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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Rule of St. Benedict

Arbor Day: Planting Trees is a Big Deal in Nebraska

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, started right here in Nebraska and now observed in all fifty states and in several countries.

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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, newspaper editor and 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)

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On the final Friday of April every year thereafter, Arbor Day has been celebrated. 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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Each generation takes the earth as trustees. —J. Sterling Morton

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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.

I recently finished reading The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers and I have not stopped thinking about trees since. I think about climate change, our responsibility to creation and to future generations, the beauty of trees, the importance of nature in our spiritual lives, about knowing our place in the world, about Arbor Day and EarthDay and all the things that conscientious people do to make a difference.

Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible. –Richard Powers, The Overstory

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The Overstory 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. The Overstory was a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet.

“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 )

Abbot John Klassen, OSB of St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota writes about our responsibility to the environment in The Rule of Benedict and Environmental Stewardship (highly recommended!) St. Benedict wrote about humility, stability, and frugality in The Rule he used for his monastic communities…there is much we can learn from his wisdom even 1500 years later.

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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

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© Jodi Blazek Gehr

 

 

 

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

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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”

Happy Feast Day of St. Benedict!

Happy Feast Day of St. Benedict!

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Montecassino Abbey

On March 21, Benedictines around the world celebrate the “transitus of St. Benedict, the day Benedict entered eternity. “Transitus” in Latin means passing from one state to the next—death is not the end of life, but the transition into eternity with God.  It is one of two days that St. Benedict is recognized on the Benedictine calendar.

Since this feast day is always during Lent, another commemoration date was set when Pope Paul VI declared St. Benedict the Patron of Europe at the rededication of the Church at Monte Cassino on July 11, 1964. July 11 is the Feast of St. Benedict for the Universal Church. Only Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist are remembered with both their birthdays and their day of entry into heaven. Continue reading “Happy Feast Day of St. Benedict!”

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”

Sobriety: The Nature of our Need

Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, has a new podcast series on the Benedictine understanding of sobriety.

Can you get caught up in the swirl and chaos of fear, violence, and anger assaulting our world today? Practicing soberness means being detached from emotions, both overly negative or positive feelings. It is not good to be “drunk” on either extreme.

Soberness is taking just what we need. What do I take with me? What do I take in? What do I consume? How much wine, money, noise, whatever? Is it too much? The journey of soberness is to become more aware of whether there was too much.

But soberness is more than an absence of something—there is its own positive quality. The absence of the noise of tv is more than just turning off the tv. We begin to discover how beautiful silence is. Once you taste it, you want to have more of it.

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Community: To Be Fashioned and Tried

June 2018 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Community

We continued our discussion on Community from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72 using 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30 for Lectio Divina.

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Words and phrases that resonated with oblates became the springboard for our discussion—

  • seem to be weaker are all the more necessary
  • God placed the parts…as he intended
  • if one part suffers, all parts suffer with it
  • baptized in one body
  • there may be no division in the body
  • all given to drink of one spirit
  • now you are Christ’s body and individually parts of it
  • many are one body
  • our less presentable parts are treated w/ greater propriety
  • eye to hand—I do not need you
  • if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy

From the very first book of the Bible, we hear it is not good for us to live alone. One of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill” could be understood metaphorically—that when we cut someone out of our community, we are killing that person’s role. There is a loss when we don’t honor each person in the community—we need all the parts.

When we judge that someone (a part) is unimportant and exclude them, we miss part of our body. Consider the marginalized in our society—the elderly, the poor, and the immigrant, among others—who are seen as less honorable or less presentable to the group. With our own perception and judgment, we kill off segments of the population that are the body of Christ.

Each of us has a special place in the body for our own community. But, still, we ask ourselves, in frustration—do I really need others? Do they really need me? But, yes, we are made to live together; no man is an island. We need others to realize our own weaknesses and strengths. For example, each of us in our oblate group has a role. We complement each other with our individual talents—we cannot all be the arm; we need the whole body to work together. Our group grows in relationship when we honor the talents of others and work together. Continue reading “Community: To Be Fashioned and Tried”

Living in Community: Where we are is Where we grow

May 2018 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Community

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“Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10) supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.” (RB:72)

Learning to live well in community is the foundation of Benedictine spirituality and the topic of Chapter 72 in the Rule of St. Benedict.  “A person living in solitary retirement will not readily discern his own defects, since he has no one to admonish and correct him with mildness and compassion.” (Beil, Study Guide) Continue reading “Living in Community: Where we are is Where we grow”

Suicide: That Voice In Your Head is a Liar

I don’t know Kate Spade. I don’t own any of her purses or other products. I’m not fashion-conscious by any stretch of the imagination—my daughter/personal shopper will vouch for that. But the news that Kate Spade—a beautiful, wealthy, creative woman—has ended her life has me in tears.

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There are many unanswered questions for those left behind when someone takes their own life. I wonder about this woman I do not know. Were there demons in her head that told her she wasn’t enough, that there was no hope for healing her pain, that she was a burden to those who love her? I wonder about her husband, her child and her close friends. I wonder if she reached out for help. I wonder why her love for her daughter seems not to have been enough to override her feelings of despair. So many questions…

I immediately reached out to my own daughter—“If you ever ever ever feel that kind of depression or desperation, please please please reach out…It is never true—that evil voice in our head that says life isn’t worth it or that pain cannot be overcome. If there is a devil, that is it, that voice. It is a liar.” I thought of a former student who loved Kate Spade and her products—I sent her a message too. “This is shocking news but a testament that no one is immune.”

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So often we think that the rich and famous, or educated, funny, spiritual (or any of the qualities we covet), do not struggle with depression and despair. But they are human, too. Even Kate Spade, who chose to end her life, must have felt she had no choice. There is a mystery to suicide. There is much we do not know or understand, but we should not blame those involved and/or think that it happens only to others. Continue reading “Suicide: That Voice In Your Head is a Liar”

Rome ~ Layers Like Lasagna

There are layers of history in Rome—“layers like lasagna”—one tour guide suggested. Literally, layers were built on top of layers, buildings that had been destroyed by war and natural disaster were covered with dirt and new buildings were erected over ruins. Symbolically, many Christian churches were built over ancient pagan sites.

The architecture, art, and religious history communicate something spiritual, a deeper story with layers of meaning, like lasagna. I’ll share some of my favorite places, and the journey, from my trip to Rome to attend the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates:

St. Peter’s Basilica and the Scavi tour Continue reading “Rome ~ Layers Like Lasagna”

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