Creating Sanctuary: The “Beautiful Ones” Group Card

“Altars can be very powerful…We acknowledge an incarnate God who speaks through symbols and the things of our everyday lives…” -The Artist’s Rule, Christine Valters Paintner

An altar can be a centering, focal point for group or personal prayer or creativity. The altar placed in the center of our creative space during the Sprigs of Rosemary Advent Retreat held symbols of the season and the retreat—an advent wreath surrounded by fresh rosemary and a rosemary candle.

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Throughout the retreat, more symbols were added.  Each woman placed SoulCollage® cards they had made over the days as well as offering a single image that resonated with them that later I would create into a group card—something I’ve never done before. For the closing session, each woman lit their own rosemary candle from the larger candle and special blessings were shared.

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Symbols and rituals create pathways in our hearts and minds, allowing us to carry meaningful experiences with us into our ordinary lives. Creating our group card was one such experience. With permission from the Beautiful Ones, a term of endearment coined by Sara—a dear friend and retreat participant—find reflections and I Am One Who Statements from some of our group.

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Betty shared—“There was a bond formed within this retreat of Beautiful Ones that will keep us united eternally. Christ sat with us the entire time. I’m still at a loss to describe how this retreat touched and changed me.  I only know since the card reading, I have learned more about myself and my relationship with God.  Both have deepened to a level I have never experienced. I really can’t find words to express what is differentinner confidence I’ve lacked, acceptance of physical issues, but most of all a deepening in my trust of my Lord. My mantra, Jesus I trust in you is going to depths I never expected.  I hope all of you realize that it was your presence and spirit that guided me too. Continue reading “Creating Sanctuary: The “Beautiful Ones” Group Card”

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 4)

Welcome to Session 4—Friendship as Sanctuary.

It is so important to cultivate sacred friendships, to make space for people to experience giving and receiving the unconditional love that God extends to us.

Soul friends, or anam caras, can bring us joy, humor, understanding, compassionate listening, comfort, or consolation—and the intuition to know what we need sanctuary from. For nearly 17 years, I have met with a circle of friends to read and discuss spiritual books. We have gone through several iterations as members have, sadly, passed away, moved away or moved on, but we provide sanctuary for each other that I am grateful I can count on. 

 Consider the story of the Visitation. 

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  —Luke 1:39–40 Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 4)”

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 2)

In Session 1, we contemplated the lyrics of Sanctuary, written by Carrie Newcomer, and explored the power of images to tap into our intuition through collage. Expressing one’s creativity allows time and space for new ideas to bubble up, for questions to surface, and for meaning to take hold.

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“Images attract the attention of the right side of our brains, and when there are only images, this intuitive side stays in charge and will go deeper into the uncharted territory of the psyche. It is this side of our brain that can see the whole picture at once and surprise us with wise answers that seem to come from some deeper place.” Seena Frost, SoulCollage Evolving

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My Sanctuary Card

Contemplative Session 2: Sanctuary in Thin Places

The Caim
Symbols, as with images, can represent something beyond a surface level of understanding, pointing to the abstract. Symbols can become an important part of rituals, helping cement an idea or intention and give energy to creativity and prayer.

While researching sanctuary as a theme for this retreat, I discovered two symbols that illuminated the notion of creating sanctuary. The first is the Celtic Christian symbol, caim.  A caim can be practiced as a ritual of circling oneself with prayerful protection in dark times. There is a power in a symbol that embraces its meaning and yet goes beyond—it can be a reminder of being loved and safe during times when one feels uncertainty.

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“The “caim” involves simply drawing a circle around yourself or another person physically or in your imagination. This encircling prayer is grounded in our awareness of the constant companionship and protection of the divine. It reminds us that God is in this place. Often, as they embarked on journeys or felt at risk, Celtic pilgrims would inscribe a circle around themselves as a reminder of God’s ever-present companionship and protection.

Practicing the encircling prayer is simple. Pause and then take a moment to draw a holy circle around yourself or, imaginatively, around a loved one. Use your index finger as a way of inscribing the circle around you. As you draw the protective circle, you may use a traditional or contemporary prayer of encircling. You may also choose to write and read your own personal prayer for yourself or another. But, in any case, the power of a spiritual tradition often finds its most lively expression when we embody it from our deepest spirit and in the language of our own hearts.”

Circle us Lord

Source: Drawing a Circle of Love: The Celtic Encircling Prayer by Bruce Epperly

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The Mandorla
It was serendipity that brought me to the next symbol and image—the mandorla. During a retreat on the St. John’s Bible, an acquaintance shared with me how important the mandorla was to her spirituality. Thinking she was mispronouncing mandala, she shared with me that the mandorla is an ancient sacred symbol used in icons. The union of the circles, an almond shape, create the mandorla. Italian for “almond”, also known as a vesica piscism, it is a symbol of new life and fertility. It is often used in Christian art to frame Jesus or Mary.

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Within days I came across a few other references of mandorlas used in icons—and then came the inevitable falling-down-the-rabbit-hole-of-the-internet-research. I had no idea how often the mandorla was used in art and how deeply archetypal the meaning is. In Christian art, mandorlas represent sacred moments that transcend time and space, such as the Resurrection and Transfiguration of Jesus and the Dormition of the Theotokos and symbolize the Christ Light. The two circles can symbolize the balance between seeming opposites—body and soul, physical and spiritual, masculine and feminine, light and dark, togetherness and solitude.

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We go to the light, the mandorla, as a contemplative space for sanctuary. The mandorla is that in-between space, that “thin place” where we can carve out time to be in the presence of God, a place of sanctuary where we can rest in the tension of opposites. We are called to be this Christ Light for each other, but it is the balancing of together and alone, being and doing that we desire.

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Sources: The Mandorla in Icons – Revealing Mystery; The Mandorla

Read and Reflect
“If there is anything the stories of Advent and Christmas want to impress upon us, it’s that heaven and earth are in conversation. These weeks invite us to eavesdrop. We listen in as angels appear to people in their dreaming, their working, and in other corners of their ordinary lives. We travel with wise ones who watch the heavens and follow a star. We hear sacred texts that tell us of a God who takes flesh and enters into our human existence. Again and again we see points of passage between the realms, giving us cause to wonder if the wall between the worlds is weaker than it often seems.

Celtic folk have long called such points of passage thin places. In the physical landscape and in the turning of the year, there are spaces where the veil between worlds becomes permeable. Heaven and earth meet there; past and future intertwine with the present, or fall away entirely.

In Christianity and other traditions, specific locations have been recognized as thin places. These sites often become destinations for pilgrimage, with the presence and prayers of visitors across the centuries seeming to make the veil thinner still. Yet the meeting of worlds is not purely location-dependent; thin places happen where they will. Sometimes called thin moments, they can occur in any spot that inspires us to open our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the presence of God, who imbues creation and goes with us always.

My friend Brenda says, Part of what makes life hard is that it’s mostly thick places. One of the wonders of thin places is that they have the ability to occur in those thick places, those riddled-with-life spaces, those moments or seasons made of muck and struggle. Think again of the stories that come to us at this time of year; they are nothing if not earthy. For all their seemingly supernatural elements, they are rich in the stuff of real life: pregnancy, loss, travel, pasture, manger, creatures, birth.

At the heart of the conversation that unfolds during Advent and Christmas is this: when heaven and earth meet, they meet in our midst. The Incarnation does not happen at a remove; it happens among us, inescapably intertwined with all this world holds. What does this mean for us here and now, in this world, in this time? How do we welcome the God so willing to come to us?   

 Source: Jan Richardson (Jan offers a free Women’s Christmas Retreat every year at Sanctuary of Women. I lost track with all of my research where I found this article she wrote and some of the questions below, but I’m sure it is from one of her retreats. She writes amazing poetry and has the most beautiful art.)

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Consider journaling with the following questions or making a collage card using these questions as a guide.

  • How can we find sanctuary in the thick places, in everyday life?
  • When have you sensed heaven and earth at play together, a thin place that opened up to you? What did you find there? What did you take with you when you left?
  • Is there some part of your life that feels like a particularly thick place — an aspect that feels especially complicated or mundane, or seemingly resistant to the presence of God? What do you need there? How might it be for you to simply sit with that space and ask God to meet you in the midst of it?
  • What does this mean for us here and now, in this world, in this time? How do we welcome the God so willing to come to us?

Creative Practice
Consider the symbols, images, and questions in Session 2. Journal, create a collage, write a caim prayer, contemplate, visualize the mandorla as the light of Christ that brings balance to all of life.

Listen to “Behold, All Things Are New” by Alana Levandoski.

Share your insights or creations in the comments. Session 3 coming soon. Blessings, Jodi

New and Improved: Always We Begin Again

The most used words in marketing campaigns and on product packaging are new and improved. This expression taps into our deepest desires to improve our lives and our circumstances. Marketers know this—that most of us want better and that we want to BE better, to be more of this or less of that—and so come the advertisements for weight loss, exercise facilities, home improvement, travel and more. Of course, the superficial and material never satisfy and leave us still wanting more, or less.

The essence of making New Year’s resolutions—everything from setting financial, career and relationship goals to considering new ways of being and doing—is that we desperately seek the chance to “do over.” It might sound elementary, and even impossible, but we long for it anyway.

Celebrating the beginning of a new year is a reminder of our opportunity to “always begin again”—the embodiment of Being Benedictine. It’s not as simple as a “do over” but January 1, merely just one day that follows December 31, gives us a definitive time and space to honor our deepest longing to begin again.

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I’ve long since quit making resolutions. Well, not really—I make them and break them so quickly and consistently, that I’ve chosen to look at them more gently, as beginning again. Each year I select a word that will help guide me in the New Year.

I share my last three years of words that have served me far beyond the year they were chosen for—mercy, gentle and cushion. The intention of these simple words has seeped into my spirit in a way that makes me new and improved in the deepest sense.

Mercy

What powerful images Pope Francis brought to this word when he declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016 and captured in a SoulCollage® card that I made to remember that year. We are received just as the Prodigal Son was received, with open and forgiving arms. The image of the Prodigal Son conveys all of the qualities of mercy that we hope to receive and strive to give: compassion, tenderness, love, and acceptance. In our thoughts, words, and actions, towards ourselves and others, we have a new day to try again to give and receive the mercy that God has given us. We are not perfect; we need to forgive ourselves and others again and again, but the doors are always open for us to begin again in light of Christ. Read more at Always, We Begin Again.

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Mercy SoulCollage Card

Gentle

There is an endless list of shoulds, musts, shouldn’ts, can’ts, more of this or less of that,  that could be the foundation of a New Year’s resolution. But for 2017, I resolved not to resolve anything but to be excessively gentle with myself instead. Resolve, itself, is such a dogged, unwavering word, so I called this “being gentle” my un-resolution. In a series of SoulCollage® reflections, I asked myself—How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others? This process was so revealing and healing. I learned through images that I don’t have to “wear” everything I’m given. Perhaps the old and worn, even the cherished, can be hung up for a while; not discarded, but set aside. One cannot keep wearing what is from the past; sometimes we just need to hang it up, to let it rest. Our shadow side can be carried in the heart as shame unless we practice being excessively gentle. Read more at Be Excessively Gentle: A New Year’s Un-Resolution

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“Hang It Up” SoulCollage Card

Cushion

Perhaps, a funny word next to the more sober “mercy”, but I chose the word cushion for 2018 to represent balance, an invaluable tool of Benedictine spirituality. When seeking a balance between the seemingly opposite speaking and silence, being together and alone, between activity and rest, prayer and work, I consider how to create a cushion. The connection between these two good options is the word “and”, not “or”. We need both. We need balance, yes, but we can give ourselves a cushion, the opportunity to rest knowing that perfection is not expected. We listen. We act. We pray. We readjust. “This is how a Benedictine’s day is. It is always changing, alternating—praying, working, resting. This is captured in the Benedictine motto, pray and work…The most important word is ‘and’.” –Fr. Mauritius Wilde Read more at 2018 Word of the Year…drumroll, please

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Cushion SoulCollage Card–Word for 2018

There is nothing magical about these words and there is no guarantee that one or any other will be the secret to creating a new and improved you, but I have found this process of choosing a word to be integral to my journey of seeking God, peace, and joy in a world of uncertainty.

May your New Year bring you the mercy, cushion and excessive gentleness that you need. As you journey through the joys and inevitable sorrows of the next year may you find meaning in the words of John O’Donohue— “At first your thinking will darken / And sadness take over like listless weather. The flow of unwept tears will frighten you. / You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back…Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.” –an excerpt from “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted”

What word resonates with you? Will you pick a word for 2019? Consider creating an image that captures the essence of your word. Please share your word or image in comments!

For 2019, I have selected not just one word, but a phrase instead. “You are free” is a phrase given to me that I’ve been meditating on and practicing with for several months. It has seeped into my being and doing just like my other words. I’ve created a collage that captures what freedom might feel like.  I will share more soon!

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I am FREE!

 

Yes and No: The Seasons of Life

“Are you doing okay?” a friend asked me.

“Yes and no, ha,” an honest reply.

 “Why yes?”

Hmmm, I think.  “Good question…yes, because of faith and hope. Many blessings.”

This might not be the typical are-you-okay-what’s-wrong? line of questioning one might expect, but good friends know what’s behind your “yes and no” already.  Sometimes the no just needs to lie right where it is; it’s the yes that needs more attention.

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Likely, the question was meant for me to consider what is good? what is hopeful? what is well with my soul? 

A few days ago, I created a SoulCollage® card, that I named “The Seasons of Life: I’ve Seen A Lot of Shit.”  Eloquent, I know, but it’s the first thing that came to mind when I looked at my finished card.

seasons of life1I had no idea what I was creating when I started, with no goal in mind. I was drawn to the older women sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company.  They look experienced (not old, please), rested, peaceful, connected, comfortable and wise. I imagined what it was they might be discussing. Perhaps the storms of life, the many changes they had experienced, their efforts to rise or reach or resist, obstacles they had overcome, obstacles that made them feel all shot-up and yet, in the end, still standing, still sitting, still connecting, still enjoying.

Both women hold a little of each season, every year, and the many experiences they have lived within them.

“Autumn holds fragments of the other seasons in transformative arms…the mood of autumn is the ebb and flow of life. Autumn stands as an epiphany to the truth that all things are passing and even in the passing there is beauty. It holds out platters of death and life.” -The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp & Macrina WiederkehrDSC_0267a

Each of us is called to take the seasons of life into “transformative arms”, to become more of who we are. So this autumn weekend, I consider the seasons of life—all of it, especially the blessings. I think about the “yes” of life that threads itself through my days—the yes to faith, hope and gratitude for many blessings. The daily yeses keep me focused on the bigger yes—the yes to God.

My yes is the desire to become more of who God created me to be.  This I have hope for and believe in. This I am grateful for and what I say yes to.

Yes, it is well with my soul.

 “People often speak of becoming more grateful after having lost some of their health. Suddenly they see all they have taken for granted. Gratitude for all that has been enables them to say yes to all that is to come.” -The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr

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I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag…despite my disappointment

Each school day during my 3rd-period Marketing class, I stand with my students, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

This simple moment of national patriotism is a requirement in Nebraska, a rule passed by the Nebraska Board of Education in 2012  stating that all public schools must provide time every day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in order to receive accreditation or state funding. Already a common practice in elementary schools and many districts, it was a new practice for most high school students.702848[1]

After the rule passed, teachers took an inventory of classrooms that needed flags—many were old and torn, more had been discarded over the years and with tight budgets, new ones hadn’t been purchased. The first several weeks, hand over heart, we stood facing an 8 ½ x 11 colored photocopy of the flag until a generous alumni donated enough American flags for every classroom.

Reciting the pledge is voluntary for students and teachers. We can recite the pledge either standing or sitting or remain quiet showing respect for those who do participate. After five years, I am still surprised when there are a few students that don’t stand to say the pledge. I’ve wondered why. This semester every student stands. DSC_0874a.JPG

Regardless of our different political views or opinions, it feels like the one great gesture we can make together is agreeing to pledge allegiance to the flag. We have so many other opportunities, especially this past year, to take a stand (or sit), to disagree, to voice an opinion, to protest or resist. But I’ve also come to the conclusion, and I respect, that not everyone feels the same and that perhaps they have good reasons for not standing or reciting the pledge (besides it’s their constitutional right). In the words of Pope Francis, who am I to judge?

For a few years, I showed a short video clip with Red Skelton explaining what each line of the Pledge meant to him (if you are old enough to know who he is, likely you stand without question for the Pledge of Allegiance).  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I will continue to stand in spite of my disappointment, even shame, at what has become of our United States. I have faith in the words of our Pledge and faith in the meaning behind the words.

 

As I say the Pledge, I take the time to breathe, slow down and really think about the words I’m saying. I hope and pray that my country will live up to the words that each day we profess. There are far too many days lately when I’m uncertain what America really stands for, but when I say the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, it is this in which I believe:

I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE, promising to speak my truth while remaining committed, TO THE FLAG  as a symbol OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  I pray, even when we seem so divided, that we are united in, and take seriously, our responsibility to all people within and beyond our borders, especially those who flee their own country seeking a place of peace and promise.  I hope we are not so proud of our country that we forget about others, that our desire for unity does not become exclusion.

AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS, a country that is a worthy and wonderful place to live, grow and be, representing a land of opportunity and a chance to always begin again. 

ONE NATION that represents a diversity of opinions, beliefs, ethnicities, lifestyles, socioeconomic and educational groups, yet a nation that comes together and is unified in times of tragedy and trial;

UNDER GOD, through our faith, hope, and prayer, in the spirit of our founding fathers and mothers, guided by a morality that resides within;

INDIVISIBLE, without division, united with wholeheartedness of spirit;

WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE, in gratitude for our freedom, with a duty to be fair and honest, and respectful of all we encounter.

FOR ALL.  In God’s eyes, there are no borders—we breathe the same air as the refugee, immigrant, gay, straight or transgendered, Muslim, Hindu or Christian, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic. We breathe the same air as those we disagree with and those we live with. We are one world. Oceans cannot be divided, this part belonging to Europe and that part belonging to America. The air cannot be split—Mexico breathing this air and America breathing that. No, we breathe the same air. We are connected to all people, all countries. All means all.

This I pledge. This I stand up for. This I place hand over heart for and recite every day of the school year. This I pray.

Our words matter, so how can we live what we profess and believe, as individuals and as a country? Each of us must reflect on what it is that we place hand over heart and stand up for.

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“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Be Excessively Gentle: A New Year’s Un-Resolution

gentle-with-yourself“Gentle” is going to be my word for 2017.

I resolve to be gentle, excessively gentle.

A new year’s resolution implies a determined effort to make a change, of which I certainly could consider—to be more patient and generous, to eat more healthful, to exercise, to lose weight. There is an endless list of shoulds, musts, shouldn’ts, can’ts, more of this or less of that, but I resolve only to be excessively gentle. Resolve, itself, is such a dogged, unwavering word, so instead I call this “being gentle” my un-resolution.

I’ve been giving this “being gentle” idea some thought during the sacred waiting of Advent. So often, I try to hurry through the darkness of life, times that are painful, (seriously, who wants to hang out there?), but during Advent I feel I have permission to rest in the womb of darkness, taking time to prayerfully reflect on a very difficult 2016.

Although I want to move quickly through my discomfort, and those around me prefer this as well, I have felt incapable. The lesson of Advent is that birthing cannot be hurried, especially of the Christ; perhaps, this resting gently in my own darkness could have something to teach as well.

So how can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?  This is the question I sought an answer to during a SoulFully You Advent retreat. With the help of compassionate friends and the insightful  SoulCollage® process (called readings), I am discovering how I might move more gently into 2017.

Reflecting on, praying with, or “reading” your cards is a process that never fails—if you have questions, God provides answers that are tailor-made using the images that have spoken uniquely to you. We begin by randomly selecting three Soulcollage® cards from our personal collection, cards made months or years earlier, taking turns with questions and reflections.

I ask my first card, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?1470050_10205193566429100_1861880692419772670_n

I am one who looks down on the universe and upon a scene of the Garden of Eden. We are a part of the whole but also in relationship.  I am one who is the light of Christ; I can look upon the universe with love and light, just as God does.  I am one who can be more gentle, remembering we are all connected with the light of Christ shining through each of us. Being gentle with others means withholding judgment, being content with myself and looking lovingly upon myself and others. I am this child who looks upon the scenes of daily life with acceptance, with the feeling that God is well-pleased.  “God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

I ask my second card, which is quite different than the first, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?spinning-out-of-control

I am one who is deserted, depressed, angry. I am one who feels knotted up, spinning out of control, losing my head, going in a million different directions.  All negativity and darkness flow from a small place (in the lower left corner of the card). In the doorway is a pile of trash, things that are thrown away. I need to let things that need to be thrown away, be thrown away. I do not need to let the darkness, either outside or inside of myself, consume me. I am one who can give voice to these dark things, not masking it. I can let the darkness be what it is without holding on to it. I am one who can face the shadow side and not ignore it.  In the darkness of the doorway from which all negativity flows, there is still light. I can face everything head on and reside in this place where trash, the darkness, is also present.

I ask my third card, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?stability darkness and light.jpg

Unsure whether this card is really finished, I am attracted to the stability represented by different types of stones, all having endured the test of time. I am one who gathers strength in the mother/child connection; I can mother myself through the storm of life. I see the darkness and light in everyone, knowing that no one is ever “finished”. I am one who is strong, committed to stability and grounded in faith regardless of my situation. To survive, to thrive, there must be a convergence of both dark and light in myself and others. I draw strength by resting into the stability of my faith, my God and constant companion.light-and-darkness

Looking holistically, the theme of light and darkness in each card cannot be missed. It can be a harsh reality to accept that there is always a little darkness in one’s life, but, there is inevitable light amidst this darkness that gives hope, purpose, and meaning. I feel affirmed that patiently wading through the dark waters of life will bring healing, a sense of being “finished”.

After reflecting on the insights of my SoulCollage® reading, I felt another card needed to be created, titled—Just Hang It Up.

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I don’t have to “wear” everything I’m given. Perhaps the old and worn, even the cherished, can be hung up for a while; not discarded, but set aside. Instead place “it” carefully on a hanger, still a part of my personal collection of wounds and wonders. One cannot keep wearing what is from the past; sometimes we just need to hang it up, to let it rest. Perhaps this is the way to learn to be excessively gentle–hang up the past, forgive, move on.

What is the “it” that can be hung up? I’m still praying and seeking answers about the “it”, but I have an idea. “It” is shame—shame that comes from criticism, disappointment, expectations, being silenced, feeling too much…all of these too much, not enough kinds of feelings that lead to discontent, a lack of self and other acceptance.

Our darkness can be carried in the heart as shame, unless perhaps, we treat ourselves darkness-1agently and pray for healing. I’m just starting this journey, I am not “finished”—and in the time I’ve written this post, I have participated in nearly everyone one of the “its” listed.  But there is an awareness  that I can let some of “it” go. I can just hang “it” up. I can be gentle with myself. In the words of John O’Donohue,

At first your thinking will darken / And sadness take over like listless weather. The flow of unwept tears will frighten you. / You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back…Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.” –an excerpt from “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted”

May you move ever so gently into the new year.
Take time for silence. Listen.
Take solace in your faith. Pray.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Be excessively gentle with others.
And may your 2017 be blessed!

For posts on similar topics:

Always We Begin Again, Year of Mercy
A Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth, Advent
Praying with Scissors, SoulCollage® process

For information about Full Moon and Advent retreats.

 

A Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth

A holy day has dawned upon us…for today a great light has come upon the earth. Alleluia and Merry Christmas!

During Advent, we wait in darkness for the light of Christmas Day. We circle around the Advent wreath, igniting another candle each week.

The Advent wreath symbolizes the coming of the birth of Jesus, the light of Christmas drawing near and the anticipation of the Christ-light breaking into our life and world. With each passing week, the candle represents our hope that light will dispel the darkness.

So it is with us. We circle around the same issues, questions and problems in our lives, struggling with the dark and light within us and around us. And we pray that God breaks in, that the light will prevail.

Light and Darkness: our life is filled with both. WE are filled with both.

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 “When we come to understand that everything in our world, including its darker aspects, derives from God, we begin to realize that much of what we perceive as “bad” is, from the divine perspective, simply another piece of the sacred whole…that which appears as darkness to us may very well be the beacon to our redemption. -Niles Elliot Goldstein, God at the Edge

The beauty of the Advent season is recognizing and honoring this darkness in ourselves, in others and in the world.  This darkness that we would like to deny, flee from or quickly fix is actually the beginning of something new and hopeful happening in ourselves.  The darkness can bring a great light.  “We see the darkness and we forget even darkness is light to God”-Deidra Riggs, Every Little Thing

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2)

journey through darkness into light

The expectant and hopeful waiting in Advent, when Jesus is in the womb, where possibility of new birth is upon us, in the waiting and tender honing of our patience, is where we must begin. We begin in the womb.

So what is it that needs to be birthed within us? In our world?  How do we accept and forgive the darkness in our selves and others while nurturing and encouraging the positive? What can we bring out of darkness and into the light? What gives us the strength to wait in patience, to trust that our circling around will bring us into the light?

These questions and the paradox of light and dark were explored at a recent Advent retreat. Using images and creativity, I am amazed, once again, at the insight gained through SoulCollage.  For me, it is after the images are placed together that I see what they are saying to me.

“I am one who” is a prompt to begin to speak from and about the images that intuitively come together. Using all three of the images on this post, I write:Advent dark and light

I am one who walks through rough and rocky terrain.
I am one who dances gracefully in the light.
I am one who casts shadows. I am one who gets stuck.
I am one who circles around and around, sometimes feeling a little lost.

I trudge reluctantly… or tread carefully… or move forward faithfully.
I am one who, with open arms, embraces both dark and light: in myself, in others, in my world.
I see the light and the darkness, the gold and the shadows, the smooth and the rough.
I go through all…the white sand, the gold dust, the smooth and rocky, the hard and broken, the shadowy or the illuminated, the gray, the light, the dark.

I am one who is filled with hope. I pray. I am one who feels hopeless too.
Eyes open, door ajar, I glimpse the light.
I am one who closes my eyes, sometimes trusting and at times in denial.
I dance the dance of light and darkness.

I stretch out my arms in surrender to the moments, layers, phases, experiences that are light and darkness intermingled;
Darkness that seems like it will never pass and pure, unadulterated light that never ends.
I am one who believes that the Christ-child covers both light and dark, in me and in the world.

I hope, I pray that I hold the two in balance; honoring both, recognizing both, knowing I am both, knowing others are both.
I surrender to rebirth, to a new way of being and seeing and accepting.
I am one who holds together the dark and the light.

“…the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1-1:5

I wish you the light of Christmas and the darkness of Advent and the holding of both together! Joyous and Merry Christmas!

joyful christmas

Reposted from December 2015.

Related posts:

Linger in the Twelve Days of Christmas—The Power of Images and SoulCollage®

We are Moons not Suns—Living in the Fullness of God and Full Moon Retreats.

Every Little Thing—Surrendering to Darkness; book by Deidra Riggs.

Living in the Fullness of GodContemplative Prayer and the Power of Images.

In God’s World, Every Day is Earth Day

For Earth day, I was invited to write an article for the April 2016 SoulCollage® newsletter, SoulCollage® Community Update, reflecting on how creating with images of nature can cultivate a sense of gratitude for God’s creation  and, ultimately, impact how we protect our earth’s resources. It’s an honor to share it with SoulFully You readers as well:

Capture

As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, I’ve been noticing that images of nature appear in nearly every one of my SoulCollage® cards. Plants and animals, water and fire; the diamond and the rough ground-rugged, rocky, sandy, earthy. Trees-naked and blooming, knotted and gnarled branches. Streams or floods of light and all things celestial-moonrises, sunsets, stars, planets, wide open sky. And every color of the rainbow-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and each color in between.
My Fairy World
by Jodi Blazek Gehr

These SoulCollage® pictures have been calling me to stand up, pay attention, listen, prayerfully consider, and take action. They have encouraged me to reflect on my role in creation – how I enrich, nurture and care for our earth and all that draws life from it.

I Am One Who innocently, carefully, lightly treads through my part of creation, where I have been planted. I am as little as the lily pads and as vast as the stars and planets. I am a part of the whole, keeping balance on a very small twig of space and time. I am embraced, protected, held up by the wings of love.

We think of fairies as little nature spirits, without realizing that as human beings, we are ourselves nature spirits! It is nearly impossible to separate ourselves from our environment. We breathe the exhalations of trees. Our bodies go through similar seasons of new cells birthing, old cells dying and being shed. Our bodies are in a constant process of re-creating, living and dying, using the minerals, water, and earth from plants and animals and returning again to dust.

Spending time in and seeing the beauty of nature has been for me the first step to taking action to protect it. I see myself as responsible to and for the small space in which I live. My seemingly insignificant efforts-planting flowers and trees, recycling paper and plastic, remembering to take my own bag shopping, using energy-saving light bulbs, buying gifts that are consumable, not buying products that use excessive packaging -can have an impact that reaches far beyond my little place and time. My physical body is not the whole of creation, but my spirit is vast, and my actions leave an impression.

The images of nature hold meaning for my life. When I see a tree, I also see growth, changing seasons, pruning, the effect of time.  I see roots intermingled, each tree surviving and thriving because of the other. I connect to my process of self-discovery and growth, my inward journey that is beautiful and painful, at times agonizingly slow and, at the same time, too quick.

Surrender to Creation
by Jodi Blazek Gehr

I Am One Who believes in the divine birthing of our planet and the life-force that is poured out for us by our mere existence in this dynamic, evolving, growing, breathing earth home. I Am One Who exists as part of this environment, receiving the mysterious flow of energy and outpouring of nourishment with open hands. I bow my head at the splendor of shades and shapes, the rebirth of nature through the sacred spirals of the seasons, the purpose and patterns that are sometimes evident and always sought after.

I believe we are dying inside when we don’t spend time in nature, whether in stillness or activity. If we don’t get outside and enjoy nature, we don’t realize it is hurting and needs our care. We run the risk of seeing earth as existing only to meet our needs, rather than seeing our role as caretaker of the earth.

“Unless we begin to align ourselves with nature, nature will be endangered and our own lives with it. Our own souls with it, in fact. We are here as part of creation, not as consumers of it. We are here to care for this planet, not to exploit it. We are here to find our proper place in it, to grow with it spiritually as well as physically.” 

-Joan Chittister, Author, Two Dogs and a Parrot: What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life.

My Source Card: Let There Be Light by Jodi Blazek Gehr

I Am One Who, in darkness, is breathed into being and held in the light. Leaf or life-all is dependent on the Light.

Creating with images of nature can influence our sense of gratitude for God’s creation, our sense of oneness with nature and, ultimately, how we respond to the call to conserve and save our earth’s resources. My SoulCollage® cards have heightened my awareness for my role, no matter how insignificant or great, in the care of creation. This earth is my home. I have been brought into being to do my part.

So how am I going to celebrate this Earth Day? I will spend time in thanksgiving, honoring that in God’s world every day is Earth Day. I will remember my place on the planet, my role in respecting the earth. I will take a walk. I will look up at the sky. I will touch the ground.  I will enjoy the many colors of creation, particularly the spring purpling. I agree with Alice Walker: this is where our contribution begins – noticing.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” 

– Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Jodi Blazek Gehr is a high school Business teacher, SoulCollage® Facilitator and retreat leader. She writes a blog called SoulFully You exploring and encouraging creativity and spirituality through a variety of prayerful, creative and contemplative practices.  Jodi is a Benedictine Oblate at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska, a mother, wife, and friend.

Last year, SoulFully You readers were challenged to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled,  “Soul Collage® and the Environment”To view all Earth Day entries, including cards and responses from readers, and the research paper that Jessica submitted for her Environmental Politics class at Nebraska Wesleyan University, see Earth Day blog entries.

God’s Blessings for Earth Day and Every Day!

 

Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge

Seeing the beauty of nature is the first step to taking action to protect it. Unless we can appreciate the oneness we have with creation, we will do very little to protect it.

“Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” –Pope Francis

earth day creation 1.jpg

For Earth Day last year, SoulFully You readers were challenged to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled,  “Soul Collage® and the Environment”.  To view all Earth Day entries, including cards and responses from readers, and the research paper that Jessica submitted for her Environmental Politics class at Nebraska Wesleyan University, see Earth Day blog entries.

Earth day card 2

For Earth day this year, I have been invited to write an article for the April 2016 SoulCollage® newsletter, SoulCollage® Community Update, reflecting on how creating with images of nature can impact and influence our sense of gratitude for God’s creation, our sense of belonging in and oneness with nature and, ultimately, how we respond to the call to conserve and save our earth’s resources.

I would love your insight and feedback! Please consider sharing your reaction to the SoulCollage® cards posted on this page by responding to any or all of the writing prompts.

  1. What is the effect of one (or more) cards on you?
  2. What does it say to you about God’s creation?
  3. Consider writing an “I am one who” statement or using a card to pray with or meditate on during this week. Does the meaning of the card change or deepen as you “read” it differently?
  4. How does this blog and/or the images inspire you to action?  Consider how you might conserve and save earth’s resources.
  5. What inner shifts or feelings arise when you contemplate your responses.
  6. Be creative.  Give yourself time to savor the images. Watch and listen for what bubbles up within.

earth day my fairy world card 3

Share your writing in the comments, send through Facebook messages or email jodigehr@aol.com. Also consider creating your own card and sharing how that process impacted you.

earth day card 4 just sit

“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si

earth day card 5

 

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