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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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pandemic

Work is the Friend of the Soul: #TeacherStrong and Grateful

I have just completed four weeks of teaching students in the middle of a pandemic. Not a boatload of people throughout history can make that claim. It is not normal. While it is much harder than I could have imagined, it also feels safer than I had feared. It feels good to be back to school…and it feels so good that it feels good, especially after so much anxiety about going back. It feels like a perfect fitting glove to be back in my role as teacher. It is where I belong. I feel #TeacherStrong and am filled with gratitude.

“We experience that work is not only a necessity and hard labor…but our work brings us likewise joy and fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment. We grow and develop ourselves in our work. It becomes part of who we are. However, we are more than our work. Any serious effort that enhances and enriches our own and other people’s life can fill us with joy and gratitude.”

Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict

Twenty percent of our students have chosen to participate in remote learning—they Zoom in from home to their classes every day. I have seen their faces (for some of the time) but have not gotten to know them very well yet. Eighty percent of our students, who I have come to recognize from their eyes up only, are doing a hybrid version of in school and remote learning—attending classes 2-3 days a week in person and the other days Zooming with the fully remote students. The fancy word for this is “synchronous learning.” It means I am teaching students at home and online simultaneously while students are adapting to new ways of learning.

It is taking a lot of resilience, creativity, and hard work for all of us to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning. I have gathered so much strength and peace from the Benedictine motto—ora et labora, pray and work. Before school started, I spent time with soulful friends and in solitude creatively praying with SoulCollage®. I felt a seismic shift within that allowed me to detach from my fears, to separate myself from the circumstances of going back to school and to focus on the needs of my students. It truly has been a “Seek Peace and Pursue It” experience. The peace has remained for four weeks—I am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to grow in understanding and compassion as we journey through this new way of doing school. Students have more challenges than they did when I first started teaching—personal and family traumas, mental and emotional health issues, learning disabilities, poverty and now, the impact of a pandemic.

Students have shared with me what they have been grateful for during the time of quarantine and what has been challenging. The challenges were what I expected (and experienced myself)—not seeing friends and family, missing a routine, having to wear a mask and other precautions, not being able to go out or take a vacation and sometimes, boredom. A few students expressed frustration—wishing that everyone would do their part to follow the advice of scientists and medical professionals. A few students had gotten COVID or experienced frustrations in their home life. One student said just wishing things were different was most challenging.

What students said they were grateful for—well, it blew me away. I have been profoundly impacted by the wisdom and maturity of what they shared. Here is a collection of student gratitude statements:

  • I learned that people show their true colors. I learned who my true friends are.
  • I had more time for reflection.
  • I have a new appreciation for school and other things that I took for granted.
  • I had more time to take care of my mental health.
  • I had more family time.
  • I was able to be more independent and not rely on others to make me happy. I realized I can be happy with myself.
  • I was able to form new friendships and rekindle old ones on Zoom.
  • I value school more now.
  • I was forced me to be more creative and do things I wouldn’t have considered before.
  • I am grateful for staying sober.
  • I am overall happier.
  • I have truly found myself and it made me stronger.
  • I got a puppy/cat.
  • There was lower pollution with everyone staying home.
  • I was able to work more.
  • I was able to catch up on my sleep.
  • I was able to watch some fun TV—I didn’t have time before.
  • I was able to exercise more.
  • I was able to be safe and help others not get COVID by staying home.  
  • Nothing

As much as I am excited about and motivated by teaching, I believe students learned something they could NOT and would NOT have learned in the classroom. I was impressed with their candor and vulnerability—even with the student who felt there was nothing to be grateful for. Sometimes life is like that.

This teaching is sacred work for me. I learn so much from my students and I am grateful that we are taking the first steps together into the uncertainty of doing school differently. We will all learn so much.

Benedict teaches us that work is our gift to the world, our social fruitfulness, done in community…Work allows to focus on something other than ourselves, and in that way draw us away from self-centeredness.

-Michael Rock, St. Benedict’s Guide to Improving Your Work Life

You Are Not Alone: My Peace I Give to You

August 2020 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic: Seek Peace and Pursue It, Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue 17

Sources: John 14:27 and John 16:29-33; Study Guide for The Rule of St. Benedict, pages 13-15, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB

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Fr. Volker shares reflections and music for our August meeting.

The questions that guided our discussion were: How can we remain peaceful despite the anxiety caused by the pandemic and political division? And in light of our Lectio Divina readings: What did Jesus mean by the gift of peace? Oblates of Christ the King Priory met in person at St. Benedict Center for our August meeting, respectfully following safety guidelines of physically distancing at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. Those who were not able to make the drive had the option to Zoom in.  All are encouraged to follow the 11th Commandment:

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Continue reading “You Are Not Alone: My Peace I Give to You”

God’s Grandeur: Praying with Poetry

The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, was born July 28, 1884. I spent time in prayer, the practice of Lectio Divina, with his poem “God’s Grandeur.”

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God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. Continue reading “God’s Grandeur: Praying with Poetry”

What a Wonderful World!

Taking stock of our blessings is a gratitude practice that can sustain us through many challenges. This morning I met with a group of ambassadors who help promote the good work of St. Benedict Center. Each of us shared a blessing and challenge from this time of pandemic.

Most of us have not struggled with sheltering in place and could easily identify many blessings, but of course, there are challenges—missing the physical presence of friends and family, not hugging, having fear and anxiety about the re-entry to a world with Covid-19 especially with health concerns, wanting to DO but needing to do in different ways, not being able to visit the elderly, delaying bereavement, uncertainty about the future, and letting go of plans.

Our blessings are many—more thoughtfulness for ordinary activities, a reordering of life, a heightened awareness of the sacred in the ordinary, mindfulness in our day, being more conscientious about reaching out to others in varied forms of communication, being more thoughtful, helping others, enjoyment of nature, live-streaming of daily Masses and prayers, the (online) ringing of the bells calling the monks to pray at Christ the King Priory, family Zoom get-togethers (and connecting more often than usual), enjoying our neighborhoods, and the creativity coming from churches and other organizations.

Many shared there is already much fruit from this time, and there will be much more to come.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. -Soren Kierkegaard

There is a greater opportunity for reflection, to ask—who is God calling me to be? There is more time for the discernment of non-essential things, a review of the responsibilities we put upon ourselves, and considering our life’s mission is.  Many have enjoyed a more contemplative pace and never want to go back to the old (busy) way. There is also a greater sense of connectedness with others.

A blessing is our faith—understanding that in time, we will be able to reflect on this time and appreciate more fully what we have experienced and learned. Even though many are missing a church community and the Eucharist, it is meaningful to have the spiritual communion reflection and to contemplate the incarnate within us and in all.

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

Despite the challenges, there are so many blessings. It is a wonderful world! Enjoy photos and lyrics to the song, What a Wonderful World!

wonderful world

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

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DSC_0026aI see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed days, the dark sacred nights
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

wonderful word vs 2

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Lunar Eclipse

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying
“I love you”

wonderful world 3

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I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll never know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

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jackson and joe1jackson and me

jess

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world

© Jodi Blazek Gehr

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.

bird texts

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”

Hearts Burning Within Us

May 2020 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic:  The Emmaus Story, Creating a Peaceful Environment

Sources: Luke 24:13-35

After a successful inaugural Zoom meeting in April, the Oblates of Christ the King Priory were excited to meet again “virtually” as we continue to physically distance and adapt to the uncertainty that the pandemic brings. We began our morning with introductions, personal prayer intentions and Morning Prayer from the breviary.

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The Emmaus Story painted by Josef Mahler of Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia

 

Our Lectio Divina reading was Luke 24:13-35, the Emmaus Story. At St. Benedict Center, adjacent to Christ the King Priory and our typical oblate meeting place, all who enter are greeted with a mural of the Emmaus Story. It is the hope of the monks that visitors to the Center may have an Emmaus experience. “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke?” (Luke 24:32) Just as Jesus opened the Scriptures, revealing himself in the breaking of the bread, so too can those on the spiritual journey meet the living Christ.

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Rich in meaning, there are many words and phrases that resonate with our group:

emmaus story

Stay with us. Initially, the disciple’s eyes were prevented from seeing the Risen Christ when encountering him on the road. They are talking, debating, and rehashing the events of the last days. They are downcast; disappointed, that the one they had hoped would redeem Israel was crucified. They are incredulous, sharing that the women of their group had reported that Jesus’ body was gone. The stranger promptly gave them an Old Testament lesson— “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” The disciples ask the stranger to stay with them. In the breaking of the bread, they see him. Isn’t it interesting, an oblate shared, that the disciples were not put off with Jesus immediately vanishing? He vanishes, and yet now they recognize him. It is a paradox that he is gone, but also present. Continue reading “Hearts Burning Within Us”

Home Is The Nicest Word There Is

Home is where the heart is.

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling.

A house is made of walls and beams, a home is built with love and dreams.

(And, of course) Home sweet home.

home is the nicest

Platitudes? Perhaps. But what may seem overly sentimental is what we yearn for in a home—a place of comfort, expression, warmth, understanding, love, hope, and shelter. An ideal home is a refuge, a haven, a sanctuary that provides safety and protection, a shelter in more ways than one. Our home can be an expression of our personality and values. We bring our whole self into a house and make it a home.

On day 50-something of “sheltering at home,” I am grateful for the roof over our head and all that our home provides us. Our current home is the result of “packing lightly” and “crossing the threshold”, themes from The Soul of a Pilgrim by Christine Valters Paintner.

“The journey of pilgrimage is about returning home with a new awareness of what home really means.”—The Soul of a Pilgrim

The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within ...

Five years ago, my husband and I put our house up for sale with no idea what we were going to do when it sold. It was an adventure—kind of exciting, a little scary, but certainly a threshold opportunity to see what our next step would be. We went through a process of considering what we really needed, what we would keep, what would be given away or sold, what might be tucked away in storage until we knew more decisively what we would do.

Some essential questions to consider in “The Practice of Packing Lightly” are: What would create more lightness in your life? What can you let go of to pack more lightly?

We knew the home we had lived in for nine years was not the place we wanted to be forever. Coming to that decision did not happen overnight. We had tossed it around, tabled it, brought it back up…but finally decided that we had been standing at the threshold of this decision for far too long. For us it came down to two issues: we did not need as much space or stuff and we wanted to have more free time to spend on things we loved, not just working on, or thinking about, household projects.

It felt right to let go of an attachment to our house and our things to see what might be in store for us. We were brought to a threshold, a clearing out of the old, and were ready to move into the uncertainty that lied ahead.

A voice comes to your soul saying,

Lift your foot. Cross over.

Move into emptiness of question and answer and question.

—Rumi, The Glance

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Card Name: Witness    I am one who is Witness to self.
I am one who stands tall
Upright, resilient, longsuffering
Despite winds of change.
I am one who, with the pace of a praying monk,
Glides gently through breeze and shadow, clouds and sea.
I stand centered
I move with purpose
I am one who is Witness to self
It is time
The door is open.

“The LORD said to Abram: Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I WILL show you. I WILL make of you a great nation, and I WILL bless you; I WILL make your name great, so that you WILL be a blessing.”—Genesis 12:1-3

In the story of Abram and Sarai (Genesis 12:1-9; The Soul of a Pilgrim, Chapter 2), they are guided to a new life in an unknown and distant land. When practicing Lectio Divina with this story, I imagine the couple had a sense of loss at leaving their familiar home, but that they also desired an adventure, something new. Despite mixed feelings, they were open to hearing the blessings God promised, they trusted God’s will. Continue reading “Home Is The Nicest Word There Is”

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”

Gather Into One: A Sacred Journey

April 2020 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
Topic: Lent   Sources: Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 49; John 11:45-56

“We dwell in grief and despair to be surprised into life again with resurrection—each year we are invited to make this sacred journey together.” –Engaging Benedict, Laura Swan

journey together

As Oblates of Christ the King Priory we “make this sacred journey together” meeting once a month for connection, prayer, and study. We gather in Schuyler, Nebraska on the second Saturday of the month for our Oblate meeting including morning prayers, Lectio Divina, Mass, lunch, and discussions both in full and small groups.

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Our inaugural Zoom Oblate Meeting was a huge success!!

Yet, in this time of uncertainty when we cannot meet in person, we still crave the connectedness and the spiritual grounding of our Oblate promises. Being creative problem-solvers, several of our oblates organized a Zoom event for our April meeting. Fr. Volker reflects, “It worked out beyond any expectation and was a wonderful event. Our social media technology and the present challenging Coronavirus Pandemic turn out to be a hidden blessing.” We had 28 Oblates participate, many who typically cannot make the day trip for our monthly meeting. We started as we usually do with a few announcements, prayers and Lectio Divina, each in our own home, and yet we were together.

Our Lectio Divina reading: 

There were many words and phrases that resonated with us:

You know nothing. Gather into one. What are we going to do? If we leave him alone. Began to believe in him. All will believe in him. Jesus would die for the nation. They looked for Jesus. The whole nation may not perish. What do you think? Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews.

The layers of meaning in this Gospel reading are inexhaustible, especially as we consider the impact of the pandemic during Lent— Continue reading “Gather Into One: A Sacred Journey”

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