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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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”→
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!”→
A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t 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.
A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.
I believe more each day that it is only in the stability of marriage, enduring the weather of every season, that one can reap the true benefits of a life lived together. Advice to young couples: Stick with it. Don’t give up. I promise, with effort, love, respect, and forgiveness, your marriage will endure and you will be so happy it did!
We continued our discussion on Community from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72 using 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30 for Lectio Divina.
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”→
“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”→
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:
Winter weather gives us the opportunity to practice stability. The Benedictine vow of stability provides for our need to be rooted in Christ, to be grounded in the present moment, and practicing gratitude regardless of our circumstances and of the uncertain future.
Seasons come and go, “but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) We learn from the seasons that they, as all things do, indeed, pass. The icy, chilly weather prevents us from traveling too swiftly; there is something to learn from this staying put. This paradox, that we must stay grounded while the seasons change, encourages us to move a little slower and to learn from the present moment.
Today’s weather, on this day of the inauguration, reflects how I have felt for several weeks now. It’s a little dreary, foggy, rainy; the road ahead is unclear. But weather can change quickly in Nebraska, so I imagine that my feelings will likely change soon enough as well. There’s also a good chance that even if circumstances stay the same, how I see them will change. One day it won’t seem so foggy and dreary. I know this is true, both for the weather and for myself.
Earlier this week I posted photos of the ice storm that created such dangerous conditions, closing schools and businesses for a few days; today there is haze and drizzle; and, tomorrow it’s supposed to be 50 degrees. Only in the state of Nebraska can we experience so many seasons in one week! As for my state of mind, foggy actually feels pretty good compared to the earthquake, tsunami-sized feelings that came on the heels of a simultaneously frigid and fiery election season. But I know that how I felt November 8 is different than it was a month, a week, or even a few days ago. Continue reading “The road ahead is uncertain. But isn’t it always?”→