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Jodi Blazek Gehr, Oblate of St. Benedict

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Happy Birthday, St. Benedict!

St. Benedict is pretty special to me for a few reasons.

First, we share a birthday. I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed when I first discovered this. My parents had given me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate my Confirmation. As any nine-year-old would do, I immediately looked to see who the saint was for July 11, my birthday. Perhaps Elizabeth or Mary, Theresa or Christine (my confirmation name) would be my special saint. A lovely woman saint with a beautiful name—I had hoped.

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Instead, I beheld an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary looking bird, some sort of walking cane and an unusual name that I had only associated with Benedict Arnold, a famous American traitor.

July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, St. Benedict!”

Pilgrimage Day for the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, Part 4

Hearing from speakers, having small group discussions, sharing meals and worshipping in daily prayers and Mass were on the agenda for 5 out of the 6 days of the conference. The exception, Wednesday, November 8, was a special day for the participants of the 4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates.

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Our morning started with attending the General Audience of Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square. We were delighted to be seated on the platform, very near where the Holy Father was also seated. His message on the Eucharist was followed with a welcome for visiting groups with a special mention of Benedictine Oblates. For many oblates, this was one of the most magical moments of the week. Continue reading “Pilgrimage Day for the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, Part 4”

A Big Day for Benedictines: July 11, Feast Day of St. Benedict

Learn more about St. Benedict on July 11 in an original EWTN docu-drama presenting the life and spirituality of Saint Benedict of Nursia.  Fr. Prior Mauritius Wilde and Abbot Primate Gregory Polan contribute to this one-hour program taped at Sant’ Anselmo, the Benedictine monastery in Rome.  The program airs Tuesday, July 11 at  8:00 am and Wednesday, July 12 at 12:00 AM Central Time.  See EWTN schedule for your time zone.

Listen to The Life of St. Benedict –The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B.  Podcasts #28-33 reflect on the life of St. Benedict by using the biography penned by St. Gregory the Great. The first episode looks at the pivotal discernment he made as a young man to pursue the religious life. The aspect of detachment from our earthly family in favor of our Heavenly Father is explored by Fr. Mauritius. There are six reflections on the life of St. Benedict in this Discerning Heart series.

Read Benedict-inspired blog posts from Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB at WildeMonk.net

Learn more about living Benedictine spirituality as a monk or oblate at Christ the King Monastery’s website.  

And finally, St. Benedict is pretty special to me too.

“My parents gave me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate the occasion and as any nine-year-old would do, the first thing I did was look up my birthday. I was immediately disappointed. The illustration seemed so dark –a man with a hood, a scary looking bird and a funny name that I had only associated with Benedict Arnold, a famous American traitor.  After gaining such a beautiful name like Christine, what kind of luck did I have to get a guy named Benedict on my birthday?!  July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said.  I read the pages about St. Benedict often, thinking that I should have some connection with this man as my patron saint, but then I forgot about him until…

Read more of St. Benedict, St. Scholastica and Spiritual Friendship at SoulFully You.

Happy Feast Day of St. Benedict!

Earthquake and Easter go together

Homily for the Easter Vigil 2017 at Christ the King Priory/St. Benedict Center, Prior Fr. Joel Macul OSB

Vigil readings: Gn 1:–2:2 • Gn 22:1–18 • Ex 14:15–15:1 • Is 54:5–14 • Is 55:1–11 • Bar 3:9–15 • Ez 36:16–28 • Rom 6:3–11 • Mt 28:1–10

Earthquake! Earthquake and Easter go together today. Most of us could probably use a little earthquake right now to wake us up and get our attention. We have been sitting and listening for a long time. ….God is so full of surprises. Dawn comes, a new day and Fr. Joel Macul, O.S.B.what do we feel? An earthquake. Everything is splitting open, the old is collapsing, and the new is stepping out. The sound of the earthquake and stones rolling away, that is the announcement of Easter this year. But it is a new day, a new creation, the old has passed. After the earthquake, we cannot go back. Life is not the same, for Jesus, for the women, for disciples. Dare I say, for us also?

The readings we have just heard are like photos in a family or community album. Each year on this night we gather to sit down and look at these pictures. We gather here to listen to the stories and poems about God’s ways in our faith community’s story. We sit and listen to the stories and words of the prophets and apostles. Every time we look at a family or community photo album, the pictures remind someone of another story, of another member of the family and community. Sometimes the stories are the same, sometimes they are not. A new memory is added. It is like that with the words and rituals of this Easter Vigil. Each year the same words are read but each year they sound new and different. Something in them is heard for the first time. Why? Because each year we have grown and experienced another piece of life since the hearing last Easter. This year a particular word hits us; it makes sense, more sense than ever before. God is penetrating into our hearts ever more deeply. Each year we hear these words and each year we become these words more and more. Or so we hope.

Continue reading “Earthquake and Easter go together”

A Nebraska Birthday Wish

It’s Nebraska’s 150th birthday next year, but I get to blow out the candles and make the wish!! I know you aren’t supposed to share a birthday wish, but this is a secret I can’t keep. My wish: To share with everyone in Nebraska (and beyond) my favorite place in the whole world—a Benedictine monastery and retreat center in Schuyler, Nebraska.

DSC_0692Photo: St. Benedict Center

Continue reading “A Nebraska Birthday Wish”

From Fingerpaints to SoulCollage®: My Creative Kid (Now Adult)

I was absolutely tickled when my daughter, Jessica, asked me to help her with an Environmental Politics project when she was in college. Not only did it focus on SoulCollage®, one of my passions, but she had requested special permission to use a different research idea than those suggested by her professor. I find that kind of creative thinking pretty awesome. But, then, I think she’s a pretty awesome kid (now, adult.)

 

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Jessica creating in elementary school

From finger painting and Play-doh as a toddler to crayons, markers, and watercolor in elementary school and later to SoulCollage®, Jessica has always been willing to try new things. We always had an “art drawer” at our house when Jessica was growing up and an evening at the kitchen table creating was a favorite way for us to spend time together. It has become a form of self-expression, self-understanding, even a way for Jessica to visualize her future.

Rather than putting words in her mouth, though, I wanted to hear from her what she valued about SoulCollage®. Perhaps her words will inspire another child, teen or young woman to express themselves creatively.

Continue reading “From Fingerpaints to SoulCollage®: My Creative Kid (Now Adult)”

2023 Word of the Year: Wonder

I love the practice of asking for a word, allowing a word or phrase to bubble up to ponder for the new year. Words that have chosen me in the last few years include Mercy (2017), Cushion (2018), You Are Free (I needed more words that year) (2019), Carry On (2020), Truth (2021), and Consent (2022).

My 2023 Word of the Year is WONDER.

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.

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WONDER opens our eyes to synchronicity.

The images in a recent SoulCollage card brought forth the word WONDER, and it settled comfortably in my soul.  The title of my card, Sit A Spell, is an encouragement to be open and receptive to the wonders of the universe revealing themselves right where we are—comfortable on our perch, walking through the seasons of life, or, even, in our thoughts and imagination.

It is only with eyes open to wonder, holy surprises, and synchronicity that we experience the humbling and awesome fall to our knees. There we are uplifted by invisible forces and surrounded by angels seen and unseen. (Synchronicity and Holy Surprise)

A card I created using images gathered on retreat and from a greeting card that screamed synchronicity!

WONDER makes us fall to our knees.

After the word WONDER rested in my awareness, it was providential how many words of wisdom, poems, and quotes I came across in my reading. The wisdom begins in wonder decoration (pictured above) hangs around an olive oil bottle in my kitchen. I pass by it many times every day, but I realize I wasn’t really SEEING it. Waking up to meaningful coincidences, C.J. Jung said, “could shift our thinking so we recognize a greater wholeness in all of creation…It could precipitate a spiritual awakening.”

“Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.”

Gregory of Nyssa
Continue reading “2023 Word of the Year: Wonder”

A Mother’s Blessing

Written May 2016; Published on SoulFully You. 

I thought it would be a little tacky to take a photo of a mother and child I didn’t know this morning in church. I was so tempted to sneak a cell phone shot and apologize later if caught.  It was a tender, intimate moment that I wish could have been captured. But I hold it in my heart instead.

Imagine this: an expectant mother (I would say about 34 weeks into her pregnancy if I were a betting woman) and her 7-ish-year-old daughter. The young girl, head resting on her mother’s belly, was tenderly caressing and then, curiously poking at the outline of a baby foot or hand in her mother’s tummy. This simple gesture was a blessing for her sibling, the unborn baby—a welcoming, communication of love and hope.

Blessing my unborn baby

It is an awesome responsibility for expectant parents to consider bringing a new life into the world.  An avid reader, I couldn’t get my hands on enough books about parenting—parenting an infant, a toddler, a teenager.  I wanted to be the best and most prepared mother I could be, but I experienced an information overload, even without the not-invented-yet, scary, paranoid, hypochondriac rabbit-hole called the Internet, and I started to freak myself out, thinking about all that could go wrong and the weight of this responsibility. 

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So I scaled it back a notch, deciding to focus only on the moment, on welcoming the life of my unborn baby. In the womb, a baby hears, feels, moves and senses. Despite the 1980’s new agey-ness of the title, I read a book when I was pregnant with Jessica called “Communing with the Spirit of Your Unborn Child”.  I believed that “Every parent has an unceasing responsibility to the child to be the light, to represent the light.” I prayerfully welcomed the baby we had so desired, sending her light and blessings while she was still in my womb. Throughout my pregnancy, I documented my thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, and prayed that we would be good parents.

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When Jessica was a toddler, I read “The Blessings” by Gary Smalley and John Trent, about the value of blessing a child with words, touch, visions of a positive future, and more. Blessing a child doesn’t just happen once; blessing a child continues through their life in a variety of ways.

In 2016, Jessica asked her dad and me for a blessing.  While visiting Jessica in Washington DC during her senior internship, she broke it to us, ever so gently, that she had fallen in love with DC. She said she really wanted to pursue working there after college graduation.

And then she said, “Do I have your blessing?” My 21-year-old confident, brilliant, talented, highly employable daughter wanted her mom and dad to say it was okay for her to move away from our hometown and follow her dream.

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It was a touching, respectful-of-her-parents-kind-of-request, but she must not have realized that she already had our blessing. Our blessing has always been for her to pursue her dreams, find her place in the world, and become a joy-filled, independent adult.

SoulCollage® has become an intuitive, yet intentional, way for me to pray, so when my daughter asked for a blessing, I created an image, a blessing card, that could be a visual way to pray for her—to pray that she listens to her intuition, follow her dreams, and know that she would always have our blessing.

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I’ve been praying with the blessing card for several months but recently decided to share it with Jessica for an end-of-year celebration at her sorority house. The images I had used to create the collage helped me capture a mother’s blessing, but I added these words to share with Jessica. With her permission, I share them here:

As we said your nighttime prayer as a child, our hand on your head, we gave you our blessing. God bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit. We give you our blessing now for your journey, wherever it takes you. The bond between a baby elephant and its mother is the closest of any animal on earth—this image represents our connectedness as family, no matter the distance between us. In an African village near a Benedictine monastery, it is tradition for a mother to paint her face when her children are growing into adulthood.  She hides her emotions and opinions so her children will forge their own paths and make their own decisions without the influence or bias of their parents. Our blessing for you is that you bloom into the Jessica you are meant to be. You have been more precious than jewels to us and we look forward to seeing you become a jewel to the world. We love you and give you our blessing as you fly into your becoming.

Blessing Jessica, as my grown-up child, is a journey of becoming comfortable with the uncertainty and the many possibilities for her future, letting go slowly, surely, and courageously. The blessing card is as much a reminder for me as it is for Jessica.

This morning, watching the young girl tenderly embrace her unborn sibling, reminded me of the vision we had for Jessica before she was even born-that she becomes fully who God intends her to be.  It is a prayerful process, a standing witness to the becoming of this young woman, who as an unborn child was welcomed and blessed into this universe so that she could become who she is meant to be. She has our blessing, then and now.

 “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.    -e. e. cummings

Continue reading “A Mother’s Blessing”

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”

About SoulCollage® 

Jodi Blazek Gehr, Being Benedictine Blogger

Cultivate your creativity and spirituality through a variety of prayerful, creative, and contemplative practices including SoulCollage®, praying with art, poetry, music, and more.

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SoulCollage® is an intuitive process using images to create personal cards. SoulCollage® helps name the parts of ourselves that we value and also want to work on as well as naming the parts of the Divine that we often overlook. A visual journal to discover your inner voice, this process can be a spiritual practice of tending soul while expressing self. People are amazed at the beauty of their cards and their ability to access their inner wisdom using images.

What is SoulCollage®?

 Collage is a creative and intuitive act of cutting and pasting images. Easy and accessible for all ages, it is a powerful form of self-reflection and prayer. Images can guide you to a new awareness and reveal a deeper level of thought and feeling. If you have never tried creating a collage, you will be amazed at what you can learn from this process. Holding an image in prayer is powerful; it is much more than just a craft project.

Creativity is about the process, not the product. It’s not a competition and it’s not a race. It’s about listening to self and spirit.

How to create a SoulCollage® card:

Step OneTo begin, gather some supplies—magazines, special photos and images, old calendars, scissors, glue sticks, pencil. Ideally, you will glue your images on a 5 x 8-inch card (available from SoulCollage® or from a hobby store cut into the desired size.) You may select any size you desire, but I’ve found that limiting the number of images and making critical decisions about what “belongs” in your collage is part of the practice. A working frame could be helpful in selecting the images that will fit on your card by cutting a 5 x 8-inch center out of a piece of cardstock or paper that is the same size as a SoulCollage® card.collage 2014

Step Two: Begin looking at images and setting aside those that tug at your heart. Often images just gravitate to you, so there is no need to hurry the process. Be contemplative about exploring images, selecting those that speak to you either positively or negatively. Perhaps an image disturbs or disgusts you, or you do not understand what draws you to an image—don’t be afraid, just go with it. If an image speaks to you, set it aside for possible use. It can often feel that an image selects you when you surrender to the process. Don’t think too much—trust the process when images “pull” at you.

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Step Three: When you find a collection you want to work with, start playing with two or three images that attract you and feel like they belong together. Loosely trim or tear them out of their original context and imaginatively place them in a new context by framing or fitting them together, using various arrangements and layering to increase an image’s visual power. Play with different backgrounds either horizontally or vertically. Let your intuition speak to you.

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Step Four: There are no hard-and-fast rules in SoulCollage®, but you might consider a few tips. First, it is a good idea to limit each card to a few images that represent the same mood or energy, and second, try not to use words in your cards. Words tend to pin down the meaning of a card, instead of allowing an open interpretation when working with your card later.

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Step Five: When it feels like your card is complete, cut carefully around the edges of final images, using smaller, sharp scissors for areas of detail. When gluing images down, use a lesser-quality magazine as a base, turning to a fresh page after gluing an image down (much less messy than a sticky kitchen table.) Smooth away wrinkles with a rolling pin, art roller or brayer and gently brush away glue rubbings.

Step Six: There are many ways to go deeper with creating, journaling, praying with or reading your cards since they are the reflection of your innermost thoughts and feelings. In the ancient prayerful practice of Lectio or Visio Divina, Latin for “divine seeing”, we allow words and images to speak into our hearts. See what you can learn by naming your card and journaling with “I Am One Who…” as a sentence starter. Using I am One Who StatementsA Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth.

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Some Creative Card Practices:
  • Create a card that expresses your prayer style, a prayerful expression, or an aspect of the Divine. For example: What names do you have for God? What are you praying for?
  • Create a card when you are in a positive emotional state, a negative one. Ask God for help understanding your emotions.
  • Find an image of an animal that draws you in. Think about why this image, this animal, appeals to you. We breathe life into our cards by speaking from them in the first person. What does your soul say?
  • Find 2 or 3 backgrounds that speak to you. Set the same image in front of each of them. How does the meaning of your card change?
  • “I am One Who” sharing. Roleplay in the first person rather than talking objectively about your card using “I am One Who…” Describe yourself as if you are the image. This is a different practice than writing “what this card means to me…” Consider where you are, what you are doing, what the image may want, need, fear, expect or intend. Keep saying IAOW…speak, speak, speak. It’s even better to practice this with someone who can write down what you say, or tape yourself and listen back.  Speaking is more right brain, writing is left brain. Journaling is revealing, but speaking brings something new. “I said that? 
  • Praying with your cards. Draw a card a day to hold in your heart throughout the day. What insights do you get about how to pray today?
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Creating with a Theme

Creating cards can be in response to prompts or themes, as in the Not-Just-For-Advent retreat, or can be intuitively created with no special purpose in mind. Here are some ideas based on the cards I have created:

Journaling with Your Cards
  • Responding to QuestionsWhat gifts do have to give me? What message do you have for me? What do you need from me? What are you afraid of? More exciting possibilities here.
  • Initiating PrayerStanding in the Flow
  • Writing Poetry— The Door is Open
Reading Your Cards
First Retreat Collage
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SoulFully You Retreats are a safe, sacred space for your own creative process to emerge, in your own way, in your own time, to become SoulFully You. Attend a scheduled retreat or invite me to plan a special program or retreat (many themes below) for your organization or group. Half-Day, Full Day, or Overnight Retreats available. Blog posts about SoulCollage® HERE.

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SoulFully You Retreat Themes

Self and Spirit—honoring different parts of our self and qualities of the Divine

Discover Your Inner Monk—cultivate a desire for silence, solitude, and seeking God

Discover Your Inner Artist—cultivating intuition and creativity

Personality and Prayer—a variety of prayer practices including music, creativity, words, movement and more.

Creativity as Prayer—a variety of creative prayer practices including SoulCollage®, creating mandalas and more.

Journey to Wisdom—what is wisdom, seeking God, using your SoulCollage® cards to access inner wisdom

Awaken Your Creativity— You are Created in God’s Image, using creativity to grow spiritually

Circle of Stones—Explore the power of spiritual friendships and contemplative practices to ground you in the present moment; a powerful retreat for a circle of friends.

Full Moon Retreats

Exploring Your Inner Mary

Lent and Advent Retreats

Benedictine Spirituality–prayer and work; obedience, stability, and conversion of life.

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Contact me if interested in planning or attending a retreat.

© Jodi Blazek Gehr, Being Benedictine Blogger

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