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Begin Again: New and Improved!

The most used words in marketing campaigns and on product packaging are new and improved. This expression taps into our deepest desires to improve our lives and our circumstances. Marketers know this—that most of us want better and that we want to BE better, to be more of this or less of that—and so come the advertisements for weight loss, exercise facilities, home improvement, travel and more. Of course, the superficial and material never satisfy and leave us still wanting more, or less.

The essence of making New Year’s resolutions—everything from setting financial, career and relationship goals to considering new ways of being and doing—is that we desperately seek the chance to “do over.” It might sound elementary, and even impossible, but we long for it anyway.

Celebrating the beginning of a new year is a reminder of our opportunity to “always begin again”—the embodiment of Being Benedictine. It’s not as simple as a “do over” but January 1, merely just one day that follows December 31, gives us a definitive time and space to honor our deepest longing to begin again.

always begin again

I’ve long since quit making resolutions. Well, not really—I make them and break them so quickly and consistently, that I’ve chosen to look at them more gently, as beginning again. Each year I select a word that will help guide me in the New Year. Continue reading “Begin Again: New and Improved!”

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True You: Becoming Your Truest Self

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The Benedictine path calls us to solitude, prayer, balance and listening with the ear of our heart.  In the spirit of Benedictine hospitality, I share a guest post from Massachusetts MDeRusha_OfficeHoriznative, Michelle DeRusha. Michelle moved to Nebraska (where our paths have crossed) in 2001, is the wife of an English professor and mom to two teenage boys.

Michelle’s newest book, True You, releasing January 1, guides readers on a journey toward letting go in order to uncover their true God-created selves. True You captures Michelle’s experience of becoming her truest self by honoring time and space for authentic reflection.

I am delighted to be reading an advanced copy of True You from Michelle’s publisher to share my impressions with you. I am doing much reflection and writing over my Christmas break and will share more in upcoming blog posts. For now, I share an excerpt of the book here: Continue reading “True You: Becoming Your Truest Self”

Sobriety: The Nature of our Need

Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, has a new podcast series on the Benedictine understanding of sobriety.

Can you get caught up in the swirl and chaos of fear, violence, and anger assaulting our world today? Practicing soberness means being detached from emotions, both overly negative or positive feelings. It is not good to be “drunk” on either extreme.

Soberness is taking just what we need. What do I take with me? What do I take in? What do I consume? How much wine, money, noise, whatever? Is it too much? The journey of soberness is to become more aware of whether there was too much.

But soberness is more than an absence of something—there is its own positive quality. The absence of the noise of tv is more than just turning off the tv. We begin to discover how beautiful silence is. Once you taste it, you want to have more of it.

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Holy Darkness: An Advent Meditation

As a child, the Advent season was musically frustrating for me. With so many beautiful Christmas carols and hymns, I just could not fathom any reason why Catholics must wait until Christmas Eve to sing them. Every department store was playing Christmas songs. Television stations were showing Christmas movies and special programs.

Why wait?  

I prefer not to wait in many situations. For example, I would rather get to the destination of a planned vacation immediately than endure the hours it takes to drive or make the airline transfers needed to get there. I much preferred nursing my infant daughter, playing with her and watching her sleep to the nine months of back-aching pregnancy. When I want to write or create, I often need to wait for the inspiration to strike. Waiting can be an inconvenience, even excruciating, but there is no denying that we must wait for many good things in life. Continue reading “Holy Darkness: An Advent Meditation”

Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude

Preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday can be a sacred ritual. Weeks in advance several family members begin planning the menu for our Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, there is little variation from year to year—turkey, dressing, dumplings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pies, dinner rolls, and so on—but an afternoon of list-making, guest-counting, and recipe-searching ensues. Some years, even a second planning session is required—to count plates and chairs, to create a map of the food line, or to scour advertisements for butter sales. The planning sessions have become part of the practice of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving planning sessions and meals that immediately followed the passing of each of Joe’s parents was bittersweet. We missed their presence. But the ritual itself, while grounding us in the present, was a reminder to be grateful even in our sadness and grief. Continue reading “Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude”

Flood the World with Love

Weekend mornings are made for slowing down—for sipping coffee crowned in frothy milk, catching up on reading, and listening to some of my favorite music. This morning my meditation consisted of listening countless times to “I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer and spiritual teacher, and accidentally reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

Both song and scripture are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must flood the world with love. Continue reading “Flood the World with Love”

The Future Is The Spirit’s Work

Benedictine Oblates have a commitment to a specific monastery to live out their spirituality in the world according to the Rule of St. Benedict. But what is the future of Benedictine monasticism?  As monastic vocations decrease, monasteries have been forced to consider their future, either merging with other monasteries or closing altogether. How might Oblates respond to this uncertain future?

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Sister Joan Chittister addressed this theme at the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome in November 2017. She asks, “The question of the day is a simple one but potentially life-changing one: the question is why would anyone even bother to get attached to a Benedictine monastery?”

Fr. Joel Macul, Prior of Christ the King Priory, also addressed the future of Benedictine Oblates at the Benedictine Oblates Regional Conference at St. Benedict Center held in September 2018.

He begins: “We can ask ourselves why we are raising this question or topic in the first place. What prompts us to raise it? It is certainly not because the Oblate community is diminishing! Is it because the some of the communities to which Oblates belong are diminishing and Oblates might be left high and dry? Or perhaps it is a concern about Oblate communities in lands where Benedictine life is new, communities are young and the Oblate experience has no precedence? Or is there something about our culture, our American culture that makes the question of the future so important?

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While I do not consider myself a prophet in the sense of predicting a future for Benedictine life let alone Oblate life, I can fall back on the Prophet Joel.  The best future I can invite you to consider is to listen to the word of God through the prophet Joel who simply says: “It shall come to pass (code words for the future) I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…” It is clear enough. The future lies with the Spirit and our willingness and readiness to recognize its presence. According to the prophet, old and young, sons and daughters, male and female, servants and slaves will receive this gift of the spirit. The Spirit is God’s future or plan. When we can trust that Spirit, we are standing in God. And being in God is the future for ourselves, as well as humanity and our created world. If we co-opt God’s Spirit or start writing God’s plan, then theologically, we have no future. Any threads of the future will have to have the deep and inexhaustible richness of color of the Spirit. The future of anything Christian, including the Benedictine monastic way, lies with the Spirit. It is assumed that the Benedictine way is itself a gift of the Spirit and so holds within it the Spirit’s creative power. Continue reading “The Future Is The Spirit’s Work”

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

Where were you when the world stopped turnin’
That September day?­
Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
Or drivin’ on some cold interstate?

We remember when the world stopped turning because, for most of us, it felt as if it did. Time stood still. We remember where we were, who we were with, and how we felt. And, since then, we feel compelled to share our experience with others. I don’t think it’s about reliving tragedy, working through stages of grief or some kind of talk therapy, I think it’s more about remembering the connectedness we felt with the people we were with. We felt something together, a soul experience that goes beyond words—perhaps fear and despair, likely sadness and shock, but also a collective yearning for faith, hope, and love.

faith hope and love

Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
As a high school teacher, I sometimes forget that my students are really children, but there was never a day when I felt that more than September 11, 2001. Together, we witnessed the second hijacked airplane fly into the World Trade Center, watching both buildings crumble to the ground. The day the world stopped turning, I was profoundly aware that I was the adult and responsible for the children in my classroom. I felt an obligation to hold it together, to remain calm, to comfort, to help them process difficult feelings and to find a reflective, intelligent way to answer their questions with as much of a knowing “I don’t know” that I could muster. Continue reading “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?”

You Say I am Loved and That Is Enough

A few years ago, in an attempt to downsize and declutter, I attacked the hundreds of books I own with an attitude of discernment. Where should this book reside? Where would it’s best home be? Shall I keep it to read again or send it along to be enjoyed by another?

I was particularly torn about one book, Made for Goodness by Desmond Tutu. It was a book my Circle had read and discussed together. When I thumbed through the book,  I decided to take a few photos of the pages that had truly made an impression on me and send the book on to where it could be loved by another.

Recently, I came across the photos from this book, a poem written by Tutu for his daughter as seen through the eyes of God. I immediately thought of a friend who could use the comfort and encouragement of this message and started drafting an email to forward the image.

After reading the poem, I thought, “This is such a comforting message. I wish every child, every person, knew how loved and special they are; that they need not be so hard on themselves.” After reading the poem a number of times, it finally hit me that this message was meant for me too. Continue reading “You Say I am Loved and That Is Enough”

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