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Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Benedictine Mission House: A Birthday Gift to Celebrate St. Benedict, July 11

My birthday, July 11, coincides with the Feast of St. Benedict. I cannot think of a better cause to support than the Missionary Benedictines in Schuyler, Nebraska, where I am a Benedictine oblate.

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For my birthday this year, I’m asking for donations to Benedictine Mission House. I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me. 100% of donations go to their missions reaching out to underprivileged in developing countries, enabling them to help themselves and thus better their life through education on all levels, healthcare, farming, and animal husbandry.

Who are the Missionary Benedictines?

The Missionary Benedictines are a worldwide congregation of 19 abbeys and priories. 1100 monks live and work in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe according to the Benedictine tradition in self-supporting monastic communities. Their work focuses on four primary areas: healthcare, education, hunger relief/environment, and evangelization.

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As a teacher, education of young people is a cause close to my heart. Missionaries realized early on that education is a critical issue to help developing nations in their struggle towards independence and economic stability. The gathering place for children or adults, willing to learn the basics of the three “R’s” — reading, writing, and arithmetic by a missionary monk or sister was under a tree; later on the one classroom buildings with crude furnishings and often without doors or windows could be found on the parish property. Today, the standard of a school building is advanced compared to those of years ago. More info about education HERE.

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You can donate on Benedictine Mission House website or Jodi’s Birthday Fundraiser for Benedictine Mission House.

What is a Benedictine Oblate?

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Benedictine Oblates are ordinary people: men and women, married and single, lay and ordained; Catholic and non-Catholic Christians; retired, working in the home and the community. Members of the Oblate community at Christ the King Priory are from Schuyler, Omaha, Lincoln, Missouri, South Dakota — even as far away as New York and Louisiana. What they have in common is a deep desire to live as members of the Body of Christ in a special way — according to the principles of the Rule of Saint Benedict. The promises Oblates (and monks) is to the conversion of life, stability, and obedience. For more information, click HERE.

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. — 1 Peter 4:10

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Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation

Seeing the beauty in nature is the first step in taking action to protect it. Our planet needs all the love, prayer, and protection it can get. Celebrate creation this Earth Day by sending positive energy and intention into the universe through some creative and prayerful practices including contemplative photography, nature meditation, Visio Divina, Soul Collage® and Lectio Divina. There are many ways to pray!

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Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all. — Thomas Merton, Thoughts In Solitude

Practice contemplative photography

Contemplative photography is a prayerful practice of seeing with new eyes. With camera in hand, I have learned to slow down, be more aware of details, be less goal-oriented and more process-oriented, to enjoy the beauty of simple things, and take more time to appreciate the surprises of a new country road or the change of seasons. This sense of adventure brings a deep joy in capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again. It is when silence, solitude, creativity, and nature collide into an oneness that can only be received, not pursued.

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The great Catholic writer Ernesto Cardenal in Abide in Love observes: “Everything in nature has a trademark, God’s trademark: the stripes on a shell and the stripes on a zebra; the grain of the wood and the veins of the dry leaf; the markings on the dragonfly’s wings and the pattern of stars on a photographic plate; the panther’s coat and the epidermal cells of the lily petal; the structure of atoms and galaxies. All bear God’s fingerprints.”

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Go for a walk and look for God’s trademarks. Better still, use a camera to document evidence of God’s fingerprints in nature. Source: Earth Day: 12 Spiritual Practices to Honor the Earth

Praying with Art—Visio Divina

Visio Divina is like Lectio Divina, but instead of using the words from a page of Scripture to pray with, you use an icon, a sacred image, a work of art, or even a sunrise or sunset.The Flowers Are Burning… Oceans A Rising: An Art and Climate Justice Exhibition” was to have taken place at Holy Wisdom Monastery, a Benedictine monastery in Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate the 50th Earth Day. Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, the poignant collection of eco-inspired watercolors painted collaboratively by artists, Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann, will instead be offered digitally.

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“Using their artworks as a source of strength in the face of adversity, they call upon the power of beauty and love to guide us towards taking action to protect what we love and care deeply about…The artists believe deeply that humans must embrace the reality that we are all connected to nature…that what happens in the Ocean, on Earth or to any life forms above and below the water, is happening to us as well. Everything is related and we can no longer go forward believing in the superiority of human life over all other life, if we are to survive. The artists sense of urgency is born out of their love of the natural world and the desire to protect and preserve what is left before it is too late.” Source: Warning Signs—A Powerful Earth Day Exhibit Goes Digital. Continue reading “Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation”

Naked Before God

Just one year ago, I started reading “The Soul of a Pilgrim” by Christine Valters Painter in preparation for a trip to visit family in Germany and to go on a Benedictine pilgrimage to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

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Kloster Benedicktbeuren, Germany

“When we take inward and outward journeys, we can be pilgrims as long as we stay open to new experiences.”—Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim

If we are “attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, (and) opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort” (Paintner), we are on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage may be intentional or not: becoming a new parent, losing a loved one, resolving a relationship conflict, or going on a spiritual retreat can be a pilgrimage if one seeks to learn, reflect and be transformed from the experience. Our life itself is a pilgrimage.

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Bohemian Alps, Nebraska

The cousin I visited in Germany was planning a pilgrimage of his own this summer. Jefferey and his wife, Sabine, were planning to visit Nebraska for the first time. I was excited to show him the Bohemian Alps, where his father (my uncle) grew up, the village where he went to school and to introduce him to family he has never met. Instead, Nebraska, Germany, and countries all over the world are on a different kind of pilgrimage altogether—the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of planning or hosting trips, we are staying put.

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Spring came on time, pandemic or not.

The pandemic transformed our world in an instant, personally and collectively—how, where and if we work has changed; how students are learning is different; the economy, health care, personal finances, shopping and travel no longer look like they used to. There is nothing that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic.

Although each of us is affected differently, we are all on a pilgrimage, not of our own choosing, but from circumstances unimaginable just a few months ago. Still, we can “make the choice for the journey to become meaningful and soulful.” (Painter) We can choose this time as an opportunity to become more aware of who we are and who we want to be.

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Despite the early spring flowers, Nebraska had an April snowstorm.

I have returned to “The Soul of a Pilgrim,” for insight, re-reading the book and also participating in an online retreat with the Abbey of the Arts, to navigate this pilgrimage of uncertainty and its library of emotions, as Mary Pipher calls it. I go from gratitude to grief in short order. I am both content and irritable, joyful and disappointed, trusting and afraid. In this smaller world of “stay at home”, I have a heightened awareness of the little things, both the beauty and the idiosyncrasies. More hours alone together in our home, my husband and I brush up against each other with all our uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, but also gratitude and joy. We have a lot of fun but can also get on each other’s nerves. We are a bundle of contradictions now more than ever. Continue reading “Naked Before God”

Easter: Embracing Light and Darkness

“We love to think of Easter as the feast of dazzling light. We get up on Easter Sunday morning knowing that the sorrow of Good Friday is finally ended… that Jesus is vindicated, that the faith of the disciples is confirmed for all to see, and that everyone lived happily ever after. We love fairy tales. Unfortunately, Easter is not one of them.” (Joan Chittister)

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During the Holy Triduum, we remember the events leading up to Easter. Each Holy Day is significant to the fullness of Jesus’ story—his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ life was full of joy—learning, teaching, helping others, growing in his authentic identity, and embracing his essence—but, also, as the Gospel of John poignantly states, “Jesus wept.” Even Jesus could not escape his own suffering—the death of a friend, concern for political and religious corruption, the betrayal of his disciples, his own physical persecution, and, finally, his fear of abandonment, that he had been forgotten by God and everyone. No doubt about it, Jesus experienced both joy and suffering.

Jesus’ life is an archetype for our own spiritual journey. There is nothing that happens in our lives that Jesus didn’t also experience. When we live out our own Good Fridays, mini-deaths that bring us face to face with darkness, we know we are not alone. We may feel betrayed by loved ones, blamed for problems we didn’t create, forsaken by those we trust. We grieve the loss of loved ones and lament our own mistakes. We are depressed or sad.

Our Holy Saturday is a time of waiting, enduring or resting, perhaps a respite from problems, a time when we can separate from our pain for moments, even days at a time. In the tomb, we wait for healing. Perhaps, we allow others to mourn with us and wait with us in hope. Our waiting is a gray space of in-between.

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This darkness is not what we want—and anytime we experience something unwanted, or conversely don’t get what we do want, we live in some shade of darkness. Truth be told, we simply want peace and joy. We don’t want to be patient, to feel bad, to hurt. There are times when we cling to the darkness and choose to stay in a place of suffering, but we can both honor the darkness while looking towards a glimmer of light, to Easter. Continue reading “Easter: Embracing Light and Darkness”

The road ahead is uncertain: 2020 Edition

The road ahead is uncertain. But isn’t it always?  The title of a blog post I wrote after a very difficult year has come to the forefront of my thoughts these past days.

The weather on January 20, 2017, the day of the Presidential Inauguration, was foggy, rainy, and overall, depressing and dreary. It struck me then that although the road ahead, literally and figuratively, was unclear, eventually the fog would lift. The seasons teach us this.

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Last Thursday, the morning we headed home from a joyous spring break vacation in Wisconsin visiting our daughter and her boyfriend, there was limited visibility on the highway. Like the bathroom mirror steams over from a too-hot shower, a haziness settled on houses and barns, trees and tractors. A dense fog allowed us to see no further than a few hundred feet in front of us. On the side of the road, coffee-colored trees are more visible than trees just several feet behind, muted with the hue of a healthy dose of half-and-half, a church only distinguishable from a house or a barn by its steeple.

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Most visible were the white lines along either side of the road, the necessary boundaries to keep us confident about continuing, and the headlights of oncoming cars.

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I thought, here we are again: foggy weather and uncertain times. In the last day of our trip as reports of the seriousness of the pandemic gripped the news cycle, the encouragement to thoroughly handwash and to elbow bump instead of handshake turned into urgent messages of social distancing, self-isolation and quarantining to “flatten the curve.”

The road ahead is uncertain. Undeniably. Continue reading “The road ahead is uncertain: 2020 Edition”

Return to Pilgrimage: Switzerland! Part 11

It’s been almost five months since I shared my last pilgrimage post about taking a day of rest in St. Johann, Austria (written also on a day of rest.) So, after a long rest from writing, it is with humility and humor that I attempt to finish the reflections I started many months ago.

To refresh my rested memory, I re-read the ten Benedictine Pilgrimage Reflections previously shared. I remembered anew some of the special experiences and insights that motivated me to share last summer. For that reason, it is important for me to finish what I start—to continue to reflect on what the pilgrimage meant for me and other pilgrims and to document the memories made. Continue reading “Return to Pilgrimage: Switzerland! Part 11”

Why I Teach

In honor of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday February 7,  1867, a personal essay on why I teach. 

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As early as kindergarten, I identified teacher as a potential
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in my “School Years” book, a collection of elementary school Kindergarten teachermemories. My kindergarten-self chose nurse, teacher, model, and mother as possible career and life choices, although the options were limited to traditional girl-jobs only. (I’ve wondered why I didn’t dare to select baseball player or astronaut. Was it because those jobs did not interest me or did I not consider the boy-jobs? Or why were airline hostess and secretary NOT of interest to me?) Female stereotypes aside, by fourth grade, I had wisely eliminated model and nurse (yuk and yuk!!), leaving teacher and mother.fourth grade

I was interested in learning and teaching as soon as I was old enough to work my way through phonics, spelling and math workbooks, just for fun. And then creating worksheets and math problems, grading spelling quizzes and making lesson plans became my childhood joys. My brother was my first student and I worked him pretty hard. I remember taking the graded assignments I’d assigned to him to my fourth-grade teacher, proudly showing her what I was helping him accomplish outside of school hours. Rather than receiving the anticipated (and sought-after) praise, she promptly told me I should back off and not force him to be my student anymore or he might hate school—my first humbling opportunity at professional self-reflection.

BooksLaura Ingalls Wilder was my childhood heroine. Pioneer girl turned teacher; wide-open prairie sky and her own classroom, from Little House on the Prairie to These Happy Golden Years —I wanted to BE Laura. I admired her sense of self-confidence and independence, how she encouraged students to overcome learning challenges, many not much younger than her. (I am such a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder that when my daughter could barely read I bought the entire book series,  picture books and television movies for her and also road-tripped to Mansfield, Missouri to see the house where Laura penned all of the Little House books. Quite a thrill!)

All the evidence indicates that, if I wasn’t born with the desire to teach, the passion was stirring when I was very young.  Continue reading “Why I Teach”

Life Lectio—Just Float, Move Slowly

Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.  -Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 

Listen—the first word in the Rule of St. Benedict. Listening is the essence of Benedictine spirituality and the inimitable path to unity with God.

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Lectio Divina, translated as divine reading, is a Benedictine practice of seeking deeper meaning in words and stories. It is listening to what lies beneath the words.

The practice of Visio Divina another kind of listening using art or images can help one intuit spiritual guidance from the still, small voice of inner wisdom. One can use sacred Scriptures, spiritual reading, song lyrics, icons, art, and collage to listen “with the ear of your heart.”

I am still learning. -Michaelangelo

Life, itself, is a listening practice. In our daily living, we can practice divine seeing. I find myself circling back to life lessons, sort of a “life lectio.” Over time there are new revelations and epiphanies —I am still learning. The miracle is that when one looks, there is seeing. When one asks, there are answers. Here is one such experience.

“If you know and have been affected by your dreams you will feel in yourself a thread of meaning and purpose that is part of something much bigger than yourself. This is the faith that lives in me.”–John A. Sanford, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language

Several years ago, in a dream, the words “Just float” and an image came to me. I had been experiencing many worries and concerns and it was a comforting message. My dreaming self was telling me to release my anxiety, or at least to just let it lie for a while. But it’s not easy to “just float” when one is resistant, when one wants to manage, to fix, to control. Continue reading “Life Lectio—Just Float, Move Slowly”

Always Room for Dessert: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 8

It’s been a month since my last pilgrimage post...no, I did not forget about the second half of our pilgrimage! We have NINE days left to journey!

But life happened here in Nebraska—school started with a week of teacher planning days, our daughter, Jessica, came home for two weeks, her boyfriend came to visit for several days, I had the first few weeks of school with students, we celebrated the wedding of dear friends, helped Jessica move to Madison, Wisconsin, had more weeks of school….and, you get the point. I need another pilgrimage. 🙂 

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Friday, June 21 —Our stay at St. Ottilien ended with Mass in the chapel with Fr. Volker Futter and Fr. Anastasius Gunter Reiser, who spent several months at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler last year.  St. Otillien Congregation of Missionary Benedictines is the motherhouse of Münsterschwarzach Abbey and the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing.

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In 1884 Andreas Amrhein, formerly a Benedictine from Beuron Archabbey (that I visited with my cousin Jefferey), had a vision of combining the Benedictine way of life—following the Rule of St. Benedict, practicing hospitality and promising stability, obedience and conversion of life—while also serving as missionaries. In 1887 the community settled in Emming at an existing chapel called St. Ottilia, and the congregation took the same name. Continue reading “Always Room for Dessert: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 8”

The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

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Thursday, June 20One of the highlights of the pilgrimage was a visit to Ettal Abbey, founded in 1330 by Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian, for the procession celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, a ritual dating back to 13th century Italy. The procession of parishioners, visitors, musicians, and clergy started after Mass by leaving the chapel and threading its way through abbey grounds, flower gardens and nearby pastures of sheep and cows. There was something so sacred about the singing, chanting, the aroma of incense, the sound of the sheep bells clanging as they walked or bent to eat. Not understanding hardly any words, there was still a deeper understanding that there was something holy happening here. The meditative walking and liturgical pauses along the way, a pilgrimage of sorts, were hints that this ritual pointed to something much more.

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The Corpus Christi procession is a Catholic ritual, one of the hundreds that are celebrated during the liturgical calendar, but rituals can also be created by oneself or in small communities and groups to help commemorate or honor a special experience. Thomas Merton wrote that a ritual is “imbued with the beloved’s presence.”  James Finley, in Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere: The Essential Guide to the Contemplative Teachings of Thomas Merton, notes that “we need a holy place or thing to awaken us to the holiness of everything.” Rituals convey a sense of the spiritual and holy, if not during the ritual, oftentimes later when one is reflecting and remembering. Rituals connect us to something more than ourselves, not just with our intellect, but through our senses, our heart, and soul. Rituals are packed with divine meaning. (Read Fr. Mauritius Wilde’s ritual of embracing the cross as an example.) Continue reading “The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7”

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