Hospitality is the foundation of Benedictine spirituality. St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing:
“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.”
Rule of St. Benedict 53:1
The “guest” may be a stranger, a friend in the making, those in our community who are marginalized, or our closest friends and family. Hospitality includes being truly present to others, becoming aware of their needs and challenges, and respectfully responding to them as much as one is able. For those close to us, we must welcome each other over and again, forgiving each other as we grow together or apart, giving each other grace and space as we become.
Recent news has caused me to reflect on how essential extending hospitality is to the health of our spirit and to the soul of organizations, communities, states, and countries; to consider how I have given and received hospitality, and how it has been withheld by myself or others.
Inadvertently or intentionally, we often do not extend welcome to others. We are human—busy, thoughtless, unaware—this is forgivable, but what we have witnessed—immigrants being lured to an undisclosed location with the promise of shelter and work—goes beyond withholding hospitality.
Diana Butler Bass writes about Radical Hospitality in her Cottage Sunday Musings, with commentary on the appalling news of “immigrants being lured from a shelter in San Antonio by the governor of Florida and shipped off to Massachusetts as a kind of political stunt is a profoundly cruel use of distressed people for political purposes. And the mirth and amusement that this episode inspired among self-declared “Christian” politicians has been nauseating… A church on Martha’s Vineyard sheltered unexpected arrivals, “angels unaware,” as guests worthy of dignified treatment, is a testimony to goodness and generosity, a vision of the world as God intends it to be — practicing hospitality toward strangers.”
She “makes the point that NO ONE can call themselves Christian unless they practice hospitality to strangers…Would that every faith community was like a swarm of bees, running out to meet the displaced, the lost, and the unexpected strangers with the same delight, zeal, and alacrity as the earliest Christians. Theologian Letty Russell once noted, “The word for hospitality in the Greek New Testament is philoxenia, love of the stranger. Its opposite is xenophobia, hatred of the stranger.” Philoxenia turns strangers into friends.
What a difference philoxenia would make a difference in our world — and in our politics — right now.”
I also offer excerpts and links to other reflections I have written on hospitality:
Fr. Mauritius suggests we can learn how to approach the tensions in our lives and the conflicts in our family, community, and world by looking at the recommendations for selecting a leader of a monastic community in The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 64. This chapter suggests that good leadership requires living the values of sound judgment, wisdom in teaching, pure motives, moderation, prudence, loving behavior, discernment, and as the retreat title suggests, soberness and mercy, among others.
Leadership starts with leading oneself. Cultivating the values of being sober and merciful can help us be our better selves in tough times. So often we want to escape or numb ourselves to any pain we may feel—to simply run away from our feelings, people, or situations. At other times we might become overwhelmed by distress or completely absorbed by worries. Neither of these approaches is effective to deal with conflict and anxiety but practicing soberness can provide a middle way—a more balanced, Benedictine way to help us accept our reality as it is, yet not becoming attached to it.
To be sober (Latin: sobrium) is to have an attitude of acceptance, to be temperate, and to take people, things, and activities just as they are. We can become “drunk with anxieties” of daily life, but as one who can compulsively think, ponder, wonder and what-if, this tendency can block one from seeing the truth of the way things truly are. It’s as if an alternate reality is created, one that takes us far away from the present moment.
Emotions can make us drunk; they can completely absorb us. Being sober and vigilant (1 Peter 5:8) is the absence of being drunk on emotion or being overcome with anxiety. By practicing mindfulness, we learn soberness tastes better—the purity and truth of circumstances are clear. One begins to sense when something is just too much—emotions, noise, activity, food, or drink—and is more able to set boundaries for what disturbs. Wanting more of this sobriety is craving what is real—the present moment, an ecstatic peace for only God can fill us with. To be sober is to be free. We must remain vigilant, alert, and open, for what God fills us with, for moments when Christ is revealed in our daily lives.
This retreat weekend is one of the last before I begin a new school year, so there is no shortage of uncertainty or anxiety. What I have learned about soberness is wisdom I will carry with me, a reminder to be gentle with myself while also being watchful and mindful of my tendency to be absorbed in emotion and the circumstances of a school day, whether it is a conflict with a student or colleague, disappointments of unmet expectations, or a frantic pace and frequent interruptions.
St. Benedict is special to me for a few reasons. First, we share a birthday. I admit I was disappointed when I first discovered this. My parents had given me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate my Confirmation. As any nine-year-old would do, I immediately looked to see who the saint was for July 11, my birthday. Perhaps Elizabeth, Mary, or Theresa would be my special saint.
Instead, I see an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary-looking bird, a crooked cane, and an unusual name I had only associated with Benedict Arnold. July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said. I had never heard of him and surely did not know what an Abbot was. Through the years, I returned to this image of St. Benedict, thinking that I should have some connection with my patron saint.
Fast forward 26 years. With a full and busy life—married with a young daughter, a career as a high school teacher and club sponsor—I felt a deep longing for times of silence. I answered the call of my heart and responded to an advertisement for a silent contemplative prayer retreat. I discovered an oasis of peace just a few hours from home in the cornfields of Nebraska…called St. Benedict Center.
The Tesla Roadster is said to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds. Whoa!
Who really needs to go that fast?! I understand better than most what it is like to be running late, hurrying to my destination and feeling like I need to drive a little faster—I’ve been known to have a lead foot in these cases a few too many times.
But is it smart, safe or the best thing for us and others? We know it is a wiser choice to slooooow down.
Likewise, I know all too well about reacting emotionally in challenging situations. My temper can go from zero to 60 in about 2 seconds. It is a benefit to slow down my thoughts, emotions, and reactions a bit to gain a better perspective.
The local, national or global news can cause one’s heart to race, from zero to 60, in the time it takes to read or hear just one reported sentence. It is all too easy to 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.” (Discerning Hearts)
Alternatively, we can meet all challenges with an attitude of soberness.
“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.
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)
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.
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
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.”
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
The Benedictine women’s Federation of St. Scholastica is celebrating its 100th anniversary this June by stepping into the future of monasticism. The Rule of St. Benedict is not only for monks and sisters, but available to all spiritual seekers; written in the 6th century, but is relevant to life in our current challenging times.
You can be a part of opening the door into that future by participating in “Benedictine Life: A Vision Unfolding,” a Colloquium open to all followers of Benedict: women and men who are professed, oblates, or spiritual seekers. The Colloquium will take place at Mount Saint Scholastica in Atchison, KS, June 21-24, 2022, and virtually.
The conference will focus on three themes: Wisdom, Witness, and Way Forward.
WISDOM GOAL: Make our Benedictine way of life visible and accessible in new ways to today’s seekers by celebrating our history and envisioning our future.
WITNESS GOAL: Share our lives as Benedictine women, past and present, what we stand for, and why we do what we do as we invite others to experience our charism and good zeal and to join us in “running while we have the light of life.” (Prologue, Rule of Benedict)
WAY FORWARD GOAL: Support Benedictine life today so that it can continue to be the same kind of stabilizing presence in our cities and towns and light for spiritual seekers that it has been for more than 1500 years.
We are breaking new monastic ground. Please join us.
November 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections
Sources: Lectio Divina, Mark 10:35-45
Book Discussion, Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II, “Service”, page 53-54
Saint of the Day: Francis Xavier Cabrini is a beautiful example of service to others and service to God. She humbly comforted the sick and infirm in the hospital and lent a helping hand to immigrants. She is a role model for our topic of service. For more information about Mother Cabrini.
Lectio Divina Reading: Mark 10:32-45
You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus shares with John and James what will inevitably happen to him. They certainly do not understand what they are requesting, to share in the glory of Jesus, and they do not want to believe that Jesus’ life will include suffering. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” We must ask ourselves: Can we drink from the chalice that Jesus drinks? Or are we driven by ego, desiring the glory and honor for ourselves? Can we really DO life as Christ did? We may desire a journey with Jesus, the choice seat with God in glory and honor, but are we ready to face great suffering that accompanies it?
This applies to any part of our prayer life when we seek to follow Christ. We don’t know what we are in for! We must put ourselves wholly in the presence of Christ and be there for whatever happens–thy will be done. In the popular Christian song, Lord of the Dance, James and John are featured because they responded to the call of the Lord. With each passing verse, from morning to Sabbath to Good Friday, Jesus is the “Lord of the Dance.” We are called to that dance as well, as James and John were—we will have suffering. We are part of the dance, even when we find it difficult to consider the other first, to be more forgiving than self-centered, to accept that we aren’t just here for ourselves but to be of service to others.
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he
Lord of the Dance, Ronan Hardiman
We are not in a good place spiritually when we are telling God what should be done, that we know what is best, our own power and glory. Bishop Barron addresses James and John’s ego-driven request in a Sunday Sermon, “Do You Really Want What God Wants?” Power and honor in themselves are not bad, but the problem is using power, not for God’s purpose, but for our own ego. Honor for its own sake is not helpful to others. Jesus flips the story on James and John…it isn’t all about you! You are here to serve. That is the dance you are called to.
“We have gathered today to celebrate the union of Jessica Gehr and John Holland. Marriage is a sacred blessing and this morning we celebrate the love shared between two special individuals.”
–Joyce Schmeeckle, wedding officiant and dear friend
We gathered—John and Jessica’s community, their friends and family—to support and bless their marriage. A wedding day conjures images of hearts and flowers, vows and wedding rings, first kisses and champagne toasts. Marriage is a sacred commitment where two people commit to journey through life together, so it is appropriate that the focus of the day is on the bride and groom. It is their BIG DAY!!
My daughter, Jessica, had her fairytale, storybook, dream-come-true wedding on July 17, 2021, and yes, indeed, she married her Prince Charming—we absolutely love our new son-in-law, John, and are so grateful that he adores our daughter. I remember when my husband and I got married, there was very little choice in what the day would look like. Tradition said this, the parents said that, the Catholic Church said this…but what I loved about John and Jessica’s wedding is that they created their own ceremony and carefully planned what their first day as husband and wife would look like.
The wedding guests, John and Jessica’s community, were an integral part of their wedding day—from who the officiant was, to parts of the ceremony, to the events planned to celebrate after the wedding. As a Benedictine oblate, it reminds me that for St. Benedict, everything that is written in his Rule takes place within the context of community; whether giving instruction about prayer, relationships, or work, the monk is reminded he or she is a part of a community. It is through community, not just as monks or oblates but within families and our community of friends, that we grow in understanding of self and God and learn to love one another more deeply.
“Benedict’s genius was in recognizing the power of journeying together. There is power and empowerment, healing and strength in living together and recognizing our mutual interdependence.”
Judith Valente writes, “My friend Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica once described a monastic community as ‘a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow’ (How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community).” The guests of John and Jessica’s wedding are linking arms with them, will support them, and as community does, will challenge them and help them grow.
When creating their wedding ceremony, John and Jessica carefully chose who would be part of the ceremony and the words that would be spoken. When they talked about who they wanted to marry them, they knew they wanted someone who shared their own spirituality and values and would deliver a message filled with insight and wisdom. They asked my own “anam cara,” soul friend, Joyce, who also hired Jessica for her first job in high school, quickly becoming a spiritual mentor to Jess as well. This is a newer phenomenon, to choose your own officiant, but my heart is full that they chose so wisely. (See script throughout this post.)
The ceremony also included a family blessing shared by each mother. I was deeply touched to be able to contribute some words about what I hoped John and Jessica’s marriage might hold for them. I shared the following blessing:
Blessing for John and Jessica Holland Wedding
When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night. Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” But the lengthier version has remained my prayer for Jessica as she has grown up.
This special prayer I say now includes BOTH Jessica and John as they join their life together in marriage.
God bless Jessica, and John’s minds, so that they make good decisions and choices.
God bless Jessica and John’s bodies so that they grow strong and healthy and safe.
God bless Jessica and John’s spirit so that they know the love of God and others. Amen.
It is said that the only thing that prepares you for marriage, is marriage. It will not always be easy, but more often it will be better than you could have imagined. Every day you will make choices about what kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you will continue to build with God and each other.
A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage is not made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.
In your becoming, take time for solitude—pursuing your individual passions knowing you are always supported by the other. Listen with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict writes, listening to each other’s words but also to what lies between the words, seeking to understand the silence too.
May you be patient with each other, keeping a sense of humor, apologizing, and forgetting quickly.
May you be a joyful giver and treat each hour as the rarest gift with gratitude for each other. May you build traditions and rituals that are uniquely yours as a couple.
May you have a marriage that embraces all seasons.
God Bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit.
God Bless John’s mind, body, and spirit.
God Bless the marriage of John and Jessica. Amen
A reading from Romans 12: 9-18, instruction for sharing love and hospitality both in marriage and in community, was followed by a message from Joyce. Friends and family were asked to participate in a community vow, agreeing to love and support John and Jessica in their marriage, offering them love and friendship.
This community vow mirrors the importance of The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago as a guide for those who desired a spiritual life of prayer and work, learning to love others as Christ. It was not a guide for individual pursuits, but for living in community. It is a given that the community is important, an integral part of growing in holiness and happiness. John and Jessica see clearly that they have the support of friends and family, that they are part of a community that they will also share their gifts and hospitality with. This was followed by a moment of silent prayer for their marriage.
“The words community and communicate share the same Latin root. They are related by root to another word, compassion, which means to “suffer with”, or more loosely, to “walk beside.”
Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.
John and Jessica have created a community that will walk beside them, people they have known all their life as well as those who they have met along the way. As a couple, they will continue to gather new friends as well. My husband gave a nod during his toast to all those in John and Jessica’s community who have helped them become who they are:
When you raise your kid, you hope to instill your hopes, dreams, and values in them and that when they go out into the world, they make all the right choices and remember the way they were raised. Lots of people have told Jodi and I what a great job we did in raising our daughter. That is partially true, but I think we learn and form who we are from those around us. Jessica and John have had many positive role models in their lives. They have taken a little bit of each one of those people to become who they are today. So, when people tell me, you did a great job in raising your daughter, it has as much to do with all the relationships she had with others. I want to thank everyone for helping me raise my daughter. Everyone here can take credit for the beautiful person she is today. Many can take credit for John being a kind, loving and caring person. They are who they are today because of all the people in their life.
“The Benedictine spirituality of community is based on life with other persons in the spirit of Christ: to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them.”
Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today
John and Jessica vow to journey through life together—to support and empower each other and to continue to learn and grow in their relationship. They are community to each other, first and foremost. I am so proud of and happy for them!
We are grateful that Jessica’s friend, Tarah, videotaped the wedding ceremony! You can watch the video HERE.
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