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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Laudato si

Planting Trees is a Big Deal: 150 Years of Arbor Day!

“If one tree fruits, they all fruit–there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state. The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective….what we see is the power of unity.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Planting trees is a big deal in Nebraska…so important that the planting and preservation of trees are celebrated with an actual holiday. Arbor Day, which started in my home state of Nebraska, has been celebrated for 150 years and is now observed in all fifty states and in several countries.

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Each generation takes the earth as trustees.

—J. Sterling Morton

The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, was a transplant to the Nebraska Territory from Detroit in the mid-1850s. He was a journalist and newspaper editor, who later served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. Morton understood the importance of trees to agriculture, for windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.

He believed in getting everyone, particularly students, involved in planting trees. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, encouraged by contests between counties and promotion in schools. “Students of different grades met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree that was planted was labeled with the grade, the time planted, and was to be specially cared for by that grade.” (The History of Arbor Day)

Read more: Planting Trees is a Big Deal: 150 Years of Arbor Day!
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On the final Friday of April every year thereafter, Arbor Day has been celebrated, and this year for the 150th time! Throughout the year the Arbor Day Foundation works to “help others understand and use trees as a solution to many of the global issues we face today, including air quality, water quality, a changing climate, deforestation, poverty, and hunger” through conservation and education programs.

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Arbor Day Lodge is open for tours–we were just there a few months ago! Many activities and, of course, lots of trees in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

Celebrating Arbor Day is a reminder of our interconnectedness with all living things. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis encourages taking responsibility for the health of our planet by cooperating “as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (Laudato Si, 14)

St. Benedict encourages us to “listen with the ear of the heart,” to see all of life as sacred, and to experience the connectedness we have with all of creation. Consider spending time listening to the trees. Perhaps we can be reminded that what happens to one, happens to all.

“There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right–the trees are talking to one another. They communicate via pheromones, hormonelike compounds that are wafted on the breeze, laden with meaning…The trees in a forest are often interconnected by subterranan networks of mycorrhizae, fungal strands that inhabit tree roots…They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking…Through unity, surivial. All flourishing is mutual.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

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Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.

-Richard Powers, The Overstory

The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers, is a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet. The novel weaves together the stories of nine characters, their relationship to trees, and their awareness of and desire to stop the destruction of forests. The characters, each with a short story of their own, are the backdrop of a narrative that is less about them and more about trees.

“There would be neither an economic crisis in the world today, nor an ecological threat, were it not for the evil done by greed. Monastic poverty means being content with the simple things that sustain human existence in its inherent goodness. This poverty allows man to live in harmony with field and forest, without feeling the need to brutally strip the earth of her resources in order to realize an immediate gain.”

(Brother Philip Anderson, Prior Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey )
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In honor of Arbor Day, I share “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibben. This prayerful song is a recognition that Nature blesses us with trees for our healing, enjoyment, leisure, and protection. Our very breath is dependent on the Benediction of the Trees.

Benediction of the Trees

From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt

Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees

Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide

Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees

A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong

In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees

As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say

In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees

© Jodi Blazek Gehr

The Birds Are Still My Prayer

Our favorite pandemic pastime has been sitting on the deck in our backyard. We enjoy the sights and sounds of nature regardless of the weather. Nature has been healing for us, even if it means bundling up with coats, hats and mittens and plugging in a few outdoor heaters. We enjoy home-cooked meals, whiskey tastings, long conversations, and an occasional cigar (for one of us.) As Covid cases decrease and more people are vaccinated, we are encouraged to return to life as usual, but I find that given the option, my favorite entertainment is still in my own backyard.

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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

One year ago, I wrote, “Birds chirping, frogs croaking, raindrops meeting their “splat” on the flowerpots and patio chairs, wind rustling in the trees—the simple sounds suggest that all is well with the world.” I feel the exactly the sameall is MOST well when I am attentive to the sights and sounds of nature, when I witness creation unfolding in my own backyard.

A few weeks ago (April 29, 2021), we noticed the resourcefulness of this mama robin who had built a nest on the downspout of our neighbor’s house. A bird’s home is its castle, as seen from our deck.

A few weeks later (May 14, 2021), we see the first feeding of the baby birds.

Continue reading “The Birds Are Still My Prayer”

The Birds Are My Prayer

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

A new favorite pandemic pastime is sitting on the deck in our backyard. We travel the long distance, a pilgrimage of sorts, from the living room to the outdoors several times a day to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

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Birds chirping, frogs croaking, raindrops meeting their “splat” on the flowerpots and patio chairs, wind rustling in the trees—the simple sounds suggest that all is well with the world. Yellow finches dart from one tree to another and then to a neighbor’s bird feeder and back again; perhaps a brief landing in the new tallest tree in the neighbor’s yard to the other side of us. It is as if there is a new piece of equipment in the aviary playground of our connected backyards. Birds swoop down to meet each other in a shared tree, chirp a few sentiments, and then take flight again. I wonder what makes them gather together, or what makes them fly solo.

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I am not alone in my amateur birdwatching pandemic pastime. One afternoon, I shared text messages with the neighbors on both sides about our backyard bird show. Beth texted first and then I texted Julie. We feel the same: no one should miss out on the escapades of our yellow finches.

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Our slower pace is a time to be present to the moment, to notice the simple things that may have been overlooked in the hurry of a pre-pandemic schedule. The Benedictine life is contemplative, “one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption (Laudato Si’, 222).” There has been some talk these past weeks about whether physically distancing and/or staying at home is living in fear or if our freedom is being taken away. 

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For me, true freedom is to be fully who I am, right where I am, in this moment, and in these circumstances. It is not necessary to go shopping or to a restaurant or on vacation (as much as I was looking forward toJessica’s graduation, to visit New York City with friends, and to host my cousin from Germany on his first trip to Nebraska), I can find contentment and enjoyment in my own backyard. If we cannot find contentment at home, I am not certain that it can be found anywhere. Continue reading “The Birds Are My Prayer”

Earth Gratitude

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Card name: Earth Gratitude

I am one who believes in the Divine birthing of our planet and the life-force that is poured out for us by our mere existence in this dynamic, evolving, growing, breathing earth home.

I am one who exists as part of this environment, receiving the mysterious flow of energy and outpouring of nourishment with open hands. I bow my head at the splendor of shades and shapes, the rebirth of nature through the sacred spirals of the seasons, the purpose and patterns that are sometimes evident and always sought after. The waters of life flow through us—cleansing, renewing, blessing us with existence. Nature gives to us without hesitation.

I am one who receives with awe.

“I am one who”…is a SoulCollage® prompt used to speak from, not about, your card/collage.

Consider creating a collage for Earth Day that represents your feelings toward our environment or your feelings about how humans interact with the environment. Be creative!! Show your love, anger, doubt, concerns, joys, gratitude—let your spirit moves you. Make it your Earth Day prayer.

For more info see other Earth Day blog posts. 

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Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge

Seeing the beauty of nature is the first step to taking action to protect it. Unless we can appreciate the oneness we have with creation, we will do very little to protect it.

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“Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” –Pope Francis

A few years ago, I challenged readers to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled,  “Soul Collage® and the Environment”. Inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-wining novel,  The Overstory, I am resurrecting the challenge. Continue reading “Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge”

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