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St. Benedict

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”

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!”

Sober and Merciful: St. Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness

The Tesla Roadster is said to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds. Whoa!

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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.

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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.

Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome and former prior of Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska, has a podcast series on the Benedictine understanding of sobriety. He will also return to Nebraska to lead a retreat at St. Benedict Center, March 27-29, 2020 called Sober and Merciful: Saint Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness. Continue reading “Sober and Merciful: St. Benedict’s Journey of Mindfulness”

Return to Pilgrimage: Switzerland! Part 11

It’s been almost five months since I shared my last pilgrimage post about taking a day of rest in St. Johann, Austria (written also on a day of rest.) So, after a long rest from writing, it is with humility and humor that I attempt to finish the reflections I started many months ago.

To refresh my rested memory, I re-read the ten Benedictine Pilgrimage Reflections previously shared. I remembered anew some of the special experiences and insights that motivated me to share last summer. For that reason, it is important for me to finish what I start—to continue to reflect on what the pilgrimage meant for me and other pilgrims and to document the memories made. Continue reading “Return to Pilgrimage: Switzerland! Part 11”

Cell Phones, Paying Attention and Hospitality

As a high school teacher, I am concerned about the level of attentiveness my students pay to their teachers and classmates. I wonder how often they are truly present to another, not to mention their own emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical needs.

Their cell phones have become so distracting that I fear they lack the social skills needed to develop personal relationships that are essential to living a full and rewarding life, not to mention becoming a valuable employee and citizen. Students have shared that their phones have become a tool to avoid fully engaging with others or the moment—when experiencing discomfort, their cell phones provide an escape.

I know this is not a phenomenon exclusive to teenagers—many adults struggle with respectful and appropriate use of technology as well. I need to practice awareness myself.

Deeply saddened (and frustrated) by this, I was struck this morning by a commercial using the hashtag #EatTogether with this heart-warming message:

Each of the characters would have likely gone to their apartment for a meal alone if it not for the family who extended a hand of hospitality and an offer of a meal to include everyone.

Of course, we need our solitude, but how often do we consider the one who may need an invitation? Who needs to be accompanied? Who needs a meal? Or who has more than their fair share of solitude, and desperately needs to be noticed?

We must look up long enough from our cell phone, and all the distractions of a busy life, to remember the Benedictine value of practicing hospitality.  

St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB 53:1) Being hospitable is our opportunity to respond to God’s great generosity towards us.  Hospitality is being present to others—taking time to enjoy one another’s presence and being attentive to what the other is sharing.

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The #EatTogether commercial is the brainchild of a Canadian company President’s Choice-NatureFresh Farms. Concerned with the challenging task families face with balancing work, activities, children, sports, and school combined with the increased use of technology, they hope to inspire families to remember the importance of eating meals together and extending that invitation to their community—in other words, practicing hospitality.

 “The monastery was to be a place of comfort and of solace and of safety for everyone. The monastery was the place where anyone would be welcomed., where rich and poor alike could come and find seats side by side despite the world around them where status counted dearly and classism was a given.”—Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily

Offering a meal, listening, and paying attention to the present moment are all ways that we can be a monk in the world. We can offer comfort, solace, and safety for others. We can welcome all.

We can extend this hospitality for those people who are in our daily lives—at school, work, home, down the street—but we are also called to extend hospitality to “those living on the margins.” There is room at the table for everyone, as Carrie Newcomer writes—

“Let our hearts not be hardened to those living on the margins,
There is room at the table for everyone.
This is where it all begins, this is how we gather in,
There is room at the table for everyone.

Too long we have wandered, burdened and undone,
But, there is room at the table for everyone.
Let us sing the new world in, this is how it all begins,
There is room at the table for everyone.

Chorus:
There is room for us all, and no gift is too small.
There is room at the table for everyone.
There’s enough if we share, come on pull up a chair.
There room at the table for everyone.

 

How can you practice hospitality with your loved ones? At your workplace? In your neighborhood? With those marginalized?

*Photo in heading taken in Montes de Oca, Argentina with the Mogues family. The importance of the family and community meal has not been forgotten this family or country.

For more on hospitality:

Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ: Hospitality and The Holy Trinity

Ode to Mary: Lover and Giver of Life

Hospitality on Pilgrimage

The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

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Thursday, June 20One of the highlights of the pilgrimage was a visit to Ettal Abbey, founded in 1330 by Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian, for the procession celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, a ritual dating back to 13th century Italy. The procession of parishioners, visitors, musicians, and clergy started after Mass by leaving the chapel and threading its way through abbey grounds, flower gardens and nearby pastures of sheep and cows. There was something so sacred about the singing, chanting, the aroma of incense, the sound of the sheep bells clanging as they walked or bent to eat. Not understanding hardly any words, there was still a deeper understanding that there was something holy happening here. The meditative walking and liturgical pauses along the way, a pilgrimage of sorts, were hints that this ritual pointed to something much more.

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The Corpus Christi procession is a Catholic ritual, one of the hundreds that are celebrated during the liturgical calendar, but rituals can also be created by oneself or in small communities and groups to help commemorate or honor a special experience. Thomas Merton wrote that a ritual is “imbued with the beloved’s presence.”  James Finley, in Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere: The Essential Guide to the Contemplative Teachings of Thomas Merton, notes that “we need a holy place or thing to awaken us to the holiness of everything.” Rituals convey a sense of the spiritual and holy, if not during the ritual, oftentimes later when one is reflecting and remembering. Rituals connect us to something more than ourselves, not just with our intellect, but through our senses, our heart, and soul. Rituals are packed with divine meaning. (Read Fr. Mauritius Wilde’s ritual of embracing the cross as an example.) Continue reading “The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7”

Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6

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Hospitality can look different from one situation to another. It can be opening one’s home to another or serving a meal, but it can also be cracking a joke to break the ice or ease some tension. Humor is the hand of hospitality. Today I get my chance to practice.

Wednesday, June 19—This day begins with a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is a well-known medieval old town, having survived the Thirty Years War and World War II (limited damage that was repaired). Rothenburg, a walled village with many towers, is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

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In Rothenburg, there were many sites to see—churches, garden walks, spectacular views, quaint shops, many Christmas stores, a part Gothic/part Renaissance Town Hall, and beautiful fountains.

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Continue reading “Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6”

Pilgrims Are Not Just Tourists: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 5

“A tourist has new experiences, but remains the same person. A pilgrim experiences new places and is transformed by them.” —Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

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Photo: Bamberg Cathedral

Being a tourist is a lot different than being a pilgrim. We even prayed about it in our opening Mass. Being a pilgrim has some responsibility that goes with it—to extend hospitality and to practice humility and patience. We have been duly warned.

This experience is not just about sight-seeing. We don’t experience events and then move on. There is a river flowing beneath our lived experience, where we are feeling, processing, and reflecting. What we feel about or interpret an experience today may change tomorrow. This pilgrimage—the visiting of churches, monasteries, and historical sights—is just one level, but the pilgrimage within is the real experience.

The momentum of the inner pilgrimage, the current of the river beneath, moves in its own time. The outer pilgrimage is on a schedule. The inner pilgrimage is our spiritual experience; we process what has happened with people and places, looking through the lens of the Divine. The lens through which we see is the decisive factor in how the outer pilgrimage impacts our life. Evidence: I thought I would whip out a four-part blog series about the pilgrimage, but it’s taken longer than I expected. I’m on kairos time that cannot be rushed.

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Bamberg Cathedral

But here we go…the first FULL day! (and it is full!)

Tuesday, June 18We celebrate Mass in the morning at Kloster Banz, a former Benedictine monastery founded in 1070, now known as Banz Castle. In the second half of the 18th century, Banz Abbey was known throughout the Holy Roman Empire as a place of Catholic enlightenment and for the scholarship of its monks. This did not save it from secularization and dissolution in 1803. Today it serves as a parish church. The Abbey is not what it once was, but it continues in another way.

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Continue reading “Pilgrims Are Not Just Tourists: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 5”

Happy Birthday, St. Benedict!

St. Benedict is pretty special to me for a few reasons.

First, we share a birthday. I have to admit that I was pretty 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 or Mary, Theresa or Christine (my confirmation name) would be my special saint. A lovely woman saint with a beautiful name—I had hoped.

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Instead, I beheld an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary looking bird, some sort of walking cane and an unusual name that I had only associated with Benedict Arnold, a famous American traitor.

July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, St. Benedict!”

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