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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Every Day is Happy Mothers’ Day!

Today my child should be walking across the stage at her graduation ceremony to receive her Masters in Public Affairs diploma. I should be there, applauding and celebrating her achievements. But, you know…. the pandemic and all. It would have been a beautiful way to spend Mothers’ Day.

Although I would love to be with Jessica on this day, to have recognized her achievements with ceremony, what makes this Mothers’ Day truly happy (and my heart full on ordinary days as well), is having a child who lives a life of joy and purpose.

This is all a mother desires—to know that her child is happy, at peace, learning, growing, working hard, loving well, and always becoming. 

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Jessica Becoming, a special card for all the phases of Jessica’s life through high school, 2012.

It’s been a few years since Jess and I have spent an official Mothers’ Day together. In 2016, after graduating from college, Jessica moved to Washington, DC. to work as a full-time research assistant. And in 2018, Jessica moved to Madison, Wisconsin, earning a fellowship to study public policy at the LaFollette School of Public Affairs. Continue reading “Every Day is Happy Mothers’ Day!”

World Labyrinth Day: Many Ways to Pray

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

There are many ways to pray—in song, spoken or written words, silence, creativity, nature, and movement, just to mention a few. Paul recommends to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which is only possible if we are able to connect with our Creator in a variety of ways. We are meant to engage our senses, our whole bodies, in prayer.

I’ve come to appreciate this about the Catholic Mass, even if visitors might think there is a lot of up and down. We genuflect, sit, stand, kneel, and bow. These gestures, postures, or movement help to bring our whole being into prayerful expression—raising our hands when saying the “Our Father”, making the sign of the cross or receiving the Eucharist allows us to use our bodies in prayer.

lab signIn addition, walking the stations of the cross or a labyrinth, taking a nature hike, or practicing yoga or tai chi are prayerful forms of movement that engage our bodies while quieting our mind. Going away on retreat is an opportunity to explore and practice various forms of prayer.

 

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Labyrinth at St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, NE

A few summers ago  I had the opportunity to pray in many ways while attending an eight-day Ignatian retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center. Each day, for about an hour, I met with a spiritual director to receive guidance and to share my faith journey; the remainder of the day was spent reflecting on these discussions and praying. One of the ways that I prayed was by walking a labyrinth.

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a symbol of life without meaning, it is an agent of confusion, deception with dead ends that lead you nowhere. But a labyrinth is a symbol of a life of deeper meaning, an on-going sacred journey leading us inward, outward and to greater wholeness.” –Carrie Newcomer Continue reading “World Labyrinth Day: Many Ways to Pray”

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 50th 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”

Praying with the Stations of the Cross

Amidst 160 acres of farmland in Nebraska at St. Benedict Center, there is a contemplative prayer journey that focuses on the events of Jesus’ last day. The Stations of the Cross is a mini-pilgrimage to contemplate the Passion of Christ. At each pause or station on the journey, a prayer is offered to remember the sufferings and struggles of all.

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Traditionally there are 14 images and events that are commemorated, but at St. Benedict Center there is one additional station. Ascending a small hill, a fifteenth station appears marking the resurrection of Christ and the joy of Easter. The artist of each of the station markers is Lore Friedrich of Münsterschwarzach, Germany.

May you be blessed by praying with the arts and taking the Way of the Cross.

“The Stations of the Cross are not given to us only to remind us of the historical Passion of Christ, but to show us what is happening now, and happening to each one of us.  Christ did not become man only to lead his own short life on Earth – unimaginable mercy though that would have been – but to live each of our lives.  He did not choose his Passion only to suffer it in his own human nature – tremendous though that would have been – but in order to suffer it in the suffering of each one of his members through all ages, until the end of time.” –Caryll Houselander

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Station 1: Jesus is Condemned to Death
Pilate: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.” -Mt 27:24
Remember
…those condemned unjustly
…those sentenced by members of governments and society because of their faith.

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Station 2: Jesus Bears His Cross
Jesus: “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls.” Mt 11:28
Remember those carrying a heavy cross in life without murmuring, inspired by Christ.

Station 3: Jesus Falls the First Time
Psalmist: “I was pressed, pressed, about to fall, but Yahweh came to my help.” -Ps 118:13
Remember those breaking down under the weight of their failures, and fall.

4 EasterStation 4: Jesus Meets His Mother
Jesus: “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother.” -Mt 12:50
Remember
…your own mother
…all called to be mother to others
…all expectant mothers

“One of the oldest devotions in Christianity, the Stations of the Cross, attests to the ongoing human effort to understand the place of suffering in the human’s search for resurrection from death to life that is part and parcel of what it means to be alive and grow and become our best selves as we go.”—The Way of the Cross, Joan Chittister

Station 5: Jesus Is Helped by Simon
Matthew: “A man from Cyrene, Simon by name, was forced to carry his cross.” -Mt 27:32
Remember
…those who assist others in life without being recognized
…those who give of themselves that other’s burdens are lightened.

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Station 6: Jesus and Veronica
Jesus: “What you did for the least of my brothers, you did it for me.” -Mt 25:40
Remember
…those reaching out to the marginalized of society.
…those helping AIDS victims, prisoners, minorities.

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Station 7: Jesus Falls a Second Time
Jesus: “If anyone wants to be my follower…let him take up his cross and follow me.” -Mt 16:24
Remember those who lack the courage and strength to overcome addictions, personal shortcomings, sinfulness, and find themselves back in their old habits and behavior.

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Station 8: Jesus Speaks to the Women
Jesus: “Daughter of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” -Lk 23:28
Remember
…families who are struggling with any kind of difficulties and problems
…women oppressed by society, Church, work force, spouses…

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Station 9: Jesus Falls the Third Time
Paul: “The Lord says: My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness.” -2 Cor 12:9
Remember those who have given up and see no purpose and meaning in life.

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Station 10: He is Stripped of His Garments
Psalmist: “They shared out my clothing among them, they cast lots for my clothes.” -Ps 22: 18
Remember those sisters and brothers stripped of their dignity.

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Station 11: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Jesus: “Father, forgive them: they do not know what they are doing.” -Lk 23:34
Remember those who find themselves trapped in difficult situations and see no way out.

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12 easterStation 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Jesus: “It is accomplished” and bowing his head he gave up his spirit. -Jn 19:30
Remember
…the lonely
…the dying
…those who have no one to be within their final hours of life’s journey.

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Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Jesus: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” -Mt 10:22
Remember
…those who mourn the loss of loved ones
…those longing for consolation

 

Station 14: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
Jesus: “I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” Jn 12:24
Remember
…those facing death without hope of eternal life
…those who will die unexpectedly

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Station 15: Jesus is Raised from the Dead
Angel: “He is not here: he is risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee.” Lk 24:6
Remember those who believe in the Resurrection and give witness to it daily.

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Urbi et Orbi: A Blessing for the World

Listen with the ear of your heart to Pope Francis’ message to the world. Practice Lectio Divina, contemplating the words and/or images that speak to your soul. Full text and video available at the end of this post.

What are you called to learn during this “unexpected, turbulent storm?” Share your insights in the comment section.

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“Like the disciples in the Gospel (Mark 4: 35-41) we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.

world blessing pope 2. jpgOn this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.”

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The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.

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The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity. Continue reading “Urbi et Orbi: A Blessing for the World”

No Words: Praying with Art

“There are times when music and other forms of art become vital because words alone won’t suffice. This is one of them.”
–Parker J. Palmer

I love words—to write them and to read them (shared in In Praise of Words and Less Words)—but during the past few weeks, I have found my thoughts turn to words that spiral into feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry. It is one of those times when I need to listen deeply with the “ear of the heart,” according to St. Benedict, for good words, or no words, to replace that which is not edifying.

God is the Great Artist.

Art is incarnational, and the arts have long been celebrated by Christian tradition as a way of encountering Christ. 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, a sunset, the flash of an oriole, the flight of a red-tailed hawk. (St. Benedict Center, Praying with the Arts)

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I invite you to practice Visio Divina with one of my favorite pieces of art at St. Benedict Center, a wood carving of the Makonde clan of Tanzania, east Africa. I have taken dozens of photos and contemplated its meaning from many angles and directions over the years. Only recently did I ask Fr. Thomas, administrator at the Center, if he knew the story behind it. He shared that it is titled “Democracy.”  He described that in the traditional Makonde clan when something important had to be discussed, the elder calls the extended family together. After the matter is discussed and everyone has had the opportunity to speak, the elder makes known the decision. The artist is saying, somewhat humorously, in a democracy everybody can speak but are those speakers really listening to one another?

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Practice Visio Divina

Relax and come to a quiet before the photos of “Democracy.”

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Read the work of art. Listen with the “ear of your heart.” Explore it. Does it remind you of a passage from Scripture or The Rule of St. Benedict?

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What is the story being told? Notice colors, shapes, textures, shades, symbols, posture, expressions. How do they work together to tell the story?

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Continue reading “No Words: Praying with Art”

We Are The World, We Are The Children

The award-winning song We Are The World, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, is an anthem for our time. On January 21, 1985, the most well-known artists in the music industry, under the direction of Quincy Jones, came together to support USA for Africa, bringing awareness and financial relief to the famine in Africa. It was a gesture of solidarity that is a reminder for us now and always. Listen here:

(First verse)
“There comes a time
When we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one.”

 I have friends or family living in many countries–Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Czechia, Belgium, Spain, Canada, Argentina, Australia—and in all regions of the United States from California to New York, Washington to Arkansas. Being Benedictine has followers and visitors from over 75 countries. In the Benedictine Confederation, there are hundreds of monasteries and thousands of monks, nuns, sisters, and oblates in every part of the world.

No matter where we call home, we are connecting with each other on social media, Zoom, Skype and Facetime to check in with each other, to ask how it’s going, to send a word of encouragement, to offer help. Never have we ALL been in such shared circumstances like this.

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(First verse continued)
“There are people dying.”

An inevitability, St. Benedict reminds us to keep death daily before our eyes. But even that advice feels different now. The pandemic underscores our connectedness that we don’t take stock of regularly. Collectively we are staring death in the eyes. Depending on where we live, we are on varying points of “the curve” with differing strategies from our governments and medical professionals to “flatten the curve.” Continue reading “We Are The World, We Are The Children”

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”

Just Listen: Big decisions require big listening

Big decisions require big listening.

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I created a SoulCollage® card for my daughter when she was 21 and going through what some Millennial research experts dubbed a “quarter-life crisis.” At that point in her life she was going through the oh-my-gosh-where-did-the last three-years-of-college-go-?-I-still-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up-and-there’s-only-one-year-left-of-college-until-the-real-world-hits-me-upside-the- head and-my-parents-declare-my-financial-emancipation!

Fast forward four years, and she reaches another crossroads. Of course, wise mothers know that these crossroads are the markers of a life well-lived. Life is full of forks in the road and sometimes a few detours. There is never a straight road with easy answers about which direction to go. We come to accept that normal is the in-between spaces of what was and what is to come, while we practice trust, patience, and big listening, an opportunity for Life Lectio.

It was during this time of in-between, the summer of her quarter-life crisis, that I created a SoulCollage® card for Jessica’s 21st birthday. It represented my advice/prayer for her. I hoped it would be an image for her to practice Visio Divina, deep and big listening to her intuition. I share again the image and words of Just Listen:

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Just Listen

I remember the carefree little-girl-Jessica who ran and played and laughed and didn’t worry about a darn thing. Just a sketch of yourself then. Happy, yes, but not fully who you are to become. Within you is that little girl you have always been and always will be— the spirit of Jessica, Jessica Becoming Stay connected to those little voices and playful characters, the pondering and contemplating spirits, the fairy spirits within you.

Listen carefully. Put your ear to the ground. Put your ear to the seashell. Do you hear the ocean?  Just listen. Listen to the sound of your environment, amplified. Listen to the ground of Being from which you come. Listen to the people and experiences that God places in your life. This is the Universe speaking to you. Listen and learn. Continue reading “Just Listen: Big decisions require big listening”

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