual mentor to Jess as well. This is a newer phenomenon, to choose your own officiant, but my heart is full that they chose so wisely. (See script throughout this post.)
The ceremony also included a family blessing shared by each mother. I was deeply touched to be able to contribute some words about what I hoped John and Jessica’s marriage might hold for them. I shared the following blessing:
Blessing for John and Jessica Holland Wedding
When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night. Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” But the lengthier version has remained my prayer for Jessica as she has grown up.
This special prayer I say now includes BOTH Jessica and John as they join their life together in marriage.
God bless Jessica, and John’s minds, so that they make good decisions and choices.
God bless Jessica and John’s bodies so that they grow strong and healthy and safe.
God bless Jessica and John’s spirit so that they know the love of God and others. Amen.
It is said that the only thing that prepares you for marriage, is marriage. It will not always be easy, but more often it will be better than you could have imagined. Every day you will make choices about what kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you will continue to build with God and each other.
A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage is not 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.
In your becoming, take time for solitude—pursuing your individual passions knowing you are always supported by the other. Listen with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict writes, listening to each other’s words but also to what lies between the words, seeking to understand the silence too.
May you be patient with each other, keeping a sense of humor, apologizing, and forgetting quickly.
May you be a joyful giver and treat each hour as the rarest gift with gratitude for each other. May you build traditions and rituals that are uniquely yours as a couple.
May you have a marriage that embraces all seasons.
God Bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit.
God Bless John’s mind, body, and spirit.
God Bless the marriage of John and Jessica. Amen
A reading from Romans 12: 9-18, instruction for sharing love and hospitality both in marriage and in community, was followed by a message from Joyce. Friends and family were asked to participate in a community vow, agreeing to love and support John and Jessica in their marriage, offering them love and friendship.
This community vow mirrors the importance of The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago as a guide for those who desired a spiritual life of prayer and work, learning to love others as Christ. It was not a guide for individual pursuits, but for living in community. It is a given that the community is important, an integral part of growing in holiness and happiness. John and Jessica see clearly that they have the support of friends and family, that they are part of a community that they will also share their gifts and hospitality with. This was followed by a moment of silent prayer for their marriage.
“The words community and communicate share the same Latin root. They are related by root to another word, compassion, which means to “suffer with”, or more loosely, to “walk beside.”
Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.
John and Jessica have created a community that will walk beside them, people they have known all their life as well as those who they have met along the way. As a couple, they will continue to gather new friends as well. My husband gave a nod during his toast to all those in John and Jessica’s community who have helped them become who they are:
When you raise your kid, you hope to instill your hopes, dreams, and values in them and that when they go out into the world, they make all the right choices and remember the way they were raised. Lots of people have told Jodi and I what a great job we did in raising our daughter. That is partially true, but I think we learn and form who we are from those around us. Jessica and John have had many positive role models in their lives. They have taken a little bit of each one of those people to become who they are today. So, when people tell me, you did a great job in raising your daughter, it has as much to do with all the relationships she had with others. I want to thank everyone for helping me raise my daughter. Everyone here can take credit for the beautiful person she is today. Many can take credit for John being a kind, loving and caring person. They are who they are today because of all the people in their life.
“The Benedictine spirituality of community is based on life with other persons in the spirit of Christ: to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them.”
Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today
John and Jessica vow to journey through life together—to support and empower each other and to continue to learn and grow in their relationship. They are community to each other, first and foremost. I am so proud of and happy for them!
We are grateful that Jessica’s friend, Tarah, videotaped the wedding ceremony! You can watch the video HERE.
Lighting a candle is a sacred ritual in many religions. It is a prayerful intention to remember a loved one or to pray for those who have died. We can pray using words or in silence, but the act of lighting a candle can be itself prayer. It is expression, longing, remembering, hoping. A candle is a symbol of Christ-light entering into our darkness.
I am drawn to the display of candles in churches, chapels, basilicas and other places of prayer. When alone in prayer or in meditation with friends, a candle is lit. When away from my family on trips, I light a candle for them. When 500,000 people in my country die in less than a year, I am moved to pray with candles.
Join me in prayer, a visio divina, for the 500,000 who have lost their lives to Covid in the United States, for those who have died throughout the world and for all their loved ones. May their lives and memories be a blessing.
“Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless my reed pens and my inks. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight. May they be visible to eyes not yet born. When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”
Ana, The Book of Longings
In The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, Ana writes this prayer of longing on the incantation bowl her aunt Yaltha has gifted her. “Do you know what an incantation bowl is?” Yaltha asked. “In Alexandria we women pray with them. We write our most secret prayer inside them…Every day we sign the prayer. As we do, we turn the bowl in slow circles and the words wriggle to life and spin off toward heaven.”
Choosing a word of the year can be a prayerful intention as well as creative expression. There is nothing magical about one word over another, but I find the process insightful and revealing—both spiritually comforting and challenging. I worked with the idea of doorways and thresholds for several weeks after realizing how many cards in my SoulCollage® collection had images of doors on them.
“Doors are places for pausing, of finding your key, of knocking, of asking for entry. Thresholds carry us from one place to another – usually from outside to inside or the other way around. They are symbols of our inner movements…. I believe that our lives are about crossing one threshold after another. Thresholds are challenging places to be because there is no map. There is no ten-step plan for how to move through this space. We feel disoriented there and impatient in having to wait.”
Christine Valters Paintner
I thought about selecting a word like welcome or becoming, or simply doorway or threshold. The images resonated, but the words were not quite right. I considered what it feels like to stand on the threshold of the unknown, to step through the doorway of uncertainty. The moment of crossing over can require courage, honesty, a surrendering, a willingness to be transformed.
“Our uncertainty is the doorway into mystery, the doorway into surrender, the path to God that Jesus called “faith.” -Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder
Extending hospitality to guests, as St. Benedict instructed in The Rule, can be practiced towards the uncertainty that life brings, the times when we can no longer control our circumstances and we must surrender our expectations. We can extend hospitality towards all that is mystery and trust that we will be transformed in the process. We may not know what we are walking into, but we can grow into acceptance of whatever comes.
“We need to honor what is on both sides of the doorway: to celebrate the whole of our lives, the self we are leaving behind as well as the self toward which we are going.”
The threshold moment requires an acceptance of what has been, what is, and what possibilities may come. The threshold moment, if we wish to honor each moment as life-giving and transformational, forces us to see our truth, the truth of our desires, and the truth of our circumstances.
“If you are interested in transformation, no element is more important than developing a love of truth. As we learn to accept what is real in the present moment, we are more able to accept whatever arises in us, because we know that it is not the whole of us… When we are willing to be with the whole truth—whatever it is –we have more inner resources available to deal with whatever we are facing.” –The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.
And this brings me to my 2021 word of the year: TRUTH.
During Advent, we wait in darkness for the light of Christmas Day. We circle around the Advent wreath, igniting another candle each week.
Advent is about longing for the God that breaks into time and space as a baby in a manger. Advent is about cultivating patience and not rushing to the Incarnation. Advent is the ultimate “vorfreude”, anticipating the joy of God becoming one of us, that God in his humanity has shared with us his divinity.
“God became human so that his divine life might flow into us and free us from our mortality and impermanence…to fulfill the deepest longings for transformation and the healing of lives.”
Anselm Grün, A Time of Fulfillment
The Advent wreath symbolizes the coming of the birth of Jesus, the light of Christmas drawing near and the anticipation of the Christ-light breaking into our life and world. With each passing week, the candle represents our hope that light will dispel the darkness.
So it is with us. We circle around the same issues, questions, and problems in our lives, struggling with the dark and light within us and around us. And we pray that God breaks in, that the light will prevail.
“When we come to understand that everything in our world, including its darker aspects, derives from God, we begin to realize that much of what we perceive as “bad” is, from the divine perspective, simply another piece of the sacred whole…that which appears as darkness to us may very well be the beacon to our redemption.”
Niles Elliot Goldstein, God at the Edge
The beauty of the Advent season is recognizing and honoring this darkness in ourselves, in others and in the world. This darkness that we prefer to deny, flee from or quickly fix is actually the beginning of something new and hopeful happening in ourselves. The darkness can bring a great light. “We see the darkness and we forget even darkness is light to God.” (Deidra Riggs, Every Little Thing)
The expectant and hopeful waiting in Advent when Jesus is in the womb, where possibility of new birth is upon us in the waiting and tender honing of our patience, is where we must begin. We begin in the womb.
Consider creating a SoulCollage® card or journaling with the following questions:
So what is it that needs to be birthed within us? In our world?
How do we accept and forgive the darkness in our selves and others while nurturing and encouraging the positive?
What can we bring out of darkness and into the light?
What gives us the strength to wait in patience, to trust that our circling around will bring us into the light?
“I am one who” is a prompt to begin to speak from and about the images that intuitively come together. Using all three of the collage creations on this post, I write:
I am one who walks through rough and rocky terrain. I am one who dances gracefully in the light. I am one who casts shadows. I am one who gets stuck. I am one who circles around and around, sometimes feeling a little lost.
I trudge reluctantly… or tread carefully… or move forward faithfully. I am one who, with open arms, embraces both dark and light: in myself, in others, in my world. I see the light and the darkness, the gold and the shadows, the smooth and the rough. I go through all…the white sand, the gold dust, the smooth and rocky, the hard and broken, the shadowy or the illuminated, the gray, the light, the dark.
I am one who is filled with hope. I pray. I am one who feels hopeless too. Eyes open, door ajar, I glimpse the light. I am one who closes my eyes, sometimes trusting and at times in denial. I dance the dance of light and darkness.
I stretch out my arms in surrender to the moments, layers, phases, experiences that are light and darkness intermingled; Darkness that seems like it will never pass and pure, unadulterated light that never ends. I am one who believes that the Christ-child covers both light and dark, in me and in the world.
I hope, I pray that I hold the two in balance; honoring both, recognizing both, knowing I am both, knowing others are both. I surrender to rebirth, to a new way of being and seeing and accepting. I am one who holds together the dark and the light.
“…the light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome it.The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1-1:5
May the darkness of Advent, the light of Christmas, and the new insights of Epiphany be with you. By holding the sufferings and joys of our life together, may we come to see Christ in new ways.
Mother Mary finds her way into many of my collage creations, but it is the story and image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I am especially drawn to. On December 12, the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated.
“Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego on Mount Tepayac, 1531
On the site of an ancient shrine to the Aztec mother goddess, near Mexico City on Tepeyac Hill, a young Christian Indian named Juan Diego had a vision of a young Indian woman. Speaking in his native tongue, she directed him to tell the bishop to construct a church on the hill. The bishop dismissed the story, but the young maiden appeared yet again to Diego identifying herself as the Mother of God. She instructed him to gather roses that grew at her feet, during the winter no less, and take them to the bishop. When Diego opened his coat, a colorful impression of Our Lady, with dark skin, was imprinted on the fabric.
This story has been told for five hundred years, standing as an “image of divine compassion for a demoralized people. Speaking to Juan Diego in his own language, she presented herself in terms of compassion and solidarity, not power and domination.” (Blessed Among Us, December 12, 2020) The image of Our Lady attracts millions of pilgrims each year at the basilica in Mexico City, one of the world’s most visited sacred sights.
Recently I gathered with some friends for a much-needed retreat, a “pause between labor contractions”—a metaphor that resonated with us. In such troubling times, we came together to be creative, soulful, compassionate listeners—to take, literally and prayerfully, a breath from the labor of a divisive political environment and necessary pandemic adjustments. Jana, Deb, Patsy, Sara, Julie, and I brought open hearts to celebrate a weekend filled with blessings—a full moon, the beauty of the woods, the insightful practice of SoulCollage® and the celebration of All Saints Day.