Rome: Packing and unpacking can be a lot of work

It’s been a little over a month since I’v­e returned from Rome. I’ve reported on official business of the Oblate Congress in a four-part blog series on Being Benedictine.

DSC_0018a

It takes me awhile to unpack my feelings and the higher purpose or meaning within my experiences, but I’m getting there. For so many months I was filled with vorfreude, German for “anticipatory joy”, that bursting-with-excitement, overflowing-with-enthusiasm, oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me-this-is-a-trip-of-a-lifetime feeling (just like the Germany pilgrimage.)

Here are a few things I’ve unpacked so far:

Worry is hardly ever worth it. 
Before I left, I confessed I felt guilty taking time away from school, that I was nervous about leaving my classroom for so many days. But it turned out there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Projects and assignments were graded, questions (if there were any) had been dealt with, students worked hard and truly didn’t miss a beat. I am so thankful for Karen Kay, my former department chair, friend and substitute teacher extraordinaire for giving me the gift of peace of mind and an easy transition back into the classroom (despite the jet lag)!

DSC_0019a

Things often turn out differently than expectedSometimes there are disappointments, sometimes pleasant surprises—the Rome experience was no exception. The night before I left, I pulled a muscle in my back while packing. It was one of those I-thought-that-only-happens-to-old-people moments when I simply bent down but did not come back up in a painless fashion. The pain ripped up my back, down my leg and I collapsed on the floor.

So many feelings—pain, fear, self-pity, anger, sadness, pain, worry, pain—coursed through me that evening, during a sleepless night and into the morning when I became worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the trip. And what if I did go and couldn’t walk when I arrived? But this was a trip of a lifetime, well-planned and prayed for, I was determined to go. I might as well try, I told myself, inching my way to my parent’s car to go to the airport.

DSC_0029a.JPG

It’s always about the people.
Before I even left, my heart was full of love and support from those who sent wishes of joyful and safe travels. Oblate friends, Betty, Teresa, and Diane, gave me a special blessing and Dee promised to pray a novena and have her husband light candles for me at daily Mass while I traveled. The prayers helped sustain me and give me confidence during some uncomfortable times.

Because I was so busy before I left, my husband got spending money and exchanged it for Euros at the bank, helping to take a few things off my list of things-to-do. When I became concerned that my accommodations would be too far away for sight-seeing, Fr. Mauritius helped secure a room for me at a monastery on Aventine Hill just a few minutes from his.  The night of my I-guess-this-means-I’m-old back injury, my friend, Beth, gave me a new box of pain relief patches for the journey and my physical therapist friend, Barb, gave me advice for surviving the long flight. On the way to the airport, my dad hurried into the pharmacy to get a prescription for me.

At the airport, the kind woman checking me in asked if I needed help lifting my luggage onto the scale (thank God, under 50 lbs) and the sweet young lady who sold me a snack noticed that I was a teacher (since I was proudly wearing my I ♥ Public Schools t-shirt) and said, “Keep makin’ the world go ‘round, darlin’!”

These simple, thoughtful words and gestures made such a difference to me. Love one another, it really works. “And be ye kind one to another…” -Ephesians 4:32

DSC_0055a.JPG

Amazingly and miraculously, the flight wasn’t terribly uncomfortable. Even without back pain, an international flight can be rough, but I was providentially seated next to the sweetest special needs woman from New York City named Dorothy, “like the Wizard of Oz”, she said. This introduction began a lovely 8-hour relationship that still brings a smile to my face.

Looking over the beverage menu before our flight even took off, Dorothy exclaimed, “They have Starbucks coffee; this airline is first class.” Later when Dorothy was asked if she wanted sugar with her coffee, she responded, “No, sugar. I’m already sweet enough.”

Traveling with a group and a few counselors helping out, Dorothy said she wants to “travel all around the world.” When I asked what was taking her to Rome, she said “I work at the Shop and Go and I paid for this trip. I work hard for my money.”

The day before, her counselor had taken Dorothy shopping. She got two new pairs of jeans and a shirt and she told me not to tell anyone, but she also snuck a pair of jeans in the cart that she really liked. She had cleaned her room that morning and had done laundry. She was thrilled to get free earbuds, to have video games to play and a variety of animated movies, including Cars 3, for entertainment.

Whenever anyone sneezed she said, “God Bless You”, when she needed something she said, “Jodi, Jodi, I need help”, and she mentioned a few times that she hoped she would have a coffee pot in her hotel room. Dorothy loves coffee.

A kind heart and simple mind, Dorothy truly lived in the moment. She kept busy with entertainment while I napped. I learned when we landed that she had slept not a wink on the eight-hour flight. She enjoyed it to the fullest. I thought of Dorothy a lot in Rome and since I’ve been home.

DSC_0152a

Miracles happen.
I survived the flight with very little pain. When I got off the airplane, I could walk. When I was dropped off at the wrong entrance to the monastery where I was staying for a few days, I was able to pull my luggage around the block and even help carry it up three flights of stairs to my humble accommodations.

After a Roman nap, I explored the area near me—including quaint, crooked streets, simple churches, ruins and the Colleseum. I walked over 6 kilometers and enjoyed my first Italian meal of lasagna and red wine. And I was in very little pain. I was grateful, so grateful, to be moving, to have arrived.

Rome. It begins.

I guess there will be a part 2 to this post.

Packing and unpacking can be a lot of work.

DSC_0183a.JPG

Rome: Confessions, Truths and Carpe Diem!

Confession: I feel a little guilty for taking nine days off during the school year.

Truth: But not enough that I wouldn’t seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Rome.

It’s unheard of for a teacher to take off two weeks during the school year. First, we only get eleven days off for sick or vacations days per school year. Second and more importantly, it’s a lot of work to be gone, planning what students will do, securing a trusted substitute teacher to deliver curriculum, and “letting go” of controlling my classroom. (Perhaps this has something to do with being a bit of a perfectionist, control-freak, as I’m learning about Enneagram, Type One.)  Usually, teachers take time off for a wedding or funeral, a child starting college, an important doctor’s appointment, but a two-week long trip? Nope.

After reviewing my teaching contract, I knew I didn’t need formal permission to take the nine days off in a row, but it was important to me that I have my principal’s blessing because it can be just as difficult for students when teachers are absent. But, Principal Brent Toalson was so gracious in understanding my unique request to take time off. He agreed with what I strongly believe: life is short and it’s important to seize the day when opportunities come.

carpe diem

Confession: I’m a little nervous about leaving my classroom for two weeks.

Truth: I have no reason to feel nervous because I have an amazing substitute teacher, Karen Kay, a retired business teacher and my former department chair, who will step in and do everything perfectly (I think she’s probably an Enneagram One, too.)  When my mother-in-law passed away two years ago at the beginning of the school year, Karen taught the first week of classes for me. It was the best start of a school year my students ever had!

So CARPE DIEM!! I’m off to Rome to attend the Fourth International Congress for Benedictine Oblates. The conference is hosted every four years for Benedictine oblates, novices and oblate directors from around the world.

Oblates are ordinary people who want to live as a monk in the world. Affiliated with a specific monastery (for me, that is Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska), oblates strive to become holy in their everyday life, in their family and their workplace. Oblates promise to live a prayerful life according to the Rule of St. Benedict. I write about being an oblate at Being Benedictine.

being ben

The Congress theme, A Way Forward – The Benedictine Community in Movement, will provide encouragement for oblates to be peacemakers in a broken world, sharing hospitality in the face of war, terrorism, refugee crises and religious fanaticism, and to be stewards of an abused planet as challenged and inspired by Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si”. Surrounded by chaos, idolized entertainment, digital noise, and consumerism, oblates desire a life of silence, contemplation, and simplicity.  We hope to answer the question: How can we as oblates create and contribute to communities around us – in our oblate groups and chapters, in our families and neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our own monasteries of oblation and in society as a whole?

Oblates desire to be change agents in their own communities – together finding a new way forward. It sounds like a daunting task, a tall order, and very serious business. But as an oblate, I have hope that each of us can do our part to encourage peace.

A few things I look forward to:

  • Meeting and hearing Keynote Speaker, Sister Joan Chittister, OSB aka my (s)hero! Joan is one of the best known international speakers on Benedictine spirituality and social justice in the world. Author of over 50 books, Sr. Joan has been a courageous and sometimes controversial advocate of social justice, especially for women, in both church and society. She founded Benetvision, a web-based movement sharing Benedictine spirituality and currently co-chairs the United Nations-sponsored Global Peace Initiative of Women. More info about Joan Chittister HERE.
  • Spending time with my spiritual director and friend, Father Mauritius Wilde, who moved to Rome a year ago to serve as Prior of Sant Anselmo Abbey. I’m excited to see where he lives and works, to walk the streets of Rome together, to sneak in a spiritual direction session and to just be in the presence of a special friend. Fr. Mauritius writes a blog and has over thirty podcasts on Benedictine spirituality.
  • Visiting historic and religious sites including the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica and the necropolis on a Scavi tour, St. Benedict’s cell at San Benedetto and the Abbey he founded at Montecassino and attending a General Audience with Pope Francis (I harbor a secret desire of a drop-in visit by him at the conference. I will secure selfie evidence if my dream comes true.)

Confession: I plan to post updates while in Rome, making a conscious effort to let go of some perfectionist tendencies I have of editing, re-editing, and rewriting. Another confession: I have a few dozen blog posts sitting in a folder waiting for the perfect touches. I take solace in the fact that there are few sleepless nights for those wondering when I will publish my next post.) I surrender the notion that any of my blogs are perfect anyway.

Truth: I plan to live in the present moment, seizing opportunities, meeting new friends and enjoying many new experiences. Carpe diem! 

present moment 2

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

God loves a joyful giver

People who don’t give money to the homeless because they think it will be spent on alcohol and not food should ask themselves what guilty pleasures they are secretly spending money on, Pope Francis said. “There are many excuses” to justify why one doesn’t lend a hand when asked by a person begging on the street. (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 2/28/17)

I’ve been thinking about the decision to give (or not to give) to a beggar on the street since Pope Francis suggested that giving “is always right,” whether one thinks the other is truly in need or not.  A few months ago when I was leaving a movie theater, having spent an evening out with friends, I saw a homeless man with a sign asking for money. Engaged in conversation, I quickly walked passed him. I was pretty sure I didn’t have any cash on me anyway. But later, upon reflection, I realized that I did not (or could not) look the man in the eye, and I wondered why.  If I had money with me, would I have given it to him? Would I have looked him in the eye then? I felt a sense of shame, partly for not giving him some money,  but more so because I hadn’t looked at him directly.  Looking someone in the eye honors their dignity; it acknowledges WHO THEY ARE.

poor

I have considered more that “tossing money and not looking in (their) eyes is not a Christian” way of behaving, either. Pope Francis suggests the way one reaches out to the person asking for help is important and must be done “by looking them in the eyes and touching their hands.” It honors the dignity of the other, regardless of whether we feel the other is deserving. In this way, we face our own judgments of another, our implicit bias.

When encountering people who live on the street, the pope said he always greets them and sometimes inquires about their lives and background. He always chatted with a homeless family and couple that lived next to the archbishop’s residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said, and never considered getting rid of them. When “Someone told me, ‘They’re making the chancery filthy,’ Well, the filth is within” one’s heart, he said. (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 2/28/17)

Several days after walking by that beggar, my husband and I encountered the same scene, a homeless man with a sign asking for money. As we walked by, not looking at him directly, I paused. We had a quick discussion about giving some money or not, and I remembered Pope Francis’ advice: It is not my job to determine whether this man is truly in need or to be concerned about where the money shall be spent. And it’s not even about whether I can afford a dollar or two, of which I am quite able. If I can’t spare a dollar after having a lovely dinner on the way to a concert, then it says more about me than the beggar.  Continue reading “God Loves a Cheerful Giver”

Many Ways to Pray: Take a Hike

always we begin againThere are many ways to pray. Really all of life can, and should, be a prayer. We are never not in connectedness with God, but it is in prayer that we become aware of this union even more.

Recently, I shared an experience of walking a labyrinth, an ancient portal to prayer that has only one distinct path on which to walk; it is not a maze as some misunderstand it. A maze typically has just one correct path, but it has many confusing choices and dead ends that lead to nowhere obliging one to make a decision about which path to take. One may have to “begin again” several times before completing.

St. Benedict, in his Rule, encourages his monks to always begin again. He knew there would be times when life, even our prayer life, could be more like a maze than a labyrinth. Despite its challenges, our maze-like experiences are a prayerful opportunity to practice awareness, patience, and gratitude. 

19149428_10212997687927260_6273485265180574605_n

I had this opportunity recently. Surrounded by the wooded hills of western Iowa at the Creighton University Retreat Center, I attended an eight-day silent Ignatian retreat. I was excited to take the loop hike that goes down to the Nishnabotna River. I love to be in nature and believe wholeheartedly, that “every time you admire something in nature, it’s a prayer to the Creator.”  (Vernon Harper)

trail map

Note the easy-to-read map: one can enter the loop hike from two different points and arrive back to nearly the same point.

I started from the north end of the property, but the path seemed overgrown in areas and I wondered if I was on the right trail. Soon enough, there is a fork where I could go right or left. I went right because it seemed the better path. Eventually,  I came to a very steep decline that I wasn’t sure I could navigate. Surely, I thought, I am on the wrong path.

Better safe than sorry, I hike back and take the left path instead. I hike and hike. I end up at yet another steep decline.  I’m no sissy (I have walked on a treadmill with a 10% incline for goodness sakes), but I think this might not be the right path either.  Tired and sweaty already, I decide it’s better to cut my losses and start out at the south end tomorrow where there might be a clearer path.

Desktop11

It’s a new day…feeling good and my selfie shows it!  I begin again, this time from the other side of the property.  It was a much better trail. Birds chirping, deer scampering, butterflies flying and silence—this is the prayerful connecting-with-God-and-nature hike I was expecting.

Wait, what? Hmm, a choice of two paths—the lower trail or the River view trail. I choose the river view…the whole point of the hike, right?

Riverview sign

Wrong.  Note: this necessary decision is not on the map. I hike to the river view and sit for a moment on a bench to view a sliver of the river. Hiking to the left, I find an even steeper decline than the day before. Hiking to the right, a dead end.

trail dead end

I hike back to the original choice of trails and take the lower trail.

lower trail sign

I hike for about an hour (the time estimated for the hike) with many choices of trails (which I did not expect….remember, it’s a LOOP and not on the map). If there’s a wrong choice of trail to take, I take it.

I hit several dead ends: at the river, at a sign that reads “End of CU property”, at a few very steep inclines, and at a cave. My love of nature and the enjoyment of the journey is challenged. “Always we begin again” has been replaced with, “Will I ever get out of this maze?”deadend collage.jpg

I considered turning back, but I just couldn’t bring myself to “begin again” two days in a row.  It would take another hour to retrace my steps. Yesterday it was the right thing to begin again but today I need to focus on the present and future, and leave the past in the past. A lot like life, I think. “Always go forward and never turn back.” (St. Junípero Serra)

I consider walking the river until I  meet a road; thinking surely there will be a road eventually.  (So like some life situations: Can I just bail now?) I know this is the panic speaking so I retrace my steps back to a fork in trails and a sign that reads, “Upper Trail”.

Upper Trail is a hike up and up and up and up, likely one of the very steep trails I encountered the day before that I felt incapable of going down. I laugh. I take a short break for a few minutes…and then continue up and up and finally, I am on a walking path. I have to be close now. I see a shed. Wait, no, I don’t. Dear God, it’s a mirage. I laugh again at myself.

I consider taking an “after hike” selfie but know that it wouldn’t be web-worthy and would challenge the “sweat is good” attitude I’ve tried to attain. I realize I have seen NO ONE on the trail in over an hour. Have the others heard the trail isn’t really a loop? Thank God, I have my cell phone. Could I be found if I called for help? I don’t think it’s possible to die from thirst or hunger this close to….wait, I see a building. A real one this time.

I have arrived. Relief.

home

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”  -John Muir

I received more than I was seeking, no doubt. A simple loop hike turned into a frustrating and, in hindsight, funny experience.  I took only short hikes for quite a few days, but as the end of the retreat neared, I knew I needed to challenge myself to the “loop” again. Surely, it would be easier now that I had done it.

The trails were familiar so I trusted myself and the route I chose. I hiked this time with a new set of eyes. I noticed things I hadn’t before—the signs seemed more clear and logical, sounds from each of the birds were clearly unique, a turkey family trotted quickly into the trees, blue insects escaped into cracks in the dirt, and there were forks in the path I hadn’t noticed before. But, this time I felt more comfortable being adventurous and going down those uncertain paths.

DSC_0113a

With experience behind me, I knew when I had come to the final fork in the trail. I hiked up the last hill and when I came out of the top, I realized, NO, that I was not at the end of the loop but at another offshoot! I laughed out loud. My confidence did not waiver; now I was able to trust where I was and navigate back to more familiar terrain.

trail options

Sometimes we must begin again. And when we do, we bring what we have learned from earlier efforts. I find this in my spiritual life as well. The more I pray, the more I trust. When I become afraid or anxious, I begin again. I go back to my faith, to prayer, and trust that God has been there before and always will be. I just need to begin again. 

When we finally broke our silence at the end of the retreat, I realized I was not the only one that had this experience. Everyone else had gotten lost in the woods too. Now isn’t that just like life? There are no new problems under the sun.

No one, not even our closest soul friends can “hike the loop” for us, but, thankfully, they share with us solace, encouragement, and prayers.  This journey is our own. We learn on the way. We are accompanied. And always we begin again

And for future hikes—this is a better idea of what the map should look like.trail map2

Recommended article: “How Hiking Can Help Your Spirituality“, by Megan Bailey at beliefnet.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St Benedict, St. Scholastica and Spiritual Friendship

I received the gift of the Holy Spirit when I was nine years old. It took many months of catechism class to prepare to receive the sacrament of Holy Confirmation in the Catholic Church. There were dozens of questions about doctrine and faith to study, like:

What is a sacrament?  A sacrament is an outward sign made by Christ to give grace.
What is grace? Grace is any gift from God.
How many persons are there in God? There are three Persons in God.

 ….and so on. There were scores of prayers and creeds to memorize, months of CCD every Wednesday afternoon and hours of quizzing by my parents at night, but the pay-off for a nine-year-old girl was the opportunity to choose a saint’s name as my second middle name. All by myself. This was a big deal. It seemed like such a grown-up thing to do, to pick MY OWN name. I chose the name Christine, not because I knew anything about St. Christine, but because the name was so pretty to me. Jodi Marie Christine.

My grandma was so proud of my Confirmation that she called me Christine the whole day. My parents gave me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate the occasion and as any nine-year-old would do, the first thing I did was look up my birthday. I was immediately disappointed. The illustration seemed so dark –a man with a hood, a scary looking bird and a funny name that I had only associated with Benedict Arnold, a famous American traitor.  After gaining such a beautiful name like Christine, what kind of luck did I have to get a guy named Benedict on my birthday?!  July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said.  I read the pages about St. Benedict often, thinking that I should have some connection with this man as my patron saint, but then I forgot about him until…

confirmation

Fast forward 30 years when I found my way to St. Benedict Center, not because of the name or that I remembered anything that I had read about St. Benedict, but because I had a desire for prayer and silence. And at a silent retreat, I met a woman named Colleen who would become like a sister to me, an Anam Cara or soul friend. She gave me a card once that said, “We’re like sisters with different mothers.” We connected on a spiritual level–we prayed together, read spiritual books and could have talked for hours about our spiritual journey. And what I discovered the year she passed away further deepens our connection. Her birthday is February 10 and her patron saint is St. Benedict’s twin sister, St. Scholastica. They had a close relationship, even though they could not spend a lot of time together, and they were both committed to God. 

Here is the story of St. Scholastica from the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great: 

“Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.

Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”

When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she0035 raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” 

Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.

Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.”

The lessons I’ve learned from St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, from my friendship with Colleen and other soul friends, are many. I’m sure there are more to come, but here is some of what I’ve learned so far:

Spiritual friendships never end.  ♥  Neither death nor distance can separate us from the love of another.  ♥  There is no such thing as loving too much.  ♥  Spiritual friendships are a gift from God.  ♥   We support each other in living out God’s purpose in our life.   ♥   Spiritual connections with friends enrich one’s prayer life and guide the other back to God when one is temporarily lost.   ♥   Spending time together is important, but friendship resides in the heart.   ♥   We pray for and with each other.   ♥  We cry with each other.   ♥  We laugh together.   ♥  We listen to, plan with, comfort and challenge each other.   ♥  We are grateful for each other and we say it.   ♥  “Our minds are united in God.”

I thank God for the example of all the saints and for learning about St. Benedict as a child. I thank God for my oblate experience to learn more about St. Benedict and his Rule (and about the hooded Abbot and his scary bird). I thank God for the lives and stories of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. I thank God for spiritual friendships

Joyce, Colleen and me at St. Benedict Center.
Joyce, Colleen and me at St. Benedict Center.

 “Friendship is the linking of spirits.  It is a spiritual act, not a social one.  It is the finding of the remainder of the self.  It is knowing a person before you even meet them.”  ~Joan Chittister

For more information about Benedictine Spirituality, go to Being Benedictine website/blog

An ICY snow day reflection

dsc_0835a

Last week I enjoyed the stability of an icy day. 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 and 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 during the changing seasons, encourages us to move a little slower and to learn from the present moment. The icy weather gives us no choice but to stay put. Perhaps when we are going through “icy” relationships or experiences, we can apply the Benedictine principle of stability.  Continue reading “An ICY snow day reflection”

The road ahead is uncertain. But isn’t it always?

The road ahead is uncertain. But isn’t it always?

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.

fullsizerender-29

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?”

Bridges Photo Exhibit: 150 years, 93 counties, and my favorite place!

It’s finally here…Nebraska’s 150th birthday! And I can finally share the photograph of Christ the King Priory that is in  The “Bridges” Sesquicentennial Traveling Photo Exhibit.

capture

I submitted five photos of Christ the King Priory to a photography contest called Bridges, sponsored by Hildegard Center for the Arts, to highlight historic treasures in all 93 counties to celebrate the Sesquicentennial, or 150th birthday of Nebraska. Photographs were to focus on how the subject serves as a bridge to connect Nebraskan’s with their culture and heritage—a bridge from the past to the present.

I entered the following photographs of Christ the King Priory, the Benedictine monastery where my favorite monks live, to represent Colfax County.

dsc_0113dsc_0553adsc_0559dsc_0565dsc_0660a

If you know me, you’ve likely heard me mention my favorite monks and St. Benedict Center a few hundred times or two. Over the past 15 years, I have been to dozens of programs and retreats, attended Mass and Liturgy of the Hours (daily prayers said five times a day) whenever I could, received countless sessions of spiritual direction, led my own SoulFully You retreats and have become a Benedictine Oblate. St. Benedict Center has helped me make my way back to the Catholic faith after a 20-year hiatus and has become my spiritual home. The monks and Oblates are family to me.

DSC_0389Photo: Final Oblation Mass, St. Benedict Center Chapel

DSC_0168 - CopyPhoto: Jubilee Celebration, 50 years of Monastic Life for Fr. Volker Futter, pictured with oblates and monks of Christ the King Priory. 

So let me tell you the story of Christ the King Priory and how they are bridging the past with the present:

In the early 1930’s, two monks, Brothers Felix and Egbert, were sent to the United States from Münsterschwarzach Abbey in Germany. The Abbey, following the Rule of St. Benedict (dating back to the 6th century), felt threatened by the Nazi government. They were afraid their financial ability to support themselves and their missions around the world would be in jeopardy. They were, in fact, justified in their fear: the Abbey was seized during World War II and used as a hospital for German soldiers injured in the war.

Meanwhile, the two monks traveled throughout the United States, humbly accepting donations that allowed their mission work to continue. Their primary focus was on keeping their missions alive, particularly in Africa. If there was no income flow through donations, they could not continue their work, a vital component of the Benedictine motto, Ora et Labora (prayer and work).DSC_0589

By 1935, the monks found their permanent home in Schuyler, Nebraska. The Benedictine Mission House, as they were named, had its first location in the former Notre Dame Sisters Convent, an old house in town. By 1979, several more monks joined the monastic community and a new home was built into “Mission Hill”, just north of Schuyler, and named Christ the King Priory. Their new home was uniquely designed burrowed into a hill, symbolically representing their vow of stability. The building, visible only on one side with a chapel steeple rising out of the center of the hill, appears like an earth lodge or a teepee as if to say, “We are here to stay. You have supported us and we shall now support you. We honor your native past and we want to be part of your present and future.”DSC_0395a

The monks, while continuing to fundraise for missions around the world, became servants of Schuyler by building a retreat and conference center in 1997. St. Benedict Center, built on 160 acres of farmland across from Christ the King Priory, provides an oasis of peace for those who search for personal and spiritual growth. They welcome individuals and groups of all Christian denominations as they seek God in a peaceful and quiet setting for prayer, rest, and renewal; a special place to escape the noisy world and to be alone with God.

Another vow the Benedictine monks take is obedience, to listen carefully to what God is saying and to be present to community needs. As the population of Schuyler changed through the years with an increase in Hispanic immigration, this careful listening led the monks to provide legal immigration services and support through El Puente, in a joint partnership with Catholic Charities of Omaha.

From 1930 to 2016, from Germany to Schuyler, from a small house in town to a monastery on the hill, the monks of Christ the King Priory bridge the past to the present. The German monks who came only to secure financial help for their worldwide missions are now serving immigrants and visitors from all around the world in the community of Schuyler, Nebraska through their missions of St. Benedict Center and El Puente.

DSC_1067Photo: Münsterschwarzach Abbey, Germany

Münsterschwarzach Abbey, the mother house in Germany where Brother Felix and Egbert came from, eventually returned to its monastic roots after the war and celebrated 1200 years of prayer and work last summer.

IMG_0146

You can see all of the winners, a virtual photo exhibit, a digital catalog of all photos, lesson plans and more at the Hildegard Center for the Arts website. The traveling exhibit schedule is:

The Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln: January 6 – March 25, 2017
The Seward Civic Center: June 1 – July 28, 2017
The North Platte Prairie Arts Center: August 1 – September 22, 2017
The Norfolk Art Center: September 7 – October 26, 2017
The Alliance Carnegie Arts Center: September 26 – November 10, 2017
The Durham Museum in Omaha: November 14, 2017 – January 7, 2018

For more information about St. Benedict Center and Christ the King Priory see their websites or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  

For more information about Benedictine spirituality, a new blog/website, BeingBenedictine.com.

For more information about Benedictine spirituality Fr. Mauritius Wilde, former Prior of Christ the King Priory, addresses many topics on Discerning Hearts podcasts and Wilde Monk blog posts

For more information about SoulFully You retreats and other blog posts.

Music as Prayer ♫ This Journey Is My Own

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” -Plato

Singing is soulful. It is prayerful and it is powerful. I love to sing (in the privacy of my own car). I love to listen to others sing, from the liturgical chant of Benedictine monks to contemporary Christian artists. Whether it’s the melody or insightful lyrics that I find a connection with, music can create a mood, help recognize or express a feeling, or bring me to a place of prayerful listening.

When monks are singing they believe they are singing with the angels, and we are just to join in. The beauty of singing familiar songs and hymns is allowing our mind and heart to beat as one. Songs that capture what we could have not so artfully written, become our prayer. To sing, or sing with another, is to elevate the soul, to connect with the Divine.

journey is my own

With music as inspiration, I created this SoulCollage® card to honor my own journey, some new paths I am taking. The words came later:

I am one who is on a journey. I walk this path alone, yet accompanied.  At times I walk a road that is flat, even, predictable; at other times with bumps and bends that I don’t expect. Sometimes it’s all uphill.  Smooth or stony, I walk with the prayer of birthing something new—a new awareness, aim or attitude,  the spark of a fresh idea, or the comfort of a new connection. There are times when the landscape is of no significance. I notice it and I keep walking, nose to the ground. More often, I am one who wanders the road, captivated by clouds and big sky, awake to the countless shades of ordinary green, gold and brown. I notice the details. That is my prayer. I want to see what’s new. I am surrounded by the music of my soul, a prayer, and voice that guides me. I am embraced by the sounds of heaven; I listen to the symphony created  just for me.  And I follow.  This journey is my own.

song-favorite1

“This Journey Is My Own”, a beautiful song by Sara Groves, captures the essence of my spiritual journey, one of my favorites: 

When I stand before the Lord, I’ll be standing alone
This journey is my own
Still I want man’s advice, and I need man’s approval
This journey is my own

Why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
What does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life

So much of what I do is to make a good impression
This journey is my own
And so much of what I say is to make myself look better
But this journey is my own

And why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
And what does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life

And I have never felt relief like I feel it right now
This journey is my own
Cuz trying to please the world, it was breaking me down
It was breaking me down

And now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Cuz I know this journey is my own

And why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
And what does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life
And you can live for someone else, and it will only bring you pain
I can’t even judge myself, only the Lord can say, ‘Well done.’

Oh, this journey is my own

download

This Journey is My Own, Sara Groves

CaptureSinging in God’s Presence #3: In place of the disability to express ourselves, to sing, The Holy Rule of St. Benedict: A Spiritual Path for Today’s World with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B., PhD.

“The aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”-Johann Sebastian Bach

 

 

 

A Nebraska Birthday Wish

It’s Nebraska’s 150th birthday next year, but I get to blow out the candles and make the wish!! I know you aren’t supposed to share a birthday wish, but this is a secret I can’t keep. My wish: To share with everyone in Nebraska (and beyond) my favorite place in the whole world—a Benedictine monastery and retreat center in Schuyler, Nebraska.

DSC_0692Photo: St. Benedict Center

If you know me, you’ve likely heard me mention my favorite monks and St. Benedict Center a few hundred times or two. Over the past 14 years, I have been to dozens of programs and retreats, attended Mass and Liturgy of the Hours (daily prayers said five times a day) whenever I could, received countless sessions of spiritual direction, led my own SoulFully You retreats and have become a Benedictine Oblate. St. Benedict Center has helped me make my way back to the Catholic faith after a 20-year hiatus and has become my spiritual home. The monks and Oblates are family to me.

DSC_0389Photo: Final Oblation Mass, St. Benedict Center Chapel

If you know me, you also know that when I feel passionate about something I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. If I read a good book, I want to tell everyone about it and start a book discussion. If I take a photograph that moves me, I feel compelled to share it with others. If I have a good story or example that will help my students, I will include it in my lesson plans within a few days. So this wish that I have—for everyone to know about my favorite monks and where they live—should come as no surprise. So when I learned about an opportunity to share my favorite place, I jumped on it.

DSC_0168 - CopyPhoto: Jubilee Celebration, 50 years of Monastic Life for Fr. Volker Futter, pictured with oblates and monks of Christ the King Priory. 

A photography contest, called Bridges, was sponsored by Hildegard Center for the Arts, in partnership with the Nebraska Tourism Commission and the Nebraska State Historical Society, to highlight historic or overlooked treasures in all 93 counties to celebrate the Sesquicentennial, or 150th birthday of Nebraska. Photographs of historical landmarks, buildings, cultural events or activities were to focus on how the subject serves as a bridge to connect Nebraskan’s with their culture and heritage—a bridge from the past to the present.

So guess what? My Nebraska birthday wish was granted!

I entered photographs of Christ the King Priory, the Benedictine monastery where my favorite monks live, to represent Colfax County. My photographs of the monastery were chosen to be part of a traveling exhibit and in Nebraska Tourism travel guides, posters, calendars and partnering websites. The Bridges Photo Call judges were world-renowned contributor to National Geographic Magazine and NEBRASKAland Magazine, Joel Sartore; University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor Emeritus, George Tuck; and regular contributors to Nebraska Life Magazine, Bobbi and Steve Olson.

DSC_0397aPhoto: Christ the King Priory, the monastery where the monks reside.

So let me tell you the story of Christ the King Priory and how they are bridging the past with the present:

In the early 1930’s, two monks, Brothers Felix and Egbert, were sent to the United States from Münsterschwarzach Abbey in Germany. The Abbey, following the Rule of St. Benedict (dating back to the 6th century), felt threatened by the Nazi government. They were afraid their financial ability to support themselves and their missions around the world would be in jeopardy. They were, in fact, justified in their fear: the Abbey was seized during World War II and used as a hospital for German soldiers injured in the war.

Meanwhile, the two monks traveled throughout the United States, humbly accepting donations that allowed their mission work to continue. Their primary focus was on keeping their missions alive, particularly in Africa. If there was no income flow through donations, they could not continue their work, a vital component of the Benedictine motto, Ora et Labora (prayer and work).DSC_0589

By 1935, the monks found their permanent home in Schuyler, Nebraska. The Benedictine Mission House, as they were named, had its first location in the former Notre Dame Sisters Convent, an old house in town. By 1979, several more monks joined the monastic community and a new home was built into “Mission Hill”, just north of Schuyler, and named Christ the King Priory. Their new home was uniquely designed burrowed into a hill, symbolically representing their vow of stability. The building, visible only on one side with a chapel steeple rising out of the center of the hill, appears like an earth lodge or a teepee as if to say, “We are here to stay. You have supported us and we shall now support you. We honor your native past and we want to be part of your present and future.”DSC_0395a

The monks, while continuing to fundraise for missions around the world, became servants of Schuyler by building a retreat and conference center in 1997. St. Benedict Center, built on 160 acres of farmland across from Christ the King Priory, provides an oasis of peace for those who search for personal and spiritual growth. They welcome individuals and groups of all Christian denominations as they seek God in a peaceful and quiet setting for prayer, rest, and renewal; a special place to escape the noisy world and to be alone with God.

Another vow the Benedictine monks take is obedience, to listen carefully to what God is saying and to be present to community needs. As the population of Schuyler changed through the years with an increase in Hispanic immigration, this careful listening led the monks to provide legal immigration services and support through El Puente, in a joint partnership with Catholic Charities of Omaha.

From 1930 to 2016, from Germany to Schuyler, from a small house in town to a monastery on the hill, the monks of Christ the King Priory bridge the past to the present. The German monks who came only to secure financial help for their worldwide missions are now serving immigrants and visitors from all around the world in the community of Schuyler, Nebraska through their missions of St. Benedict Center and El Puente.

DSC_1067Photo: Münsterschwarzach Abbey, Germany

Münsterschwarzach Abbey, the mother house in Germany where Brother Felix and Egbert came from, eventually returned to its monastic roots after the war and celebrates 1200 years of prayer and work this summer.

IMG_0146

So I told you my Nebraska birthday wish, but I have to keep the photos secret until they hit the road on the traveling exhibit. You can visit the traveling exhibit of photos that won in each county at: 

The Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln: January 6 – March 25, 2017
The Seward Civic Center: June 1 – July 28, 2017
The North Platte Prairie Arts Center: August 1 – September 22, 2017
The Norfolk Art Center: September 7 – October 26, 2017
The Alliance Carnegie Arts Center: September 26 – November 10, 2017
The Durham Museum in Omaha: November 14, 2017 – January 7, 2018

For more information about St. Benedict Center and Christ the King Priory see their websites or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  

For more information about Benedictine spirituality Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Christ the King Priory, addresses many topics on Discerning Hearts podcasts and Wilde Monk blog posts.

For more information about SoulFully You retreats and other blog posts.  

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: