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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Visio Divina ~ SoulCollage®

The Colors of the Rainbow

“The artist speaks to that part of you which yearns for beauty and creativity.  The inner artist invites you to participate in the great work of healing the world by lifting out of your senses creative images, words, and actions that inspire others to live lives of wonder and surprise.”

–Macrina Wiederkehr (The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner)

Recently I led a retreat titled Becoming Ourselves: Exploring the Archetypes of Inner Monk & Artist. Our inner artist engages with the world through its senses, while our inner monk has a longing for connection with the Divine, seeing the sacred in the ordinary. We can be intentional about nurturing these energies within us, paying attention to the beauty around us, and bringing a sense of wonder and curiosity to our work. We can be intentional about nurturing these energies within us by seeing nature, people, and life circumstances in new ways, while creatively and prayerfully expressing ourselves through poetry, art, music, gardening, relationships, and more.

Practicing SoulCollage® is the perfect expression of the inner artist and monk archetypes. We creatively and prayerfully cut and paste images onto cards that eventually become a visual journal. It is a spiritual practice of seeking the Divine while learning about parts of yourself. With others, while “image bathing” and creating cards, there is a unique opportunity to share parts of our spiritual journey—why I love leading and participating in retreats!

On retreat, spiritual playmate*, Jana West, was particularly drawn to images of rainbows—they kept popping up in the images she was collecting and intuitively finding their way onto her collage cards.

*Don’t you just love the idea of a spiritual playmate?! Jana coined the term, and it has quickly become part of my post-retreat reflection vernacular.

Rainbows in EVERY card! Can’t wait to hear more from Jana about what they have revealed to her since the retreat.

So now I am seeing rainbows and the spectrum of colors in all kinds of ways. I saw, and accepted, this fun challenge on Facebook: to find the colors of the rainbow in nature.

Continue reading “The Colors of the Rainbow”

Prayers of Peace for Ukraine

Let us pray.

Pray in whatever ways and words work for you–whether you are holding space, sending positive energy, visualizing hope and peace overflowing, creating a collage, writing your own thoughts, or reciting the words of the prayer Pope Francis has intended for the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (shown below.)

JUST PRAY.

There are no requirements to understand every word of the prayer, to be Catholic, or to believe in Mary’s Immaculate Heart, in order to grow in compassion and unite our intentions with others who pray, hold space, and send good energy. As I read (and prayed) Pope Francis’ prayer, I created bullet-prayers (not sure if that’s a thing, but it is for me now)–one-sentence intentions that I can offer up when I think of those suffering in Ukraine.

Turn our hearts towards love and peace. 🌻 May we hold space for those suffering.

Make visible our compassion. 🌻 May we remember what causes pain for others.

May we hold in our hearts the children, the hungry, the homeless, the fleeing, the mother, the father, the child, the beloved pet, the defenders, the truth-tellers, the fighters, the comforters. 🌻

May we ravage the earth with love. 🌻 Help me to think of others.

May we be, and follow, models of love and peace. 🌻 Help us remember that darkness can be overcome.

Untie the knots of our hearts. 🌻 Help us to forgive.

Water the dryness of our hearts. 🌻 Fill our hearts with peace. 🌻 Help us to pray.

Here is the full text of the prayer obtained by Catholic News Agency:

O Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, in this time of trial we turn to you. As our Mother, you love us and know us: no concern of our hearts is hidden from you. Mother of mercy, how often we have experienced your watchful care and your peaceful presence! You never cease to guide us to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Continue reading “Prayers of Peace for Ukraine”

Eat Cake and Pray

The prayer before dinner in “Don’t Look Up,” the satirical apocalyptic film setting Netflix records and nominated for many awards, keeps going through my mind.

“Dearest Father and Almighty Creator, we ask for your grace tonight despite our pride. Your forgiveness despite our doubt. Most of all Lord, we ask for your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance.”

How will we spend the moments that could be our last?

How do we face tragedy with courage?

How can we find peace in our hearts when our world is falling apart?

How are the people of Ukraine, and others experiencing oppression around the world, facing their fears?

What can soothe in dark times? How can we help? Are prayers enough?

I was deeply touched by Oksana Potapova’s social media post that has gone viral.

Continue reading “Eat Cake and Pray”

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”

2022 Word of the Year

“This tradition (for desert mothers and fathers) of asking for a word was a way of seeking something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime.  The “word” was often a short phrase to nourish and challenge the receiver.  A word was meant to be wrestled with and slowly grown into.”

Christine Valters Painter

A new year is a reminder of our opportunity to begin again, the essence of “being Benedictine.” That simple tick of the clock from midnight to 12:01 a.m. marks in time our deep longing to begin again. Choosing a word of the year can be a prayerful intention to focus our awareness on an idea, a feeling, our hopes, or even an attribute we want to cultivate in our lives.

There are no rules for choosing a word. There is nothing magical about one word over another, but choosing a word that settles in your heart can reveal unexpected layers of meaning and new levels of understanding that can be both spiritually comforting and challenging.

I did not choose a word for 2022. My word for this year, CONSENT, chose me.

As I was re-reading lines I had highlighted from The Exquisite Risk by Mark Nepo, I was struck by this paragraph:

Both attracted to and challenged by the word CONSENT, I have spent several weeks considering what it might have to teach me. On first impression, consent sounds like a route of less suffering, acceptance of what is, peacefulness. Count me in for this kind of bliss!

But CONSENTING is not so easy. To consent sounds so passiveto give up or compromise, to settle. My nature is to resist what I do not prefer, to solve problems or change circumstances so that they are more ideal, to somehow fix even what I cannot control. I have a tendency to fight, to flee, to figure out, rather than to consent, to surrender, to let it be. 

Miss Fixit: A card that I made several years ago when I became aware of my tendency to want to to fix.
Continue reading “2022 Word of the Year”

Now I Become Myself: A New Kind of Hospitality

“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 cards together—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.

Judy (left) and Beth (middle), accepting an award on behalf of the Lincoln Mayor’s Committee for International Friendship in Washington DC.

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.

Another Kind of Hospitality–card made from images that Beth had collected.

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.

Take your shoes off and stay awhile.

Continue reading “Now I Become Myself: A New Kind of Hospitality”

Now I Become Myself: Stand Still

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.

Continue reading “Now I Become Myself: Stand Still”

Enough: I Can Never Know It All

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.)

Card Name– Enough: I Can Never Know It All

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.

Always We Begin Again, John McQuiston II

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.

A little help from my friend, Bailey.
Harvest (full-ish) Moon in Nebraska.

Written by Jodi Blazek Gehr ©

From This Day Forward, To Have and To Hold

“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.”

Engaging Benedict: What the Rule Can Teach Us Today, Laura Swan

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

Family was an important part of the wedding ceremony and weekend. Both dads and John’s brother shared toasts and the mothers shared a blessing.

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!

As part of their wedding gift, I created a SoulCollage® card called “John and Jessica Becoming.” A wedding photo will be added to the card soon.

We are grateful that Jessica’s friend, Tarah, videotaped the wedding ceremony! You can watch the video HERE.

Other blog posts on marriage and family:

What Makes a Happy Mother’s Day?

The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments

Jessica Becoming

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