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.”
We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr—advocate for social justice, racial harmony and equality, civil rights and non-violent resistance. In his 1964 Nobel Lecture titled “The quest for peace and justice” he states
“Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964
Over five decades later, this week of the inauguration of our 46th President, the United States of America is reeling from the insurrection of January 6, 2021. It is also the date of Epiphany, celebrated in Christianity as the date Magi visit the Christ Child, recognizing that Divine Light has become incarnate in our world.
Americans are experiencing an epiphany of their own. Deep divisions that exist in our country have been made clear, brought from the darkness into the light—no doubt, as King stated, “a descending spiral ending in destruction.” How did we end up here? Surely most of us desire the “permanent peace” King spoke of, and yet here we are. I have no answers so I read and re-read the words of MLK and look to my faith for understanding.
I reflect on the opportunity I had last year to attend a concert of The American Spiritual Ensemble (ASE) at a local church—a concert to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with African American spirituals. MLK wrote that spirituals “give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.” In his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait, he wrote that civil rights activists “sing the freedom songs today for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that ‘We shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday’.”
The King Center, a living memorial to MLK, envisions a world where global brotherhood and sisterhood are not a dream but the state of humankind.
Let this be our prayer today—
May we walk together as children of God, that we ease the suffering of those near and far from us, that we stand up for the oppressed—the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, the suffering. Let us pray, that through our efforts and the grace of God, that we shall overcome. May this week of Inauguration be peaceful and all involved be protected from harm. Amen.
I write more HERE about the American Spiritual Ensemble, the importance of Negro spirituals and their impact on American music.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”
― LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Listening to the sweet and soulful songs of Alana Levandoski is prayer itself. I discovered Alana through the Center for Action and Contemplation and have used her contemplative songs and chants in retreats I have led and in my own prayer practice. Whether setting music to her own words, or lyrics drawn from poetry or scripture, her singing is elevated prayer.
Ring Out, Wild Bells, a poem sung by Alana, is a heartfelt, prayerful intention to ring out the old of 2020, a year of great challenges, and to ring in the new of 2021. The poem, In Memoriam, (Ring out, wild bells) was written during a time of grief, nearly 150 years ago by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). The lyrics ring true for both letting go and welcoming in—letting go of the false, feuding, dying, grief, pride, partisan divide, and civic slander WHILE welcoming in the new, true, noble, sweet, pure, love, truth, light, and peace.
(Image above taken at St. Jacob’s Church bell tower in Telc, Czechia)
Enjoy Alana’s new video of Ring Out, Wild Bells! And at the bottom of this post, learn more about Alana, how to find her music and some additional prayerful songs to start your new year.
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).”
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.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in December 1770—250 years ago. A long-awaited celebration for music aficionados, over 300 concerts and other projects had been planned in Germany, and many others around the world, to celebrate one of the most performed of all classical music composers. Unfortunately, the pandemic resulted in events being postponed or adapted for a virtual audience.
This significant date, 250th birthday of Beethoven, was the nudge I needed to write the story of the family tree that includes my daughter, Jessica, as a direct descendent of Beethoven—as a piano player.
Jessica played piano from her Kindergarten year until she entered high school under the tutelage of Ceil Brown, 1953- 2010. Ceil learned to play piano from Marie Ducey, who she spoke of so highly. Marie Ducey took piano lessons from James Madison Tracy, 1837-1928. Tracy and his wife established the Liszt School of Music in Denver in 1910, named in honor of his piano teacher, Franz Liszt.
Franz Liszt, 1811-1886, one of the greatest pianists of all time, a Franciscan lay associate, was known to have never charged his students for piano lessons. Liszt learned from Carl Czerny, 1791-1857, an Austrian composer, teacher, and pianist of Czech origin whose vast musical production amounted to over a thousand works. His study books are still widely used in piano teaching. And….drumroll, please….Czerny was trained by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Our family is proud to be in this distinguished family tree of musicians and lovers of music.
Jessica describes Ceil, her piano teacher, as patient, gracious and calm. Ceil was an extraordinary teacher who appreciated individual student strengths and abilities. I delighted in hearing the conversations between her and Jessica. Ceil treated her as person, not like a kid as so many adults can do. When Jessica did not like a piece of music Ceil had selected for her to learn, Jessica was not afraid to say it. Ceil would go to her bookcase and look for another piece. I remember one occasion when Ceil looked three or four times for music that would suit Jessica’s style and interest (in a 45-minute lesson!)
“The aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”
Johann Sebastian Bach
St. Cecilia—November 22, Saint of the Day
St. Cecilia is a Roman martyr and the patron of music and musicians. It is written that Cecilia dedicated herself to virginity, but instead was forced by her parents into marriage. As musicians played at her wedding, Cecilia “sang in her heart to the Lord”. Memorializing St. Cecilia is remembering that music is a pathway to connect to the Divine, a way to seek comfort, to praise and to pray.
“Singing is soulful. It is prayerful and it is powerful. I love to sing (in the privacy of my own car). I love to listen to others sing, from the liturgical chant of Benedictine monks to contemporary Christian artists. Whether it is the melody or insightful lyrics that I find a connection with, music can create a mood, help recognize or express a feeling, or bring me to a place of prayerful listening.
When monks sing, they believe they are singing with the angels, and we are just to join in. The beauty of singing familiar songs and hymns is allowing our mind and heart to beat as one. Songs that capture what we could have not so artfully written, become our prayer. To sing, or sing with another, is to elevate the soul, to connect with the Divine.” (from a previous blog post, Music as Prayer ♫ This Journey Is My Own)
St. Cecilia was memorialized in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, founded in the 3rd century after Cecilia was martyred. The church is believed to be on the site of the house where she lived and died. Since 1527, a community of Benedictine nuns has lived in the monastery next door. In 1599, Cecilia’s body was found in incorrupt with deep cuts in her neck just as she had died. A sculpture by Stefano Maderno of Cecilia’s body lies in front of the choir.
When I visited Rome during the World Oblate Congress, we made an unscheduled stop at St. Cecilia’s in the Trastevere region. It was a profound experience, one that I cannot quite capture in words. Instead, I share some photos of my visit.